I talked about leaving Brooklyn a lot.
I talked about it in the dirty kitchen of my apartment in Clinton Hill.
I talked about it in the basement bedroom of my apartment in Bed Stuy.
I talked about it in the bad pizzeria underneath my apartment in Park Slope.
I talked about it to the big plant hanging in my apartment in Crown Heights.
It was an activity like any other, part of the deal of trying on the New York costume. We took out trash among rats, we touched sticky elbows on the subway, we talked about leaving. But there was always a wink to it, a knowing nod that said, “We live in the best city in the world.” On the underside of that desire to decamp was a fierce urge to stay—and so the equally weighted coin spun fast every day of the five years I lived there. The blessed mystery was never knowing which side would land facing up.
But the day came much sooner than I expected when the coin bobbled to a stop. And I left the city I loved.
After a subsequent eight months of near-constant touring and a nagging ache for the leafy passage of Eastern Parkway, I have found home once more. And there are no bodegas (only Stewart’s Shops). And there are no rats (only groundhogs). And the train that glides through town does not scream a screechy warning but rather exhales a golden beam of sound, which echoes through the trees at night, along with the chatter of geese and the occasional fox’s bark. I have, in fact, stumbled upon a new accessory crucial to the costume of any New Yorker: I now live Upstate.
Indeed, the addendum to the “I want to leave New York” comment has always been “I’m thinking of moving Upstate.” You can easily spot that parody in episodes of Sex and the City and Girls. It’s a shared vision of the simpler life that everyone latches onto like a lifesaver when they’re close to drowning in the hive of the city. And now here I am, leveling up and landing in the very place of our dreams. Somehow, in leaving New York, I’ve become even more of a New Yorker.
And yet a new page has been turned in my life. How quickly this quaint town, with its one-room cinema and its county fair, has become a part of my story. My homebody heart has landed and bloomed in this beauty of a village with a white gazebo and a train track and one strip of shops. It’s not unlike my hometown in Williamstown, MA, one hour away, but it’s different because it’s my own. I wasn’t born here, I discovered it. I came back to the region when I was ready. The small-town chumminess speaks to the safety and shelter I felt as a kid, but now I’ve got the independence to shape my days in the way that I want.
My bandmates and I came here to arrange and record a new full-length album, a process that has unfolded luxuriously over the past five months. I’ve never worked on an album for this long before. In the city, I would record in precious snatches, mornings or evenings or weekends when I didn’t have to work one of three jobs. The pace gave a certain urgency to my life as an artist – like squeezing out all the paint in the tube in great colorful glugs. But the pace slows outside the orbit of New York, freed from its mystical laws of physics. I have time to marvel at the way the light strikes and hangs on the bowed pine branches in my backyard. And I have had time to write the album I’ve always wanted to write.
This album is an elegy to time, the pilgrimages we take, and the ultimate slow plod towards aging. It takes place at dusk; its spirit animal is the heron, which I occasionally spied at the pond behind our summer house as the album gained shape. It’s an examination of the way we fracture over time, inside ourselves and inside our relationships – the fissures that creep along the structures we build, the tendency towards disintegration. There’s talk of nighttime and endings, the small apocalypses that pockmark our days. And the title, Lavender, is the talisman we hold to heal ourselves and ward the night away. It feels like an album I couldn’t have written before I was this age, and I wouldn’t have made the move up here before I was this age, so it’s a natural harmony of timing and need. I am exactly where I’m meant to be.
Up here, time behaves differently. It relaxes its forced smile and goes slack. There is no hustling or keeping up appearances. In my early twenties, I needed New York, needed to feel like I was in the center of it all. At that time, the bounty was huge; the city kept giving. It gave me friends and idols. It gave me lovers and stories. It gave me a good job and a new fortitude. And for so long, the idea of leaving all that was akin to dropping off the face of the planet, erasing my name. If I wasn’t there, I would be, plainly, forgotten. Out of sight, out of mind. But the gift of my late twenties has been no longer caring about who forgets about me and instead trying to remember what makes me me.
I have yet to get bored and lonely, though I know those things will come. I write now with numb hands while wrapped in scarves, afraid to turn on the heat because of the cost of heating a house, missing the overwhelming stuffiness of my Brooklyn apartment and a temperature I could not control. There is no perfect place. But sometimes, if you’re open to it, you’ll find the place meant for you in the moment of your need. Five years ago, that was the zip and sass of a city that blew me away with its hot cannon breath. Now, it’s the kindness of an old farmhouse by the train tracks, a place where no one knows me at all, a place that found me as much as I found it. Here, I am free to succeed and fail – to redefine what it means to succeed and fail – and do it all just for me.
Listen to Half Waif’s most recent release, form/a, here.