New York belongs to everyone. In New York, Winnipeg belongs to me.
Every week or two, I wander around Lincoln Center after the practice rooms shut down at midnight, calling my brother back in Canada. I’m growing pretty familiar with the details: the raised concrete plaza south of the opera, the alley through the circus barricades, a water feature in an apartment lobby, the security guards keeping half an eye on you. It’s a beautiful place, and I like it. But somehow the familiarity doesn't wear in like a favorite shoe, or like a neighborhood—Wolseley, for example—in Winnipeg.
You might say that’s how everyone feels about their hometown and the place they move to. "Give it time," you might say, “it’ll wear in.” I’m not so sure. I think there may be something else going on.
Lincoln Square, the neighborhood of Juilliard and the Juilliard res where I live, does feel like home in a certain sense. I know my drugstore, my grocery, my barber, and my walk (up the stairs into the park by the Tavern on the Green, north to Wagner's Cove, and back again). I can put together a night out in the neighborhood at five different price points (not much of a feat in such a vibrant area, though the cheap options require more creativity). The paths and shortcuts one learns in a new place have already made their circuits in my brain. And yet when I think about Lincoln Square, it’s still as a destination, not an origin.
I think my feeling about the neighborhood is a result of a kind of collective saturation.
I take photos for this blog, which is a nice incentive to go on long walks and have a good look around. And I do believe that if you look hard and get lucky you can take a unique and interesting picture almost anywhere. But in a place like Lincoln Square, you must first wade through an incomprehensibly vast ocean of nearly-identical pictures of nearly-identical things in one of the most photographed places on earth (a geotagged search of the half-a-mile-across neighbourhood currently turns up 75,558 unique photos).
Even this feeling of saturation, is, itself, saturated: some six years ago John Koenig coined the term vemödalen in his Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, which is now is repeated ad nauseum on blogs and travelogues across the internet:
n. the frustration of photographing something amazing when thousands of identical photos already exist—the same sunset, the same waterfall, the same curve of a hip, the same closeup of an eye—which can turn a unique subject into something hollow and pulpy and cheap, like a mass-produced piece of furniture you happen to have assembled yourself.
You can get this feeling playing the same excerpt as everyone else at the audition, dancing in the hundredth night of a Broadway production, or trying to write music—any music at all—against the backdrop of thousands of years of compositional innovation. This cynicism, or, more likely, good-faith overwhelmed-ness, is perhaps what drove the patent office commissioner to call human invention's time of death at the end of the 1800s, with the mind-boggling declaration that: “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” I'm more inclined to agree with Stravinsky: “I know that the twelve notes in each octave and the variety of rhythm offer me opportunities that all of human genius will never exhaust.”
Perhaps it’s easier to feel at home in a place if you’re the first one there. But you’re never really the first one anywhere, and even if you were you’d be living in a hole.
In the lush cultural hinterland of Winnipeg, amid the erasure of snow, it’s not so hard to feel like a prospector making his first hole in the ground. Amid Lincoln Square's monumental history and architecture, it can feel more like clanging your shovel against the floor of the pantheon. Yet that very size and solidity, history and height is what we’re all here for. And there's something bigger, if not necessarily better, than can be built and learned working together here, in a place that belongs to so many people, so much history, and such investment.
New York is built by everyone. In Winnipeg you can dig your own garden.
College applications for fall 2020 are now open.