The Floor I Couldn’t Reach

Elmhurst was really a town back then, not too fond of change though the quiet was punctuated by noise you’d expect of a New York city. Depending on who your neighbors were, you got the occasional Mariachi outside your window or the Mexican bass throbbing under your feet. Elmhurst housed people in boxes, brick apartment buildings that stood like giant file cabinets. Our life filed under 1D, then 5H, before we settled into the roomier one-bedroom 3F. To get from one apartment to the next, you got in another box, the elevator. The door opened to hit you with the smell of the last occupants. Cigarette, curry, musky cologne. As a little girl I was afraid of the thin black space I jumped over to step in. I imagined somehow falling into the scary unknown.

It was a recurring dream I had as a kid. I pressed three in the elevator and hit the fifth floor, then watched helplessly as the numbers lit their way down. Past three. The door opened, but I didn’t live on first. I landed everywhere but the place I wanted to get to.

The funny thing is my house three decades later on the other side of the country is ostentatiously rectangular. Nothing to complain about with all the space I ever hoped for. But I wonder if the architecture of my childhood is why I’ve fancied homes with circular form and spiral stairs. Perhaps in such a house I would stop living the unwelcome dream. I long for progress in certain areas of my life. How I hate the offhand, “How are you?” because I’m always struggling, eyeing the place I can’t reach. I have been many things: tired, discouraged, overwhelmed, thankful, disappointed, hopeful. But never unmotivated in the blogging, never uninspired in the writing; it’s just these four walls of time. Writing is a montage of all the arts. It is painting, sculpting, dancing, singing, photographing, weaving – with words, all at once. I fill the empty draft page, my canvas of possibility. Press publish and I watch the numbers climb. I’m not deposited in some dreamer’s purgatory. Ceiling defers to sun and clouds heavy with promise, such air as I’d never tasted. This sky is the floor I could finally reach.

CloudsBlueGrey2

104 thoughts on “The Floor I Couldn’t Reach

    • Six days since the last post – that IS long for me ha ha (and yes, even longer, by measure of the depth you grade my posts by lol). I’m glad you liked my take on writing, Brad. But I can’t accept the bow because the masters I know of are those whose sleeve I could only hope to graze – in this life or the next. =) But sigh, seeing how you’ve already bowed,

      a curtsy back to you, my good friend.

  1. There was this professor of mathematics at the university of Oxford (UK) who found the square corners of his college room so constraining that he persuaded the college bursar to pay for a special blackboard for three sides of the room, with special curved bits for the corners !

  2. My favorite part: “Writing is a montage of all the arts. It is painting, sculpting, dancing, singing, photographing, knitting – with words, all at once. I fill the empty draft page, my canvas of possibility.” This will stay with me. This has inspired me. I want to write like that! THANK YOU Diana! I feel empowered. πŸ™‚

  3. Love the last line, which got me thinking about elevators. I recently spent some time in one from the early 20th century, and my feeling was that if I spent more time in it, it would soon be spending time in me. I suppose the houses we have inhabited have the same effect – both rooting and launching us, with varying degrees at various speeds.

  4. Childhood homes. The projects were constructed of brick and concrete, the doors made of steel, a Godsend as there were no entry points for the rats that plagued the stick built houses in the surrounding neighborhoods.

  5. So many of us fail to transcend the structures of our childhood, reliving dysfunctional behaviors and coming up against the self-imposed limitations of our own minds. So happy to see that you have found a way to move “to infinity…and beyond!”

    • You brought to light the subtext and as always, put it so well, Malcolm. I wanted to do more than just tell the story of where I grew up. Our “reliving dysfunctional behaviors” in part feeds the high divorce rate and the hamster wheel of addictions. “Coming up against the self-imposed limitations of our own minds” keeps us from dreaming – bright, happy dreams, at least. I didn’t even notice these limits ’til my late 20s, which is why achievement and greatness are pet topics of mine. I am fascinated by people who can change their self-talk and choose to fix upon sights higher than their story box had been. Have to add your last line leaves me feeling like a Star Trekker. ^^

    • I did not get the “dysfunctional behavior” idea at all. Dreams are just that. Maybe we are tested in our dreams–tested to see if our real-life hearts and minds react well.

  6. Going with the elevator theme… when the doors open you never know who is going to join you for the ride or where they will get off. In life’s journey, people come and go, but they are part of the experience, even if just temporarily. Your words paint a picture that causes my mind to run and leap!

    • Well, I’ll be, Debbie. You sure made your own words leap; what a great picture of the way we cross paths with people. I am grateful you chose to step into THIS box of a blog – and stay. =) And the canvas of possibility is something I’d planned to speak of in a future post on blogging. It happened to fit here. I hope you are encouraged to run and leap (and dance and sculpt) in the blogging. =)

      Love,
      Diana

  7. Wonderful insights into your writer’s life. I found it fascinating that shapes of buildings, apartments and rooms make such a difference. I wonder what it says that the aging two elevators in my five story apartment building are continually breaking down. I’ve only been stuck once and rescued by our neighborly fire department. Some dwellers prefer to live on the first and second floor in case they have to resort to the stairs. Having experienced the ups and downs of the elevator, I would not descend from my fourth floor apartment with its lovely view of a tall oak tree to live on a safer floor. I wonder what that says about my writing.

    • I never cared for feng shui bc from what little I know, it taps its roots in ancestral worship, but I have thought there is something to it. Our physical environment has to shape us as our emotional does. Even colors we take in do, as every color has its own energy and property and it is not only with our eyes but our brain, neurons, emotions, and spirit that we perceive colors. Hence color therapy. So how much indeed does the space that prescribe our boundaries affect us in the long term?

      Truly interesting, your question. “I wonder what that says about my writing.”

      Sounds like a post to me. =)

  8. I grew up across Roosevelt Ave in a brick box called 3C at Roosevelt Terrace. We were practically neighbors. Maybe you went to P.S. 89?

    I understand what you’re describing. You brought back lost memories of taking the stairs to avoid my screaming as we crossed that gaping space between the elevator and the solid floor; or as a stranger tried to share the elevator with us.

    I, too, live in a place very different from there. As I raised my kids in tiny cities and rural areas, I relished the luxury of the wide open spaces.

    Your comment about Feng shui got me thinking about the square column that divided the space in our living room/dining room. Our family was just as divided.

    • The chills!!! YEAH, I went to 89. Omg. Hey, we were likely there different years but do you remember Mrs. Cho, the only Korean teacher in that school and in NYC at the time? She was there many years. I walked to/fro school. You know, went I returned in high school, the hallways I’d remembered to have been so long and wide weren’t so and the chairs were tiny. LOL. I can smell the school all over again, writing you. And your reflection on the column is amazing.

      My son is growing up in a house bigger than my dreams, his room the size of the living rms we’d had in all those apts. I am concerned he will not really know/appreciate what he has. That’s another post – several I’ve written, actually.

      I can’t believe you grew up in Jackson Hts.

      • I was there with Mrs Nalin and Mrs Paget and Mr Arthur B Lipsky and other great teachers with names I forgot. I walked, too, and remember some fuss about bussing kids in. I didn’t have any problem with the bussed kids, so didn’t understand the issue until a decade later.

        When I went back to visit, I was shocked by the playgrounds that were converted to parking lots. Even the school yard was covered by new classrooms.

        My kids have been discovering the value of space as they live in dorm rooms and apartments.

        I’m looking at my screen and noticing its boxiness πŸ™‚

      • YAH, living in dorms and apts will do that for ya lol. Sounds like you in 89 a good many yrs after me though Mrs. Cho was still there when I went back as a college kid. I missed the bussing affair. Was LoSecco still principal when you were there?

      • I don’t recall the names Cho or LoSecco. My best friend Janet and I earned privileges by washing art sponges for her mom Mrs Shoskes who taught kindergarten. The teachers went on strike. Girls were finally allowed to wear pants. I was there during the end of the 60s. Walks to the world’s fair grounds and LaGuardia airport. Thanks for sharing this blast from the past.

      • I knew your kids were older than mine but thought you were younger than I from your avatar – knowing that’s an old photo (I mean, younger. =) ). I was at PS 89 15, 18 yrs later!!

        Precious to have connected. Thanks.

      • I vaguely recall the school.

        73 in Maspeth. Was thinking after I wrote you, that was far. I guess Jackson, Elmhurst and those parts didn’t have the $ for a closer middle school.

        Seeing afresh also how impersonal these school number names sound!

      • 89 and 145 were just a few long blocks from my house. Maspeth sounds far away. We walked a lot. We walked to Jamaica but I don’t remember walking to Maspeth.

        Did you notice the reports about P.S.89 on 9/11 during news broadcasts? I thought that each school got a unique name, considering that it was only a number. Yeah. Really impersonal.

      • Yeah, I think about it now and Maspeth was far, but we chose to walk home, friends and I. Even in the snow. Crazy. That’s nuts, walking to Jamaica LOL. I was in CA on 9/11 but had come here from PA anyway so I was long since far from the news back there.

  9. I grew up in a very different place. No levels at all… just one long floor, in a house made of brick and concrete, with a big, green yard. It’s always hot in Nicaragua so the homes are all very open, and have terraces littered with colorful rocking chairs and hammocks.

    I spent my childhood climbing up coconut trees with my sister and a cousin who lived next door.

    Managua, the capital, was obliterated by an earthquake in December of 1972 – three days before my parents’ wedding date. Tens of thousands of people died, and as the city was rebuilt in subsequent years, much of the construction splayed out away from the epicenter and focused on single-level structures and buildings.

    The resulting, post-earthquake city looked (still looks) a lot like a big, sprawling suburb.

    The remnants of the old Managua weren’t demolished until the early 2000’s, so for years after the quake you could drive around the condemned, abandoned buildings in the old city center and get a really eerie sense of the before and after. In fact, people my parents’ age still talk about “old Managua” and “new Managua” when they refer to different sections of the city.

    I don’t know why your post made me think of all this, but to our conversation earlier, I think these are the kinds of things I need to be writing about!

    • Actually, I had been toying with an idea for a series where we share these glimpses of our childhood. It is so interesting to see how differently we all grew up across the globe but I was really intrigued to find the undercurrents familiar in Sidney Poitier’s biographical description of life in Jamaica. I mean, another world from NYC, right? But the picture of his parents’ struggles to put food on the table and labor day and night were right out of my own story.

      “these are the kinds of things I need to be writing about!” This is why I do what I do. Go write. =)

  10. I’m reluctant to say anything because it will sound so trite… and yet I have to declare how impressed I am with the imagery and lyricism of your writing. Even better, the desire you plant in my brain to try to write in a way that will move others as you so often move me with your topics and observations.

  11. “such air as I’d never tasted” Thank you for this phrase, D. You perfectly described how I feel about writing – I’ve searched so long to describe what words popping up in front of a screen meant to be…know I know. Thank you.

    I’ve always had a distaste for elevators. When I was a kid I was always terrified the four walls would cave in and I wouldn’t see the light of day. These days, when I am waiting for the elevator and the elevator doors finally open, I fear something will jump out. Subconsciously I don’t like the whole idea of structure, maybe that is why I gravitate to writing, art, being creative.

    This was a brilliant piece of writing, but I’m sure you knew already πŸ™‚ Vivid imagery and tugs at the heartstrings. You write with such conviction, not all of us can do that. Well done.

    • “but I’m sure you knew already :)”

      Uh, actually, no. I don’t go around thinking my posts are “brilliant” so thanks very much for the golden word, M. LOL.

      You guys are highlighting something very interesting. The matter of space upon our psyche and as an extension of. You have feared something happening TO you (collapsing ON you or someone coming AT you). The latter fear was not an unreasonable one when I was a little girl, for the flashers you might find in elevators or having them stepping in after you. Anyway, you sound like you hope for a stronger sense of control. To create is to control. I always enjoyed improvising on the piano better than sight-reading, that is, following something scripted (what someone ELSE composed). Perhaps you can consider elevators as something you choose to step into and use to get somewhere new in your journey. =) By the way, I thought of you reading Ben’s recent guest post But Money CAN Buy Happiness – where he mentions ramen. =) He was the White in South Korea “Racer” in that series.

      • I do think you go around to some degree thinking, “Yes, I can write. This is me”. I think that’s how all us artists think when we’re in our element.

        That is an interesting interpretation of my fear of going into lifts. I’ve always felt lost when I don’t have enough time for anything – time for work, time for sleep, time for writing. It’s then I ask: who am I and what do I really want to do? Then again, life is all about balance.

        “To create is to control”. Well said. When we create, we make the decision to get lost in another world in our minds and in reality. In control to say no to others, this is my time to make music, put pen to paper or swing a brush over an empty piece of canvas.

        To create is also to lose ourselves. Lose ourselves in the art. Art knows no rules, no boundaries. What we can create is endless.

        Thanks for pointing me to Ben’s recent guest post. I will check it out soon. Did saw it on my newsfeed recently but have been caught up with work πŸ™‚

  12. Another masterpiece Diana πŸ™‚ the quality of these words and the rich memories from which these came from are just exquisite. Thanks for the unending passion for writing. πŸ™‚

  13. Your ability to paint a word-picture is a joy to behold. I love watching you at your craft, though, of course, I’m only reading the finished product, and I suspect the writing “process” is another art-form altogether, an art-form unto itself. When I find myself trying to describe a scene, or create one, I pace, I mutter, I pick up books off the shelf and look at their covers (I won’t let myself open them when I’m writing -I fear cross contamination, lol-). But anyway, I just wanted to say it was lovely what you wrote, and I am glad you have found that boundless happiness that writing reserves for only the best among us. Enjoy, I’ll read you later.

  14. “apartment buildings like giant file cabinets”..”Writing is a montage of all the arts. It is painting sculpting, dancing, singing, photography, knitting – with words, all at once.” Loved! Loved!

  15. I remember being scared of that thin line of black space too D…and still am πŸ˜‰ Loved your last line…’This sky is the floor I could finally reach.’ I’m glad you found the home of your dreams ❀ xo

    • Ha ha I can’t help like that, Sherri: still scared of that thin black space. Thanks for taking a moment in your busyness. I hope the nightmare of the oral surgery is long past and you’re A-okay in that department. I’ve found my home here thanks largely to special people like you who stick around. =)

      Love,
      Diana

      • Ahh…how kind of you, thank you Diana for asking…I am over all that now thank goodness (and hope never to go through that again) but still battling with techy issues…although getting that sorted. Always a pleasure, keeping in touch…love back to you… πŸ™‚

  16. I’ve never paid much attention to dream interpretation or the study of dreams, but among those of us who remember any of them on waking, I’d bet most have at least one or two fairly identifiable themes. And that most of those have to do with longings of various kinds. My dreams are consistently filled with making my way through convoluted buildings but never quite getting where I thought I was headed (among other repeated elements), and it kind of sounds like I have a much messier version of the same quest as yours. The geometric simplicity of your remembered apartments and elevators seems rather like the balancing element to the arcane convolutions of my dream buildings; I can’t say one seems especially yin or yang compared to the other, but I can at least tell you that I don’t know the buildings in my dreams like you seem to know yours. Makes me think it might be interesting, after all, to have a look at what’s been studied about dreams….

    In any event, what strikes me most of all is that I’m glad your particular waking longing has led you to blogging and the correspondences that build this community of yours. I hope it has some sense of a dream come true for you. πŸ™‚

    xo

    • I’m glad this post got you thinking about your own dreams. Messy dreams. I like that. I can, actually, relate. You remind me of another recurring one where I’m back in high school, a tall old building in NYC and trying to find my way to the math I’d been cutting LOL. It’s report card time and I’d been missing. Need to find the teacher and save my behind. But I can’t.

      And yes, K. You got it with the dream come true. You are part of that. =) Thanks for that thoughtful note.

  17. I have come back to read again, and still feel inspired. Many, maybe most of us, have had dreams like you describe, but can’t tell about it the way you do. Your words make all of us remember and dream all over again. Yes, “Writing is a montage of all the arts. It is painting, sculpting, dancing, singing, photographing, weaving – with words, all at once. I fill the empty draft page, my canvas of possibility,” and you do it so well.

    • Hi, Beth. Well there you go again. =)

      “Your words make all of us remember and dream all over again.” This made my day. What beautiful encouragement. Thank you. Hope you are well.

      Xxx
      Diana

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