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Pilgrimage, New York, Hotel Chelsea, BlogHer

I believe in the power of pilgrimages. A journey taken with reverence and intention can push tectonic shifts, can punch holes in the time/space continuum, can break ground.  Creative pilgrimages in particular draw me. Tracing the alphabet lines and cerulean blue paint streaks that run to places where my literary, artistic and musical heroes have worked let me heal a deep psyche rift in Paris, unlocked something I though was rusted shut forever in Copenhagen, and led me to my life in Florida. Serious business, pilgrimages are.

I like the ghosts creatives leave behind in places they loved.  Their words and images crawl into walls and stay. I like remembering their inspirations, their struggles, the communities they wove.  Making a pilgrimage is like taking my withered muse to hang out with the ghosts of their own muses. Our muses, they nobly serve us in monogamous hermitage but at great cost: our poor bedraggled muses are tribal extroverts.  They need to talk and sing and fuck and roll in each others' still-wet canvases. They need to disrobe and be sketched by strangers at dusk. They need a drink from someone else's passed flask, they need a late breakfast they didn't cook. They need to break glass on marble floors and tango through the shards, and they hate to tango alone.

When I visited Hemingway's home in Key West, I saw the desk where he stood to write letters to F. Scott Fitzgerald, and I held a descendant of one of his cats. I swear it told me to take a clipping from a plant still living from when he walked the yard.  I left with my pockets full of pinched starts and branches: I left changed.

Before going to the BlogHer10 conference hotel--the annual blogging conference starts tomorrow in New York-- I made a pilgrimage to Hotel Chelsea.  I had a few extra days to spend in the city, and wanted to be sure to spend time feeding my soul with art, theatre and history. Staying a few nights in the landmark hotel I've heard referenced in relation to artist after writer after actor seemed like the medicine I've needed.

My muse has been bitchy, dry and tired.  I owed her, but now that I've stated in Chelsea, she owes me. If she needed ghosts, I found the motherlode. The list of creatives who have lived and worked in this legendary bohemian beast is a fast-beating incantation from a sticky magic drum: Bukowski, Burroughs, Kerouac. de Beauvoir & Sartre. Twain, Tennessee Williams, Wolfe, Cohen, Kubrick. Too, too many to list. Residents live here still, sharing their gorgeous lobby, gleaming wood floors and history with travelers from everywhere.

Walking the art-lined halls of the old building is mind-blowing. Some of the history I knew. I stood outside Room 205 knowing it was Dylan Thomas' last home.  Much more history lingered as questions. Did Frida and Rivera make love in this room, or that one? Hendrix, Joplin, Patti Smith.  So this is what Arthur Miller was talking about.  Did Ruth Harkness dream of pandas at night, did Leonard Cohen dream in color or black and white, did Ginsberg dream of muscular backs and strong legs, did Bob Dylan wake to coffee with a few notes still in his head?  It's all here, some imprint of it, it's all here, the novels and memoirs pounded out, the shot glasses pounded down, the thrown paint and broken guitar strings, all here.

My stay at Hotel Chelsea was the remedy I needed. A good bed in a simple room, a cacophony of  creation.  I eavesdropped on a crazy lover's quarrel in the lobby, I watched a man kneeling in front of an older man telling an impassioned story.  I cried; I researched to prepare for an interview. I wrote a short story and a love letter and a long overdue apology, perhaps too late, but I did.  I tried to open the wrong door, drunk. I had my fortune told by an old woman who asked for the banana she spied in my bag in trade, and I also gave her a purple-bagged airplane Crown as well and she laughed and rubbed the flannel on her face.  Money's going to follow me, she promised, but I really don't care about that.  What I want to follow me is how it feels to be surrounded by a devotion to creation.  What I want to remain is the pure joyousness of a place infused with the sweaty smell of the birth of art in every form, a place that holds a certain kind of history and attracts pilgrims like me who need to tap that vein.

I'm leaving Hotel Chelsea today, my pockets full of poems and cerulean blue fingerprints.  I'm headed to the Hilton for BlogHer, and I think that I'm drawn to BlogHer for the same reasons
I was drawn to Chelsea, or Shakespeare & Company in Paris, or other creative pilgrimages that have pulled me.  To see and smell and hear the laughter of a contemporary creative community--my own creative community.  People who love words and images and the magic that weaves itself when creative work is shared.  Here's to breaking glass, to filling walls with art, to mecca however you define it, with friends who throw words against walls both virtual and brick because they cant help but want to see what sticks.

Deep appreciation to Hotel Chelsea for hosting my visit with much kindness and joie de vivre!

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Reader Comments (16)

Hey Deb, just stopping by your blog. Me likey :-) Wow, how cool that you stayed at the Hotel Chelsea! How awesome to be amongst those ghosts (although Burroughs always freaked me out). I stayed in the same room Hemingway did in Bimini, a tiny Bahamian island. His vibration was most decidedly still there - I had an overwhelming urge to shoot a lion, but went fishing instead.

So great to meet and talk with you at BlogHer. It was a highlight for me.
I'll be stopping by again - I really like your writing.

August 8, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterconnie burke

it was so awesome hanging out with you, and seeing you throughout the weekend. I miss you already, we simply must do it again.

Take care and I hope your Monday isn't hitting you across the backs of the legs the way my Monday is. Boo to the day after vacation.

Love to you today and everyday!

August 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLora

Holy shit, I'd say you found your muse.

This is an exceptional piece of writing. Even for you.

(And oh, how I love a pilgrimage. I stand in strange places and cry silent tears of joy, humming from the link between me and history and heroes. And I never thought anyone got that. But I suspect, now, that you do.)

August 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMiss Britt

This is so fantastic that it gave me goosebumps and made my hair stick up. Seriously. You are a super-special lady and and incredible writer and I'm ecstatic to have had the privilege of hearing you speak at the Newbie Breakfast and to have met you in the hallway. I love the way you see the world. Thanks for opening my eyes to a different way of looking at things and for making me and so many others feel welcome at BlogHer.

August 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJen L.

I shall share my flask with you any day. I'd give my boot collection to write like you do.

August 11, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterilinap

you, have what it takes. for all and any you want, you've got it. and that's my fortune for you!

August 11, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteralisha

Why did I wait to read this until after BlogHer? Silly me. I'm still looking for that pilgrimage art moment you're talking about. It's hard to find the tribe that sticks, you know?

Maybe one day we'll be part of each other's. In Milano, of course.

August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGwen



August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnn's Rants

Oh, how I need a creative pilgrimage right now. When my current gig wraps up this fall (winter? *sigh*) I will take one. I have to.

This is gorgeous writing, Deb.

August 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth @claritychaos

This was inspiring and brought me to tears. I have been crying easily these days - I'm still blaming the late nights at BlogHer.

August 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterVikki

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I love rieadng these articles because they’re short but informative.

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