Sunday, March 12, 2006

Inspirational: Washington Heights is Home


You found my online photo album and you saw the photos I’d posted of 1 Sickle Street both inside and out of the building. You wrote me and told me you grew up in Washington Heights where I grew up. You said, things look different yet the same. You recognized the building on Sickle Street where you had grown up and which now has been renovated. You commented on its revived beauty and said you should visit. You told me you often think of visiting that building and surrounding area.
“Yes,” I wrote you back, “you should before it's too late and you wont be able to. You know how life is, it passes by so fast; there’s never enough time to count up our regrets.” Think of all the times we say we’ll do something and that something never comes to pass.
I still live in the area where I was born in Washington Heights. I wonder if it's like at the end of the galaxy where the further away you live from where you were born, the more chaos you create in the universe. If that’s true, why have I been through so much? It seems as though I’ve survived an unending mass of crises always waiting to be resolved.
Maybe it’s just like my old social work professor said, Problems are proof of life, and so they ought to be celebrated.” I’ll go along with that.
It's strange to leave the neighborhood where you’ve always lived, especially when you only live in another section of the same neighborhood or even another borough of the same city. Then like you, although you’re still very close to where you grew up, you feel as though you’re a million miles away. Nostalgia sets in and then we desire what we perceive as lost. Even when what was lost was never that great - maybe even painful - when we had it back then.
I’m like the female counterpart to Jim Carroll, who wrote Basketball Diaries - having also grown up in Washington Heights - and also writing from an early age. I’ve been writing since I’m 4 years old. I did that for love. My life actually became a parody of looking for love in all the wrong places - obviously because I wasn’t getting enough in the right places. I had a very hard life as a youngster growing up in Washington Heights and then when I became a parody of looking for love in all the wrong places - and of all places -in Washington Heights, it sure didn’t make living any easier.
Now as an adult, I’ve been able to fulfill many desires I had as a child. And I’ve been able to do this in my birthplace, right here in Washington Heights. I literally live 2 blocks from where I was born, in Jewish Memorial Hospital, which is now JH 218.
I never had a childhood because as a child I had to deal with adult concerns. The good part of this is that my past made me who I am; a social worker devoted to helping people move ahead and also to get benefits they’re entitled to. I’ve devoted over 21 professional years helping people attain their goals, and many more years as just a citizen and human being.
I've gone from being a high school dropout to now being an Ivy League drop-in; I’m a double alumna of Columbia University. My undergraduate BA is in Anthropology and my Masters in Social Work. I’m living proof of someone who has pulled themselves up through the system by my boot straps. It was very difficult. One of the major pluses was how I capitalized on being poor and undereducated and got my undergrad BA for free. You’ll have to read my stories on how that came to be. Now I hold 2 master’s degrees, one in social work and the other in Creative Writing from CCNY. See, now that I’ve made it into middle class life, I can’t afford the best and Ivy League anymore. I have to pay for everything; sometimes more than others. Like in the Mitchel-Lama cooperative where I live; we pay a 50% surcharge.
I have a clear message to anyone else who feels like they’ve been through it all and had enough. After all is said and done, I’ll repeat what Irving Miller told me, after he called me “a mitzvah to humanity.” Mitzvah means gift and he called me this because I have an inherent understanding of people's needs and how to help them move ahead. He also said that my self awareness and acceptance of my own eccentricities and flaws make it easier for me to accept others. I agree with this; you must learn to accept who you are. The most important thing I learned from Irving Miller, my honored social work professor is this, "Celebrate your problems, it means you're alive."
My message to you remains the same; "Don't put off till tomorrow what you can do today. Attack your problems with vigor as new ones crop up to replace the ones that have been resolved. Most importantly, always have a goal in sight and make certain it is an attainable one."

Buy my book, 'A Spot of Bleach' at and read more about being a social worker, growing up poor and making it in Washington Heights. Surviving and succeeding took hard work and courage and reading about my life will give you the strength to do what you need to do to get where you want to go.