For me, New York was a city of firsts:
The first time I got drunk at a bar. (I was eighteen at the time. The place was El Sombrero.)
A half-decent relationship.
My first good job.
The first time I ever got serious about helping people who were not me.
A place where I finally developed some confidence in myself.
Then the bad:
The first time (of many) I ever seriously questioned my existence on earth, and started to ask myself all of those important, existential questions.
The first time I experienced innocent people (that I knew) die from something so undeserved and so utterly horrifying that I began to really wonder if doing good in the world really mattered.
The first place I began to understand (but never be totally cognizant of) how totally privileged and enabled I’ve been my entire life and how most others aren’t afforded that incredible opportunity.
The first time I watched someone get absolutely steamrolled by the stress and status-seeking that’s become a sad, inherent part of the New York culture. Some people can hang, and they do well. But sometimes outsiders get chewed up and fist-fucked.
I couldn’t hang, but stress wasn’t the issue.
I just wanted out.
New Yorkers Are Tough
Whenever I mention to someone that I’m from New York (I lived in New York City proper a year, sue me), they suggest that it’s a change of pace. This is a change of pace, right? No shit.
But I also think the toughness thing is a bit of a misnomer, and kinda bullshit. (I wasn’t very tough, admittedly.)
I think coarse is much more apt. Tough implies that you’ve aged, like rock. You came up mica, and out the other side sapphire.
New Yorkers are rough, like #2 pencils — writing their jolly little notes in their Moleskine notepads, hoping that they don’t run out of graphite before they finish their thoughts.
Some people run out — of ideas, words, hope. They can’t write anymore. So they run on fumes. Or they kill themselves. Or they move.
It’s scary, and it’s miserable and it’s tough and you won’t make it. Most people don’t.
Nobody is happy. Everybody wants more.
And You Should Live There, Just Once
“Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard.”
— Mary Schmich, Chicago Tribune
And yet I never regret living in New York, not once. I miss it, like an ex-girlfriend. I secretly want to live there again, because like any truly horrifying experience, even if it left you some scars you still remember the good.
New York City is the abusive relationship of cities. It bullies you into loving it. Stockholm Syndrome.
You’ll meet all of the batshit insane, crazy and quirky people you’ll ever need to meet in your entire life. They’re all twisted in their own right. You’ll fill your quota.
And it’ll push your limits — it’ll make you wonder how you ever lived anywhere else. But it’ll push you, too. And you’ll toe that line. And you’ll never win. You’ll always get knocked on your ass.
You’ll become bipolar. The next day will be tragic. You might die.
And yeah, the weather will suck. It’s too cold in the winter, and too hot in the summer. You’ll catch a break for a few weeks every now and then, but it’s mostly shit.
You’ll hate that, and you’ll hate your life.
But then something magical will happen. You’ll meet someone. Or you’ll find a job you like. Or a side-project that ignites you.
Because New York City forces you to dig deep and find that. And you’ll start to feel comfortable.
And then you’ll be ready to move.