Well there she is.
That’s me. There are a few less wrinkles under her eyes, and a few more pounds in her stomach. She’s sitting on a bus, looking out the smudged window as highway lights whiz by in a pattern. They are perfectly spaced apart.
You might notice that this young girl is biting her lower lip. (If butterflies truly flew around our stomachs, she would have been vomiting their colorful wings into a McDonald’s bag at her feet.)
Ah, yes. This little thing possesses all the symptoms of a novice city dweller. And while our protagonist thinks she is special, countless others have carried her same ambitions, right down to the dream job and ideal neighborhood. It is important to remember that you are not celebrated when you move to New York. Instead, you must learn to celebrate that your life transpires in the epicenter of many great things. There is a make-or-break difference between the two mentalities.
Then she sees it—the city! Oh the stars in her eyes as the romanticized version of New York waves from a distance. “Come one, come all!” it twinkles with promise. She’s flying down the Jersey Turnpike now, rushing toward her first love, that first obsession.
Your inaugural year in New York is a tough one. It doesn’t matter who you are or what your title was before—when you arrive here, you are Piece of Sh*t #273496. The customs will be foreign; the apartments will be small. You will break many shoes. You might see someone pee themselves in public... but, please don’t stare. That is entirely against the rules.
This leads me to your next adaptation: You will transform your body when you move here. First, you’ll shop for a new face. No more bight eyes and wide smiles. You will learn to walk the city streets with a blasé demeanor. Of course that old self lurks just under the surface, but to the public, you’re happily anonymous. Trust the narrator; this is truly for your own safety.
Next, depending on your diet, salary, or possible newfound drug addiction, your weight will change. Some waists expand via midnight bodega runs, while others walk off the beer from college. Our girl here? She’ll lose 8 pounds, mostly because she’ll consume PB&Js, potatoes, and hardboiled eggs for about a year.
Then you’ll buy a leather jacket, or skinny(er) jeans. Next? A knee-length down coat for the frigid months. Perhaps you’ll get a nose ring on St. Marks, or pick up a Hookah habit. You might even scribble on another tattoo over in Alphabet City. Either way, everything about you will begin to morph until you’re a blurry version of a past self.
After a few months of supreme loneliness, you'll start to meet magical human beings. Some will only be exciting for a time, while others will become your New York soul mates: They are those blessed people who moved to the city for the same reasons you did: To do! To create. To live, and taste, and touch all the facets of life. They’ll also experience similar hardships, which will eventually bond you into a brother and sisterhood few understand. As the years go by, you will steal their energy, and they yours, in a symbiotic relationship that keeps this city running.
I should warn you, friends will come and friends will go. Tom Wolfe said, “one belongs to New York instantly; one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years,” which is completely agreeable. New York welcomes anyone, even the droves of rats and roaches. But not all will adore this city. Others will eventually search for a change of pace—a new adventure, if you will.
Love, too, will come and quickly depart.
The real stuff sticks around or you adapt with it.
But what a whirlwind that first year will be! The highs are high, and the lows are low, my friend. Never will the lights of a summer night sparkle more as you traipse down a city street at 3AM. You will dance in dark Lower East Side bars, and taste what you believe to be “exotic” foods, like huevos rancheros and sashimi.
One 12-hour night could consist of an elegant ballet and a bar crawl through the West Village. Then you might—because we’ve been speaking in the hypothetical— sneak seven people into a club on Houston by finding the backdoor. Afterwards, you’ll hop into an unmarked vehicle consisting of a driver and his bodyguard. (You will question this, but not be overly concerned.) You and your friends will then scream Katy Perry lyrics out the window until you arrive at a random bar in South Street Seaport for one last drink before dawn.
Anything can happen!
And oh, it does.
You’ll find a coffee shop, a bagel place, and a favorite cocktail joint. Every inch of the city is yours—yes, claim it—and every moment you’re not attempting to make a buck, you must feverishly explore it. Why? Because the city, and life, are not always as pleasant as a summer evening out.
Look at our protagonist now.
She’s sitting on the fire escape of a stranger’s apartment, peering down the back alley of an old tenement building. The owner is charging $1,650/month for a cramped but trendy studio—and that’s a deal. She wonders who was stuffed in this dwelling during the 1890s. Did they have the same feelings of both determination and submission in the shadow of this city’s lights?
The party continues. She’s inspecting everything with a quizzical eye. “What are you drinking? What part of town is that?” It’s all new, and the pulsating buzz of constant human interaction will happily distract her from that occasional pang of loneliness.
In that first year you will also feel a wide spectrum of emotions as you experience a lack of funds. You will be hungry. You will see others be very hungry as they beg for coins on dirty stoops. Some days a heaviness sets in. You will feel surrounded by a tangible sorrow that your headphones and sunglasses cannot block out.
One night, you might lose it. The temperature will either be suffocating or glacial, as mental breakdowns often occur during extreme weather—which New York claims in abundance.
Something small will set you off. And then you’ll realize that you hate your job, or that you’re not accomplishing those “short-term goals” fast enough. You’ll wonder why your apartment has no dishwasher. Didn’t you move here to be a writer? Why is ANOTHER car alarm going off!? TURN OFF YOUR CAR ALARM.
“You’re bad at things you love to do,” a tiny voice inside of you says.
Next, a nasty spiral of thoughts will attack: What are you doing with your life? Is this where you saw yourself after grad school—eating spoonfuls of peanut butter and counting quarters? What a success you’ve become! No… You’re a waste. You are not capable; you are not smart. People won’t remember you because there’s nothing special to recall.
Our protagonist is crying on the couch.
(Note: The couch is not hers. She can not afford one.)
Her face is red and there’s a half-eaten baked potato on a makeshift coffee table. She has forgotten that “many great things” surround her. It’s very hot for September. She is alone.
But our girl will soon learn the roaring, redemptive nature of the city and what it means to faithfully achieve tiny ideas before the big picture presents itself. In fact, most do not realize they must master the skill of blind patience until years two or three...
So let' s jump forward.
That’s me. I am perched on a roof overlooking my city at the crux of summer and fall. There is a childlike joy twisting through friends as wine is poured, our laughter echoing off the nearby buildings.
I spin to view the panorama that is New York City at night. She twinkles, just like she did five years ago when everything was only an idea. Now adventures have been lived—isn’t that a lovely thing to say? We have touched greatness. We who have conquered, and laughed, and cried, and rejoiced in this city are a special type of human being. And in the end, those people, the ones who came here craving gritty adventure, are why my infatuation with New York appears to be unending.
You see, the cadence of New York is beautiful—like an ocean of stories constantly crashing together at multiple points in their complex narratives. There is something intangible that brought me here; a deep yearning that promised every other option would disappoint. I should also note, I do not always adore this city. It can be an anxiety-inducing nightmare that will brutally remind you of your place. But it's what called to me. And I have never been truly disenchanted.
So I will toil, and prosper, and laugh, and weep until I'm positive this is no longer where I'm meant to be—until another adventure whispers in my ear.
But for now, this is my story, and I like it very much.
The wind shifts.
More wine is poured.
Now we are dancing on the roof, staring out into the greatness.
And all the highs and lows feel perfectly spaced apart.