Tuesday, October 27, 2009

New York, I Love You (But You're Bringing Me Down)

I wonder if I'm falling out of love with New York.

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Maybe it's the man I passed while walking the same route to the same internship (it should be glamorous but how glamorous is it, really, sitting inside all day in front of an outdated Mac in too dim lighting and rereading the same blogs to alleviate boredom?) whose umbrella got scraped and broken by a postal van driving too close, and him screaming "fucking faggot!" at the driver and walking off, anger steaming from his shoulders in this miserable October rain and drenched pavement that splashes dirty rainwater that soaks into jeans and fake leather boots.

Maybe it's taking the same lines at the same times on the same days to the same stops and making the same walk through areas I've already memorized. Maybe it's feeling the same frustration as the L train chokes through its tortured route from Bedford to 1st Ave, circling the same never ending construction around Washington Square, watching the same tired performances and skate boarders and vendors pepper Union Square.

Maybe it's the oppressive roommates, 25 or 29 or 30 and living in the same Brooklyn apartment with a shitty job (waitress, bartender), still slugging through school and spending weekends at home with only the noise of her TV or a boyfriend without a job, their voices a constant terror and reason to stay in my room (or leave the place as often as possible). The fear of becoming them, their sad repetitive lives, their endless complaints and pains and same old answers to the same old questions (how are you? Good. How was your day? Long, I'm so tired).

Maybe it's Joan Didion or Meghan Daum's essays on leaving New York. Brilliant writers who described exactly how I've felt the little tidbits of New York, envisioned the same romantic future I do. Instead of Daum's 104th street apartment with the wood floors, my dream abode is on West 10th Street, with its brownstones and archway of leaves that I'd fallen in love with the very first time I walk down it, and still marvel over even after the hundreds of times down that same path.

Then there are her notes on numbers, those terrifying digits that tell the reality of debts and payments, and her little indulgences--spending money on freshcut flowers or a nice dinner, for example, because those didn't matter, in the big scheme of things, sounded dead on. And what's the point of living in New York if I don't indulge, if I don't allow myself to live the fantasy life I dream with exactly those amenities? Sure, I'm happy to skip lunch and never dry clean coats because of the cost, but not spending so much on that exquisite tea shop or a bizarre performance on a Friday night? Never.

It's not the same as only a year before, when every single trip outside meant a new adventure, and opportunity glimmered from every subway stop and little thrift store. When having a bad night meant I left my dorm at 10th and Broadway and simply headed to the West Village or the Hudson, stared at the sparkling skyline that I didn't even realize belonged to New Jersey.

When Times Square was still somewhat exotic, glamorous and each area didn't carry the full weight of its stigma, each New Yorker couldn't be pinpointed and dissected within a single glance. When I looked for time to sit in the park and feel the sense of wonder simmer through with each tourist snapping a similar photo of buildings that just began to feel familiar, when each face I recognized didn't carry a vague fear of an awkward conversation about something that shouldn't have happened, when I still spent ages simply worshiping the fact that I was here.

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No, it's not the same at all. Now the averted eyes and buried heads in the subway are required, the quickened pace and headphones not for an illusion of a New Yorker but simply to get to the next forced destination on time. When I tell myself to spend a day exploring and waste it refreshing the same five sites online instead. When I try to force magic to exist again and listen to songs I used to live by and watch movies set in the city that should make my heart ache and instead, there is simply a dejected acceptance.

Yes, I am here. Yes, this is the life, my life, and yes everything, all the disappointment and nonstop errands and tasks and things to fix and bills to pay and calls to make and people to try to meet and befriend are the same old, the same tired old crap. I'm not ready to be cynical. Not yet, not dejected and broken--but maybe it is inevitable with this world, this city.

But then, as I walk through the wasteland that is midtown with my three dollar street umbrella with a broken handle and the rain pours around me, splashes onto my purse and the bottoms of my jeans and edges of my coat, I realize that I love the rain. I do. Not when it's humid and muggy but when it is cold and charged like this, like now, even the muted sky and the irritated New Yorkers can't take away the symphony it makes on top of my suprisingly effective umbrella.

When I pass by a splash of a shocking golden orange tree, every single leaf the same crayola brightness against buildings without history but all industry, and realize that the tree matches the exact shade of the golden rod cabs that drive past it, that single glimpse, that image burned to my mind, singing inside my lips, makes me remember. I remember why I suffer through the bureaucracy and sacrifice the ease of a normal college student for responsibility, why I cram myself into already overstuffed and overheated trains and mutter apologies to unhappy commuters and spend free moments worrying about every impending annoyance in the future.

And that is this, this feeling, this blessed euphoria perched on each raindrop and overheard conversation, this fulfillment and revelation that is painted on top of every building (elegant brownstones or industrial copies), this moment of inspiration and beauty that I can't find elsewhere. This, is New York.

So maybe. Maybe in another ten years, I will lose this, when my eyes will shut out the surprises that await, and the chains of debt and a living situation that isn't much better and a career that I like but doesn't satisfy, predictable friends and routines and no motivation to even look elsewhere. Maybe then I'll realize that maintaining the fantasy is simply too expensive. I'll pack up my bags and get ready for a life that requires a house, a car, a city that is not quite a city, a world doesn't exist solely in movies and books.

But not yet. Until then, I have this, and everything--the stories, the people, the discoveries, the misery, the tortured endless nights and disorienting mornings without sleep, the terrible parties and marvelous buildings and worlds and worlds that I can watch but not join--that accompanies it.

And you know something? I am still hopeless and utterly in love with each and every bit of it.

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14 comments:

  1. What a beautifully written essay (for lack of a better word)... I can relate a bit - growing up 45 minutes from the city meant that a lot of the charm of NYC was lost at an early age (for example, Times Square is possibly one of my least favorite places in the world). But you're dead on about those surprises and that unpredictability that keeps everything so alive and makes it just an amazing place to be...

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  2. beautifully written, sad, interesting. well done.

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  3. Part of loving New York consists of absolutely hating it at times. If not, it wouldn't be real love, now would it?

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  4. Your words are poetry. But, of course, there will be days like today, and they'll only remind us to remember why we love it anyway. :)

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  5. I can relate to this. Not in NY though but with Toronto I totally can.

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  6. This is wonderfully written and really makes me yearn for the big city life, even though I know I'm not cut out for it at the moment!

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  7. I envy you the strong mixed feelings towards the place that you live in. I look forward to moving someplace different after I finish my academy but it's 3 years from now. I hate being stuck with a simple dislike to this city. But a new destination keeps me motivated at my school I'm eager to finish it on time :D

    I love your writing
    bv

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  8. Once again your writing expresses exactly what I am feeling. When I first started working in London it was utterly thrilling: the hustle and bustle, the incredible buildings, the people, the buzz you only get from a city like London. But now the gloss has worn off for me and I have to force myself to really look for the beauty that exists in this city. I used to make eye contact and smile at people on public transport but these days find myself eyes down, music up, head in book.
    The magic is still there, it just gets harder to see it.
    Love your blog a lot and look forward to reading more.
    x

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  9. first, your french tumblr status made me smile. i love it when foreigners try to speak french with their cute accent : )
    i'll be going to NY for almost three weeks in december, i would love to hear your french around a cut of coffee or tea and some cupcakes : )

    secondly, i do love the mixed feelings you have towards NY. this city means so much to me, even if i have never been there. one of my dreams is to go there, which i'll hopefully do in december. it was really nice to see your point of view and how inspiring or awful the "big apple" is according to you : )

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  10. How wonderful, and beautifully written.While others (like me) only dream of being where you are right now, you get to live it. I like it that you're both falling in and out of love with the city, because that makes the fantasy more believable.

    Pardon, the incoherence in my words.

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  11. The way you describe it all is beautiful, the falling in and out of love of the city. It's a lot like falling in and out of love with the one you're with. How things just become routine, and it takes those special moments, those sparks, where you remember why you are with them, what made you fall in love with them in the first place...

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  12. [...] it seemed, not only in the matters of the heart (and body). 2009 was the year when I began to grow disenchanted with New York , disenchanted with a lot of things. Last year, every adventure, every season, ever decision and [...]

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