What a weird, wild, wondrous whirlwind these past few months have been!
I reluctantly visited my least favorite city on earth, and three weeks later, I found a new city to (quite unexpectedly) love; I have communed with quarrelsome goats and curious chickens, I have stood in the shadow of a 305 ft copper lady, I finally met, for the first time, friends I’ve known for over a decade and some I’ve made more recently, and I made new acquaintances of several people who know me or recognize me from my writing (this is a weird one but I secretly love it!) And lastly, I’m sorry to sound a bit schmaltzy, but I also discovered–a little late in the game, but better late than never–how vital and valuable and just…really lovely…that spending time with family can be. Even if it’s your found family. Even if I was resisting it with every particle of my being!
In April I tagged along with my partner’s family on a trip to NYC. I know it’s probably impolite to say so and may hurt some feelings, but I truly loathe New York City. It’s just too much, and all of the too much, all at once. However, I was with my love, and his family–so it’s not like I was there hacking it by myself, all alone. His mother had just celebrated a bit of a milestone birthday and wanted to celebrate with her family, doing fun touristy things, in a city that she’d never really gotten to spend much time in.
Being a bit of an ingrate and a brat, I suppose, I was not necessarily looking forward to this trip. Spending time with other people’s families is always a dicey venture. Everyone’s got their own routines, their own agendas, their own way of doing things. Three opinionated brothers are going to snip and pick and bicker a lot. Grumpy dads with bad knees and bad hearing are going to (understandably) be uncomfortable and unhappy and probably pretty vocal about it. Me, I was resentful and sullen and anxious about the distinct possibilities of family squabbles but hopefully no one could tell; I would just be the same, old “why is she so quiet?” Sarah that they had grown to tolerate, if not necessarily love, over the past seven years.
(As you can see, above, I was dressed as a veritable ray of sunshine. I packed approximately seven variations of this outfit! To be fair, this is how I dress no matter where I’m traveling, or with whom. Cloak: Phantom Lovely; Leggings: Blackmilk; Tunic: Aakasha; Necklace: bloodmilk)
Hungry and exhausted, I was brought to tears the very first day in the city, after having just arrived and meeting the family in a small sandwich shop next to our Midtown hotel. The first comment directed my way was a concerned, “oh dear, you look so tired”, and come on–who wants to hear something like that? I bit my tongue but I was tempted to say “nah, I’m just ugly.” Then the quarrels began. Where to sit, what to order, who is going to pay for what, was this really the best place to eat?
GAHHHH. I thought I was going to lose my damn mind. Fussing, cussing, contentious people have always upset me, ever since I was very young. I just feel like…people shouldn’t disagree and argue in front of other people, and definitely not in public. I realize I just might be a little bit sensitive to that, though, and I recognize for lots of folks, this is a very normal way to communicate, and they don’t think twice about it. Especially in close families! I know myself well enough, though, to identify what my triggers are, and what is going to upset me, so I stepped away from the group, took a deep breath, and counted to ten. Visited my safe place (Thanks, therapy! More on this later.) Ordered a falafel salad. Rejoined the fray after I felt the tears retreat.
I must note that this was the best salad I’d ever eaten in my entire life! And though the spot where we dined was probably a chain, and really nothing special considering all the options that the city has to offer–it really was some of my favorite food from the whole trip. Maybe because it delivered a delicious respite and nourishment when I sorely needed it.
I’m happy to say that after our initially rocky arrival, most everything settled down–including me–and it was actually a lovely time. I did so many things that I probably never would have chosen to do, if asked; taking a ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, visiting the Empire State Building observatory (look at my crazy hair, it wants to fly off my head straight into space!) — these things have never been at the top of my list of priorities. Or…even on my list at all. Part of me might have said that these pilgrimages were very much wasted on me. Midway in the doing of them, I became aware of feeling… not exactly jazzed learning more about our nation’s history… but rather I came away with a sentiment that I have not experienced much in the course of my lifetime, and as it’s not part of my lived experience, I’m not sure that I have the proper words available in my lexicon to describe it.
My own family is so very small. Two sisters whom I adore. A cousin whom I don’t know very well. A father with whom I don’t communicate. That’s it, really. Everyone else is dead, or else I don’t know them at all and they either don’t know me or have forgotten I exist. In my time as an adult, my family has certainly never traveled together; at most, we’ve had one annual holiday dinner for the last few decades. And even now, that yearly Thanksgiving dinner is becoming a thing of the past as we opt to travel elsewhere, to create our own traditions.
To spend time with this family then, who has accepted me (as far as I can tell, and even though often they tell me I need to wear more bright colors) as one of their own, to do with them the things that “normal families” do; whether it be traveling, dining together, sitting around the table for coffee and conversation–I have never had that, even when my family was alive and whole. That just wasn’t our thing, and though I’m not always sure that I want that level of closeness and communication, it has become something I appreciate more than I ever would have thought possible. It took this trip away with them to the city I most dislike in the world to realize that.
I did, however, do other things in NYC than learn maudlin, melancholic life lessons! We got tickets to The Cher Show, a production recounting the evolution of an iconic star, “packed with so much Cher that it takes three women to play her, ” and, I might add, very accurately reviewed as “…an explosion of fabulous excess that survives against all odds under the weight of all its sequins.”
I’ve never really thought of myself as a Cher fan, though I’m not not a Cher fan, I guess? I mean, I know all the words to her songs, but is that because I enjoy and connect with them on some level or is it because they’ve gotten so much radio play that it’s all a bit unconscious and subliminal at this point? Well, I’ve always appreciated her over-the-top sense of style, at any rate, and the show certainly played up that aspect in the form of the glittering excess of several dozen amazing costume changes!
I didn’t expect to have the opportunity to actually do anything I wanted to do during this visit, but much to my delight, the group consensus was that we might like to stop by the Gugenheim for the Hilma af Klint exhibit. It’s a cliché, I know, to talk about an artist being ahead of their time, but I think even Hilma herself knew that her paintings–imaginative, abstract articulations of her views on mysticism and spirituality–were the sort of experimental, boundary-defying works that the world in that moment would neither appreciate nor understand. Hilma af Klint stipulated that her art not be shown for twenty years following her death; her work was all but unseen until 1986, and only over the subsequent three decades have her paintings and works on paper begun to receive serious attention. I’m so pleased that I was in the right place at the right time, while this exhibit was available to the public, and that I had the good fortune to have seen it for myself.
Not even a month later I flew out to L.A. (AND I upgraded to first class seats to mitigate the stress of the whole “peeing in airplanes” situation!) The above photo was taken at the excellent and hitherto-unknown-to-me Clifton’s during a lovely meet and greet hosted by the sweet ladies from The Creeping Museum. Lovely though it may have been, I disappeared back to my hotel room shortly after this photo was taken. I was overcome with …is party anxiety a thing? I am quite certain it is. When I encounter a room where people have already arrived and started to congregate, I can’t think straight. My heart races, I get flushed and sweaty and I want to make a break for it. I have a hard time jumping into conversations; I feel pressured to chat, and even if I can think of a conversation topic suitable for the group, I overthink what to say, and I either end up saying nothing or something …really … weird.
On top of a rude, brutal surprise period and being extra-crampy and headache-y, having spent the last ten hours on my feet in another, slightly different but equally high-stress situation, and not having eaten since about 8am that morning, well…I panicked and split. And I feel awful, because everyone there was so nice, and probably just as awkward and strange as me, but I had reached my limits. I vanished as soon as it seemed appropriate and hurried back to my room for a bit of a weep. I was really beating myself up about it at the time, too, like “why can’t you be more like so-n-so? She’s clever, she’s charming, she always tells a good story that holds listeners rapt, she’s probably nervous too, but she keeps her shit together!” But I also know that I tried… maybeit wasn’t a perfect attempt, but it was an attempt, you know?
Ah, well. I know myself fairly well. I know I am best equipped for circumstances where I’m communicating and interacting one on one; add a few other folks in the mix and I think that’s nearly too much stimulation for me. Make it a roomful of people, and, 99% of the time, I will probably straight up shut down. I’ll keep trying, though! And hopefully people will continue to understand. Your weird friend Sarah is weird, guys. Sorry about it.
But of course Los Angeles was more than uncomfortable social situations; that was truly only one minuscule part of my visit! There were wonderful friends met and made; friendly farm animals and feral cats; art and artists and books and cocktails and both the most liberating breakfast sandwich I have ever devoured as well as the most elusive sushi burrito that I never actually ate at all. And much, much more! All of that though, is a tale for another time and place …like over at Haute Macabre sometime in the near future, hint hint! Once I’ve had a chance to parse and process and parcel it out, there will be loads more details to share in a ginormous collaborative post with a few of my HM coven-cronies and travel-mates.
I will instead leave you with this image of some the beautiful things I brought back with me. As we all know, the best part of any travel is returning home to spread your newly gotten treasures over your bed and bask in the glory of acquisition and collection!