I make my love for New York City pretty clear to anyone I meet. My twitter bio says New York (and pizza, but that’s not important right now) are always on my mind. When asked at orientation for my job what my favorite place in the world was, I said New York. I tend to coolly slip “I went to NYU for a year” into many conversations with acquaintances, but that just might be my ego talking, assuaging my mind that I’m not settling where I am right now, I once accomplished my greatest adolescent goal.
I haven’t realized it until recently, but I was being trained for my entire adolescence to love New York through everything I loved.
I think it was when I was about 13 I decided I was going to move to New York when I graduated high school. I always knew that there was more out there, my suburban upbringing in a town of about 30,000 left much to be desired. But why not just run to the nearest big city, Chicago? It’s because there’s something so idealized about New York. It’s just one of those cities, like Paris, that is so idealized in every kind of fiction and non-fiction imaginable.
I decided on New York long before I saw the city for myself. Spring of 2009 was my first time there, and I can still remember everything I felt as the cab fought the traffic from midtown into The Village. It was my 17th birthday gift to stay at The Plaza with my mom for this trip, but in true fashion of my mother, she picked this for her own tastes. As that cab traveled from 59th Street to 4th Street, the New York I already knew so well in my mind appeared in real life and I don’t think I can ever recreate that feeling. That twinge deep in your stomach that you feel when you listen to a song loaded with emotions, or seeing your best friend for the first time in years. In Internet terms, “dat feel.”
So how did I know this place so well already? Movies. Music. Television shows. Art. Theatre. Fashion. Everything I ever loved.
When I was in 8th grade the film adaptation of Rent was released. As a theatre-loving geek extraordinaire, this movie was my everything. More than just the quotes I put from “La Vie Boheme” as my photo captions on Myspace (R.I.P 2005).
“To days of inspiration, playing hooky, making something out of nothing/The need to express, to communicate/To going against the grain, going insane, going mad.”
The movie, the musical and the music informed my first love of New York. The East Village in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s was nothing to fuck with, but there was something so romantic about that lifestyle. It sounds horrible because AIDS and overdoses were taking lives left and right, but the struggle made a kind of community. The utopic community was something I always found so fascinating. But if there’s one thing to know about a utopia, it never lasts. (If you want a whole essay on utopias, holla at yo’ girl. I have an eight-pager just begging to be read from my freshman year).
When I came to New York I wasn’t planning on finding the first dirty needle or anything, I came to be part of that kind of community I spent so many years “studying.” All of those people, those great artists in all of their own respects, never came to Chicago to be inspired. They went to New York.
Every phase of interests I went through always stemmed from New York. First it was Rent and with it theater. Next it was the beatniks, Dylan, and Ginsberg. Imaginining Bob Dylan perform in his early days at Café Wha, a bar I ended up living steps from when I was 18. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” Allen Ginsberg prolifically wrote as the first line of “Howl,” a poem that blew my 15-year-old mind away.
Somehow, even in the worst of times, it seems like New York could still only be the best.
It’s Simon and Garfunkel singing about the narrow streets of cobblestone, those streets you stumble upon in Soho and the West Village. It’s Matt and Kim’s floating down Grand Street in Brooklyn in daylight.
The first time I walking into the MoMA was for my “Photography as a Global Language” class in October of 2010. The subject matter of the class clearly led us to the photography exhibit at the time, one of the main galleries filled with photographs by women throughout the history of photography. That was the first time I saw a Nan Goldin photograph. Along a blank wall was an oversized piece by the artist who captured her life and the lives of her friends, not realizing she was capturing an embodiment of her era. The friends that died, suffered and made it through are forever frozen in their perfect yet so unperfect world.
I expected to find my own “community of artists” when I came to NYU. I’m no Kerouac, but I’m a writer! Pick me cool friends! Instead I found a lot of entitled “artists” living a lie. There was nothing romantic about this.
Reality never lives up to the expectations art leaves with you.