A World Inside the City

by Guest Blogger January 30, 2010

[A] few years ago, I was taken with a magazine interview with actor Maggie Gyllenhaal. Entitled, "Hiding in Plain Sight," it recounted Ms. Gyllenhaal's then recent move to New York City.[1] At first, she was overwhelmed. But when she found the little shops and cafés, all that changed. The big-eyed, "apple-cheeked" Gyllenhaal had figured a way to tame the chaos of Manhattan and live "something of a storybook life among the bakeries and bookstores of New York City." How did she do it? By discovering the unlikely yet fascinating "edges" of the metropolis. ..." Here's Gyllenhaal: I've always felt more comfortable in New York than in California. But it is funny, because my feeling about New York is actually that it's a tough place to live. Things move so quickly and it can be very dirty and crowded and rough, but what is so amazing about New York is that you can go into a little restaurant or shop or a little bookstore, and all of a sudden, you're in a completely different place. I think people create these environments in New York--these very specific, eccentric environments. If you know of these little secret spots, you can take a turn into one of them and all of a sudden, its calm and quiet. If you know enough places like that, New York becomes a much more bearable place to live. The article goes on to describe Gyllenhaal's favorite cafés, bookshops, museums, theaters, and restaurants--the sum total of which has helped her create what she called a "world inside the city." Gyllenhaal has found specific, eccentric environments--eccentric means "off-centered circle" (she calls them "secret spots")--which have made the city a more bearable place to live. I love that phrase: a "world inside the city." In edenic language, she's found flowers among thorns. Gyllenhall's discovery is more than a template for would-be New Yorkers. It speaks to something deep within us all, something that makes us human. No matter where we are, the Fall has exploded upon the maps of our lives creating chaos. Our common human impulse is to Organize! Organize! Somehow we must find ways to stitch together clothing from the tatters: a network of relationships--with people and places--that enable us to live our humanity out in any given city with something like transcendent meaning. Gyllenhaal's truth, in fact, is what Schaeffer calls a "true truth," a truth about the human condition. We need places in which we can connect, a place in which we can find community amidst the larger community. We need our own private world inside our cities of existence. We need a place--even more, a network of places--that help to hold our world together, our chaotic lives. It is not one place. It is a number of places. Gyllenhaal indicates that we need "enough of these secret places" to make our lives in the city bearable. That's why I love Ruminate. It celebrates art on the serrated edge of life, and aims to be something like a secret place. Our lives, without the kind of art and writing expressed by Ruminate and other authentic articulations of "faith and life," would indeed be "tough places to live." I hope the latest issue makes your life in whatever chaotic city in which you live "a little more bearable." If it does, let us know. [1] Seal, Mark, "Hiding in Plain Sight," from the American Way magazine, November, 2006. Photographs by Justin Stephens.


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