Some writers learn by practicing their craft alone in their rooms, some by a mentorship with a beloved teacher, some by M.F.A. committee. I have always tried to learn by osmosis: by placing myself in the physical location of genius, on the off chance that some greater force clinging to the chandelier would attach itself to me and give my writing a cosmic boost. Though I did spend many nights in my early twenties at the Cedar Tavern (where there was certainly some cosmic mojo to be had), the easiest path to absorbed genius always seemed like the real estate section of the newspaper.
I found my first apartment a couple of months after graduating from college—a studio on Perry Street, at the curious point in the West Village when 4th Street finds itself between 10th and 11th Streets. Though I knew the neighborhood a bit from my own teenage explorations, there was one simple reason I wanted to move to Perry Street. Ted Berrigan, one of my favorite poets at the time, wrote this in 1963:
I think I was thinking when I was
ahead I’d be somewhere like Perry Street erudite
dazzling slim and badly loved
contemplating my new book of poems
to be printed in simple type on old brown paper
feminine marvelous and tough.
Feminine, marvelous, and tough. I wanted it tattooed on my forehead. Never mind that in 2002 a pair of Marc Jacobs stores sat around the corner from Perry Street, and I was too intimidated by the salespeople to walk into either of them. I was tough and feminine and absolutely convinced that living on Perry Street would make my writing more wild, which it did: I wrote a long, messy novel that took Wuthering Heights and put it in my high school. There was incest, in a sexy way, like Flowers in the Attic. I forced my boyfriend to paint the entire room a shocking shade of pink and shoved my tiny desk against the oven, which was good for two reasons: The first was that I never used the oven, not once, and the second was that an entire family of mice soon took up residence inside the oven’s walls.