Over the past few weeks, I’ve been talking nonstop. When I’m not waxing poetic in this newsletter, I’ve been deep in the promotion cycle for my forthcoming novel, Olga Dies Dreaming, which publishes on January 4. Because the book deals, in part, with a family in the cross-hairs of gentrification in Brooklyn, gentrification has, naturally, been a topic in many of the interviews I’ve done. One of the most provocative questions on the matter came from Maris Kreizman of The Maris Review.
“What,” she asked, “can a person who transplants here [to New York] do to not be a part of the problem of gentrification?” I’m not an urban planner, so I’m not sure I’m fully qualified to answer that question. But what came to me then—and after reflection, I stand by it—was this: Are you becoming a part of the community in which you live? Have you taken the time to know the person who does your wash-and-fold, or sells you your coffee, or tends the bodega you run into for eggs?
Often, the answer is no—which doesn’t mean the transplant is personally flawed. Joining a community relies on something that, as a society, we’ve gotten very bad at: talking to other human beings. Going out to bars to meet people has been replaced by swiping on an app, truncated texts are substitutions for phone calls to friends, and now, even the very concept of work meetings has been turned into a 2-D, digital experience. All of which has meant less time looking and talking to each other and more time, head down, enraptured with our screens.
We are, simply put, out of practice.