Wednesday, May 13, 2009

More than a place

Today at work I was thinking about New York. I was thinking about New York, why I'm here and why I want to stay here, and I was also thinking about how my relationship with this city affected my relationship with A, and how it may have been a factor in our recent split.

I mentioned the other day that one of my friends expressed the opinion that if you love someone enough, distance is just another obstacle to making the relationship work. I also mentioned that I disagreed with this opinion. The reasons for my disagreement are plenty, but I think the main one is that learning to live in New York is about more than just figuring out the subway system and the bus routes and where your laundromat is and your favorite Chinese restaurant. Finding a way to live in this city is a much more involved process - it's a process that forces you to find yourself.

New York is more than just a place. It's a struggle, it's a lifestyle, it's yourself staring back at you constantly. I'm finding it difficult to express just what I mean, because it's really something you have to live to understand. The best way to say it is that it's more than just a place - and I didn't realize that until recently. When I fell in love with this city, it was an intangible, ineffable experience. Just like falling in love with a person, there was no explanation. It just was. And it happened the moment I was first in the city. Now that I'm here and have been here almost five months now, it's hard to say whether I am deeper or less in love with it. And just like there are no words to describe that moment when I knew I was in love with New York, there are none to describe how I feel about it now.

Unlike any other place I've visited or inhabited - and, I would argue, most other places in this country - New York isn't just a place you live. Oxford, Birmingham, New Orleans, Atlanta, D.C. - all places I love - are all just places to live. You live there, and you make a life there, and you have friends and you go out and you have a place you call home - and none of this is bad. I don't mean it in an elitist way, but New York is just so much more than that, in good and bad ways. Maybe it's the fact that you're always around people, most of whom you do not know. Maybe it's the constant city noise. Maybe it's the smell. Maybe it's the dirt. Maybe it's the way you feel when you walk outside and it's finally a beautiful, sunny, warm day. Learning to live in New York is learning a whole new language: how people interact, what the social hierarchies are, what the neighborhoods are like, who lives where, who owns what restaurant.

I think part of the reason I left A is that I am inextricably tied to this city, at least for a while. And it's not even my fault. I didn't come up here and expect any of this to happen. I wasn't prepared. And once you move to New York, you better be prepared to learn and prepared to stay. You can't just live the life you lived in whatever place you were before, because learning how to live in a place means nothing in New York. Because it's not a place.

People always say it, and I always thought of it as an overstated cliche that people who have never lived here, but perhaps only visited, love to spout. But now that I'm a resident, I understand its meaning in a deeper and perhaps more disquieting way than ever before, and I can confirm its truth: New York is alive.

Until next time.

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