The holidays always make me a little reflective. I flew back from a weekend of family adventures in Missouri to New York last night and as I tried to ignore my row-mate’s obscene snoring, I closed my eyes, waited patiently for the New York skyline to appear and let life wash over me.
I’ve wanted to move to New York since I knew what New York was. Since I understood skyscrapers and grandeur. Since I read Ginsberg. Since I heard Sinatra on my Grandma’s kitchen stereo. Since I wanted to be a writer, scribbling away in coffee shops, and work at a magazine.
I wanted it all. Shamelessly and with fierce abandon, I always wanted it all.
Also, in some ways, I got it all.
I moved here a week after graduating college. I distinctly remember my arrival – stepping off my plane, nervously glancing at my dad, half wishing he’d lead the way, half wishing I already knew how.
I moved into a studio apartment, much like every other 20-something in the city. I bought 1 pot, 1 pan, 1 sharp knife, 2 forks, 2 spoons, 2 bowls, 2 plates and 4 plastic water cups (uh, duh, in case I made friends and they wanted to come over and needed water). I swore I’d save and put that nice, big “I LOVE NEW YORK” mug back on the shelf.
For the first 6 weeks I got up every morning, steamed my best interpretation of a “business-casual-but-chic-and-please-don’t-notice-I’m-not-from-around-here” outfit and went to interviews.
Martha Stewart Living, French Vogue, Regular Vogue, ESPN the Magazine, Glamour, Lucky…all of them. Sometimes one round, sometimes two, all while trying to navigate the 112 degree subway platforms and generally unforgiving population.
And then I found myself at Sports Illustrated, sitting in front of Terry McDonell. He’d hate if he knew I was about to call him a legend (which he will when I send this link to him) but he is, and not just to me. Esquire, Rolling Stone, Men’s Journal…all have his name, most likely in bolded font, in their history. Wyoming is a fantastic and favorite collection of poems. Hunter S. Thompson and George Plimpton counted as his best friends (Hunter doubles as one of my literary heroes). The Paris Review? I mean, it just…this doesn’t just happen to girls from Missouri.
Except it did. And for the first interview in ever, we didn’t discuss my career and why I would be the perfect addition to his staff and how well I understand the ctrl+ shortcuts on my keyboard.
We talked about Thomas Pynchon and Gravity’s Rainbow and how I fucking hate anyone who pretends to like it. We talked about Joan Didion (from whom I stole the name of this post). We talked about my favorite movies. We talked about his documentary.
And during one very pregnant pause, as I fiddled with the hemline of my skirt, he sighed and asked, “Would you like to work for me?” I answered, “Sure,” and that was it.
I was there, in New York, working at a magazine (surely only moments away from being a writer, right?!!!), and almost paying all my own bills.
God it was magical.
I remember reading Joan Didion’s essay, “Goodbye To All That” before I ever left Missouri. Before college in North Carolina, even.
And while I’m not moving to LA as she did, it finally makes sense.
While I want to, and could, quote the entire thing to you. There’s really only one you need know (in reference to this blog; in life you need know them all).
“…it never occurred to me that I was living a real life there. In my imagination I was always there for just another few months…”
She was, and is, right.
She’s right about so many other things — how New York is for the very rich, the very poor and the very young. How the days before you know all the train stops and street names are, in many ways, more enjoyable than the days after. How you can love a city — really, truly and desperately love a city — and know that it will never, ever love you back.
New York is an incredible place. I do not question people who tell me I’ll never find anything else like it (note: I do not intend, nor want to, this is my one and only “big city adventure”). I can go to a party and meet a million new faces with a million new, interesting stories behind them. There’s something curious behind every corner. I can make promises to myself and everyone I meet and feel like I’ve all the time in the world to meet them. I can stay up all night and make mistakes and none of them really count.
But, it never feels like real life. It’s always “a few more months,” until Christmas or the end of this lease; the first sunny day in spring or until I can afford another plane ticket west.
You occupy a very liminal space here; a very unique professional and personal malaise — there’s no rush to find the right job, because you know New York’s not permanent. You don’t want a relationship, because you don’t want to be tied here. More furniture? Preposterous. A savings account? Why? (or, more likely, how?).
I’m not sure when the magic of being transient started to fade. When impermanence stopped glistening, when the streets were no longer flaked with gold; when I no longer craved the constant hum and realized what Joan realized — it is possible to stay too long at the fair.
Whenever it was / whatever it may have been (please don’t say I’m “growing up” — I will NOT GROW UP!!), here we are. Very happy (I swear!) but — like last year — in need of, at the very least, a break.
Lucky for me, there’s a very sunny, sandy and boozy trip to the Caribbean with my family and the holiday season in Missouri just on the horizon.
Cheers to December! Time to freshen up for the New Year.