So, when it comes right down to it, my damn mother nurtured to much New York into me as a kid.
As many of you know, I am the Chief Operating Officer of a company that has it’s head quarters in New York. My weekly travels to lower Manhattan have defined the better part of the last 14 months and now I have the weird sensation of missing New York when I head home almost as much as I miss my family when I head down. It got me thinking, how had this come to be?
I’ve always been “at home” where ever I have found myself living. I think my early adult experiences of working for Outward Bound and learning to sleep in sub-optimal cold and wet environments has made me appreciative of how generally nice modern living is. I mean, most of us have shelter and food, so why not be happy with where you happen to be?
When Torri and I got married back in 1994 we were both living in Syracuse together. I was relatively happy she thought the place was cold and miserable. After Torri finished her Ph.D., Lincoln Nebraska was next on our itinerant journey west to San Diego. In Nebraska we were comfortable in our accommodations, but the community was a little bit like stepping into “The Stepford Wives” so one morning we packed it all in and drove west. We broke up the two day journey by staying in Dodge Kansas just so we could say “Let’s get the hell out of Dodge” when we woke up.
In San Diego we lived for a year and then it was off to the San Francisco Bay Area. July 1st of 1997 found us (on Apple’s dime) moving to Acton Massachusetts to be closer to Torri’s parents with our oldest child approaching the tender age of 1. The truth is, Home is where your family is.
Except when it isn’t.
My mother grew up on Ocean Avenue in Brooklyn. Almost every year my mother would drag me back to “The Old Country” for visits. We spent most of our time in Manhattan visiting my mother’s many United Nations friends from her time working as a speech writer for Carlos Romulo. I learned about the subways, the bridges, the tall buildings. I always enjoyed out trips there, even if sometimes the muggy summer air left a lot to be desired of in a friend’s apartment who didn’t “believe” in air conditioning.
It was on a morning walk in Tribeca the other week to meet a friend for a run that I realized my mother had screwed me. I was married to a woman who would never be happy in the hustle and bustle of New York. I find my time there energizing. Clarifying even. Torri is just put off by the sea of humanity and the smell.
When I finally met Alexis for the run portion of my morning workout, I told her that I thought my mother had raised a New Yorker. Worse, I explained, I had married a non-New Yorker. It’s not that Torri couldn’t live in New York City, it’s just that I’d not be able to soon afford any of the types of places she’d really enjoy living in. Alexis makes a suggestion that I win over the kids first. I laughed as I explained that this task would be even harder than winning over Torri.
In the area starting around the West Side Highway and 14th Street with a bounding lower edge of The Ritz Carlton at Battery Park and extending over to Kevin’s neighborhood in Alphabet city I am home. My home away from Massachusetts contains the neighborhoods of West Village, Meatpacking, a taste of Union Square, a sliver of Alphabet City, a smaller section of the Lower East Side, ( but I’m much more of a Lower West Sider ), Tribeca, Soho, the Financial District, and Battery Park. Now granted, the Hipsters and Trustafarians are a bit much in this area of New York these days, but this area has for me become my extended neighborhood.
I have new friends there. I have old friends nearby. I found it easy to build a body weight exercise circuit that I can enhance with runs with my friends.
The one thing that keeps it from truly being home is that my family isn’t there.
At the end of the day.
The truth is, Home is where your family is.
So, my vacation is not completely unplugged just yet. I’m waiting for a final version of a change order I need to get to a client. That’s the downside for me. The downside for you is that I keep having thoughts and putting them up on the blog and, for whatever reason, you seem compelled to come here and read them.
How much of what we do each and every day is that which we love to do? I’ve found that often times people pursue paths in their lives because it seems “like the right thing” or “it’s what comes next.” I know that I kept dropping back in to College because it made my mother happy.
My mother, Janet Horovitz née Rosenblum, was an educator and fixer. She spent the better part of 20 years trying to fix my father. She spent many a night of my youth trying to fix my poor school habits. She was not really terribly successful on either count.
My father’s story I’ll tell another time.
In my case, she had put into play an immense library of books in our house. At this point, I should make mention that I was not an early reader. I struggled to learn to read all the way through the end of second grade. This in spite of the best attempts of my mother and my teachers, and my Grandmother. One day at the end of the year it clicked and I was hooked. By the time it came to standardized testing ( California Achievement Tests ) in the 3rd grade I was reading at a high school level or better.
Aside To the frustrated parents out pushing their children to read before they get to kindergarten: language acquisition is complicated and generally proceeds according to the wiring of the individual involved. Reading "late" is a stupid concept for any verbal child. If the child is able to articulate fairly advanced concepts at an early age, don't worry about the reading - it will get there with time, patience and effort. Also, I had a lot of ear infections growing up and there is a weird connection between ear infections and delayed reading skills.
Now the problem that arises from reading at a high school level or better in a house full of books is not immediately apparent. My mother and father both loved to read, they wanted to pass along this love to their child. It worked.
Only, as you well know, readers develop interests. Interests can really fuck with school curriculums. A by product of the industrial revolution, modern schools are still stuck in the paradigm that a good student has a great deal of knowledge in many areas. Even if the student in question has no interest whatsoever in the subject matter at hand.
Unwittingly my mother had nurtured one of my great loves and put it in direct conflict with one of my great weaknesses. In a nutshell, I’m just not well suited to “do what you’re told, and don’t ask any questions.” My teachers would all lament about “how bright I was”, how I was “wasting my potential”, how “if only I applied myself”, etc. The litany of their complaints grew more voluminous each year. The litany grew, I read books, didn’t do my homework and my GPA shrank.
By the end, my cumulative High School GPA was a sad sad 1.78 ( C- ) but my SAT scores ( out of 1600 at the time ) were 1390. Clearly I’d learned something. Thank goodness you could apply to schools using your SATs only back then.
My poor mother, she couldn’t see how I would ever be able to lead a productive life without a college degree. So, I kept dropping back in. Inevitably I would run up against some “required” coursework which I found myself completely uninterested in and unwilling to do. I’d pick up and head to Kings Canyon and go climbing for weeks at a time without filing the proper paperwork with the school in question. The inevitable and predictable resulted.
The last time I saw my mother was when we took a long walk together in September of 1992. We walked our favorite trail in Tilden Park. My mother was full of hope that time.
A life long Democrat, it seemed as if Bill Clinton would be elected that November. A life long Educator, it seemed as if her son would finally graduate college. She wouldn’t live long enough to discover that only one of these events would come to pass. Years of high blood pressure induced by anger at my father would claim her life on October 17th of that year when the blood vessels in her brain finally gave way to an intracerebral hemorrhage.
In the period following my mothers death I quickly came to realize that I was only attending school to satisfy her wish that I get a college degree. My interest were elsewhere ( Torri was living in Syracuse and I in San Diego ), and I dropped out the second to last time and moved east. In the time period between 1993 and 1994 I came across a very important book.
In a nutshell the book encourages you to really explore what it is you love to do, what your weaknesses are, and how to navigate a path in life that lets you leverage what you discover. I have found this approach to be extremely valuable both in my life and in the lives of people I have encouraged to follow it. Your millage may vary on the economic side of the equation, but on the happiness side you’ll get the results you are looking for.
I’ll unplug soon, but probably not before one last update on our island adventures…