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"what doesn't bend breaks"

We said goodbye this weekend to Long Island City, the neighborhood in New York where we've lived for 15 years.  We walked down to the piers (remember when they first started building this park?), and looked across at the city skyline (remember when we came down here and cried as the towers smoldered?), and looked back at the neighborhood (remember when there were no luxury condos down here?).  In the last few days we've been flooded with memories of friends who've long moved away, overwhelmed with gratitude for our wonderful neighbors, and delighted with the last of those little everyday interactions with the laundromat owner, Dulal, the young restauranteur, Elia, and all the folks on the street.

I remember now: New York City is a heartbreakingly beautiful place to live.

I am so grateful to remember this.  When I started going to the sisters' farm, back in the spring of 2009, I was so tired of the city--of the packaging, the garbage, the pollution, the noise, the incessant concrete.  I was tired, bone-tired, and feeling so unhealthy.  Getting my hands in the dirt, and breathing deep under an wide-open sky, I began to revive.  And now, three years later, I'm revived enough to appreciate the beauty of NYC again.  There is so much to love about NYC: the amazing density of so many life stories, the limitless ability of people to live alongside and to befriend those who are unfamiliar, the skillful street art of countless hands, the unfathomably deep human drive to build and build and create.  I love New York.

But it's no longer home.  Something shifted in me some years ago, when I felt called to get close to the land, to get close to food, to simplify.  And over the last few years, Anne and I have learned so much--about growing, harvesting, preserving, and preparing food, about the Transition movement, about the New Cosmology, about permaculture, about natural building, about prayer and meditation and being deep-down quiet.  About being creatures of this world.  And as we learned, our center of gravity kept shifting, slowly, slowly, but inevitably away from the city.

Sometime during the last year, Anne began to feel called to work on environmental issues once more, as she had done many years ago, with me.  The Universe works in wonderful ways:  In April, Anne will begin as the national staff development director for the Public Interest Network (TPIN), and will be based here in Amherst, MA.  TPIN is the umbrella organization of all the state public interest research groups (PIRGs) and related organizations; Anne and I met each other nearly 20 years ago, working as campus organizers for the Massachusetts PIRG.  In the last 14 years, Anne has been blessed to have truly enjoyed her work with the Episcopal Church Foundation and she will miss her great colleagues there.  But we are both thrilled that her work will now focus on staff development, one of her true talents, and that she'll be based in Western Mass.  We'll be able to live together full time, again.

You know, we have this idea in our culture that time progresses in a linear fashion, that we move along, inexorably, in one direction.  But I'm learning that perhaps our lifelines can be more curved, that they can circle back, arc and bend.  Perhaps more like a spiral, than a line.

While packing up all our stuff the last couple weeks, I've been listening to a lot (and I mean A LOT) of Ani DiFranco.  She's been my long-time favorite musician--scrappy, earnest, huge-hearted, and fierce.  Listening to her music these past few weeks was a kind of retrospective on my life, and I enjoyed remembering all her different phases.  Seeing her the first time in '93, alone on the stage in Somerville, tiny with a huge guitar and black duct tape securing her guitar-pick press-on nails.  Driving the back roads of Massachusetts with my friend Shannon, blasting Ani on the tape-deck.  Buying "Dilate" and playing it for Anne in our apartment at Union Seminary, saying "Wait, wait, you have to listen to this song..."  Waiting in line for hours for her open-admission concert at SummerStage, with Jeni and Ryan.  Seeing her at Irving Plaza, with Vince and David.  Driving to her concert in New Haven with Brian and Jim riding the whole way in the back of the truck.  Her band growing from one drummer, to drummer and bass player, to having Maceo Parker on the trumpet.  Her sound evolving, changing all the time.  And then going to her concert this summer, with just Ani on the stage again, alone, tiny, with a big-ass guitar.

The circle loops back on itself, but is not the same.  The empty room is not so empty after all.  I feel as if I am in love with the past and the present; I can hold them both in my heart.

While we were packing, Ani's song "Buildings and Bridges" came on the queue, and Anne remarked about how this song captures her love for the city, and for life:

buildings and bridges
are made to bend in the wind
to withstand the world,
that's what it takes
all that steel and stone
are no match for the air, my friend
what doesn't bend breaks
what doesn't bend breaks

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Reader Comments (15)

Erin, this is so beautifully written. I see you really have been working on your craft. I'm so happy to read that you Anne and Ani are moving back in together, that you are spiraling toward balance. May the coming months be filled with love and luck.

February 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEileen

another beautifully heartfelt, compassionate & love filled post...happy transition & arching to you both! xo

February 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHeather C.

Congratulations and Best Wishes. Was there really a time when there were no luxury towers in Long Island City. Come on. You must be kidding. Yeah?

February 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel Shure

Thanks, Eileen! My dear friend, I miss you. Went through all my photos as part of the moving purge, getting rid of the duplicates (remember those?). Came across a couple from that day we picnicked with Hans and Anne by the river...a great memory. xoxo

February 22, 2012 | Registered Commentererin martineau

Thanks Heather! I so appreciate all your great energy and encouragement :)
I sense another lunch in Noho sometime soon...!

February 22, 2012 | Registered Commentererin martineau

Hi Dan! Yes indeedy, we used to be able to see the whole skyline of Manhattan from our roof, and it was a glorious spot for the 4th of July fireworks show! But around 98 or 99 they built the first tower, the Avalon, I believe. Now it's virtually a city unto itself!

February 22, 2012 | Registered Commentererin martineau

I'm sad you and Anne are leaving LIC. But, I'm happy you wrote this. It has been comforting to know you still had the apartment on 44th Drive across the hall from my old place. It made me feel OK about all the changes in the neighborhood etc. Anyway, I think it really is the end of an era now and I know you both are moving on to bigger and better things. Love you guys.


Oh, may the mazda b2200 never be forgotten.

February 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRyan Williams

Great writing. Great reflections. Thanks. Best Wishes to you and Anne. Keep up the good work. Tim

February 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTim Roufs

i remember that 93 concert at the Somerville Theater. and seeing her at the Iron Horse in Northampton. all i can think to say to the 2 of you is "Welcome Home". and if you ever want to continue the journey up 91 - come see me in Brattleboro.

February 23, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterrenee woliver

Ryan, my friend, you would barely recognize the place. There's a UPS storefront on Vernon, all the old Italian joints are gone except Junior's, and there's a !Comedy Club! on Vernon now too. Let the old LIC live on in our memories, along with that good old truck. Love you guys right back :)

February 23, 2012 | Registered Commentererin martineau

Thanks, Tim~and keep it up with the backyard chickens! You and Kim are an inspiration.

February 23, 2012 | Registered Commentererin martineau

Renee! We will definitely be up to visit now that we're settling in. Can't wait to meet that little girl :)

February 23, 2012 | Registered Commentererin martineau

WOW!!! Best wishes to both of you!

February 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAK

Erin, you amaze me. You and Anne amaze me. I find it so true that it is not linear at all and i love the spiral image--the thought of turning round, doubling back, running parallel and yet always moving further, stronger... i have left (finally) my job and begin new travels on April 1st--no plans, just continuing to spiral...looking forward to memories of old times, creating new ones and living in the present. you inspire me. love you much, T.

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTawnee

Thanks, T! Glad to hear you are on your way to something new and wonderful, and I hope our paths cross again soon! Spiral away, woman :) Love you too.

March 6, 2012 | Registered Commentererin martineau

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