The moments when I feel most like a New Yorker always come when I’m doing what most New Yorkers know to be normal: working. I will go from scribbling away in the corner of a coffee shop to a gig, forego sleep, and head straight to a freelance shift in the same clothes. Sleep is a relative concept, and I understand why the city motto is what it is. Because I am not from here, I still view the city with an outsider’s eyes. It has been nearly seven years since I moved, and still, I sometimes feel ill at ease in the rush, the constant stream. Other people may be moving along with the current, but you have to wonder: how many of us feel as if we’re being beaten against the rocks as we go?
There are, of course, those of us who spend the early morning hours at parties, who linger at open bars, but the vast majority trade our time for a little bit more cash, another carton of eggs, another latte on the fly, because the over-exaggerated standard of living that screams at us from every bodega and every storefront caters to a carefree, plastic-happy consumer. We buy. And buy. And buy. We eat it up. We are all in debt and most of us choose to ignore the fact that we really should be building savings accounts but what can you do? This is the city where budgets were made to be broken.
My father wants me to go back to school to study law, and reminds me sometimes. He wants me to work as a consultant at a major firm where he has connections, and he is never all that sure about what I do. He thinks I ought to be a teacher, something tangible. Sometimes I worry that he begrudges the fact that I was the student with all the promise, the straight A child, the brain, and it is my sister who has a 10 year plan culminating in a doctorate in psychology. He worries about me, which parents are liable to do. I suppose it doesn’t help that I only ever vaguely tell him I’m following my dream, which I am, but everyone knows dreams don’t pay well at first, if at all. And I don’t want him to worry more so I don’t ask for money when I need to eat. I always make rent. Food takes a little more savvy.
So in order to make ends meet as I try to chase my own crazy dream, I often spend my Friday nights on someone else’s couch, watching somebody else’s cable, keeping an ear out for the sounds somebody else’s children might make when they should be sleeping, while the parents stay out late. I used to write for a byline instead of a paycheck back when I was just starting out, and I still take all the odd jobs I can get. I trade my sleep for money.
The babysitting pays well, and I love the children I spend time with, because they are an extension of my past life as a nanny. I did want to be a teacher once, when I didn’t think I could make it as a writer. But somewhere along the line, I grew restless in a job that was comfortable and safe and secure and paid well. There would always be more children to watch, more students to teach, more classes to take for another degree. But there wouldn’t be another chance to really hustle and take the leap and just try.
And sometimes when you do try, and you just sort of hurtle yourself overboard, the wind changes in the middle of your fall. It picks you back up, and as cheesy as it sounds, you get as close to flying as you may ever get.
Sometimes you get lucky.
But the adage that the luckiest people are those who work for it holds true, in this city and everywhere else. It is chance that someone may be born into a family with money and with connections and well-placed friends, but luck is what you make on your own. Luck is knowing you need to take risks sometimes, that you need to at least try. That you need to just move somewhere and stick it out for as long as you can, even if you have to sell your shoes to make rent sometimes. Luck is making the plan up as you go along, in hoping that the forks you take and the decisions you make are the right ones, but you still have to make those choices on your own. You still have to work really hard.
It may not seem that difficult at first if you believe in what you’re doing, but slowly, the long nights and all the big breaks that didn’t pan out will take their toll. And you will become tired, and you will watch as people become bitter and resentful that success has eluded them for so long. And they will pack up and move back home, wherever home is, but still, you press on. Still, you believe in what you’re doing. Still, you hold onto the hope that you’re lucky.
And you are. Because you know the value of hard work, you are lucky. Things you have to earn aren’t the same as things you can buy. They never have been, and never could be. And whether or not you ever reach that big break, you will have earned experienced. You will have lived. You will have at least tried.