Sunday, March 30, 2008

Am I Finally Gonna Take a Bite of The Big Apple?

"the mind is turbulent, strong and unyielding and control over it is as difficult as controlling the wind" (Bhagavad Gita [ancient yogic text])

Now, before you all start thinking I'm off my rocker and quoting some new-age bullshit in my blogs, I just want you to know that I have had more moments of clarity in these last few weeks than I've ever had before in life. I took a trip to Philadelphia for a work-related conference, and I actually enjoyed myself and learned a lot. But, this trip also gave me a lot of time to mull things over. I am becoming very introspective and learning a lot about myself and I'm actually enjoying what I have discovered so far and look forward to learning more about the Brown Girl. At any rate, I'm sorry it took me almost a week to post. Y'all know I'm a work in progress and that I'm trying to get better, but I keep letting things distract me. That's what inspired the quote above from the Bhagavad Gita. My mind is restless, turbulent, unwieldy, and sometimes out of control. I think so much and sometimes it's hard for me to reign-in my thoughts. I've mentioned this before, but it's just really tough sometimes to calm my thoughts down long enough to put fingers to keys and type a post. I began this post last Wednesday right before I left for Philly and I'm just now getting the energy to sit down and complete it. Anyway, my thoughts...

Alright y’all. So, I’ve gotten so many comments regarding Valentina and Chad over the last couple of days. First of all, lemme just say that I had no idea how many of you are reading my blog. Thanks! No, really. Thanks! Anyway, yes, Valentina and Chad are completely real. And, as far as I know, they are completely and utterly happy. Yes, that kind of happiness really does exist. It’s just that only certain people are blessed enough to encounter it. And, sure, it can be fleeting. But, just learn to enjoy it while you have it, because some of us would give up a major part to us (arm, leg) for the opportunity. [← Did you get the Biggie reference?]

Anyway, today’s post also stems from my trip to New York. And I was only there for five days y’all! Can you imagine if I lived there? I would have stories for days. Possibly a short novel…

The first time I ever went to New York (that I remember), I think I was about 5 or 6 years old. My parents decided that they would take me to see Alfonso Ribiero - “Carlton” from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, who at the time was playing Ricky Schroder’s best friend in Silver Spoons - be the “Tap Dance Kid” on Broadway. I remember that we stayed in a nice hotel with a grand lobby, but the room was so tiny that you hit the television every time you opened the front door. I remember attending the show, waiting outside the theater to get Alphonso’s autograph (he signed my Playbill!), and then going to a nice restaurant for dinner afterward. We retired to our miniscule room and the next morning got up, headed out for a tour of the City, and bought a shitload of trinkets and souvenirs for our family back home. My mom and I took great care to pick out gifts that we thought each person back home would particularly love. We were so proud of what we had gotten.

The next morning, we packed all our things into our suitcases, including our souvenirs, checked our bags with the bellman, and went to breakfast outside the hotel. We got back about two hours later to collect our things and get on the road back to DC, but when my dad gave the bellman our ticket to retrieve the bags, our luggage was nowhere to be seen. After a few arguments with a few different people, it became clear that someone had stolen our bags. Now, my mother, who is a worrier supreme, had attended college in Brooklyn and hated New York City with a passion. She had never wanted to come to see the show in the first place. So, she began with a round of “I told you sos” and vowed to never return to New York as long as she lived. I didn’t really understand the concept of stealing at that age, but I do remember being very pissed that someone had taken all of our souvenirs and that we didn’t have enough time to replace them. And, even though, I was angry that someone had done something unkind to us, it did not ruin the trip for me. I was hooked. I loved everything about the City. And I knew that I would be back many, many more times. In my kindergartener’s mind, I pretty much knew that one day I would grow up and live in this grand place called New York City. A place where I could go to plays, meet celebrities, eat good food, and shop. (Even in kindergarten these were my favorite activities.)

I had tried to go to college in New York like my mom had done so many years before me. But, as I sat and filled out the NYU application (these were the days when you filled those things in by hand!), my mom took one look at the cover sheet, laughed, and told my I was wasting my time filling out the app because there was no way she was letting me go to school in New York City. She was dead serious. Her child would not be attending school in “that hellhole”. I allowed myself to be persuaded not to attend any schools in New York. Given the fact that I was a broke college senior and mom and dad were paying for my college application, I didn’t really have a choice. So, I gave up on that dream.

The first time I went to New York on my own – without Mommy and Daddy – it was the spring of 1998. I had just started college that previous fall at the state university and Jenna had left the area to attend college in NYC. My good friend Rebecca and I decided that we would visit a friend who was attending college in Philly and then continue up north to stay with Jenna in her dorm. We took Amtrak and made our way up the East Coast. In Philly we had fun, but in New York… we had a BLAST!! We went to college parties and went to dinner at trendy restaurants and went to clubs with older people. It was nonstop fun. When that trip was over, I went back to school and decided that I would go to grad school in New York. I had to get there somehow, some way.

By the time law school rolled around, I was in a relationship and no longer wanted to relocate because my “man” wasn’t interested in moving with me. So, I applied to several schools, but they were all located within an hour of DC. In retrospect, I realize how stupid this was. But, at the time, I was 21 and “in love” with Jeremy. And I wasn’t leaving him behind. By the time I had to start thinking about where I would work after law school, Jeremy and I were finished. So, I applied to firms in New York and DC. In the end I accepted an offer with a firm in the DC area. It wasn’t really what I had planned. It just sort of worked out that way. And so, I got trapped. You’ll remember me saying in another post that DC is the kind of place that sucks you in. Natives get tied up and they never leave. My father calls it “Potomac fever”, which is basically a disease that causes you to become ill if you are too far away from the Potomac River. As much as I hate to admit it, I think I suffer from this malady. It’s not that I don’t want to leave DC, it’s that I CAN’T. Like, for what I guess is a variety of reasons, I can’t physically extract myself from DC and all that it stands for. My entire immediate family is here. And for some reason, I get panicked when I think about moving away from them. I think about what my parents would do if I wasn’t around and I can’t imagine what that would be like for them. I know that sounds crazy. Especially since they have two other children. But, still… this is ME we’re talking about. I don’t think they could handle it. People think I’m crazy because my reluctance to move away from DC specifically surrounds my parents and a little bit of separation anxiety.

I was discussing this issue with Chad and Valentina during brunch. Chad said, “Parents only want their kids to be happy. If you told your parents you wanted to move to New York, I’m sure they would support you if they thought you would be happy here.”

I laughed inside because, little does Chad know, my parents are not like that. Most parents are eager, anxious even, to get their children out of the house so that they can become lovebirds in an empty nest. But my parents don’t want to be alone. They want to be with me.

Sounds nuts, doesn’t it?

But, I’m serious. You don’t even have any idea…

My friend Susie says that if this situation with my parents and me is really that complicated, then the best thing really would be for me to leave my parents and the rest of the family behind because a little separation is what we need. She tells me the story of her mother who stayed within her parents grasp until… well, she’s STILL in her parents grasp… and she’s like 60 years old. Susie’s mom encouraged her to get out of their small town so that Susie wouldn’t make the same mistake that she had. And Susie said that moving away from her town is probably the best thing she ever did in life. Now, what Susie’s mom did for her - that’s unselfish and kind. But my parents don’t think that way! I mean, obviously DC is no small Midwestern town like the one that Susie could’ve possibly gotten trapped in. But DC is a black hole. At least it is for me…

The time I spent in New York this year was fabulous. I’ve had a lot of good times in the City, but this trip was especially exciting, dramatic, and fulfilling. And I got to thinking about that abandoned dream of living in the City. Each time I go, I have a social calendar that is jam packed with activities and is filled with people who’s company I genuinely enjoy. In DC, I sit by the phone and wait until someone calls with a proposed activity that is unusual enough to motivate me to leave my couch. And that call rarely comes. But in New York, my phone doesn’t stop ringing! There is always some party going on, or some happy hour I should try, or some brunch spot I need to check out. And I’m always joined by amazing people who know how to have fun. Every time!

Well… not EVERY time.

You see, back in 2005, I got the opportunity to do some work for my firm on Wall Street. I moved to New York and stayed with Jenna who has an amazing two-bedroom apartment in a brownstone in Harlem, two blocks from the Apollo Theater. Every day, I take the subway to Wall Street and go to work. And then I would come home. And then I would wait for Jenna to come home. And then we would retire to our rooms and go to sleep. And that was it! We went out a few times here and there, but nothing spectacular was going on. When I arrived in New York and settled into Jenna’s second bedroom, I sat down and called all my friends in the City to announce the fact that I was now a resident of Harlem. I told each person, “Let’s get together this week or next.” And I was met with excuses from everyone about why they were busy, but they wanted to make sure to “take a raincheck” or to “get together soon”. My phone was not blowing up. Far from it. A few times, I would pick up Jenna’s cell phone to call my own just to make sure that it was working, or I would check the settings on my phone just to make sure that I hadn’t inadvertently turned the ringer off.

A few days later, I still hadn’t started my job, so I was at home at the middle of the day when everyone was working and… busy. I was walking down 125th Street toward the Starbucks and even though there were about a million people around me, and even though Jenna was just at work and would be free to hang out within two hours, and even though bestie was on the other end of my cell phone and chatting away about this or that, I was overcome by the most intense feeling of loneliness that I had ever encountered in life. I was used to going to New York and having every drop everything to accommodate me and my schedule. It had always been the case that every moment of my time in New York was taken up by any number of activities. But for some reason, when I decided that I would move to New York, everyone was too busy to hang out. The change in everyone’s tune was startling to say the least. And then, I got homesick. I had been dying to get out of Washington, DC, for as long as I could remember. But, by the time I got to Starbucks and ordered my caramel macchiato, I wanted nothing more than to be in the Nation’s Capital. I hung up with my bestie and started to cry. Tears were streaming down my face and, luckily, New Yorkers (God bless ‘em) are too self-absorbed to notice a girl carrying a Starbucks cup, blubbering her way down 125th Street, on the middle of the day on a Tuesday.

Anyway, the disappearing friends can be explained by a phenomenon that a friend, Belle, once described in one of her blogs. She told the story of a man who was from New York, but had gone to college in DC. He moved back to NYC after college and he was miserable. He explained to Belle that he was moving to DC because in DC everyone knows his name, he is the center of attention, everybody loves him, he has nothing but days upon days of nonstop fun. Then, he goes back to NYC and reality hits and all he can do is pine for DC days once more. And Belle explained to him that the only reason why people are so interested in him when he visited DC was simply because… well, because he was VISITING. People make you a priority when they realize that you are only available for a limited amount of time. The second that it becomes apparent that you are a resident of a particular city and are at their disposal whenever they would like to see you, you are no longer a priority. There is no reason for them to drop everything and clear their schedules just because you want to hang out now. That’s just the way that it is. So, basically, the point is that you shouldn’t move somewhere just because you have these wonderful friends and the city is loads of fun. Well, then, why SHOULD you move?

I have two shining examples of why relocation could be a good thing. First, Valentina moved to New York and her whole life fell into place. She swears on all that she loves that things would not turned out the same way had she stayed in DC. Here, she was going to community college and working as a hostess in a restaurant with no real other aspirations, but she got to NYC, got on her grind, got a husband, a house and a career, all within a year or so of making the transition. Second, Asia’s situation skyrocketed when she moved to Manhattan and she promised my bestie that if she moved to NYC she, too, would develop into a better person because there are so many opportunities for enrichment and so many chances to prove your personal morality.

What did Asia mean by that? How does a CITY make you a better person? Well, for me PERSONALLY, it’s like this:

When I am in DC, I stay at home on my couch. I watch a lot of TV. I go back and forth to a job that doesn’t even come close to moving me and then come home and watch TV some more. I am not a fun person. I am not motivated to achieve. I am sluggish, stagnant, comfortable, lazy, depressed. That kind of mentality sounds pretty pathetic doesn’t it? Yeah. DC does not a fun person make. I feel like everything is a been-there, done-that situation. Nothing is new. Nothing is exciting.

But New York… Oh! New York! It makes me so happy! There is always something going on. If you are bored, venture around the corner or to another borough and you’ll find something totally exciting and – lots of times – free! The vibe of the city is just inspiring. Creativity abounds (as opposed to DC which is a city where, as Belle put it, “creativity comes to die”). There is always some new restaurant or bar to try out, a new boutique to feed my window-shopping habit (too broke to actually buy). All these things are GREAT things!

However, the thing I love the MOST about New York? The hustle. The grind. Everyone you meet in New York has got a hustle and everyone is constantly on their grind. I mean, sure, in every city in the world you’ll find those special people who are just consistently on the move. Their energy drives the rest of the slowpokes in that particular city. But in New York – EVERYONE is on a mission to shine. Elizabeth Gilbert, in her book “Eat Pray Love” (which you should start reading now if you haven’t read it already) discusses a concept that basically says that every city has a word that describes the great majority of its people and therefore is the heart and soul of that particular location. The word theory says that if your personal word is not synonymous with the word of the city in which you live, then you will never truly be at home there. So, New York’s word: “ACHIEVE”. (As opposed to LA’s word “SUCCEED”. I still haven’t really figured out the difference) But, I can totally feel that in New York. That drive for achievement. Everyone has a side gig because in New York, you NEED to hustle to survive. People are more than happy to chat with you about their 9-5, but become so passionate when they begin describing their 5-9. New Yorkers are rude, but passionate; motivated, yet cynical; diverse, although oddly similar. I just LOVE everything about it.

I am not sure what DC’s word is. And I’m not sure what MY word is yet, but I’m pretty sure that my word and DC’s word are not in harmony. I’ve been thinking about my word a lot and I’m leaning somewhat toward “CONFORMED” or “CONFUSED” or “REPRESSED”. I am fully aware that all of these words have negative connotations, but I think that has a lot to do with the fact that I am not completely happy with the life that I’m living. I’ll get into that more later, but the point is that, as my friend Jillian said to me the other day, “Girl, you only live once! MOVE!”

I mean, thanks for the advice Jillian, but could it really be that simple?

Yeah… I think it can be…


home is where the heart is said...

My comment is not by any means an attempt to knock this post, b/c there is so much about this blog I can relate to. We all need a change of scenery time to time. We all need to find where it is we fit and feel inspired and comfortable. It's important! I am proudly from the DC area, born and raised. And I love it, it's home. It's where my family is (I too miss them terribly when I'm away as much as they drive me crazy; and think they'd be incomplete without me too!) and it's a big part of who I am, I think. I love NYC (and other such great cities)- when I visit. Probably b/c it's kinda like bein on vacation. I always come back broker than I was when I went up (what an expensive city! Yikes!) and EXHAUSTED! NYC is so draining (wallet and mind/body)! But still, a great city. I don't think DC is where creativity should die though, unless you allow it to do so. I think it's sad that DC should be blamed. I think there's loads to do here and loads of amazingly passionate, highly achieving and talented people. But it's up to the individual to be up exploring and enjoying. This is a diverse city, and I find it to be much warmer (the people) than many cities such as NYC. I'm not trying to knock NYC though or it's people, b/c again, I think it's a great city. But I guess everyone is made different and perhaps it's just not my cup of tea. I love to visit, but can't imagine spending my life there. But, to each their own. Just can't have my DC getting a bad rap. I think it's a wonderful place full of opportunities and the best of both worlds, both city and townlike feel. And I think as with life, it is what you make of it. As for moving though- I definitely think you need to do it. Try it. If you feel you come alive in NYC, you need to go live! I can't help but wonder why if you love this city so, how come it didn't work out before and why it left you feeling so unwelcome and lonely in 05? DC always welcomes you home, doesn't it? It doesn't hold a grudge . . . But still, sometimes it's about the timing, and perhaps you weren't ready yet. If you always come back to The Big Apple in your thoughts and dreams, perhaps you really are meant to be there, even if just temporarily. Maybe you're meant to grow there and find yourself there. And perhaps you will eventually bring her home. You owe it to yourself, to NYC and to your hometown to embark on the journey though. Sometimes we go searching for something that has always been right here all along though . . . but sometimes you need to get away to see that from a distance . . . but if you don't go seek, you will always wonder. So I encourage you to take a big bit Lovely Brown Girl! I can't believe I just wrote a blog post in response to your post . . .

Anonymous said...

I can definitely relate to this one. I have lived in the same state my whole life outside from college and graduate school. I always imagined I would want to raise a family here as well. Recently I have the itch to move to get away and explore. Sometimes I think my Mr. Right just isn't here so I should consider a new pool of prospects. Sometimes it's more just to bring out a different me. In either case, while I love home, I really have the itch to try something new and relate to alot about this one!