Diary Entry

Reading the signs of spring in Manhattan

I’ve been trying to decide whether my negative feelings about being back in New York after a month at sea, well, by the sea, should be described as churlish, curmudgeonly, or cantankerous―there’s a lot of overlap, of course. I’m thinking that cantankerous comes closest. There’s also carping―why so many c’s, I wonder. Anyway, this will be my last post for now in the series of (well, OK, there are some good–interesting, beautiful, weird) things about New York, especially now that the weather is beautiful and spring is literally bursting out all over, that remind me why, all these years later, I still live here.

I’ll start with beautiful:

On the sidewalks of the Upper West Side, I stop to contemplate the less dazzling but quite charming multi-colored petunias–oops, I think they may be pansies–that the residents fond of trees plant and then try to protect from dogs (usually unsuccessfully). I’m touched by the botanical effort to cheer us up. (What I know about flowers could be put in a flower pot. A small one.) Anyway, if you want to know why “the recession can’t stop the flowers from blooming,” check out the report on the phenonemon.


I’m trying a new yoga class at a different gym. This particular class is the kind of yoga called “Anusara” that I have done in the past―elsewhere. One of the things that drives me crazy about anusara is that the teacher begins each class not only with a chant in Sanskrit (I will not chant in Sanskrit, even though I know that what is being said is not offensive―something about our inner light), and I hum “om” since it embarrasses me to sing “om” in a group―but with a theme. So today the theme had to do with spring, and how when we look at the flowers blooming around us and realize that soon they won’t be blooming, and then feel sad, we are making a philosophical error. That is: when we perceive beauty―flowers, for instance―we think the beauty is in the flowers but in fact (fact?) the beauty is just a reflection of the joy in ourselves, in our capacity to perceive beauty. Hmm…I thought about myself looking at the tulips and the pansies and I was sorry to say that I did not think that the beauty was in me, certainly not joy. And yet I had to say there was something sweet, vaguely Platonic, about this idea. Definitely an optimistic view, if not, for me believable. Fortunately, the actual practice of anusara is quite wonderful, and I like this teacher. I am even grateful to her because I am returning to yoga after  a long hiatus because of my illness. And, and I would have to admit that when I struggle with the poses―my joints complain loudly―I can tell that the practice exists somewhere in me.

What about New York is unusual? One of the things is the amount of time we spend standing on line (I know most people say standing in line, but New Yorkers don’t). I caught two surprising lines this week. I could not figure out why the people (mainly young men) with backpacks and computers were lined up near Fifth Avenue and 40th Street in the morning. What were they waiting for? When I reached the corner I saw that they were waiting to enter the Mid-Manhattan library that opens at 10 a.m. There have been lots of debates about the future of this popular branch of the NYPL system, and the line seemed to me proof that the library was needed, and should not be dismantled in the name of some hollow sounding progress. Maybe this article about help for veterans explains the unusual mission fulfilled by the branch, across the street from the flagship, as it is called.

And then, the first mystery solved, this line of young women, studying their cell phones, lined up on a side street in the garment district:


They are waiting, the sign says, to take a class of Bikram or “hot” yoga…(I did try that once or twice–definitely not for me, even though it promises weight loss).

What always makes me pause when I’m walking in the city is the the cliché, but nevertheless poignant in its effects, the proliferation of contrasts–in scale and style–which to me is at the heart of why New York remains an always surprising place:

For instance, last weekend, my friend Victoria’s son Judah, playing the cello in a group recital at his Upper East Side music school. The beautifully dressed and absolutely adorable children―some of whom looked like toddlers with miniature violins―all performed with concentration and seriousness (hard to evaluate talent at this point…) Note Judah’s signature bow tie.


And then, across the park, on my way home, I came upon (their sounds preceded them) this youthful orchestra, composed of middle school students from Manhattan, playing on 94th street between Broadway and West End Avenue. The members of the Roy H Mann band sounded great, loud, brassy, and full of life, and I hoped that their capacity to make music would bring them into bright futures. Why this group was performing for a Russian cultural festival is not entirely clear to me.

The performance did not benefit from a glamorous or elegant setting―around the corner from where I live, a neighborhood that’s a study in contrasts itself―but it was beautifully alive with the sounds of music.

Perhaps the music was also alive in me.

Nancy K. Miller. Diary

Welcome. Some musings on my current preoccupations with the worlds of illness and the worlds of books, the vicissitudes of living with cancer and the need now, in my eighties, to imagine what new writing might be. 

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