When I was living in the UP (Michigan’s Upper Peninsula), we used to go see local-legend Gary Tunstall play at the bar. Toward the end of the night, when everyone was good and liquored up, he would play a song he wrote called “Straight Up.” It’s mostly an instrumental song, played fast and bright on his 12 string guitar. Around the middle, he would pause, lift up a shot of tequila and he–and all of us right along with him–would shout, “Livin’ in the UP…on purpose!” We all collectively drank that toast, and many would join Gary in pounding a beer immediately following. He’d shake his head, the crowd would cheer, and to the calls of “Straight up!” he would dive right back into playing the song.
Living in the UP is hard. The winters are long and dark. Most people spend more time each day clearing snow off their car than they do driving their car to wherever they are going. The economy is not great, and hasn’t been since the last copper mines shut down in the 1960s. The university that I attended accounts for much of the livelihood of that area today. But as with any place where hardship breeds strong character, there is an enormous amount of pride in the people living there. They love their home. They’ve earned it.
Living in New York is hard. It’s expensive, it’s crowded, it’s a tough city. Thousands of songs, poems, novels, and films have explored this, and celebrated that same pride that New Yorkers have in the home that they’ve earned by making their home here. At the great scale of this city, each corner carves out its own character and the people there bond over that pride.
One of the most notable literary residents of my neighborhood in Brooklyn shared in that sentiment. Truman Capote, writing from his apartment a couple blocks from my own, wrote, “I live in Brooklyn. By choice.”
I lived in Brooklyn.
For eight years, I lived in Brooklyn, and for six before that in various parts of Manhattan. Today, we’re in the last phase of packing up the apartment we’ve lived in for the last seven of those years. An apartment we bought, after falling in love with the neighborhood while living on Schermerhorn Street. An apartment that was, truly, ours. An apartment that was home.
We packed so many memories into that apartment. Having friends over, sitting on the rooftop with a spectacular view of Manhattan. Turning the second bedroom from a home office to a baby’s nursery, and then to an amazing little girl’s bedroom. Growing close to our community of neighbors in the building, and then watching as all of our kids started growing up together. Could we have fit more love into those one-thousand square feet? I don’t know, but we sure tried.
Today that apartment is packed with boxes. Boxes of clothes, of dishes, of a child’s toys. But it’s more than putting things in boxes. It’s taking all of those memories with us, too. The good things and the hard things the things that defined our character, they are the foundation of our home. As we move our things from this wonderful apartment to a new house, we look forward to building a new home along the way. To new adventures, to new memories, to always looking around us and saying, “I’m here. I want to be here.”
225 Pacific Street, Brooklyn, New York