Goodbye To All That, For Now
As some of you may have heard, I’m leaving NYC shortly after Labor Day. The idea of leaving NYC after almost 20 years seemed unimaginable, but now it seems inevitable.
This past year has been one of unprecedented and wonderful change: I left my full time job to work independently, I got married, and I got my first real grant. Over the course of the year I have initiated new projects, explored new ideas and grown both personally and professionally. And while so many possible futures came into view, a totally unexpected turn of events finds me moving to San Diego where my wife is joining the faculty of the Department of Theater & Dance at UCSD to teach playwriting.
As for me, I’m launching a cultural consultancy, Applied Creativity (http://appliedcreativity.co/) which will keep me working on a few, select projects in NYC and on the East Coast while I seek new opportunities and enhance my presence on the West Coast, nationally and internationally. Through this consultancy I will continue curating, producing, writing and developing new projects. Applied Creativity is the business entity that is developing Agents of Awesome and other cool new initiatives to be launched and/or announced over the next year. I will also continue to build Culturebot Arts & Media, Inc. as a non-profit dedicated to promoting critical discourse on, and from the perspective of, arts and culture.
As for Culturebot.org, the website that started so much for me, I’ll be taking a sabbatical starting in September. I will still publish occasionally, but I will be taking at least the next year off from managing the site. I will continue writing at EphemeralObjects.org and am starting to publish non-arts writing on Medium.com.
I’m very excited to share that I will be turning over the keys to Culturebot.org to (at least) two very talented, dynamic, creative and dedicated young women, both previous Culturebot contributors, who will be announced shortly. I look forward to seeing what they come up with as they guide Culturebot into a new era as a peer-driven platform for and by artists, and I hope you will be supportive and welcoming of their efforts.
I’m also pleased to share that Brooklyn Commune will continue under new leadership. Over the past few months Risa and I have been working with Kerry Huang from BRIC to brainstorm next steps and he, in turn, has been coordinating with existing Brooklyn Commune members. Be sure to check out the Facebook page and blog for news on upcoming events, initiatives and how to get involved.
I’m trying not to add to the growing body of literature from writers and artists on loving and leaving NYC and prefer to think of this as an open-ended separation rather than a divorce. Just because we won’t be living together anymore doesn’t mean we won’t still see each other and hang out! But we’re growing in different directions and need space from each other as we become new people.
I first came to NYC as an “adult” in July/August of 1995, on a self-produced spoken word tour of the East Coast. I did shows at CBGB’s, The Knitting Factory and the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, I even somehow managed to wangle a gig in the spoken word/local band tent at Lollapalooza on Randall’s Island. I didn’t know anyone and didn’t have a place to stay and ended up crashing for a few nights with a drag queen I met in a bar who also worked as a punk go-go boy at Coney Island High. Finally I needed some peace and quiet and sleep, so I checked into The Chelsea Inn for a night (thinking it was the Chelsea Hotel) before heading back to Seattle.
But I had caught the bug and decided to move here for good two months later, supporting myself with random jobs and making the rounds of open mic nights. I did gigs everywhere from The Tunnel (!) to Verbal Abuse at Mother, and when I didn’t have gigs I would scuttle around from Surf Reality to Collective Unconscious to Sidewalk to wherever there was a mic and some booze , just to rant against the The Man. I performed at the Home Alive Record release party at Westbeth in March 1996 (with 7 Year Bitch, Bush Tetras, Ruth Ruth, Sexpod, Bobby Miller, Vita Pup, Combine, John S.Hall (ex-King Missile) and a bunch of others), where Jim Carroll (with a very uncomfortable Tabitha Soren on his arm) complimented me on my writing and performance and I thought I had it made. Little did I know what lay in wait. I had a lot to learn, and it wasn’t easy. But if life is hard, and it often is, then it is worth the work.
I got my act together, I got a real job (interactive producer & brand strategist! dotcom! w00t!) and it wasn’t long before NYC truly became my home, where every time I left the house I ran into someone I knew, where I could still manage to let myself get lost just by revisiting a neighborhood after a long absence; where aimless wandering never failed to yield serendipitous encounters, flashes of wonder and revelation, insight into the mystical shape of the godhead and the absolutely perceptible but utterly incomprehensible fact of the interconnectedness of all things.
But after five years making and producing shows in Seattle and six years as a downtown writer/performer in NYC, I still didn’t know anything about grants, or non-profits, or arts organizations at all, not really, when I joined the staff at P.S.122 in 2002. No one had even heard of a masters degree in arts administration, and “making it” – as far as I was concerned – was maybe getting a book published by an alternative press and going on tour. But I evolved as the field evolved, digging deeper, learning more, trying to figure out how this system worked – and why it was broken.
Somewhere around 2005 it occurred to me that I was happier helping artists realize projects than trying to be the artist. My creative energies were more aligned towards curating, critical writing, thinking in systems and organization. It took many more years before I began to see my work as an independent creative practice, one as deeply rigorous and artistically challenging as more traditional forms of expression. I began to see insightful dramaturgy, rigorous critical writing and designing alternate formats for discourse and interpersonal encounters as my canvases.
And all of this was possible because of NYC’s exceptionally resilient cultural ecology. Most of my time in this city has been spent in the company of extraordinary artists of all kinds and disciplines, individuals who burn with vision and possibility, who, together, created a deeply interdependent system of roots and shoots and branches and leaves reaching from deep in the earth and extending outward into the boundless sky. This metaphysical vascular system transcends time and we trace ourselves backwards, forwards and sideways through the ether, connected by invisible communions in the collective dreamtime.
I couldn’t possibly have hoped for a greater, more fulfilling, more transformative experience than the life I’ve had here in NYC. In some small way I feel myself inscribed into the myth of the city, maybe merely a profile in the background of a photo of a historic moment, but I was here, and it mattered.
These days it feels like our precious wetlands, our natural environment, is vanishing and we are helpless to prevent it. Ever the last one to the party, the New York Times writes of the death of Kim’s Video: “It’s the tale of a downtown culture now largely lost, one in which clerks and creative types mingled, influencing one another and the scene as well.” Fare thee well, brother, I’ll remember you in my dotage.
From the Late 90’s dotcom boom to 9/11 through my stints at PS122 and LMCC and after, from poet to performer to critic to curator, from Mayoral Candidate to Middle Aged Married Guy in Greenpoint, NYC has been the change and the constant, the backdrop, the crucible, the cauldron, the canvas, the material from which I created my life and the substance from which my life was made.
But now I feel increasingly like a man out of time, more beset by the endless, grinding busy-ness of daily maintenance than the pursuit of truth, beauty, wisdom and justice. And even though I have remarked on “The Untenable Economics of Dancing” (which has been true for as long as anyone can remember) and examined the evolution of NYC into a Global City between 2004 – 2014 (more on that forthcoming, including video of my NYU lecture), and even though it is unlikely that I will ever become an UHNWI, I still love NYC, even if I can’t afford to date her anymore.
I will not write an Elegy to My Lost New York, because as we all know the city is ever-changing. The stuff of my nostalgia was someone else’s gentrification nightmare, just as the NYC that feels so alien to me today will one day be someone else’s nostalgia. And so as I Go West and into the wider world, as I continue in my process of always becoming, who knows what the future holds? I’m hopeful that a decrease in the busy-ness of everyday life will allow me to finish some of the many ambitious projects I’ve started, to edit and synthesize what I’ve already written and to write more deeply, thoughtfully and expansively in the days to come. I hope that the warm weather and gentle climes of Southern California will encourage me to get healthy. I am hopeful that I will become a family man, now that I’ve learned how to enjoy being an adult.
But I am ever-grateful for the gifts of New York and the community – family, even – that supported, challenged, excited, entertained and enlightened me so much over the years. My NYC is a universe of people – past, present and future – among whom I have been able to become more fully myself than I had ever imagined 20 years ago. And it is this city of people that has made it possible for me to become a person who can leave it and bring its creative spirit to life wherever he lands.
I’m leaving you NYC, but one way or another, whether it’s just the occasional hook-up or something more, we’ll be seeing other again. Don’t think we won’t.