“There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born here, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size and its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter — the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is the New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something...Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness; natives give it solidity and continuity; but the settlers give it passion.” - E.B. White
I walked down 59th Street, just below the park. I wore big, clunky, black shoes, tuxedo pants, a faded white t-shirt and various layers of huddled warmth because it was one of those blisteringly cold days and I was coming home from a catering job. It was February of 2008. Literally and metaphorically, I was in the dead of winter.
“One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.” Tom Wolfe
But something happened to me as I walked. I looked up and felt embraced - by the trees, the buildings, even the strangers that passed by without even glancing in my direction. I had no shows coming up, hell, no auditions coming up. It was the first time in a long time that I wasn’t dating anyone. I had very little money in the bank, I might have even asked my parents for a hundred bucks for groceries that month. For all intents and purposes, I should have been upset. But I wasn’t.
I had this exact thought:
“I’m in New York City. All my life I wanted to be here, and now I’m here. And no, not everything is exactly how I want it to be. I want a show. I don’t want to cater anymore. But in this moment, I’m okay. It’s okay. I’m happy.”
There was something about my complete and utter loneliness in that moment that was capsized by the city. I was alone, but I was in flow. The city had swallowed me whole and made me part of it. So much so that my loneliness became thoughtful solitude, my anxiety became unfettered calm. I truly believed that if anything of significance was going to happen to me, it would be here. And that thought made me feel more alive and more embraced than any previous job or relationship I had ever had.
I know it’s a little presumptuous to talk about being alone in New York from a married woman’s point of view. How alone could I actually be? But I think there’s this delicate and isolated part of every New Yorker’s heart that needs to be a little bit alone. Even though I have someone to come home to, I’ve never stopped collecting these tiny moments of loneliness to keep my New Yorker heart in tact.
It’s the moment when you are on the subway coming home from work and you see someone you know but don’t say hi. It’s not that you dislike them, it’s just this is your time - this is when you ritualistically get on the train here, get off the train there, read this book, listen to this song. You dig into the lonely. It's a daily plan, and it's yours and it's masterful. Granted you’re stuffed into the train car like a sardine and edged between a Greek woman with six plastic grocery bags and a young student whose music is turned up so loud that you can sing along with every song. But you’ve all agreed to travel home, in your own way, and it’s a ritual now.
“I love New York City. The reason I live in New York City is because it’s the loudest city on the planet Earth. It’s so loud I never have to listen to any of the shit that’s going on in my own head. It’s really loud. They literally have guys come with jackhammers and they drill the streets and just leave cones in front of your apartment; you don’t even know why. Garbage men come; they don’t pick up the garbage, they just bang the cans together.” Lewis Black
It’s the moment when you go see a show, or movie, or just wander around a museum by yourself. Yes, those are all beautiful things to share, but every once in awhile - you want to wander or choose all by yourself without asking, is this okay? You want to form opinions without having to own up to them later, not because they’re offensive in any way (although maybe they are), but because they are your pockets of knowing your singular opinion is enough. No outside validation required.
It’s the moment when you go to a restaurant, utterly alone, presumably the loneliest of places to be just one. And you sit and eat, and maybe read, or maybe write, or maybe just savor your food, and something about this feels like a spiritual act. Like you are identifying in every bite that nourishment can come as much from spending time with yourself than it can come from this food.
Again, let me say that I also love sharing these moments with my family, my friends, and my husband. But there is a sort of self-therapy that happens, at least for me, when I venture into the world without the social protection of another person. It’s a little bit dangerous. Not because of who I might meet out there, but who I might meet in here. It’s those moments that my thoughts and feelings bubble to the surface and some serious life choices start to be made.
This article, Alone Together from New York Magazine, gives such a detailed and nuanced look at the way lonely New Yorkers function. It posits that although strong connections (marriages, families) are generally good indicators of overall happiness, the weak connections (communities, strangers, acquaintances) are actually better indicators of safety. That the more alone everyone is, the safer we all are. That loneliness is a sort of, protector.
This pretty much sums it up:8,366,615
I had to pass through this feeling for a long time before I got to 59th Street. But knowing that complete loneliness was not a special event, that this was a somewhat stock New York experience, carved light into the dark just a little bit. Maybe I seek out reminders of that strange and wonderful rite of passage because I know it's where the good stuff gets revealed. Soon after that day on 59th Street in 2008, I worked with one of the most revered directors in the theatre industry, made more money on a show than I had ever made before, and met the man who would turn out to be my husband. But I knew I didn’t need any of it. It was all just icing on the cake.
What is your favorite alone in New York moment?