1. What’s your earliest memory of NJ?
I was born in Jersey, so my earliest memory, technically, is of New Jersey. But the first thing I remember about being outside is walking down to the beach during a hurricane in glittery rain boots, and the way the sand was sinking down into the bay. I'm pretty sure this was hurricane Floyd, in 1999. I left the rain boots outside on the back porch and they were permanently ruined.
2. Describe your favourite spot there. How and why is it different from anywhere else you’ve been?
It's the same spot, where we walked down to the beach. I grew up in a small neighborhood isolated from the town on three sides by water and on the fourth by the highway. There's a lake there, called Treasure Lake - shaped like an X - and it's a wooded area on the beach. I know it unlike anything else in the world - I know the beach's moods the same way I know my own. It is small, and mostly lonesome - in the past few years it has grown popular with fishermen, and sometimes I see them, but mostly when I go I am the only person I can see or hear. It's a very short walk from my childhood home. Maybe it's different to me precisely because I know it so well.
3. How was it coming to study in New York?
It was difficult - I didn't ever dream of coming to New York as a kid, but I wanted to stay close to my mother, who was diagnosed with cancer a year before I left. Hurricane Sandy happened two months and five days - six days? - after I moved to New York, and so it drove this wedge between me and the neighborhood, one I still haven't figured out how to cross. This huge, cataclysmic event happened, and I watched from across the bay; I came back to an entirely new landscape. It made the move feel permanent, in a way.
4. Do you think you’ll return to NJ soon, or ever?
I don't know. I finally forfeited my Jersey license this year and received my New York license on the same day that my mother sold my childhood home. I feel like a traitor when I hand over my ID at bars. I return often, to see family and to walk on the beach; I'm not sure about returning permanently. I feel too young for that, like not enough time has passed.
5. I’ve never been to New Jersey, what’s something that quintessential there?
Driving the Garden State Parkway. Eating at a diner you've passed by forever and never stopped in. Taking a train into New York over the marsh. Getting locked out of the house and going to Wawa to piss. Eating corn - the corn is really good.
6. How do people in NJ differ from people elsewhere?
I've been told I am crass. I think there's a special kind of warmth, though. There is this song title from an awful band from when I was growing up - "being from New Jersey means never having to say you're sorry" and I disagree wholeheartedly, but I've also been told that I apologize too much. An old boss of mine told me that you either had to vehemently love New Jersey if you were from there, or vehemently hate it. I fall into the first camp, as do most people I know, even if it's something they keep tucked close to their chest.
7. And where should I go on my first trip?
Doesn't matter where but you should take a ferry in - the ferry from New York goes under the Verrazano and lets you off near Sandy Hook, which is a magical place, and the ferry from Delaware lets you off at mile zero of the parkway. Ocean Grove is a tiny town just south of Asbury Park, land of Bruce - it's a religious town and it's weird as hell but the homes are all pastel colored and there's all these little alleys and every summer they build a tent enclave in the middle of town and there's a ten year wait list to live in one of those tents. I worked in Asbury for a summer and parked in Ocean Grove, because it's free, and used to spend mornings walking around and peering into backyards. They lock the gates to the town at midnight.
8. Are there any misconceptions about it? Why do they persist?
There's the terrible drivers thing - which isn't entirely untrue. I shouldn't have passed my driver's test, and yet. There are so many people who come to the shore from New York during the summer and they're not natives but it's assumed that they are.
People from Jersey are crass, maybe? I'm crass. These misconceptions probably persist because nobody from Jersey actually gives a shit about what other people think about Jersey, except possibly my grandfather, who thinks the television show Jersey Shore was a terrible affront to our Italian heritage.
9. What other artists are making great work there?
Michael Dalton II just made a beautiful book about the Great Falls (in Paterson) and it includes this incredible hand drawn map that I have thought about every day since I first saw it. I showed last year with Evan Jorgensen who was making work about the Turnpike - a daunting subject to tackle. My friend Kerri Sullivan is a beautiful writer who has organized a photography project around New Jersey, something the state was sorely lacking; I am especially grateful for Kerri because she convinced me that my feelings about Jersey were valid, and that it was important to be writing about them.