by Katelan Foisy
Little bits of memory seep in like the days sitting on floors in Bed-Stuy. Paints on the carpet, long nights, and fresh coffee. Those were the days we had schooling all day, and full time jobs after. Those were the days of all nighters and caffeine pills, and projects due early. We never slept, music 24/7, eyes glazed and glassy. I used to idealize those days. Our poverty never got to us until it did. We had dreams and dreams were always more important. We were Kings and Queens of concrete. – Journal entry of unknown date
I used to pour over the journals of Anaïs Nin relishing in the lavish dinner parties, French perfumes and lace shawls. I imagined dark green walls with rich reds and jewel tones decorating apartments draped in fabrics and Chinese lanterns. I imagined drinking wine and champagne with authors and artists in New York and traveling the world. My reality in the beginning would be very different. My first years in New York were in a cockroach infested apartment with iron burns melted into the stained dirty rug, popcorn walls, broken mirrors, and not a single piece of art on the walls. I saved up enough money to purchase a broken down typewriter, vintage cardboard dresser, and one floral shawl to drape over the wire rack where I folded my clothes. I also bought a vintage map of Paris, sheer curtains, a few candles that were scented daisy, lilac, and rose and a new bedspread for my twin bed. I hand washed my clothes in the bathtub and draped the damp items over a small drying rack I purchased for $10. My bedroom became a small sanctuary and I lit the scented candles on the days I had off to make them last. In the evenings I’d watch movies with my housemates or listen to old radio shows like Suspense, write in my journal and drink glasses of fresh lemonade. Lemonade is something I still think of to be a luxury item.
My days off were spent walking around New York and looking up the buildings my favorite artists and writers inhabited. I’d walk by famous cafes and bars hoping to have enough money that one day I could purchase more than a cup of coffee and have to pretend that I wasn’t hungry. I would soak in my surroundings when I did this and imagine Hemingway, Nin, Burroughs, Kerouac, Ginsburg, and Gysin in each of these places. I found magic in walking along the streets and the history that took place there. I was grateful that some of these buildings still existed and I dreamed of living in Manhattan, maybe the West village because they had windows that opened outward and flower boxes on the sills.
I tried to paint some of my first apartment blue but it made it look like I was representing Cookie Monster. Photo by Emily Poole.
I think about those early days in NY a lot. Despite not having money and not knowing how to make more money and sometimes feeling like I would never get ahead I made the most with what I had. I didn’t fully grasp the idea of poverty consciousness because I was consistently immersed in it. I was enveloped in it by having retail jobs that never paid me more than $12 an hour and demanded my devotion in a city where rents were constantly rising. My jobs after that were unstable sometimes bringing in a few hundred and sometimes only $30 or $40. Most of the time I would get home and immerse myself in books or films. No one ever thinks their day job is part of their glamor aesthetic. I couldn’t afford a lot of new books so the libraries became my friends. Sometimes my parents would send me books from authors they knew I liked. I fell into the words and art of both the “Lost Generation” and the “Beat Generation.” Working in retail next to the Russian Tea Room I would sneak peeks inside and dream of one day visiting then make my way up to the bookstore across from the Subway. There I’d spend an hour or so looking at the covers and sometimes finding a gem in the bargains. I bought myself a plastic water fountain that looked like rocks. I loved the idea of running water in my room. My cat at the time did too. My one time expensive curtains I purchased when at my poorest traveled with me. You can still see them in my apartment today. Move after move I folded them up and took them out again. They remind me to be grateful.
To read full blog post visit Katelan Foisy’s site The Vardo.