The thing about going to a new city is that every person — good, bad, annoying, funny, or wretched — is attributed to the city as a whole, so that you find yourself dealing with, not a grocer, taxi driver, or subway passenger, but with the city as a one man stage show, playing all the parts. Presenting: New York City, starring New York City.
After a while, though, when it stops being “new city” in the back of your head and becomes “I need to buy groceries,” the disillusionment fades and you realize that the man on stage playing all the parts is a fucking schizophrenic.
You start to avoid him a little more often, favoring the solitude of your apartment, or maybe the company of friends you knew from years ago. Eventually, though, your apartment gets small, as it always does. You venture out with new, slightly tired eyes. A bar here, a party there. Maybe a local music show. The city isn’t so schizophrenic, you begin to notice. Instead, it reminds you a little of yourself. The way you can be impetuous and unpredictable on some days, while still managing to be frighteningly monotonous on others.
It becomes natural, I think, to start noticing yourself in places. Perhaps it is just exposure and the indent of fresh memories, but that cafe on the corner in San Francisco near Church and Hill is no longer the place with that barista who wouldn’t stop singing. Instead, it reminds you of that great first date you had with that girl. You know, the one you met at that punk show or whatever, who ended up still being in love with her ex back in Oklahoma. She moved there after you two fucked a few times, but it’s okay. They seem happy on facebook, and where was it that you met your current girlfriend? Oh, that’s right, the Trader Joe’s at Stonestown Galleria.
We move to cities looking for new experiences and end up finding different versions of ourselves lurking in the alley. We’re the one with many personalities, doing a one man show. It’s only then that we begin to wonder just who we are. These characters that we play from one city to the next. We pick your favorites based on who we think we are, who we’d like to be. We describe them that way. This is why many of us have love/hate relationships with our hometowns. They remind us of all the past incarnations of ourselves, the skeletons we want to bury — skeletons of us.
We leave because we want to become something, hopefully ourselves. That’s why we like to try on every different style we come in to figure out which one fits just right, which one accents the curves we want accented. Softens the features we want softened. It’s this existential trial and error that gives us a whole hell of a lot of power. We can determine ourselves day in and day out. Every little choice we make is a new moment. Either an affirmation of who we are, or a step toward who we want to be. But it can be hard to break old habits when you’re around the same things that may have caused them for you. Thankfully, a new city is a great jump start down that path if you can afford it.
However, it’s not always clean cut — and it shouldn’t be. Starting out fresh somewhere else is one of the most dramatic methods of reinvention but we always find that the baggage never fails to make it into our carry-on. The secret is: that’s great news. Things that remind us of who we were also remind us of who we are. In the words of the perennial Kanye West, “Everything I’m not made me everything I am.”