My Past and Future in New Jersey

Just Nostalgia?

Jesse Fried • Jan 13, 2019

At home on a Sunday night, I played some pieces of music that reminded me of New Jersey.

I played the fugue from JS Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in D minor. This is an intense piece full of spiritual energy, that I learned on lonely nights in my apartment in the Heights in Jersey City. Parts of it remind me of walking the decrepit but homey streets of the neighborhood, feeling lonely but somehow grounded. I was a bit lost and uncertain at that time, but there still felt like a future, a need and a reason to go against the grain.

Other parts of the piece remind me of Harriman and Sterling Forest State Parks, where I did trail work as a volunteer for the New York / New Jersey Trail Conference. These are New York State Parks, but they are west of the Hudson, and much more accessible from Jersey City, by express train from Hoboken Terminal, than they are from NYC where I live today. I really miss doing the trail work, it is one of the best things I’ve done. It just fit nicely in to my life - I got to really feel and dig into a mountainous landscape that I had long known but became intimately connected with. I got to go get dirty and do satisfying physical work on the weekends in contrast to my soul-crushing desk job in Manhattan. I met people wandering and searching for unusual and interesting things in life. None of those things I have now. Neither do I have much of a direction now, or a sense of promise or of the future, although I have achieved a lot since then.

I would like to get back to New Jersey.

Next, I played a Schubert sonata in D major, a piece both graceful and cathartic, simultaneously emotionally exhausting and invigorating to play. I only played the beginning, and in fact got tired out partway through and went to go write this instead. I didn’t learn this piece until I had lived in NYC for several years already, but still, casting about in my mind for an equivalent to the dynamism and richness of the piece in my own life experience, I found my way back to New Jersey.

For some reason I was reminded of a prior moment of remembering driving on Clinton Road, in West Milford, that runs through the woods of the Newark Watershed and Wawayanda State Park. I went hiking in the winter off of this road with my dad, and the bleakness of these rocky woods seemed somehow huge and epic to me. Like I was looking outside the boundaries of my own life at something bigger that I had only vaguely been able to glimpse before.

This is a more emotional, physical piece while the Bach is more cerebral and spiritual, so it’s hard to pin down specific memories with this one. But the feeling was strong: memories with an intimation of future promise, not nostalgia at all: pleasure, not the pain. I remembered that I was pursuing something in New Jersey that simply got put on hold when I moved to New York. I saw moments of promise in my nighttime walks around Jersey City, in sitting by the Sterling Forest fire tower with a woman on the trail crew whose name I don’t remember and thinking of the slow movement of Schumann’s Fantasiestucke, feeling like at that moment my life really meant something (I had been looking at the Catskills from the fire tower). Since I turned away from that, whether intentionally or not, I’ve been looking around in vain for some sort of ambition, direction, something to pursue, and quite frankly I’ve only been forgetting the feeling that certain things are worth pursuing. But now in this moment of solitude, of emotion, of contemplation, I remembered.

This feels like a direction. But beyond what I’ve been thinking and writing, and New Jersey, and memory, it’s nothing specific.

When I came back from the summer I spent on the farm outside of Ithaca, NY, I had goals and determination. I wanted to get a front-end web development job, get settled in NYC, and pursue music as a social activity. These were all practical and limited in nature. In fact, I’ve achieved all of them, except obviously the third one is very open ended and I could be doing better at it. I consider this a period of self-assertion. On the farm I felt fear - the danger of self-annihilation - and my sense of self was made to stand to attention. It was a healthy and invigorating experience, but not a broadening moral or spiritual one. It was interesting, but did not help me restart the sense of deeper and more important motivations beyond the self.

I’m still waiting for that. Thank God, I’ve had occasional glimpses that have prevented me from giving up hope. The Catskills have become a symbol to me, because on some hikes in the Catskills I’ve felt it a little. Tonight I also felt it, without the hustle and bustle of a long day trip. Maybe New Jersey is the better symbol though.

I have another memory that I treasure, from more recently, which seems good but unrelated. At my campsite in the Adirondacks with my brother this past summer, looking at the golden evening sunlight on the slopes of Algonquin Peak. Looking at the hugeness and the beauty, I felt like a good thing to do would be to create something beautiful enough to somehow capture or reflect this….

…which I think now is itself capturing or reflecting the glory of the universe itself.