WELCOME TO THE CITY ISSUE!

While researching for The City Issue, I revisited “Goodbye to All That,” Joan Didion’s classic homage (and farewell) to New York City. And although I would gladly tattoo ninety- percent of this piece on my body, I was moved to tears [it was a rough week] where she writes:

I am not sure that it is possible for anyone brought up in the East to appreciate entirely what New York, the idea of New York, means to those of us who came out of the West and the South. . .To those of us who came from places where no one had heard of Lester Lanin and Grand Central Station was a Saturday radio program, where Wall Street and Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue were not places at all but abstractions (“Money,” and “High Fashion,” and “The Hucksters”), New York was no mere city. It was instead an infinitely romantic notion, the mysterious nexus of all love and money and power, the shining and perishable dream itself. To think of “living” there was to reduce the miraculous to the mundane; one does not “live” at Xanadu.

New York is perhaps the most socially constructed city of all: the promised-land for dreamers and the living-end for the faint-of-heart. It’s where the 1-percent work, the “terrorists” attacked, our proverbial crosshairs meet, and only the strong survive. [And everyone knows it.] That’s why upon hearing that anyone lives in New York City, reverence and social capital is immediately granted. It’s as if you can separate the population by those who made it here—and those who wished they could.

To come to New York is to decide that a dream is worth fulfilling, the unknown worth facing, and no means too costly for its end. You have to be capable of truly relinquishing control, abandoning fear, and accepting mass socioeconomic inequity. You have to really grasp that life here is a free-for-all; you can see poverty, heartbreak, and a Birkin bag all on your morning commute. And more often than not, you have to get here by leaving a place that is likely nothing like New York, because as any New Yorker will tell you: “There’s New York, and there’s everywhere else.”

This is not to discredit the many other great cities of the world. In fact, my inspiration for this issue came from urban theorist Elizabeth Wilson—who wrote the two definitive texts about women in the city—in reference to London. Additionally, in the midst of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, Emma Staffaroni offers her insight on protest and mobilization gained from her time in Paris. And our resident girl-about-the-globe Kelly Banbury shares personal photos from Mexico City.

But let me be clear: this editor believes that New York is the quintessential “city” and I organized this issue accordingly. Perhaps it’s because deep down, in the United States at least, when we refer to “the city” we are almost always referring to some abstraction of NYC.

I am so proud of this issue—it has elements of everything that motivates me to keep moving forward in this great Xanadu: sociologist and writer Ryan Moore reviews Elizabeth Wilson’s groundbreaking books on women, fashion, and urbanity; Elizabeth Wilson, herself, takes on my Ten Questions; Historian Rona Holub previews her upcoming (and highly-anticipated) lecture at this year’s Researching New York Conference; meanwhile, I profile some of the best “Coming to New York” stories I’ve ever heard.

Additionally, Miss Reece is back with a gorgeous piece reflecting on public space in New York and the contradictions within it (polarizing socioeconomics, the male gaze, and white privilege); Brooklynite John Walker tackles the cultural supremacy of New York; and Jamie Agnello returns (by popular demand) with more Uptown-prep-school-drama inspired poetry.

So it is with much adoration that I welcome you to Re/Visionist’s City Issue. [It’s a good one. Promise.]

xx

Caroline

The City Issue:

HELLO TO ALL THIS by Caroline Biggs

{To honor the struggle of getting to New York, I reached out to some of the most eccentric, entertaining, and ambitious women I know in this city—all of whom came from elsewhere and all of whom, despite their many differences, came with little more than the will to take on this terrifying but rewarding metropolis.}

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In 1957, as a child of ten, I visited NYC for the first time with my parents and my brother Michael.  (I was so excited I threw up in the train station.) I still remember the Rockettes at Radio City, the huge cigarette ad with real smoke in Times Square, and the view from the top of the Statue of Liberty.

In the mid-60s, my brother Michael studied art at Pratt and I would visit him whenever I could.  As the decades passed, I wandered from my hometown of Richmond, to Washington, DC, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and finally back to Richmond. I had been brought up to believe that if I was a religiously disciplined person I could overcome my creative, free-spirited nature.

At age 32, lost, I bottomed out on alcohol and drugs.  After being sober 9 years, I finally mustered the courage to move to NYC.  When I first arrived, I lived for a while in a women’s residence run by the Volunteers of America. Finding my way here was not easy, but today, over 20 years later, NYC is the home I had always been searching for–it just took me a long time to find it.  During these years, more than half my family has died (including my beloved Michael with whom I first experienced NYC).  As a result, I’ve had to reach out to others to teach me the full meaning of friendship.  Though I’m sure this can be accomplished anywhere, I found the help to become a whole person here.

I wish I could tell you that I have become wildly successful in a career, but that has not been my path. I have a rich, creative (and sober!) life.  What I value most is the people NYC has brought into my life.  My people.  My home.

{Maureen, Artist, from Richmond, Virginia, 20+ years in New York City.}
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 My first reading performance in New York was in the wake of an awful haircut. A terrible memory. His [hairstylist] name was Vincenzo; he had a thick accent I couldn’t quite place, and a nice smile that lit up his face, especially when he said things like, “You are so funny, you know?” Usually I ignore such obvious consumer traps, but I let this stranger have his way with me. Obviously he had great taste.

Unfortunately, good taste meant making me look like the prince from Spaceballs. My writing career, I decided, was over.

But when I arrived to the performance and watched the other readers, I became at ease. New York writers. Many of them had hair even shorter than mine, or should have because clearly they didn’t know how to manage it.  But their hairstyles or lack thereof didn’t really matter, I decided. Their stories were really good. I gave them a pass, and myself as well.

{Nedda, Writer, from Parsippany, New Jersey, 15+ years in New York}

 ___________________

This is one instance in which I have been thankful for the oblivious naiveté of youth. The truth is: if I had known what I was in for, I’m not sure I would have made the same decision.

My first year of college at Barnard, all I seemed to hear about was the blissfully exciting time all of my fellow Berkeley High alums were having, scattered around the various universities of California. Except for those of us who, in the name of broadening horizons and getting as far away from family as possible (no, mom, the fact that I could do my laundry at home is not an incentive for me to go to Cal), decided to move to the east coast.

We were all miserable.

I had dreamed of going to school Back East ever since I was aware of higher education, heavily steeped as I was in romanticized tales of my parents’ ten-year period in Cambridge (before my time). I pictured myself at the top of a brick turret, curled up in a wingback chair with a cup of tea and Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy as a snowstorm raged outside. I failed to realize that just because San Francisco and New York are both liberal, urban, ocean-adjacent cultural centers didn’t mean that my new environment would be the Bay Area with weather.

I was wholly unprepared for the degree of culture shock. I felt like there was no one in the entire school who could ever understand me and no one had told me that snow in New York stops being charming after 3 hours when you’re trying to avoid lakes of brown sludge wearing beat-up converse.

But the benefit of being 3,000 miles from home was that I couldn’t run away. Separated from the default opinions absorbed from the environment in which I grew up, I was forced to establish and redefine those values for myself. Then it was possible to find people I could connect with and discover the indefinable moments of sublime experience that only a city like New York seems to conjure.

Also, it helps to buy snow boots.

{Elisa, Graphic Designer, from Berkeley, California, 7+ years in New York}

_______________

My first attempt to move to New York was naive. After less than a month in the city, I found myself back in Kansas and living with my parents. Depressed but determined, I vowed to get whatever dismal job I could, spend nothing, and count the days until I could return to what I’d come to believe was the best place anyone might go.

While job searching, I saw an ad in the paper looking for anyone available for travel and willing to ride an ostrich. Out of curiosity, I called the number. Less than a week later, I found myself in California, working for a traveling animal show. Three times a day, my task was to jump on to the back of an ostrich and try to hold on while it tore around a race-track. I stayed on the bird only once and crashed into the dirt every other time. While painful, I thought this was only fair, as the ostrich likely wasn’t interested in the race to begin with.

A month in, I landed wrong (elbow-first) and broke my arm. I hung up my racing silks and happily retired. By that time I’d saved enough money to rent a room in Bed-Stuy [Brooklyn]. Arm in a sling with a suitcase of clothes and books, I went to Brooklyn, where I remain. It seems appropriate to have done such a strange thing in order to live in such a strange place.

{Jodi, 25, Writer, from Wichita, Kansas, 5+ years in New York}

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In high school, I felt incredibly compelled to study in New York and explore my then recreational interest in fashion. Unbeknownst to my parents (and without a visit to neither New York nor the campus), I sent out my early decision application to NYU.

After being accepted to NYU’s Stern Business School program and courses began, I immediately picked up an internship with Marie Claire magazine’s fashion department and a part time job with a small boutique in the Meatpacking District. It was important for me to balance out the business curriculum with fashion-related outlets that motivated me to move to New York in the first place.

Come graduation, I had interned at Marie Claire, AEFFE USA and COSMOGirl! while holding onto my retail job. I also volunteered for NYU’s Fashion Business Association during school.

When I was referred by an editor to join the start-up fashion website StyleCaster in 2008, I seized the opportunity and over the next three years moved up the ladder from fashion assistant to style and market editor. Recently, I joined the BULLETT Media team as their fashion market editor contributing to both their print and online outlets.

{Janice, 25, Fashion Market Editor, from Wilmette, Illinois, 5+ years in New York}

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Although I’d been to New York City at least once a year for my entire life, I guess I’d have to say that the first time I really came to the City was when I was 17 and moving into my freshman year dorm at Barnard College.  I was torn because I had left a boy and countless friends behind in Ohio and had those feelings of despair and certain doom that only a 17-year-old can muster – that feeling that the world is completely and utterly over, when in reality, it was only just beginning.

On that first move-in day I arrived early with my aunt (a Barnard alumna herself) and painstakingly unpacked my things.  At about 3:30 in the afternoon she left and I tried to pretend that I was calm, even though I was utterly terrified and alone.  My roommate still hadn’t shown up, so on top of everything else, I was nervous to meet her.  All of a sudden this amazing ball of energy burst into the room and introduced herself as Neeti, gave me a huge hug, and said how excited she was that we were going to be roommates.  I breathed a sigh of relief until about 10 more Indian people showed up at the door, all talking to and over each other at about a mile a minute.  Neeti’s mother insisted on calling me Sarah and asked me repeatedly to take photographs of the family as they moved Neeti in (just shy of missing the deadline, which I came to learn was typical).

Then, as if by magic, Neeti’s family members disappeared and we were left alone in that little room we shared on the 4th floor of Sulzberger.  Little did we know that that day would commence the start of a friendship that is still as integral to our lives as it was that first year when we were staying up all night studying, not cleaning our room, and chasing after boys in Butler Library.  To me, New York City is nothing without the people there with you, and my experience certainly got started on the right foot. 

{Amanda, 25, Co-Editor [ReVisionist], from Westerville, Ohio, 8+ years in New York}

 ___________________ 

I got to New York with 2 suitcases, an almost dead cell-phone, and $11.  The first suitcase— “hot pink with polka-dots!!” as my roommate (and ride from La Guardia) always emphasizes when recalling our first meeting—was filled with my archives; my archives being the pieces in my wardrobe (i.e. bags, shoes, dresses, tights) that I would NEVER entrust to FedEx when shipping the rest of my closet.  The second contained a twin-sized air mattress, an air pump, a pillow, and a blanket—the items that would comprise my entire “bedroom” for my first month in the city. Technically, I had $25 to my name when I got off of the plane, but after realizing I had left my charger in Chicago mid-flight, I was forced to pay the ridiculously inflated airport-markup for a universal charger (from that budget-Sharper Image store, no less) and was left with just over ten bucks to last me the week.

I remember pulling up to my apartment in Harlem the first time.  Let me tell you–I don’t care where you come from—even with the Hudson River as your backyard, seeing Harlem the first time will scare the shit out of you. Despite having visited the city countless times before—you never really look at it how you would when you know it’s home. How on earth was I in Manhattan without a Sephora within walking distance? I hate Starbucks but I at least like knowing it’s around the corner, which at 141st and Broadway, it is not. What the f— is a bodega?

I thought living in Chicago, without a car or a central grocery store, was more than ample preparation for New York. It wasn’t. And the truth is, going on two years later, everyday is a manifestation of that first day here: me, broke, with my archives, and New York. And unlike Chicago, I was finally in the city I had always dreamed of—and part of learning the ropes in this city is discerning that almost everyone here struggles in some form or the other. The bodega on the corner, where I do all of my grocery shopping, considers me a fixture—they worry and ask around the block when I’ve been gone too long. $5 morning coffees have been replaced with Café Bustelo and a stovetop percolator that is so embedded in my morning routine—I often forget to the put the espresso in it. Sephora is reserved for trips downtown, which I take almost daily, and can afford to because I live in Harlem. [Which is still Manhattan proper, mind you—and really, all I’ve ever dreamed of.]

{Yours Truly, 28, Editor [ReVisionist], from Derby, Kansas, 1+ years in New York}

{ xx }

_________________

 

Researching New York : A Sneak Peek at This Year’s Conference

  {Director of the Women’s History Program at Sarah Lawrence College, Rona Holub, shares the abstract for her upcoming presentation at this year’s esteemed “Researching New York” conference series.} 

In Defense of a “Noble Metropolis”: The Irish and German Immigrant Response to New York State’s Attack on Home Rule in New York City, 1857

In April of 1857, the New York State Legislature passed new laws, regulations, and charter revisions that threatened the very fiber of the social and political lives of the poor and working class immigrants of New York City.  Part of this effort involved the dissolution of the city administered Municipal Police and the creation of the state run Metropolitan Police Force. Members of these two separately appointed and administered forces beat each other up at city hall in New York City on June 16, 1857.  The question of who was in charge of the city hung in the air.  On July 4, 1857, mass violence broke out in New York City followed by major civil disorder on July 5, July 12 and 13.  The July violence involved “gangs” and mostly Irish and German residents of the city.  These violent incidents were connected.  Politicians, nativists, and moral reformers in New York State had formed a coalition and set out to stem the tide of immigrant political power.

The violence that broke out, beginning with the Police Riot itself, was a reaction to the imposition of one set of values over another, over the belief that one way of life was better than another,  that one religion was better than another, that political power belonged in the hands of some people but not others.  Contemporary newspapers generally emphasized the “gang war” nature of these outbreaks.  Clearly these disturbances represented much more than gang rivalry and turf wars.  Such spontaneous civil disturbances, often represented as “merely” gang driven episodes sparked by  “criminal elements,” had political overtones.  People who felt that their freedom and ability to govern themselves was being undercut by the state rebelled.  They reacted as “true” Americans, as “freemen,” whose rights were being usurped.  They conveyed a narrative in which they asserted that they should have the same rights as other white male citizens to govern themselves.  It is not a coincidence that at least two of the riots were apparently started by members of the Dead Rabbits, a pro-Democrat, Irish gang attacking members of the Metropolitan Police Force.  The new force represented the powers that hated, derided and attempted to enforce their mores and values on the immigrant population and control the political processes of the city.  The residents of the wards where violence broke out reacted in protest against what they deemed as the usurpation of their rights.

Thus, the violence between the police forces in June and that which erupted in July are connected and represent anxieties, fears, and a wide array of interpretations of self interest among the growing multitude of people entering and living in the city.  This paper describes the events of this month-long period of violence and disruption and interrogates its meanings.  It proposes as well that how these events came about and were handled might have impacted the worst civil violence ever to occur in the city which took place six years later, that is, the Draft Riots of 1863.  Could these have been prevented or at least diminished had the meanings of the 1857 riots been understood and the events addressed differently?

{Researching New York 2011–Upheaval & Disaster, Triumph & Tragedy: Aftermath will be taking place at the University at Albany, State University of New York, November 17 and 18. For more information go to nystatehistory.org.}

Big Smelly Ol’ Apple

John Walker is a Sarah Lawrence graduate who really likes the internet a lot.

You know how when you’re in your first real (read: high school) relationship, and you celebrate one-month “anniversaries” because you think that’s what grown-ups in love do?  Well, hop aboard the Inane Train, because this weekend marks my one-month anniversary of living in New York City. (read: Bushwick)

Ah, the Big Gay Apple, a truly cosmopolitan melting pot where people of all cultural backgrounds can come together as an integrated collective of individuals.

For many of the city’s residents, accustomed to such highly valued levels of diversity found in urban life, it must be difficult to imagine living in some intolerant, backwoods town.  I did just that this summer, and let me tell you that rural Wisconsin is, like, SUPER racist.  OH, and homophobic, too!  They just don’t. get. it.  They just don’t understand what it’s like to respect the differences of others, as city dwellers do.

Can you even picture what life is like even just a couple of hours upstate?  All the white people!  All the straight people!  It’s like they’re trying to section themselves off from those not like them.  That’s one reason why I, and really all who move to New York City, have chosen not to section myself off from those unlike me.  Living in a self-constructed bubble would do nothing but fuel ignorance and hatred among people.  Thank God urbanites actively counteract such things.

The spirit of the Civil Rights Movement lives on, and the progression of positive cross-cultural interaction is astounding.  These days, it is pretty unbelievable that people of color were denied such fundamental human rights and dignities due to the race.  I mean, it’s not like they were gay or anything.  Like most progressive NYC residents, I often go entire days without seeing color.  If only the rest of the country could be like New York when it comes to race relations. (Especially the South!  So racist!)

It’s unfortunate that queer people are still discriminated against.  Hello! It’s 2011!  At least New York, in the wake of legalizing same-sex marriage statewide, offers a safe haven for we, the not exactly heterosexual.  But I know that someday, in the not too distant future, discrimination will finally come to an end.  It’s really on its last legs right now.

Until then, we’ll always have New York City, a post-racial, post-gender, post-asldjl;kadvl;knsalkkjlsdlksklsslk

/satire

Ok, I think you get the point.  Racism isn’t southern, homophobia isn’t rural, and we shouldn’t be dummies about it.

Hey, I never said I was a creative-writing student.

Real talk now: Here’s my true list of pros & cons regarding living in NY instead of rural Wisconsin.

PROS

–       I like being able to make out with guys on the regular.  New York fulfills this need.  I never said I was a role-model.

CONS

– New York actually smells really bad.  I literally dry-heaved the second I stepped out of Grand Central in September.  By removing myself from NY for the summer, I’ve lost all funk tolerance.  As someone who is used to smelling bad (also on the regular), I’m not even being dramatic.  Don’t believe me?  Go to an idyllic heaven, like rural Wisconsin, for 4 months, and then plop yourself right back into Midtown.

            {If you want to learn more about hate crime statistics in New York state, check out the NY State Division of Criminal Justice Services’ “Hate Crimes in New York State: 2010 Annual Report,” available at http://criminaljustice.state.ny.us/crimnet/pubs.htm}

[More] Poems from Jamie Agnello

{For our “City Issue,” Jamie is back with three more of her celebrated poems (inspired by the character of Chuck Bass on “Gossip Girl”). What’s more New York City than Upper West Side-Prep-School inspired poetry? You can find more of these linguistic gems at  http://ilikedyoubetterbefore.tumblr.com/ }

Bad News

Look, anyone who trades in

their trust fund for a fanny pack

flies in the face of all that is

holy to Chuck Bass.

If it cost more than 10 grand,

it earns a proper name.

Everyone out there wants to be us.

We are what you aspire to.

You’re gonna tell me that the life

of a YouTube filmmaker

is better than this?

There is no outside world

that I do not show you.

Stop talking.

Start partying.

I’m Chuck Bass.

The Handmaiden’s Tale

Welcome to the Upper East Side.

Little Jenny Humphrey manages

to get my pants off—

and have me not enjoy it.

Quite the accomplishment.

Well, hello, angel.

Beautiful…and mean?

I’ve got chills.

Care to dance with the poor devil?

You’re getting warmer,

which is an achievement

because you’re already hot.

If I was your man,

I wouldn’t need clues to find you.

I’m Chuck Bass.

Victor/Victrola

Alfonso made me an omelet.

I may have washed it down

with a Bellini or two.

Your position in my esteem

has been replaced by your voicemail.

Victory party. Here. Tomorrow.

I’ll send a car.

A burlesque club:

a respectable place

where people can

let loose.

Pure escape.

You’re ten times hotter

than any of those girls.

Why don’t you get up there?

This is the perfect thing.

I’ve been waiting for this.

What happens at Victrola

stays at Victrola.

I’m Chuck Bass.

{Chuck Bass photo courtesy via Giovanni Rufino/The CW}

{Ed Westwick and Taylor Momsen photo courtesy of tengossip via splashnews}

{Victor/Victrola photo courtesy via The CW}

For the Birds Collective Presents: The 5th Annual BIG SHE-BANG

Many of us RE/VISIONIST staffers are excited to announce our involvement in the 5th Annual BIG SHE-BANG. Editor Rosamund Hunter and myself (Web Editor) are both active members of For the Birds, the organizing collective that presents the Big She-Bang. Public Relations Manager Nydia Swaby will be speaking on a panel about Youth & Media, regarding her experience teaching young girls African-American history at Girls for Gender Equity. Even contributors Lauren Denitzio and Stephanie Land are part of it! Click through for a press release with all the information on the event. Continue reading