Occupy LIFE

Happy October, everyone!

The other week, I attended my very first panel discussion in a Citibank high-rise on real estate development and retail revitalization in NYC. You’re probably wondering what the hell a lady who spends half her workday in her pajamas structuring sentences and building narrative arcs was doing at a Commercial Real Estate Women’s Network. The answer is pretty simple: my husband works for a developer. While Andrew and I both work our tails off, I’m in the arts and this is 2011, so clearly (and for now! I dream big!), my husband is the breadwinner (and you can thank him for being a very generous sponsor of the Freerange domain name). Andrew’s work duties involve a lot of herding cats, a lot of running around NYC getting all types of permits, a lot of yelling at flaky contractors, a lot of getting yelled AT by condo board members, a lot of attending Environmental Protection Agency meetings (he’s a good guy, people), and a lot of talking. I sit in silence for the majority of the day, write or read. At most, I may have a brief conversation about squirrels with my two dogs. While Andrew and I have some things in common, (we both work with our hands a lot, we both build things, in one form or another, and also, we both like soup) our minds work VERY differently. I favor entropy, whereas Andrew makes Excel worksheets for EVERYTHING. In other words, if a file cabinet and a washing machine were to get married, their union would be a lot like ours. So how do we make it work? That’s a good question.

Back to the panel on real estate. While I was very proud of my partner for being on a bill with such esteemed speakers (executive vice presidents of fancy hotels! Faith Hope Consolo!), I felt intimidated and completely out of place. It reminded me of my first temp job in NYC, showing luxury apartments to prospective renters. (I could barely afford groceries and had bedbugs, and I was showing rental units that cost more than my graduate school student loans.) So while Andrew was getting his picture taken, I sauntered over to the minibar, grabbed a tall glass of whatever red and alcoholic they had, took a hearty sip to wash down the half-moon of brie cheese I’d just swallowed, and then surveyed the room, realizing instantly that if it hadn’t been for my husband being on the panel, the only way I’d have ever been in that room full of developers, lenders and brokers was if I were the coat check girl. I felt a tinge of cynicism and defensiveness. Nonetheless, with the wine, I swallowed my insecurities and cynicism, reminded myself that everybody poops, and that I was going to do my best to support my husband and learn whatever I could from the panel, especially after all the poetry readings I’d dragged him to.

The panel commenced. I sat in the front row. I took out my phone, braced to send silly texts to my friends or browse twitter feeds. But, instead, the only time I used it was to take notes. The panel was fascinating. I felt enlightened. The speakers were brilliant and insightful, particularly one vivacious and bright woman named Amelia Lim. She was funny and wise; every comment she made could’ve been applied to anything, anyone, any field. While the discussion mainly centered on retail development in hotels, Amelia managed to steer the conversation several times towards the importance of art and artists in communities. While many of the speakers touched on a mantra that “fashion follows food”, Amelia, (whose partner happens to be a sculptor,) added: food and fashion follow the artists.

The idea that art can be an economic engine is hardly new, but it was refreshing to hear a developer speak about art the way that she did: emphasizing the importance of artists as members of the community, not just for economic development, but for art’s sake. I sat up in my seat. I felt proud and important (and yes, a little smug). While my field of work was only discussed, really, for several minutes, I left the panel feeling reassured of my duty: to create, not just for myself, but for others. And the rest will follow, whether or not I believe it will.

In other words, life isn’t so bad. As writers and artists, it’s important NOT to segregate ourselves and to stereotype those in other professions. In fact, we need them just as much as we assume they need us. Do I really have to remind you that no man or woman is an island? Be open to others. Especially in the current political climate. Occupy LIFE.

This week at Freerange, we bring you a selection of Freshly Hatched poems by B. C. Edwards. As one of our recent Freerange performers, Edwards is one hot tamale, and is recipient of the 2011 Hudson Prize put out by Black Lawrence Press.  CLICK HERE TO READ HIS POEMS AND HAVE YOUR MIND BE BLOWN.


As ever and as usual,

Mira Ptacin
Founder & Executive Director of Freerange Nonfiction