“So, how do you guys survive working and being out all the time?”
It was a serious question, one that I didn’t need much time to mull over. My college journalism partner-in-crime was in the city for the weekend visiting another former Richmonder. She was much calmer than the last time she was in town, when she greeted me at my apartment with a small bottle of tequila.
“We just don’t sleep much,” I said.
The funny thing is, Other Former Richmonder and I had just exchanged stories at dinner about New York’s not so mystical powers to drain every ounce of our energy. Weekend getaways to quieter places, we’d decided, aren’t so much luxuries as they are necessities.
Last year, I hoarded all my vacation time until the end of the year, all the while watching my editor take extended weekends every so often. At the time, I thought I could handle it.
Coming from a newspaper background, I was used to not taking a lot of time off. Christmas was the only holiday that was guaranteed for most, while Thanksgivings and Fourths of July meant covering parades and fireworks, and spending afternoons scouring the mall for shoppers with gift cards. I actually got quite good at sitting on benches, waiting for someone to sit by me so I could creepily turn to them and say, “Did you buy that with a gift card?” Their expression was of immediate regret as it dawned on them they were about to be featured in the local paper not for some great achievement, but for their shopping habits.
But those days were different. I was in sleepy towns where The Most Exciting Thing that happened involved bears getting caught on video scampering across someone’s backyard.
Here, there are visitors upon visitors. Strangers upon strangers. Activities upon activities. In the rare instances I have a weekend to myself with no plans on the horizon, no visitors to meet or house, no work that bleeds into my Saturdays and Sundays, I rejoice.
A year into working in the city, I realized why my editor cherished his long weekends and quiet getaways. Actually, let me edit that to say I – a burned out, fatigued, irritable version of myself – realized why he cherished his long weekends and quiet getaways.
For someone who demands copious hours of time alone to counter the copious hours spent with people, such a loss of autonomy to dictate what to do with my weekends had made me that way. After all, New York, for a twentysomething with a penchant for doing The Most Exciting Thing, never has a lack of things to do and people to do them with. Rather, it is time alone that must be set aside and filled with purpose.
Of time, I’ve become fiercely protective. Suddenly I am Gollum, so consumed by this elusive force that I am compelled to whisper to it and to myself that it is mine. And it is precious.
I’ve started planning my months according to these weekends and looking forward to them as much as I do to momentous occasions. On Friday, I jot down in my imaginary planner, I will surf the interwebs after work with abandon. On Saturday, I will Zumba in the morning, grab coffee and bagel in the afternoon, and read or write into the evening. On Sunday, I will sleep until I can sleep no longer, read or write some more, eat a well-balanced meal, and possibly schedule that doctor’s appointment I’ve been putting off.
This ambitious itinerary is flexible, of course, subject to change should something amazing (like “The Wonder Years” becoming stream-able on Netflix) happen. I feel as accomplished finishing a load of laundry or a blog post as I do when I’ve finished a major work project.
I can’t say that this has been effortless. It’s much too easy to get caught up doing The Most Exciting Things than dedicating time to solitary pursuits, whether they’re spent creatively or not.
After nearly two years of living here, I’m still learning it’s OK to be selective about the things I do and the people I do them with. It’s OK to not want to see this exhibit right now or take pictures of that major thing. It’s OK to turn things down if fulfilling them is at the expense of maximizing naptime.
Above all, I’ve learned that my physical and mental well-being is what’s at stake. And New York, no matter how dynamic it may be, especially in its so-called Once In a Lifetime moments, will not stop when I do, albeit temporarily.