Dear New York


a friend sent me a link to this article this morning, which was posted on gawker over the weekend, about loving new york and leaving it behind. the author, cord jefferson, is an amazing writer – there’s no denying it. and he’s got a good point. new york, if you let it (and sometimes even if you don’t), can really take the wind out of you. it beats you up when you get up in the morning and when you get home at night. it creeps up on you during your morning walk to the subway, and kicks you in the face after you’ve had a long day at work. but here’s the thing: so does everywhere else. if you let it.

i’ve had many a moment where i’ve despised this city. sometimes, when i’m shoved into someone’s armpit on the L train (thank you, williamsburg, for collectively eschewing deodorant), i think to myself, “why am i not in a car right now, singing along to alanis morrissette on the radio?” sometimes, when a tourist unknowingly steps into my path when i’m already running late, pausing to stare at the sky and marvel at how TALL everything is, i swear to myself and count to ten so i don’t punch them. new york makes me aggressive. it makes me impatient. and yes, as the article criticizes, it makes me tough.

but i don’t think that’s really such a bad thing. if there’s one gift new york has given me, it’s that the city has taught me how to be alone. people think you can’t be alone in a city swarming with millions of people, all acrid sweat and rotting garbage and fresh bodega lilies. but you can – you can be more alone here, with strangers and friends alike buzzing around you, than you can be anywhere else. and you know what? there’s something magical about that. something powerful about it. because learning to be alone – and to be okay with being alone – is a wonderful thing. and it’s something i most certainly wouldn’t have learned without new york.

there was a time, not so many years ago, where i was terrified to pick up the phone and place an order for chinese delivery. i was that afraid of my own voice. i couldn’t bear the idea of going grocery shopping by myself when i could just as easily go with a friend to help me select a ripe cantaloupe; didn’t understand why a person would dare to do something as humiliating as dine on their own. new york has taught me that there’s little more freeing than thinking to yourself, self, i’d like to see a movie today. it’s hot outside and i’d like to sit in a cozy, reclining seat in an empty theater with a large portion of overly-buttered popcorn and a king-sized bottle of water. nothing more empowering than strolling down west 9th street between 5th and 6th avenues and saying, self, someday you just might live in one of these brownstones.

so yes, new york takes a lot out of you. on a daily basis. but it also gives back to you in spades, if you know how to look for it. like when you’re stepping out of your local bodega and notice a tiny baby bird fluttering in pain on the sidewalk, and see that a group of teenagers, however rowdy and self-concerned as teenagers tend to be, will kneel down and discard the slice of pizza they just paid for to scoop up the bird and take it home to nurse it back to health. sometimes, it’ll give back to you with a crisp fall day so perfect that you think the world might just end tomorrow – but you won’t care, because you’ll be walking through central park with a forest above and sunburnt leaves crunching beneath your feet. it’ll give back to you when you walk behind kirsten dunst in soho, her sundress swinging softly behind her, when you take in a reading of your favorite book by your favorite author and he looks you straight in the eye. it’ll give back to you when the flower guy on the corner gives you two bunches of lilies for $10 instead of $12, when you sample fresh goat’s cheese at the farmer’s market and eat the best tikka masala you’ve ever had on 6th street. it’ll give back to you when you find a worn leathered armchair on the side of the street, when your cabbie compliments your nose ring and tells you you’re beautiful, when the chef brings you an extra round of appetizers or offers you a drink on the house. it’ll give back to you when you want to order sushi at 2AM, bagels at 6AM, and a freshly baked pizza at 1 in the afternoon.

what it comes down to is this: you can have a good day anywhere. you can have a bad day anywhere. i can have a terrible day in the most beautiful, picturesque place in the world just as easily as i can have a great day. so to go blaming new york for all life’s failures simply isn’t fair. yes, this city can knock you down. but just as easily, it can prop you back up, taller and stronger than ever. and if not, i’ll give you the guts to stand back up on your own two legs, proud and pretty and poised.

i don’t think i’ll live in new york forever. but i’ll be damned if it isn’t a good place to be young. because if there’s one thing you will undoubtedly find here in this smelly, overcrowded, overpriced city, it’s yourself.

1 comment
  1. Bruce said:

    Well said! Living in New York does teach you to be alone among millions, but there’s something very liberating about that solitude. It frees you from the shackles of “weird” and “normal” and opens your eyes to the quiet dignity of the mundane.

    New York prevents me from taking anything or anybody for granted and constantly reminds me that it will never be my city–as much as I want to believe it is. No, it belongs to the Russian grandma in Brighton Beach, the Chinese kid in Flushing, and the Domincan lady in Crown Heights. I’m just glad they let me stay here.

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