Tag Archives: displacement

new york, i love you.

i wasn’t born in the states, so when describing myself i call myself german. perhaps german american would be more appropriate, but slipping ‘american’ in there has never felt natural. and i have to confess, i don’t really like calling myself an american.

i know it’s the land of the free where you can pursue happiness and have the right to free speech, but when i think of americans i have this terrible image in my head of people who are greedy, selfish, and overindulgent. it’s not accurate nor is it fair. although i’ve met some people in my life who certainly fit that profile, A. it’s a mixed bag since a lot of them weren’t even american and B. i know a hell of a lot more people who are anything but. and although this country certainly has its problems, there’s a lot about america to love.

i’m talking about this today for obvious reasons. it’s the ten year mark of a horrible tragedy that occurred in my favorite city.

i’ve been stewing about my own discomfort with this for a few days and i think i have a fairly good handle on where my disdain for calling myself an american comes from. it’s a combination of things that can be traced back to my childhood.

being relocated here from germany when i was just four years old has always irked me. we moved because of my father’s job with microsoft, which is why we ended up in seattle, washington. part of me feels robbed. like america took away the german in me. it took away my first language, it took away the childhood i could have spent in germany, it took away my family. of course i have my nuclear family here in the states, but if i ever wanted to pay anyone in my extended family a visit, i’d need to go the airport and fly east for around ten hours.

if you’ve never been plucked from your country of origin and placed in another country, you may not understand this feeling of displacement and unease. and i’m not pointing fingers at my parents or anyone else. there is not a single person to be blamed for how i feel, it’s just how i feel. anyone with a similar experience would probably agree with me that the word lost describes it pretty well.

another word now comes to mind. the word home. i don’t really know where home is. part of me truly feels like i can’t call anywhere home. real home. home implies comfort, safety, and origin. i call seattle home because it’s where my immediate family is. it’s where i did most of my growing up. it’s where i have all of my memories stored. but it doesn’t feel like my “real” home. i haven’t been back to germany for well over a decade, but when i conjure up the thought of germany in my head – it feels like my real home. i don’t think i have any memories of it, but i have formulated them vicariously through the pictures i have seen of me when i was a little girl and the stories my parents have told me over the years.

going back to my previous statement about americans, i’m pretty sure the reason for those assumptions resides in the fact that i was reared in bellevue, washington. being a ‘softie’ (a child of a microsoft parent that is, yes i coined this term on my own), i grew up with wealth and wealthy people around me. this is not something i like to discuss and unless i really feel i can trust someone, i rarely mention this fact. but i guess it’s time to let the cat out of the bag.

and to call all wealthy people greedy, selfish, and overindulgent is clearly stupid because it’s just not true. however, we humans have a way of focusing on the bad and forgetting the good. for every negative there may be four positives, but we’ll still focus on that one negative. so this is me focusing on that one negative :: the memories i have of certain people i grew up around who fit this profile. some were friends (at times) and some were not. again, it’s a mixed bag. all i can say is that i have seen, first hand, what wealth can do to a person.

[listen]

i moved to new york city in two thousand and three. almost exactly two years after the towers had fallen. i moved there in august. i lived in a very cramped cozy apartment with my best friend. when september eleventh rolled around, we went to our rooftop at dusk. i’m not sure if they still do this, but when i lived there they would shine two spotlights directly into the sky from where the two towers once stood. from our rooftop, we had a perfect unblocked view of those spotlights. i’ll never forget it. i remember feeling like i’d really missed out on something. had they still been standing, we would have seen them perfectly from our little patio.

if you’ve ever lived in new york, you’ll likely understand this sort of territorial feeling you have about the city. when you ever hear people talking about how “pushy” or “aggressive” new yorkers are, you’re blood will boil like mine does. new york has this connotation of being always and forever fast paced and abrasive. a lot of people i know claim that it’s a place they like to visit but they would never ever live there because of the city and its inhabitants “attitude.”

if you ask me ? i don’t have any memory of this “attitude” that so many people speak of. there were no more pushy or aggressive people in new york than there have been anywhere else that i have lived or visited. in fact, i think i’ve met more kind and friendly people there than anywhere else. new yorkers will do anything to help you out. i remember needing help on several occasions and people were all too willing to lend a hand.

i’ll never forget the time i was walking to my commencement ceremony at school. it was a warm day in may. i was wearing rubber flip flops and running a little late as i bolted down 13th street towards school. in typical new york weather fashion, it suddenly began to pour warm muggy rain. i had just crossed broadway when my flat flip flops slid on a well paved piece of sidewalk. it was a textbook perfect cartoon fall. my feet went in the air in front of my face, my umbrella went flying, and i landed hard, slamming both elbows on the sidewalk. my backpack had, thankfully, broken the fall for my back, but that in turn meant my elbows took the brunt of it. i hit the ground so hard that my vision went completely black.

i couldn’t move my arms and i was blinking and blinking and all i could see was black. it is still, to this day, one of the scariest experiences i have ever had. so i sat there, temporarily blinded, on the sidewalk, in the pouring rain, at the corner of one of the busiest intersections in manhattan. what happened next completely surprised me.

a stranger, who i couldn’t even see, pulled me under some scaffolding about ten feet away to get me out of the rain. my vision slowly returned to me and i realized that there were at least six people gathered around me asking me if i was ok and one of them brought me my umbrella (i still have that umbrella). i said i was, but that i couldn’t use my arms. i hadn’t broken any bones (as it turns out), but i think my elbows had locked and pain was coursing through my arms. so a very kind man asked if he could do anything for me. i wanted to call a friend and get into a cab, but i didn’t have the ability to do either. so i asked him if he could call my friend devin, instructing him as to where my phone was in my backpack.

at this point, i was pretty sure that this man was just going to steal my cell phone. but he didn’t. he found my friend’s number, hit the call button, and placed the phone between my shoulder and ear. he stayed with me until i was off the phone, put the phone back in my backpack, and proceeded to hail me a cab and give me a ten dollar bill. to the new yorkers that helped me out that day, thank you.

that is what i think of when i think of new york. i think of kind people. and when i think of new york, i also feel like it’s the closest i’ve ever come to feeling like my real home. maybe that’s because it’s closer to europe than the west coast, but i think it has a lot more to do with the city and the fine people who live there.

my heart goes out to all those who were struck by this tragedy ten years ago today. to their friends, their families, their co-workers, their what have yous. you are an amazing group of human beings who have single handedly renewed my faith in the human race and moreover, being an american.

[tattered. 35mm film shot on my manual nikon in new york city.]

jessi

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trees & displacement

i always remember the trees when i feel i am in trouble. if i feel as though i am in some sort of mid-life mid-life ‘crisis’ – i look to trees for comfort. i have been doing this for almost three years. it all started in Seattle on one rainy drive home from work. i remember looking at some evergreens and feeling an overwhelming sense of calm. trees are so grounded. their roots reach deeply into the soil and hold them up, even against the strongest gusts of wind that grace the pacific northwest from time to time. from there, i learned to look at the sky and its colors and clouds and shapes. living in a city like San Francisco or New York, i am not surrounded by trees like i was back in Seattle, so i have been spending a lot of my time gazing at the sky from my roof. morning, noon, and night. before work. after work. and during the day when i am not at work. but my favorite time is sun down. when the clouds seem to retreat, slowly. and as they retreat, they catch colors from the setting sun :: pink, orange, coral, red, yellow, and purples and blues when dusk really begins to take hold. *sigh*

i made this painting in honor of all of the feelings above. you know that ‘if you could have one super hero power what would it be’ question ? well, my answer has always been, ‘to fly.’ i suppose flying in a helicopter is as close as i have ever gotten to that feeling. i imagine skydiving is the closest i could get – even though you are technically falling when that happens.. but, i’ve heard it ‘feels like flying.’ what a funny expression by the way, no ? because who actually knows what flying feels like ? if you or anyone you know has been born with the gift of flight, please contact me immediately. i need to speak to them.

why flying ? because i can’t imagine a feeling more liberating than just deciding to pick yourself up off the ground and fly to where ever you want to go. i know that i am not the only person to feel this way, but i know that many people say ‘invisibility’ when posed with the super hero question. so, yeah.

before i say anything else, let me say this :: i am not a racist. i care not about the color of your skin or the country in which you were born. i don’t care where people come from or what they look like – we are all human beings deserving of that rather vague concept that is happiness. that said, the longer i live in Chinatown, the more i feel a sense of cultural isolation. i have noticed that if i am in a deli in Chinatown – regardless of whether i am the first in line or in the middle – i am treated as though i were standing dead last. until i am the only caucasian left standing in the room, i will not be served. this happens nine times out of ten. it has reached a point where i have deliberately stopped frequenting most local delis merely because i am irritated at being treated this way. at first, i thought i was imagining things. i’d heard some stories from people that i know, but figured they were over-reacting. i was wrong. i now know that they were being dead serious and to be honest ? it breaks my heart – not just a little, but a lot.

so this feeling of displacement has slowly begun to seep into my sense of self. i know that i am not a bad person. i also know that if i am first in line i should be served first. so, standing in line at a counter where you are treated as though you have been bestowed with that ‘gift’ of invisibility, i am discouraged. i am not trying to blame the Chinese culture as a whole, though. i know that discrimination and ethnic injustice occurs every day in our country – i have just never been the ‘victim’ of it until now. and though my experience is extremely mild compared to most – i have a new found sense of appreciation for those that experience this on a daily basis. on a regular basis. on an at-least-ten-times-a-day basis. that’s not to say that i never felt sympathy for others before, but now i can say i feel empathy for them because in my own small way – i know what they are talking about and it doesn’t feel good. and yes, that is the understatement of the year.

[acrylic on watercolor paper]

jessi

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Filed under design, illustration (both acrylic and oilt)