A New York Story

Thursday, October 25, 2012 / 6:25 PM

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.

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