Seeing Through the Eyes of the Tourists

I admit, but not proud of it, at times I can be a jaded New Yorker. My partner always tells me to slow down. I race through the day juggling the 500-thing-to-do list, simultaneously riding a roller coaster that is my book and art career.

Without stopping, I lose the wonder and spontaneity of experiencing what I see every day.

I need to remember that the majestic Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges are mere steps from my studio and great writers flourish in my brownstone neighborhood. Walt Whitman, Arthur Miller, and Norman Mailer walked along the same streets I use now; Bob Dylan wrote a song featuring the street where I shop and do laundry. I need to remember my good fortune knowing neighbor and poet laureate, Norman Rosten, and illustrating his poems in a published picture book.

I remind myself not to take for granted of what surrounds me because it's so close up. Having lived in Brooklyn for almost four decades is the most auspicious good karma and paid dues. I'm one of the last holdout artists protected by 1970's rent guidelines in an historical swanky neighborhood I've watched gentrify over the years. Without that, even with my tiny space, I'd be gone, along with priced-out artists.

Lately, I've become addicted to romantic sunsets along the East River at the new Brooklyn Bridge Park. The park is a place to slow down.

I hope the magic of magnificent views, smell of the brine, and gentle lapping of the river's cross-current against the piers will not become passé. Why be jaded? Tourists from around the globe swarm all over the park, traveling from afar to experience what I have minutes away. Tourists also swarm my once remote neighborhood. They travel in multiples and look up at street signs, stop to check out a brownstone's architecture, find sites listed in their guide books, and go slow. The tourists are teaching me how to see my city from their eyes, with a sense of wonder of experiencing something new for the first time.

Ahh, Wonder! That elusive mystery as we get older and life becomes a rushed blur of mundane maintenance. But wonder is where I must go to express a child-like vision in my field of work. I confess, as fabulous as my neighborhood is, I run to industrial DUMBO for fun, artistic inspiration, and to be with creative souls. DUMBO has it own share of tourists as well as priced out artist studios being replaced by luxury high-rises. However, it's still my happy place, a juicy oasis of color and spirit.

In 2005 I was invited to march in the Mermaid Parade for my first time by DUMBO friend Tanya Rynd and her performance art troupe, the Superfine Dinettes. Glued to my desk during grueling art deadlines has left me saying "no thanks" to many great events. The Mermaid Parade was already 22 years old. The universe winked with many synchronicities pointing me in the direction to accept the invitation. How fortunate, I slowed down for an opportunity, one that I still revel in years later. I knew children would also resonate to the honky-tonk parade. A delightful discovery in my city, spontaneous joy not out of a bottle.

Wonder is elusive, it's easy to get jaded when your artist friends get phased out; replaced by transients enjoying the territory and the culture built by these artists. What stays with me is a recent frank remark by a long-time local painter who said these days he gets dirty looks from walking in DUMBO with paint on his clothes. I try to transcend the stomach churning politics of these rapidly changing Brooklyn neighborhoods by remembering I'm still here, although I worry about how much longer that can last. I enjoy what I have right now; slowing down, reminding myself to be like the tourists and to look up at signs, to stop when walking past Walt Whitman's or Arthur Miller's house. Seeing my city with a tourist's fresh eyes does take the edge off.