Where The Wild Things Are

Living In Harmony With (My) Nature

“As you set out on the way to Ithaca
hope that the road is a long one,
filled with adventures, filled with understanding.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
Poseidon in his anger: do not fear them,
you’ll never come across them on your way
as long as your mind stays aloft, and a choice
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
savage Poseidon; you’ll not encounter them
unless you carry them within your soul,
unless your soul sets them up before you…”

untitled shoot-7539“We are all in the gutter but some of us are looking up at the stars” – Oscar Wilde

 

I am somewhat incredulous that I have reached the one year mark, to the day, of my having leaped into the concrete jungle of New York sans proverbial safety net. Incredulous because it’s all of a bit of a blur, really. A blur partially because of the dizzying pace with which time has marched on but mostly because of tumultuous pressure that the annus has cast upon me in ways I could never have fathomed. Nothing, but nothing, has gone according to plan. Truth be told, it has been far more trying than I could ever have imagined (and had I imagined it thus, perhaps I should never have come). Yet, I suppose, I am grateful that the stresses revealed themselves in real time, where I have had no choice but to live them out; I suppose the benefit of a baptism of fire is that when you’ve been doused in flames, you’ve got no choice but to swim.

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I moved to New York in order to finally immerse myself in an environment that feels like home to my heart: a place that has the power to both hold my dreams and mercilessly rend them like “the wings of whipped butterflies”. I came to further unearth my creativity, with the mandate of finding an editorial job to replace one in science I had lost a year before that. What I found by the denial of  this dream was that I actually came to make my own way, unfettering by gradual turns the artist enshrouded in my limited notion of how the world works, as surrounded by such wild, like-minded lunatics of imagination compact with myself (“the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars“)

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.”The lunatic, the lover, and the poet
Are of imagination all compact.
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold—
That is the madman. The lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt.
The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to Earth, from Earth to heaven.
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
Such tricks hath strong imagination,
That if it would but apprehend some joy,
It comprehends some bringer of that joy.
Or in the night, imagining some fear,
How easy is a bush supposed a bear!”  – William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

 

This is not to say that artistic connection could not have been made where I was living before. Yet, precious few places on our earth boast the sheer concentration of artistic aspiration and endeavour as my new home does, and as a such, the density of dreams (and people and places) potentiates the likelihood of bumping into like minds and sources of inspiration by simple Brownian Motion.  This surmise has proven itself to be true in these last 365 days.

Now, I consider myself a tough cookie and when I say New York has been a tough oven in which to be baked, I do so with the fear of sounding like the cliché of which I abhorred the sound. New York is hard. We’ve all heard it all before and I refused to be one to cry foul because I jumped at will into a pot of boiling water. For me, the trouble has not been adjusting to pace, for example (it was one of the magnetic poles that drew me in, as a matter of fact), or grabbling with the inefficiencies and deficiencies of MTA (though I’ve always got a bone of contention to pick with MTA. Always). The myriad ways in which this city can drive one mad are a small price to pay for the moments of pure yet gritty beauty it affords: mountains of trash bags that line the sidewalk at night are monuments to the humans who populate this machine, generating waste as they waste away in this hellish paradise; a picnic in Central Park is never so straight forward when it involves carrying a home-baked plum tart on the 3 train from Crown Heights but the journey itself as shared with a friend is a Homeric odyssey; a homeless individual completely covered in a wan blanket, sitting cross-legged reading a book is a simulacrum of an effigy of the virgin Mary as one observes him or her from the window of a moving bus. Indeed, it is a city of paradox and I revel in tottering across that tightrope.

So why has it been so trying a time? A simple way to phrase it would be the seeming permanence of the transitory phase in which I have found myself, the money running out and the doors refusing to open. Spending an entire year searching for home through a nomadic existence has left me constantly having to recalibrate my centre, feeling, at my worst of times, shattered (and at the best of times, inspired). Yet, this nomadic existence has also given me the gift of learning that there are many New Yorks. From my early days in Crown Height and Fort Green, to having no choice but to crash with a relative stranger in gentrified West Harlem, to walking in a raccoon fur stole down the Bronx’s Burnside Avenue, to, most recently, the week I spent house-sitting for my photographer friend a sunny alabaster flat in Astoria where I woke up to glorious komorebi and psithurism punctuated by the ding-donging of church bells: it is clear there is no one New York. And I have learnt from them all that there is no one me.

And I have also learnt that all of the mes were not made to break, even when they’ve cracked beyond recognition. Oh and so many times did they crack, do they crack. Yet, I’ve learnt that should you leap towards your truer nature, the universe will break your fall. In the complex web of activity that is this city, it becomes necessary to create ones own filters (just the neurotransmitter seratonin does in our brain— “by its normal action it modulates awareness of the environmental surroundings and filters a high proportion of this information before it can be processed, thereby only allowing the amount of information that is necessary for survival”). Thus, it is that much easier to take on an individualistic attitude to life, often forgetting that we are part of a whole, harmonious interconnected universe.  As Aldous Huxley questioned:

Why is it that we think of ourselves as only this minute part of a totality far larger than we are– a totality which according to many philosophers may actually be coextensive with the total activity of the universe?

Survival in this city means at once creating one’s own cocoon and tapping into that interconnected universe. It is here, in this year, that I have felt with acuity, albeit intermittent, the butterfly effects of the universe through the universal force of kindness. And it is that kindness that carries one across these present pools of pressure and pain that retrospection will reveal to have been put puddles in one’s way.

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When I arrived in New York, I was a writer without an implement: my Macbook Air had been pilfered months earlier in Marrakech and I was relying the benevolence of a dear friend who had lent me an antediluvian machine that must have weighed some 11 lbs. Without getting to bogged down in the details, someone I’d barely describe as a friend, all the way in Ghana, reached out to me one day through Facebook, enquiring how I was doing. Never one to do the civilized thing of saying “I am fine,” I unpacked upon him all my present woes. “Have you told so and so?” he asked. “Why would I?” I replied “I am not so and so’s responsibility”. “Well, I think we’re all a little bit each other’s responsibility” he typed back. The humanity of his statement shut me up (and that doesn’t happen often). A week later, he’d ordered me a Macbook Air along with the charge “go and make me prouder.” I am still in desbelief. And now, with every phrase I clumsily form on this machine, I am reminded of such grace.

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And such grace extended to my search for a case for my brand-spanking-new thought decoder (aka laptop). I wanted to keep the machine in mint condition  for as long as I could so I began a search on Etsy for an affordable but elegant casing. I happened upon a store called Cinnamon Cocoon, the child of pair of artists in Krakow, Poland. I reached out to them as I was struck by the ethos of their brand: accessories for electronic equipment, “handmade in harmony with nature” (Did I already say how much I love a good paradox? Right, I thought so). Their work is as characterized by its deceptive simplicity and unalloyed civility as it is by their impeccable attention to detail. Kasia and Bartek, who design and handmake each of their products to order, even work in a complementary rajas‘ vs “tamas” sort of way that leads to a “sattvic product, with Bartek tending to make “perfectly-detailed” drawings of their designs in diametric opposition to Kasia’s more whimsical sketches .

We believe that something made with only skill, love and some simple tools can capture the story of its creator and reflect the dreams and hard work that went into making it. Our parents and grandparents’ tales of hard work and determination inspires us, in addition to our daughters, who remind us to cherish life’s simple pleasures.- Kasia and Bartek, Cinnamon Cocoon

Kasia responded  to my inquiry, offering to make the a black and amber Italian leather sleeve with felted merino wool lining for me as a gift.  The two-face nature of the piece reminds me very much of New York, vivified by its tensions, defined differently at each glance depending on a degree of difference in vantage point, just as the case appears to be nothing but brown from angle, nothing but black from another and a confluence of the two from a third. As buttery and beautiful as the finished product is  and for all the joy it brings me, the real treasure has been that the process reinforced my sense that we are supported by the universe when we seek out our true selves, and that I now feel I have two friends in Krakow — they too inspired by the city they call home — that I have yet to meet but who have brought me such hope in the incarnation of a cocoon for something as unromantic as a laptop, an emblem of the dream they’ve constructed from nothing but stardust, as I attempt to build my own fantasies outside of my mind. (And so the web of creative connection is stretched and strengthened by The Web)

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So, as far me and New York, I am still very much in the cocoon stage, one year down the road. It is not a cushy one as suggested by the idea of a cinnamon iteration of such a thing, but it is a necessary one. Whatever happens in a chrysalis, I can’t imagine its a pretty process. Tissue, limbs and organs undergo metamorphosis : what a gruesome undertaking all this must be. And yet, perspective renders the gruesome beautiful. I welcome today’s discomfort with the hope that I shall emerge with variegated wings, thankful for the process and having trusted it; thankful that the road was a long one “filled with adventures, filled with understanding” to last me another lifetime and bolstered by the belief that beasts are only beasts if you believe them to be so. If you say these wild things are blessings, they shall obey. Let the wild rumpus continue!

…The Laestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
Poseidon in his anger: do not fear them,
you’ll never come across them on your way
as long as your mind stays aloft, and a choice
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
savage Poseidon; you’ll not encounter them
unless you carry them within your soul,
unless your soul sets them up before you.
Hope that the road is a long one.
Many may the summer mornings be
when—with what pleasure, with what joy—
you first put in to harbors new to your eyes;
may you stop at Phoenician trading posts
and there acquire fine goods:
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and heady perfumes of every kind:
as many heady perfumes as you can.
To many Egyptian cities may you go
so you may learn, and go on learning, from their sages.

Always keep Ithaca in your mind;
to reach her is your destiny.
But do not rush your journey in the least.
Better that it last for many years;
that you drop anchor at the island an old man,
rich with all you’ve gotten on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.

Ithaca gave to you the beautiful journey;
without her you’d not have set upon the road.
But she has nothing left to give you any more.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca did not deceive you.
As wise as you’ll have become, with so much experience,
you’ll have understood, by then, what these Ithacas mean. “- C. P. Cavafy, trans. by Daniel Mendelsohn

 

“I only fear danger where I want to fear it.” – Franz Kafka, The Trial

 

What I Wore: Custom-made jacket from a gift of vintage English tweed; Ducie London raccoon fur collar; Club Monaco “Tasha” leggings; Tibi feathered mules; Cinnamon Cocoon “Slim and Simple” Macbook sleeve

Photos by James D. Malone

 

 

About Natasha

Word- and dough-smith. Girl in search of "the illumination, that ecstatic flash, from which truth emerges".

One comment

  1. Yemisi

    As usual, Natasha, intentional and artful writing. I’m hoping your emprise would be easy. Rooting for you! Yemisi

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