Tripping down Memoiry Lane

If you asked me a year ago whether I had a memoir in me, I would have stared puzzled, thinking no way. But sometime during this past winter that changed after I took a memoir workshop, believing I was simply there to mine material for memoir type essays. No way did I have a longer work in me. When I left the workshop, though, I had a small journal filled with potential scenes, motivations, random memories all focused around the seven years I lived in NYC. Since then, the concept has grabbed me and now I have surrendered, realizing that if I don't write my way through those years, I will want--want for the understanding, want for the revisiting, want for capturing a glimpse of those years with my slightly aged being.
My apartment was on the 4th floor,
two left windows were my views of the street. 

This summer, I finally began writing, working on an essay about the apartment I lived in on 1st and 1st from 1979-1986. The essay, though, did not want to contain itself to that and begged for answers to questions, leaving me with a range of territory to explore. While the essay brought the apartment back into my present, a recent trip to NYC delivered its presence.

Last month, wandering the streets of the East Village, I noted all that had changed, all that remained, and tried to let whatever moments surfaced leave impressions, rather than dissect the experience through my head. The visceral of sitting in Tompkins Square Park and hearing police sirens alert the local homeless that the detective had arrived, helped me travel back a bit to the early 1980s, when squatters and addicts' naps were disturbed by those same sirens. Walking down my old block, heading east down 1st Street from 2nd Avenue, brought only one familiar landmark--the Catholic Worker. Rather than hurrying past, as I often did to escape the  stares of the homeless, I lingered, peering in the open windows on a hot summer day, stopping and breathing in the familiar.

Later that evening, I returned to the street with Nan to dine at Gabrielle Hamilton's restaurant Prune, several doors west of my old apartment. After dinner, Nan and I walked to the front of my apartment, staring up at the fire escape and windows, noting which windows held my past. Nan snapped some photos, and while she captured a shot of the buzzer, a woman about to unlock the door asked Nan, "What are you doing?" I told the woman I used to live there. When I found out she lived there and had been there over 18 years, I asked her about some of the people I used to know in the building. She had stories to tell and helped spur some of my own memories about my neighbors. When I asked her what her apartment number was, she answered, "4D." My old apartment. I couldn't resist and asked her if she would be willing to let us see the apartment. And so, riding the tiny elevator those four flights, entering the door that I unlocked and locked almost daily, peering into the kitchen and seeing the same stove that held many meals, has begun to clear the bleary lens of my twenties, spurring me to trip a bit further into my past.

I have begun to read through journals from those years, cracking myself up with some of my moaning woeful tales of love and heartache, but more importantly reading stories about some early band gigs, complete with details and my commentary. The journal also holds names and events that help me picture certain instances, reminding me of the crazy edge that some of my nights held. Most significantly, though, it contains pages and pages of writing--bits of songs, noteworthy news items to use as fodder for writing (I am still apparently enamored with the concept of the Tecopa pupfish), and half started stories/poems/character sketches. Some of the material is worth revisiting, but what it holds more than that is a clearer truth into the years I stopped writing. All the time I lived in NYC I wrote and wrote, never abandoning my musical and writing passion. Even though my early undergrad years had damaged my ego some, providing me an easy scapegoat for not committing to writing, they did not stop me. Leaving the city and detouring into the suburbs and a semblance of suburban life accompanied a distancing of my art.

As I revisit, I imagine a series of oh shit moments, tears, surprise, and a nagging nostalgia for a time that for now is very alive.

Musical inspiration: Yacht, Iron & Wine, Blind Faith


  1. Amy, I am so glad you are doing this. I remember how much I enjoyed your the work you did at our Digital Storytelling Workshop with Daniel several summers ago. I hope you will write these stories and post them or, even better, publish them. I look forward to reading them. :0)


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