I’m riding my bike a few flat miles in 96 degree heat before barging into refrigerated campus buildings. My lungs can’t take the sudden 20 degree difference. You know where this is going.
I’ve had a cold my first two weeks in Dallas. So I’ll do what I do best: I’ll sit this one out and observe.
Classes begin. They wash over us as implacably as the tides. As soon as I’ve regained my footing, the next one sends me tumbling, coughing, gasping for air. I never had good hair, so that hasn’t changed.
When I worked, I had some control over the rhythm of the stroke. No longer. The theoretical classes—“Microeconomics of the Arts Market” and “Cultural Policy”—are taught by the same person three days a week, so I can’t tell which way is up.
I got here thinking I knew in which direction I was pointed. Our five courses have jumbled that and blown everything open. I’m passionate about being an advocate for culture in immigrant communities; or showing artistic directors the harmony in numbers as a CPA; or being the best storyteller that fundraising has ever seen. I just don’t know anymore. Tracy warned me about that.
Despite my cold, I swim each day. So I get really sick. But in the pool is when ideas bubble up from not-me. I treasure those evanescent drops of air. They’ll get me through the next four months, given how far behind I’m falling.
All 13 of us, plus Alrik the honorary cohort member, are getting oriented in Dallas. We went to a ballet last night in the Arts District. Wild bunch that we are, we stayed out for a glass of wine afterwards. When we left the bar--crickets. Our voices rang against the empty performance buildings. Lincoln Center hasn't had that effect on Broadway. What's going on here?
The sun flattens SMU. When the bell rings, the Kens and Barbies climb back into their BMWs and Jeep Grand Cherokees to join the stream of machines heading to the suburbs. I've never seen such a listless campus. We don't quite know yet why we're here. Some of us have big voids to fill. Others, urgent dreams to fulfill.
I've unplugged from the necessity of a paycheck. I get just 380 days to make something happen. I have to trust that the logistics I've set up will carry me through--network, vaccinations, budget, bank accounts, storage, tax prep, stay permits. The structured discussions about arts and culture fascinate me as much as this past year's reading did. I've landed in the right place. What better thing could I be doing at this stage of my life?
Then, surprise-surprise. It takes 4 professors and 2 directors to jumble the journey I thought I was on. The prospects for the whole year changes. I listen, excited, disbelieving. I told you we would visit 4 cities in the next year. Insert three more. Brace yourself: I'm going to India and China. This is no longer a program. It's an adventure.
At my age, this is a once in a lifetime chance. I mobilize everything to honor this opportunity extended to me What about family, partner, dog? As my aunt said, "my job is to focus on me, and I've got big plans."
We got Tibby a quinceañera carriage to pull her behind our bikes all over Dallas. Hang in there baby, this year's going to be a bumpy ride.
We’re leaving NYC and crossing onto the continent. The skyline recedes. Four years fall away. The surreality of those years reveals itself. Why did I come to NYC? Why am I leaving? Behind me, a cloud of car and mental exhaust.
Those thoughts roil through my mind as we drive through Maryland, DC, the Shenandoah Valley, Nashville. I finally wake up in time to catch a glimmer of Harlem in Memphis, a glimmer of fireflies in Arkansas. Did I see the landscape? Did I go for a hike? Did I hear music? Did I eat bbq? Did I bathe in hot springs? I’m still off-gassing NYC.
At first sight of Dallas, my heart drops into my stomach. People on the continent are invisible. They live in houses. It’s one giant Schaumburg, landing pad of my immigration. By the light of flickering fluorescents, we settle into our temp digs. Smaller than our place in Harlem, can you believe it. Also, a third the rent, imagine that. Poolside grills. Pools. A dog playland with water hose free parking for our non-existent car library with free high-speed wifi loud 50-inch screen TV to watch some bachelor crap happy hour donation yoga walking paths 24-hour fountain lake and no litter. I’ve ingested the marketing brochure well. But there’s still nothing going on.
Just wait ‘til next week, when school starts. I’ve always played the long game.
Live in three countries. Move four times. Evade the pressures of a job for a year. Call on some of the world’s best known arts organizations. This had me spellbound.
Nine months later, the time for goodbyes has come. The children in the neighborhood have turned out to hug Tibby our Labrador. Friends drop by for one last farewell drink on our Harlem roof deck—then another, then another. (Admittedly we have a few bottles of liquor to liquidate.) My last ballet lesson at Steps. (The last class always produces near-perfect pirouettes.) A twinkling evening for tapas in Central Park. A large batch of titles makes its way to print but I won’t be here to see the copies at the Brooklyn Book Festival. My best friend gets a job across the street where we can commute on our bikes and eat lunch together. Except that she starts work the day I start school, 1700 miles away.
With twelve days to go, I want to call the whole thing off. Where am I barreling off to? Alrik, was this one of your ideas? No, he’s tearing himself away from his friends and family too.
During a short trip to NYC with Alrik when we first started dating, I dreamed that we were lying in sleeping bags on the floor of Penn Station, happy and safe. So let my dream come true.