I was in New York again last Wednesday.
I took the train in, and headed to Chelsea to meet with Stephanie, a woman I had met at a concert two weeks before. After exchanging a few emails, she agreed to meet with me and show me around her gallery. What I thought would be a brief, friendly chat turned into an inspiring, important two-hour mentoring session about my future. She shared her story with me, and talked about her journey from L.A. to Philadelphia to Barcelona and finally, to New York. I was nervous when she pressed me about my plan for the future.
Growing up, I was sure that I wanted to be a journalist. In fact, I was so sure that I wanted to be a journalist that I never even considered other career paths. The past six months have sent my then-concrete future ambitions into a state of flux, leaving me feeling somewhat ill-equipped to handle the terrifying abyss of “options” out there. I confessed these sinking feelings to Stephanie, trying to verbalise the pervasive conflict between my burning desire to create something important and my immobilising fear of failure.
But of course, being the guardian angel that she was, Stephanie saw past my anxiety and talked to me about creativity and networking and creating my own opportunities and the non-linear trajectory of life. I couldn’t believe that this busy, successful, important woman was giving me, a stranger, so much of her time. But we sat, and we talked, and we strategized, and I left her office with more clarity than I could have ever dreamed of.
Maybe Stephanie and I will be life-long friends. Maybe she won’t be anything more than a fleeting, formative presence, a brief reminder of this chapter of my life. It doesn’t matter how our respective futures pan out; that conversation made me feel like I’d been thrown a life line. Maybe meeting Stephanie was coincidence. Maybe it was synchronicity.
I left FLAG, and stepped into the elevator, where I met a friendly, pierced carpenter called “Jonas”. In our brief conversation, we discussed hailing from England, and what it was like to work in the same building as Calvin Klein. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; everyone in New York is so fucking interesting.
I headed uptown to La Bonne Soupe for lunch, a bustling French bistro, tucked away on West 55th Street. Cloth napkins, carafes and delicious French onion soup; I decided if I was going to eat alone, I was going to have to commit. After my Sex and the City style single lady lunch, I walked over to Columbus Circle, and looked around Jazz at the Lincoln Center, a small museum and music venue. I took in the breathtaking view from the 5th floor one last time before making my way downtown. I set up camp in a tiny neighbourhood bakery in the Bowery area called Sugar Sweet Sunshine. I sat down with my cupcake and my cup of coffee, and plugged in my laptop. It was the perfect afternoon.
Satisfied, I made my way back uptown to the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, for a free talk, part of Columbia University’s annual film festival. I’d read about the event earlier that morning, and spontaneously decided to stay in the city to attend. The talk was called “What Glass Ceiling? The Remarkable Success of Columbia’s Women Filmmakers”, and boasted an impressive panel of Hollywood directors including Lisa Cholodenko (The Kids Are All Right), Kimberly Peirce (American Splendour, The Nanny Diaries), Larysa Kondracki (Amreeka) and Nicole Holofcener (Friends With Money). The panel was chaired by Bette Gordon, an articulate, feminist-y professor at Columbia.
The talk itself was amazing; I loved hearing these powerful, successful women talk about the challenges that they faced in financing their ventures, writing scripts, and acquiring distribution for their films. However, whilst all four women are undoubtedly talented filmmakers who had a lot of interesting things to say, what didn’t sit with me was the way in which they were all so quick to dismiss the title of “female director”. I think that their decision to gloss over the difficulties that women face, especially in the male-dominated film industry, was pointedly insensitive, particularly after Bette Gordon’s opening barrage of uncomfortable industry statistics. To pretend, as Cholodenko so fervently did, that if we stopped putting women into the category of “female directors” the disparity between male and female directors would somehow magically disappear, seems positively unfounded to me.
It was still a cool event though, and I’m lucky that I got the chance to attend. Only, it’s not really luck. It’s knowing where to look and being observant, something that I’ve been getting the hang of recently.
I made my way back to Penn Station in the bittersweet knowledge that I would only be taking one more trip into the city before leaving the Tri-state area.
Breaking up with a city is hard.