Philosophy Weekend: The Bridges of New York City

Being A Writer Existential New York City

The folks who run a weekly radio show called Cityscape at WFUV in New York City kindly invited me to read from a piece I'd written many years ago, The Bridges of New York City, from my 1995 fictional folk-rock record album Queensboro Ballads, for an episode of their show devoted to, well, the bridges of New York City. The show aired this morning, and you can listen to the podcast here.

I was particularly glad they'd aptly dug up this old piece of mine for this show, because at the time I wrote it The Bridges of New York City represented an important step forward in the evolution of my writing. After I created Literary Kicks in 1994 I began doing a lot of writing about literature and, as the website became popular, found myself widely read for the first time in my life. But I had an urge at this point to try something different. I wanted to write about my beliefs, about the philosophy of my life; I wanted to preach.

It takes some nerve to follow an urge like this. The Bridges of New York City represented my first attempt to write boldly in a declarative voice about how I believed we were meant to live. I was working for the JP Morgan bank on Wall Street at the time, and my experience on Wall Street had been a crushing disappointment. I had expected this job to be the pinnacle of my career, but my work was dull and my co-workers duller. I was also incensed -- I find this funny now, but I took it quite seriously then -- that nobody but me seemed the least bit excited to be working on one of the most famous streets in the world, with the Statue of Liberty, Trinity Church, the World Trade Center and the Brooklyn Bridge right outside our windows. We were just supposed to pay attention to our work.

My feelings about this boring job were the kicking-off point of The Bridges of New York City. I still believe today that life is an utterly joyous thing, but that anyone who wants to bask openly in this joy will have to fend off a lot of conformist disapproval in order to do so. I just listened to the podcast of my reading with my wife Caryn, who laughed when she heard me complain about the culture at work, because it's the same exact things she hears me say today. Some things never change! Anyway, please check out this fine podcast, which also includes a few other guests talking about their favorite New York City bridges, or go to the text version to read my piece in its entirety.

Or, if you can, just get up and take a walk across a bridge. It always works for me.

This article is part of the series Philosophy Weekend. The next post in the series is Philosophy Weekend: Kim Jong-Il and the Loony Way Out. The previous post in the series is Philosophy Weekend: A Pragmatist's Vocabulary, Continued.
5 Responses to "Philosophy Weekend: The Bridges of New York City"

Nice work. My favorite NYC bridge has always been the Marine Parkway Bridge, though (it's on the cover of one of my books, Summer in Brooklyn). In 1937, the year it opened, it was named the most beautiful movable bridge (the Golden Gate won that year in the "major span" category): http://www.aisc.org/contentNSBA.aspx?id=21362

Wow! I really enjoyed the piece and your reading of it. Don't mean to sound surprised but I love your sound. Now when I read your posts, I'll hear you even better. The best thing about bridges--either thinking about them or walking on them--is they remind you to look up and out.

Oh shoot, I meant to say to Richard, your Hipsters and Hamsters book looks pretty darned funny. Congratulations!

by Claudia on

Levi, I read your piece and found it so reminiscent of Baudelaire's modernism, in some ways (The Parisian Prowler), and so contemporary in its frank reaching out to others. I really liked your peregrinations through the city and the narration of your personal experiences. I've never worked in the business world, as you have, but could relate to what you say about conformism and lack of joy. At times, that's how I felt when I taught in the academia. Like you, through creative writing and essays, I found a way to be myself, and to express that more individually to others. And I believe that is what has a real chance of reaching other people nowadays. Out of curiosity, I was looking at what kind of videos get the most hits on youtube. It's either a) multi-million dollar budget music videos, or b) people talking to others, reaching out. Many of those videos may be silly, but most seem to have a human element: a real person talking to others, a way of communicating and connecting. When you write your blog or literary essays, that's what you do: you make a bridge to others and invite your readers to cross it as well.

I've enjoyed Levi's readings and writings for years. He's a natural.

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