even good memories can be exhausting

I don’t usually read the “Personal History” pieces in the The New Yorker. I mostly read the articles (I never read the fiction), based on whether a) the articles are about things that seem interesting, including (a New Yorker specialty) things that seem interesting but which I’ve never thought about in my life before, or b) the writer is someone whose work I’ve found interesting and/or particularly well written in the past. (As I’ve said here before, I read every piece by Joan Acocella, even though they’re mostly about dance and I have no interest in dance.)

And I read the humor pieces and the cartoons. Usually first, of course.

But I did read this: “Living in New York’s Unloved Neighborhood” by Rivka Galchen. It begins: “For ten years, I have lived in a neighborhood defined by the Port Authority Bus Station to the north, Penn Station to the south, the Lincoln Tunnel to the west, and, to the east, a thirty-one-foot stainless-steel sculpture of a needle threaded through a fourteen-foot button.”

(By the way, if you’re looking at the print edition, where I read it, the headline was “Better Than a Balloon,” which is a stupid title. I can see why they changed it.)

Okay, I felt drawn into that beginning, because I know that area (though not from living there). Every block described is a block I know reasonably well, though I haven’t been in that area for almost a year, for obvious reasons.

But the reason I wanted to write about the piece here is that last paragraph contains this:

I used to wonder about people who were born in New York and who still lived here. Did it not annoy them that any block they walked down, any business they passed, was liable to bring up a ghoulish or irritating memory? Even good memories can be exhausting. Maybe especially good memories…

“Even good memories can be exhausting.” I don’t think I’ve ever seen this put so well. This is why, when I go to Cape Cod for vacation (as I did not do last year but hope to do this year, depending on… well, you know) I don’t go to Wellfleet, the town where I spent all my summers as a youth (with a few visits later on).

Wellfleet still exists in my mind (it is basically the map for the town where my detective Jan Sleet is currently solving murders, though I’ve added a nearby college and made a few other changes — even Heron Island, where the murders are currently taking place, exists, though not under that name and it’s not as close to the town center), but I have no desire to see the town and to think about all the (mostly good) memories and all the places and what’s changed and what hasn’t and so on.

I’m tired just thinking of it.

Going there now, as opposed to elsewhere on the Cape, would really go against my mantra when I’m there: “Less doing, more being.”

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