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From the Land of Delight
by Edna Nelson
2009-01-19 09:01:34
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My friends in New York seem to revel in almost everything. From the strange to the mundane, their photo albums are titled with sweet praise to even the most miniscule point of focus. While browsing through photos the title “Corn, crab, and noodle: The Promised Land” pulls at my heart and makes me miss the place. It’s not so much the busy streets and high-rises, the silly super stars or fancy restaurants that I miss, it’s not the subway or the rude people either, what I miss is the state of mind.

One would think that New Yorkers having so much access to what is often considered the “whole world” would be jaded beyond the point of pleasure. That we would see the world like a crumbled up piece of paper on the street, nothing new, but that idea for many New Yorkers is too far from the truth. A lot of the cities residents (at least the type I grew up with) find delight in the small ironic details. The look of this mascot, or the feel of that fabric, the unintended comments made by well known figures, even puns, we can see the joke in things that are otherwise absolutely not funny. We find the value in things that others would easily discard.  It is this way of living, this point of view, that drives us to collect street signs, buttons, stickers, ticket stubs, designer objects, second hand tee shirts, and just about anything we can find a joke in. The laughter surrounding these objects is something really missing in my life at the moment.

Living in such a huge competitive city forces people to develop an ability to cope with the world through honouring our own experiences in a way that strengthens the communities we live in. Taking pictures and collecting what we find ironic or beautiful, and having adventures for the stories we might tell, is all part of making maps to put ourselves on. With the world bubbling around us, the only way to preserve our identities is to create our own narratives. With so much going on in the world, sometimes the best way to survive is to find joy wherever it might hide. Instead of choosing to engage the competition around us we instead choose our battles while looking at the world and responding “this is not the story, I want to tell.”

Moving to Finland I have felt often times that there is a huge materialistic Culture of Cool at work. It seems that most Finns in my age group (25-35 the MTV demographic!) are concerned about money, cars, boats, clothing, and clubs. Not for their own sake, but to feel that they are active in the world which in some ways Finns in general express a feeling of exclusion from. They shop and acquire as if having a part of things is the same as being a part of things. It feels like people around me are trying to fit into images of themselves that represent the goals the want to achieve and taking themselves way to seriously while doing it.

From my experience there is a huge lack of humour as far as this attitude goes, even the people who consider themselves outsiders and rebels take themselves seriously. They are rebels WITH a cause! It’s like no one wants to be seen as a loser, which is something my friends and I embraced in many cases as New Yorkers. Instead as Helsinki City dwellers young people strive to be somehow recognized, either as completely insane, completely brilliant or anything else absolute, sometimes I wonder who they think they are competing with. It’s like survival and coping is more about referencing oneself exclusively on the perceptions of others, rather than being able to understand the perceptions or others, or the zeitgeist, and laugh in their face.

One of my friends has a band called The Brooklyn What and I moved just before they released their debut album. I was lucky enough to get a copy sent to me so I could visit home whenever I wanted. In the opening track, the lead singer rattles on about all of the cool things he wants no part of, in a heartfelt way he mocks hipsters by stating his distaste for them while at the same time recognizing all the things they put on the map. He sings later about loving his own friends and looking forward to summer in New York so he can cut his jeans into shorts. The New York/Brooklyn attitude that vibrates through this music is special. Its special because it is coming from a culture where one can talk about being left out, being in touch and being annoyed while all the same time rocking out with good friends. The funny thing is that the first song is about Williamsburg a part of Brooklyn where for the past few years all the cool bars have popped up and all the cool kids hang out, and Helsinki’s own hipster central Sörnäinen has a stop also called Vilhelmsberg which sounds pretty close, but lacks that Brooklyn funk. As I listen to The Brooklyn What album in definitely not cool Espoo, I consider how my life sometimes feels like a ballad for being left out, and how this music is so soothing. It represents the feeling I value my friends the most for, being ourselves, outside of cool, and loving it.

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AP2009-01-19 19:25:53
Thanks Edna, for the nice article.
Just yesterday I was thinking about something similar while browsing through a friend's album titled "NY: guilty fat city". :) I recognize that attitude from my friends, one in which "being cool by having, or desperately showing off (whichever qualities or faults)" is not so important.

Emanuel Paparella2009-01-19 22:24:45
As somebody who has lived in Brooklyn (Ridgwood section) for many years and gone to school for three years of college in its Williamsburg Section with its famed Brooklyn bridge, I can relate to what you write so nostalgically and poignantly, Ms. Nelson. New York is a city that makes people cosmopolitan while paradoxically preserving the ethnic and the particular such as Little Italy and Mulberry Street where my father was born, all beyond cool and beyond vulgar ostentation. Thanks for sharing.

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