Everyone calls it “The City That Never Sleeps” and it’s true. New York City has its eyes on you every second you're here. You cannot take a breath without feeling the reverb somewhere else in your day, which means that what you exhale comes back to you in full force.
One of the many reasons I love this city is that you cannot escape here. So many days we just want to get out of its borders and rough edges, flee to the hills or dream about buying a 3-bedroom house in the suburbs. Some days, having a driveway and paying car insurance seems like the prize at the end of a dark, smelly subway tunnel. But recently, this inescapable city has me all kinds of lit up. The painfulness that we sometimes feel from being here has got me feeling all kinds of healed. And its darkness has brought on the proverbial light.
Here’s why I love it:
You overhear the exact right things in the exact right moments. As I was heading to work the other day, I decided to change up my usual old commute and walk down a different street. I passed two men talking - both in some sort of service industry. One said to the other, “It’s all about happiness man, you gotta find a job you love.” Okay, not overly profound in and of itself, but in the context of my day, it was a bold reminder.
As I approach a new decade, I am taking stock of my emotional and aspirational inventory and that includes making sure I am filling my days with things I love. This particular day, I said no and let some people down in order to do what I needed to do to feel happy. Not a comfortable thing for a people-pleasing, needy, affirmation-junkie like myself. But because I left my earbuds out at that moment, I allowed some New York in and was reminded by this stranger that you have to do what you love. You have to create happiness. If something isn’t working in your life, then change it. Being uncomfortable is only temporary because the happiness you create is connected to your truth. The city gave me a dose of affirmation when I needed it the most.
When you unexpectedly run into people you know in a city of 8 million people, a signal is being sent. For some reason in the past couple of weeks, every time I take a detour on my way home, I run into someone else I know. Each of these times, this happenstance meeting, this serendipitous pow-wow rubs off on the next few days. We connect again, plan something magical and get our ducks in a row to create something new. There is a spark that gets lit by the chance of meeting in New York City and that spark burns bright into furious creation. It also signifies something. It feels like there is a giant cartoon arrow pointing at the moment, saying, “Look over here! This is where you should be paying attention! Got energy? Put here!” The fact that I’m not supposed to be there at that place and time, that it was a last minute decision based on train schedules and phone calls and grumbling tummies makes it all the more surprising to run into those friends-turned-collaborators. It’s poetic, really: Change up route. Get new direction.
You find your tribe. There are all kinds of tribes out there and I have been part of many. The audition tribe, those fellow actors waking at dawn to stand in line and wonder if we’ll be wearing heels or flats that day. The day job tribe, those fellow artists who are just trying to make rent and hold onto their creative mojo while we’re all still young. The down and out tribe, those late 20-somethings with too much heaviness and not enough experience, trying to calculate just how long they can run on the fumes of their formerly ambitious 22-year old identity. But the best thing about this city (and growing up in it) is when you seek your tribe, because in this city, when you seek, you find. It’s taken me years to figure out that the people in my life are choices I am making and not just inevitable circumstances of fate. When I decided I wanted to cut the fat from my mental chatter and recycle all of those used up negative stories into fuel for creating a passionate, happy life, I found my people. This city has a lot of gems. And when you decide what and who you want to surround yourself with, you’ll never be alone.
Facing your demons becomes a daily practice. The moment you walk out of your apartment, everything you see is a reflection of you. If you leave the apartment with a dull sense of dread, chances are there will be no subway seats, someone will knock into you on the street, you’ll spill the coffee you got from a barista with a major attitude, and you’ll find a dead cockroach in your hallway when you come home. (I mean, at least that’s what I have heard…) But, if on the other hand, you leave your apartment with a sense of ease, chances are you’ll make all of your subway transfers easily and efficiently, you’ll meet a laughing baby on the subway who will make you giggle with delight, you’ll find a new coffee shop with a darling barista and a delicious cold brew and the barista will over-punch your rewards card so you’re closer to your next free caffeine fix, and somehow, miraculously, when you get home the dishes will be done.
It’s all perspective and we know this, but the magic of New York is that you have to face your perspective. This city is either the best thing or the worst thing and it is barely, if ever, just mediocre. Which means there is no denial here. There is no wash of “okay.” I have been the despondent, coffee-drenched, cockroach-finding Debbie Downer and looking back on those times, I’m glad that I felt like I could crumble. I would rather have that shiny New York City mirror in my face so I can deal with it and pull myself out of it than stay stagnant in a gray wash of average. New York is not always comforting, but my Lord when it comes to reflecting you, it sure is accurate.
You cannot take for granted one moment of being here. In this city, people are getting out of town all the time. I don’t mean vacationing in the Hamptons, I mean fleeing to other parts of the country. I have lived here for seven years and the first time my friends started leaving felt like a punch in a gut. I thought we were going to conquer the beast together. Selfishly, I felt a little bit abandoned.
But as the years have gone on and more and more of your friends leave, you realize that every day you stay you are making a choice. Every time someone else packs up and ships out, a little part of you asks, is it my turn? Should I go? What is keeping me here? Sometimes the answers come and sometimes they don’t, but at least it forces you to ask the question. Knowing why we stay in this city that hustles us, and rejects us, and loves us, and dumps us, and forces us to check ourselves is the motor that keeps the city running. It’s the fuel in the early mornings and the late nights and the scraping together of rent for just another month. Being forced to acknowledge why we stay is maybe the most endearing part of this aggravating town. It will hurl you full force to wherever you choose to go and then say, Wanna stay? And when the answer is yes, it takes you full steam ahead.
What do you love about New York City?
All photos by Craig Hanson Photography.