successful at 39
fire pits, cigars, and reading books I want to read
To me, having a fireplace or fire pit in your home is the highest sign of luxury and success in NYC. I don’t care to live in a highrise building or have waterfront views of the skyline. What I do care about is that intoxicating smell when you’re walking on a brownstone-lined block in Brooklyn on a chilly evening and the scent of burning wood wafts through the air. Whoever is able to that, they’ve made it.
Imagine, anytime you want, you can start a fire and watch the flames dance along the wood, the hissing sound of moisture seeping through the grain, and the crackling of the wood as it starts to burn. Something about that feels so out of place and yet so comforting at the same time.
But this longing I have for fire represents a deeper disconnection I have with nature. Growing up, going out into nature was always an occasion. A few times a year, my home church would set up this big picnic in some field at Bear Mountain where they’d bring Korean food, play games with prizes ranging from bags of rice to skincare products. We never just went out to hike or go camping.
I did grow up near Prospect Park and Kissena Park and because of photo shoots, I know certain locations in Central Park where at the right angle and right time, it feels like you are in the woods. It’s nice, but your mind knows it’s not nature, nature. Move a few steps to the right and you’ll see a building in the horizon, and then half a mile east, you’re back out on 5th avenue.
But the one thing that creates an immediate visceral connection to nature is starting a fire and tending to it. Add a comfortable chair and a cigar I can be there for hours thinking about nothing and just feeling gratitude and calm.
So for my birthday this past week, I decided to go on a solo trip upstate and stay at Getaway—someone’s brilliant idea to buy land in the woods and build tiny cabins with fire pits in front. Although there’s a bunch of them, they are far enough from each other and facing the woods that you can feel like you’re the only person there. The afternoon I got there, I unpacked and immediately went to starting a fire as the sun went down. The next morning, I went for a walk around the property and got back to building the fire again.
Usually on these trips, I feel like I should bring all the books I’ve been meaning to read, but I decided instead to just bring the ones I wanted to read. Listening to what I want to do, not what I should do is a subtle but huge breakthrough for me. Only took 39 years.
I spend the morning going back and forth between Wind Up Bird Chronicles by Haruki Murakami, and How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee while adding logs to the fire and moving them around for optimal air flow and burn. Add to that a delicious Opus X a friend bought for me and I was one with nature.
Imagine: a New Yorker up in a cabin in the Catskills, tending a fire, having a smoke, while reading a book. Yeah, I think I’ve also made it.