these streets will make you feel brand new, the lights will inspire you...
I don't actually think it's the lights (technically), but moreso the energy. Which is something completely indescribable unless you've experienced it first hand. I had a conversation with my friend Daniella a few months back about certain energies that land seems to hold. She was refering to certain parts of LA (which I can say, I'm not a fan of, though again, I don't know too well either) But I knew what she meant.
My first visit to Manhattan was completely spontaneous. My dad is from Boston and back in '97 my cousin was getting married to a woman from New Jersey. We drove down from Boston to some part of Jersey for a few days. We had time to kill on the day they had the rehearsal dinner so my mom bought us bus tickets and she, my sister and I made the 30 minute journey across the state line.
Being a semi-"typical", attitude ridden teenager I was just glad to get out of the boring hotel we were in but wasn't excited in the least. Discman in hand, headphones blaring Lil Kim, I closed my eyes and tuned the world out for the majority of the ride. As we neared the Lincoln Tunnel my mom nudged me "Risa, Look!" She had been to New York many times so it was nothing new to her but she specifically wanted me to see the city skyline as we crept closer and closer.
It was purely breathtaking to me. I'm a city girl and definitely accustomed to skyscrapers but there was something different about this sight. Perhaps it was simply the overwhelmingly large mass of buildings. Because immediately my brain put things into perspective as it's always done. If 1 building is that tall, imagine how many people work in that 1 space. Then multiply that by the countless number of buildings. My eyes remained glued until we made our descent into the tunnel.
Leaving the bus station, I couldn't help but tilt my head back like a typical tourist and take in just how enormous the buildings were. And people were EVERYWHERE. Rushing by, with a purpose. Nearly everyone seemed focused. My mom asked someone where the empire state building was and we headed on over. Again, typical teenager, I contained my excitement (see photo - lol), but inside this
city had made an impact on me.
We sauntered through the Village, ate in Little Italy and made our way back to the bus station. In no more than 5 hours, this city imprinted itself and it's energy into my being.
Once in college, I made trips out there every summer and eventually moved in 2002. 4 months later after depleting any and all savings I had I moved back. I hadn't been employed - though I had looked. I could have found a job, despite the fact that it was 9 months post 9/11. I played the woe is me card at the time, but I had never even tried retail. My pride got in the way. I had worked for a non-profit for 6 years teaching science and helping manage 32 teenagers. I was responsible for scheduling, payroll, writing budget proposals - you name it, I had done it. On top of the fact that my job had meaning for me. I was helping people learn. Helping teens grow. Watching a 6 year olds face light up as she "got it". And I was being paid near 3 times what minimum wage to do so.
To go from that, to making less than SF minimum wage (NY is lower) to sit in a boring office doing temp work. No thank you. I felt I was better than that. Only in (recent) retrospect do I realize this though. Everything does happen for a reason... 9 months after moving back I was diagnosed with Leukemia.
Regardless, I continued my love affair with New York. While recovering from my chemo I spent a month there with my best friend. Every chance I had for vacation, was spent in New York. I can't even recall how often I've been there without really sitting down and writing it out.
"If you can make it here (New York), you can make it anywhere."
I believe this is partially true. For those born there, it can be a much different story for 2 reasons, I believe. First, you probably have family (friends you grew up with are family too) you can depend on to help you out. The second is somewhat of an odd concept. New Yorkers are very prideful people I find. Proud of "being" a new yorker. Yet I believe the majority are raised without the sense of pride I held, which prevented me sticking it out. It's all about the hustle. You do what you can to survive. There is no right or wrong when it comes to survival. I know people who steal fruit from stands so they can eat. Think nothing of asking family (friends included) to borrow money if needed.
I've borrowed money from my parents on 3 occasions I can think of in my life. For my plane ticket to move back home, to pay off my credit cards when I was in the hospital, to pay my phone bill when I moved back from New York. And I have only once borrowed money from a friend to buy my books for school. My mentality has always been "If I can't afford it, I won't spend it."
This last move was hardest to give up on. Once again, looking back, my pride and lack of self confidence were what got me. Prasand called it before I even left. I looked for jobs nearly everyday...as a bartender, barback, cocktail waitress or makeup artist. Those were the only jobs I felt qualified for. I once again, never sought out retail as making $6 something an hour seems like nothing when you're accustomed to making %800 cash per week bartending. I could have stayed with my best friend, but it didn't seem right as her living situation had changed and I didn't want to impose or be a burden.
One night I went to dinner with Prasand and the designer I had worked with, and as we parted ways at the train station, Prasand gave me a metrocard, good for a week. I was so confused, yet so grateful for this. One of my roommates who had graduated with honors from Harvard sat with me for 3 hours helping rewrite my resume. My other roommate overheard me on a phone conversation crying, filled with stress about how I was going to pay my portion of the utilities. The second I hung up, he came out to our balcony and wrapped his arms around me and just let me sob and listened. Offered to take it out of my deposit and jumped on the phone making several calls to people he only knew through other people in search of employment for me. Hanging out with Lottie after the Makeup Show, her photographer friend (who is AMAZING btw - google her work - she's the epitome of an artist - Jamie Nelson), offered to let me stay in her loft in New Jersey. Even up until my final 4 days there, my roommates offered our couch to me free of charge. All of this Love, from people I had only just met (aside from Prasand - though he too, I only became close with near the end of my stay), yet I couldn't get over my pride. And even more so, I didn't feel I deserved all of the help people wanted to give me. I didn't want to be a burden.
4 days before I left, Prasand and I spent the day and part of a night at Coney Island. One of the things he touched on in our conversation was just how different New York is. He stressed that I had more of a support system (in a sense) out there, than I even have here in SF. Over there, it seems everyone is not just trying to survive, but truly going after their dreams. And when in pursuit of your own dreams, you want to see others succeed at whatever it is that they're passionate about as well. There's a certain spark New Yorkers have to them. While of course, there are people with that same spark elsewhere in the world, for whatever reason, there seems to be greater concentration of them there. It took me 8 months to realize it, but he's right. And everything I've said about pride and self worth come into play. Much like in The Alchemist, you just have to go after your dreams. Fuck pride. It's a false sense of self. The belief in your own abilities and the determination to just keep trying, regardless of how many times the universe may "test" how badly you want something, is the key to success. Which, I realize we all have a different definition of, but I believe the formula is the same.
Someday soon I'll be back. This time, lessons learned.