Wednesday, October 31, 2012

in solitude comes perspective.

Blackie surveys daylight from my room.
Being cooped up for days, alone with nobody to talk to but a fluffy and fickle cat as a monstrous storm wrecks your city, makes you think. It makes you crazy to stare out of two walls of windows as day turns to night, and in that insanity, it makes you breathe creativity. At least, that's how it feels as a writer. All of those emotions and thoughts and visions pour out of your head and hover above your living room as you struggle to write it all down before it disappears. I am filled with more words now than I was just three days ago.

I've always said that New York City is a place that makes me want to write. It's a place filled with stories on every block, and I always feel inspired by the sights and the sounds.

As full as this city is, it's also isolating. I sat through Hurricane Sandy alone.

Every time an accident happens or some story on the news of a fatality arises, I think about how small I feel. Every time I'm asked to fill out an emergency contact in this city, I hesitate. Would anyone notice in this city if I didn't show up? Work, yes, but that's because it's work and they have to see me every day.

I didn't go to college here, or anywhere on this coast. The family I do have on the East Coast is too far away and too out of reach. My first three months in New York were quiet. I was broke anyways, so I had nowhere to go.

The funny thing about that solitary time was the perspective I gained: I knew eventually I would have people in my life in this city who were friends with whom I would love, inspire, laugh, celebrate, cry...and I was right. It doesn't matter that I don't have a vast spiderweb of contacts like I did in college, and it doesn't matter that someone very important to me promised, "I wouldn't move to New York and then just abandon you" and then did; what matters is that we find our people sooner or later. We find the ones we can grow with, the ones we can learn from, the ones we can lean on. We understand why it's important not to settle.

And, just as important as those who are 30 blocks or 30 minutes away, are the ones who are thousands of miles away and checking in to make sure you're alive during a hurricane--from family to best friends to friends I haven't heard from in a year or even a decade. I am blessed to have all of these people in my life, and I recognize how lucky I am.

So that makes it okay that I picked up and left my home state on my own. It's okay that I still feel unfamiliar. And it's okay that I lost a very important person along the way. Because I think it's noteworthy that, in leaving and in losing, I've pushed myself to become more open, more honest, and more resilient to the pain of living.

Cheers to my friends riding out the storm up and down the coast! We're surviving.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

a New York story.

I sometimes feel like I'm "doing New York" wrong.

When I moved here in January, I gave myself three days to find a place to live. It took me five. I was on Craigslist non-stop for the week leading up to my move, and I visited places all up and down the city. In the end, I settled in Harlem, and I've enjoyed it. The commute from some of my favorite places can sometimes feel like forever, but it's never been impossible. The subways move beneath the city like an endless pulse, and it's nice to be able to indulge my introverted side and get away from the chaos of a crowd.

Perhaps I'm doing something wrong by not living in Brooklyn or in the bowels of the Lower East Side. Perhaps the dream is to live in a shitty studio apartment with five of your closest friends and drink every night until the realities of the real world press in. I don't think that's ever truly the case for anyone though, as much as we can all talk and joke about it. In the end, I believe that I can find passion and chase dreams in this city while still having a room to call my own and enough food to get me through the day.
"Was anyone ever so young? I am here to tell you that someone was. All I could do during those three days was talk long-distance to the boy I already knew I would never marry in the spring. I would stay in New York, I told him, just six months, and I could see the Brooklyn Bridge from my window. As it turned out the bridge was the Triborough, and I stayed eight years.

In retrospect it seems to me that those days before I knew the names of all the bridges were happier than the ones that came later, but perhaps you will see that as we go along. Part of what I want to tell you is what it is like to be young in New York, how six months can become eight years with the deceptive ease of a film dissolve, for that is how those years appear to me now, in a long sequence of sentimental dissolves and old-fashioned trick shots--the Seagram Building fountains dissolve into snowflakes, I enter a revolving door at twenty and come out a good deal older, and on a different street." 
-"Goodbye To All That" - Joan Didion (1967)
A traveling cellist at the Lincoln Center stop.
Growing up, New York City was always just one cloud filled with the dreams of a million. Now, I know the differences between the boroughs, and I can tell you how often the R train doesn't come. There's something so true about the way familiarity can strip the excitement out of a city. You learn what bridge is what and you learn what subway trains are the worst for late-night commutes. You pick up on the shortcuts. You let your optimism be clouded by jaded natives.

In some ways, I spent the first few months here feeling jaded that this wasn't the city I thought it would be. And yet, I'm falling in love with it now in a way I think Didion learned to love it too before she couldn't bear to exist in the throng of people on Madison Ave. "You see I was in a curious position in New York: it never occurred to me that I was living a real life there," Didion adds in "Goodbye To All That." I get that. I can see it in my future: I don't know if I can ever really call myself a New Yorker. I'll always be a Californian at heart.

But for now, in the present moment, it isn't that I have no interest in finding the narrative I feel I "should" be experiencing. Somebody once said to me that New York was the "city of singleness," and why would anyone ever want to settle down here? But that's silly. That's absolutely silly.

I don't feel this urge to paint myself into a portrait on the canvas where others who cling to their masks so strongly have embedded themselves. I am, for once, living without worrying about living.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

(late) fill-in-the-blank friday: lasts.

  1. The last thing I ate was a free bagel, which was not very good, but it was free and it was 6 a.m.
  2. The last time I went to the beach was over a year ago ... I don't think I've been to a beach since I moved east.
  3. My last vacation was about a month ago when I flew home for a few days to celebrate a bunch of birthdays and Father's Day with my family.
  4. The last place I drove was somewhere in Sacramento, when I was still living there.
  5. The last song I listened to was "Ticket to Ride" by the Beatles.
  6. The last thing I watched on TV was The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell (ha, how fitting for this theme), because it was the last show I worked on last night before leaving work. I did watch an episode of How I Met Your Mother last night off Michael's laptop, but that doesn't really count since it wasn't on a television haha...
  7. The last time I said "I love you" was yesterday.
(via lauren @ the little things we do)

Friday, October 5, 2012

subway sights.

I watched two small girls make conversation on the subway this morning. It was effortless, natural.

"Here, let's be friends," one said to the other.

"Let's have play dates," the other responded.

They were both four, according to their fathers, who sat looking shy and timid next to their talkative daughters.

The first little girl who initiated conversation had long red hair that was tied back into a simple ponytail. She had on a yellow blouse and navy blue skirt. "This is my school uniform," she told her new friend.

The other girl was smaller and had curly brown hair and dark skin. She wore a rainbow tank top and jeans, and she was attached to her young father sitting next to her, constantly holding his hand and poking him in the face.

After a couple of stops of the girls laughing and playing 'patty cake,' the fathers started talking to one another too about school and where uptown they lived and how lovely it was to raise children in the city.

The young dad and his curly-haired girl got off the subway at 96th, and the other girl watched her go sadly. A few stops later, another little girl and her mother got on the train, and the girls started talking again, while the mother made hesitant small talk with the father.

When do we start to put our guards up? At what age do we hesitate to talk to a stranger unless the circumstances call for it? When will the world become scary for those two four year old girls?