Every night, after a day of walking on New York City streets, I wash my feet before slipping under the covers.
The city demands a lot out of you. You’re required to walk everywhere, squeeze in between unshowered bodies on the train, stand for long periods of time, and collect grime under your feet. It’s so easy to ruin shoes here. In a city with the world’s most expensive stuff, I find it best not to get too attached to anything because I’ll most likely leave it somewhere or mess it up. This disposability works well for New Yorkers. Apartments here are so tiny there’s not much room to possess more than what you need. It’s why a lot of people eat out; kitchens are too damn small and, in the summer, a hot stove just warms an already unconditioned living room.
Before moving here, I’d learned to let go of most of my possessions. I’d lived out of suitcases while traveling abroad and interning in the summer. It’s amazing how quickly humans adapt because I didn’t miss anything. So, imagine how surprised I was to see just how much stuff I’d amassed as a young professional in Virginia. There, my room had hardwood floors, a wall-to-wall bookshelf, a fireplace, two closets. Here, despite downsizing, my room barely fit the furniture I brought with me, and I had to let go of my beloved reading chair.
I haven’t missed it. Too much.
It doesn’t quite feel like it’s been a year. But in a few weeks, when the opressive summer heat gives way to what I hope will be a cool fall, I’ll have been here for exactly that long.
This time last year I was probably obsessively scanning messageboards and blogs to learn from people who made the same move. If you’re ever at a loss for what to say to someone in New York, always start with, “Where are you from?” The rest will come naturally. Everyone has a story, a goal, a reason for being here. Many don’t stay longer than a year or two, which makes it difficult to forge deep friendships. You have to keep in mind it’s a transient city that attracts certain types of people separated by their motives. There are the ambitious sort who are here to work; there are the vagabonds who stay for a while and move on. And then there are those who discover the city isn’t really for them and, chalking it up to life experience, leave for good.
They say the first year is the hardest, and afterward things get easier. I’ve been lucky.
As soon as I arrived, I hit the ground running. I started writing unpaid for news sites to update my clips. I made some contacts, with the intention of freelancing or finding a job, any job that paid the bills. I explored the city, taking pictures and recording my observations on my blog. I spent much of my time alone, though spending time with friends from college and the Bronx helped stave off loneliness. Then there were the friends I made elsewhere, from my past life as a reporter, from some random experience somewhere. It was easy to find someone to do something with, though difficult to run into anyone because different groups of people like different kinds of things. I still don’t have a favorite bar for that reason.
A year later, I’m reminded that moving somewhere doesn’t make it your home. It takes time, especially because I moved right before the holidays, which required a few trips home, and especially because I’m at that age when everyone’s graduating, getting married, or still expecting you to make it to things that used to take you 20 minutes to get to.
Nearly four months after I moved, a year since my former life ended, and with my money running low, I found a job in publishing. It’s challenging, it pays the bills, and I’m currently functioning on caffeine and alcohol. Though I’m looking forward to taking a break in a few weeks, the masochist in me is totally enjoying it.
Looking back, it would be easy to say I was lucky. Which I was. But, when you think about it, it took a lot of blind faith to even get here, with no contacts in my field, no prospect of anything waiting for me. There were some rough spots, given that not everyone supported my decision and money was always tight. My friends kept me sane.
Overall, I’ve found that the fear of what’s to come is often far more crippling than when it actually happens, though it doesn’t come without sacrifice. It’s true that to live here and to succeed, you have to be willing to forgo the amenities you can get elsewhere for much cheaper. What makes it even more daunting, though, is being away from everyone who matters.
Fortunately, I’ve found some great people here, too, and the rest are just an e-mail away.
About the picture: I’d been sitting on Union Square for a while, reading a book and listening to the street musicians nearby. It was interesting to see them interact with everyone who came up to them, European tourists, random passersby. Then there was a guy who asked them if his son could play the drums for a bit. They humored him and were immediately surprised by how good the boy was. He drew a bigger crowd than the two men could muster — After all, who doesn’t love magical little boy musicians (See August Rush)? Afterward, one of the street musicians said to the boy, “You made my day, my week, my hope for the next generation.”