Note: In 2012 I left Vermont and spent an amazing week in Manhattan attending TCWRP’s Writing Coaching Institute at Columbia University. My colleagues and I traveled daily to NYC schools to learn the ins and outs of coaching teachers in Calkins’ Writing Workshop methodology from mentor staff from TC. It was a life-changing experience for me in all sorts of ways. Twice before, I had visited Manhattan in the brief way one does as a tourist for a day or two, but I had never experienced the city in the day to day way as a worker and subway commuter. The following essay came out of this experience.
Manhattan is like a Jackson Pollock painting.
From a distance, vibrant, outrageous, larger than life, straining to escape its frame with sheer pulsing energy. Yet, when one gets up close, eye to eye, each splash of color has its own voice, a story, unique in texture, timbre, and defining edges.
There is the bright orange of connection. A reliably emphatic. “Good Morning, Happy Day to you!”, rising song-like without fail, from a smiling-eyed Korean woman tucked behind the counter of a tiny grocery on 7th, where I purchased a bottled Starbucks and a yogurt on my way to PS41 each morning this week.
Right alongside is a rich brown of quiet. Impossible- yet real, on a Brownstone-lined street, iron railings shiny with a century’s layers of black paint, tiny gardens of restful green belying the cacophony of traffic just a block away, the only sound my own footsteps, and the droning wheels of my rolling suitcase as it tagged along.
There is the sooty grey of weariness. Heavy, defining the droop and sag of woman whose tiredness has seeped into her bones, spilling over into the heavy bags at her feet, as the subway car jerked and lurched and screeched past stop after stop.
There is the regal purple of academia. It hangs in clouds around the parapets and giant gothic lamps adorning the brick houses of learning at Columbia. It swirls with the promise of youthful voices, of futures, and tradition. Its steps have purpose and vigor, and carry one toward hope. Like magic dust, its power lingered on my coat even after I left.
There is the screaming yellow of noise. Cars honking, brakes screeching, voices of every language punctuating and pulsing with joy and anger, and energy. Sirens and helicopters, jet planes and construction. The rhythmic beat of feet. Noise that jolts and boils, and grinds, funnels down into the subways, even into the night, and yet, above it danced the reedy notes of a saxophone, soulful a moment, then gone.
There is the crippling, paralyzing, harsh red of fear. Panic! Arising alone from the subway, (Why, the same one as yesterday!) yet nothing is familiar, not a building, not one sign. The clock ticks. I walk two blocks one way, then another….heart pounds…deep breath. Lost? But then realization (I am after all, still in Manhattan). A cooler head prevails. (Just walk a little farther) There. There is the Shoe repair! And there, the tiny grocery! (The woman behind the counter has no idea how healing was her hello, this red, fear-filled morning) my heart finally quiet as I slip past the security guard, into school, on time.
There is the blue of leaving. Seas of people, oceans of sound, muted by a rolled up window. The car inches forward, anonymous in a pulsing wave of traffic, flowing finally across the bridge. The city lies once more contained, the river, like a frame, bright splotches of color in our rear-view mirror.
Manhattan is like a Pollock painting.