on the things I’ve learned living in NYC for 1,529 days (and in reminiscence of my 43rd birthday)

There are moments when you want to give up. There are times when you will give up—temporarily: hiding out in your bedroom and bingeing on Netflix and Amazon Prime and briefly wondering whether blogging about watching the entire Criterion Collection (384 films) in one go is a worthy enterprise; the guys at the local deli will recognize your voice on the phone when you call every day and you won’t even have to tell them your order because the just know. And you won’t get out of bed except to pee or answer the door for the guy from the deli. Because, boy, this city wears you down to the bone. 

Then a friend or just someone who saw a Facebook post they could relate to invites you to coffee—this city is random that way—and you walk outside and pause. Turn your head to the left and in the distance you see the Empire State Building. To the right, a line of people waiting for fried fish from a hole in the wall, beyond them others scrambling down the steps to the subway, catching trains to places near and far. Underneath it all is a hum, the speed of this city, the energy that only certain people can understand. You didn’t come here for happiness, though that would be nice. You came here because the moment your foot set down in NYC, you recognized the place you’d been searching for your entire life, you realized that everyone who’d been telling you to slow down, talk softer, calm down (everyone from your parents on up) hadn’t been wrong, per se, they just didn’t know you were in the wrong place. 


Almost four years ago, my brother asked me if I had a Plan B. I didn’t. don’t. This was and is on purpose. People with an exit plan know that if things don’t work out they can always do something else. Doing anything other than living in NYC has never been an option—save for an emergency situation in which a family member needed my presence somewhere else. If you don’t have a backup plan, you have no choice but to scratch and scramble and fight tooth and nail to get what you want. And also to do what it takes, even if what it takes is scary and outside your comfort zone. 

On my bad days—and lately there have been more than I’d ever hope my children see in there lifetime much less in the span in which I’ve experienced them—I find this lack of a back-up plan incredibly stupid, an idea just a tad less ridiculous than moving here without any money or a job or a permanent place to live. It makes me feel like a fool for being optimistic, for having faith in what increasingly seems to be a cruel and unforgiving world (if you can’t tell, today is one of the bad days), for believing that I could do something different and actually succeed. 

But on my good days—of which there are enough to make this thing, whatever it is, I’m doing worthwhile—I feel as though I’m the luckiest person in the world to have been brave enough to do something other people only think about—without a plan, without a safety net, without knowing if it would work out—on a mere leap of faith. And that I’m able to live on a daily basis without a fear of the future (even on “bad days” I’m not afraid, just angry that things aren’t working out like I want them to and depressed at my lack of success) is a gift in itself. Because somehow it always works out just enough to keep me going another day. 

In that same conversation, my brother said, “You never know when you’ll meet the person who will change your life.” I strongly believe this. 


You may have been assertive or loud where you came from, but that won’t hold water in NYC. You’ll need to learn to be louder and more assertive, aggressive even. You’ll learn to know what you want and how to tell people in quick, clipped syllables. From cabbies and deli counter staff to manicurists and the Russian lady who does your Brazilian wax, no one has time for your indecision. You’ll take these habits home with you—to the Midwest or the South—proud of being able to stand tall and sleek with confidence, and your friends and relatives will all say, “you’re so New York now.” You take it as a compliment even though you’re not certain it’s meant as one. 

But the habits you learned back home never really leave you, either. You might always be the best tipper (20%+) when you take a cab and cringe when your boyfriend (a native) insists that $1 is enough, even on a $40 ride. Or you’ll say “Ma’am” and “Sir” to your elders. You’ll seek out the best soul food restaurants, going through half a dozen until you find one that makes okra like your father did. You’ll lament the lack of decent packzi to a Polish lady you meet in the waiting room at the neurologist’s office and she’ll tell you where to go to find the ones like they make back in Chicago, where she, too, used to live. Slowly your New York-ness blends with whatever you were before you came. You settle into the city. You still avoid Times Square like the plague and roll your eyes at subway car performers, but you smile when you recognize the nervous jitters of people you can tell aren’t quite tourists but haven’t yet found their sea legs. You were one of them once, back when you thought you’d never remember which subway lines ran express and which were local, which made connections on the upper level and which on the lower. But then, like most things, one day you wake up and you just know, as you’re rushing to make the D before the doors close because otherwise you’ll be stuck on the B, making local stops. 


There are also lines you say you won’t cross. You draw them with thick, permanent marker, as if to show you’re serious. But when necessity strikes, lines have a habit of being blurred, and then moved. Permanent marker can be removed in lots of ways, anyhow. Or the piece of paper that you drew those lines on can be ripped out of your journal. You start a new chapter. The subjects grow more serious. Shit starts to get real, as they say. 

You don’t find any of this troubling, even if it’s not the way you’d prefer the story be told. But when you made that leap of faith, when you had no Plan B, when you made those choices, didn’t you give up at least a little bit of creative control over the plot line here? Since you suppose so, things aren’t that bad, sometimes even quite a bit of fun. But to meet that person who changes your life, so that the story goes back to what you’d imagined? Well, that would be something now, wouldn’t it? 


I hope that one day I’ll look back on these years of struggle and see them as a time in which I was able to get in touch with the core of what really mattered to me in the absence of any predictable income, just as I was able to take the years of time being single after Jack died to learn about who I was as a person in the absence of a man. Some people might call it character-building but I detest that term. I’ve had enough character-building to last ten lifetimes, thankyouverymuch. Let’s just call it a learning experience. An intense learning experience, but one nonetheless. I have to look at it that way, because otherwise the lines that are crossed and the days I can’t get out of bed because I’m paralyzed with deep and unabiding depression will mean nothing. And that can’t be the case. I cannot have walked 1,529 days into this jungle for it to have been a pointless enterprise. 


Who are you? My name is Amy L. Hayden, and I’m a writer living in New York City. 

Are the names you use when talking about other people real? For the most part, no. Unless people have given me express permission, all names and some details have been changed to protect people’s identity. This is common practice among creative nonfiction writers. 

What advice can you give you people who want to be professional writers? Accept that you will feel demoralized more than you feel empowered. You’ll have to grow a thick skin, get used to rejection, and find people much smarter and more talented than you are who are willing to be brutally honest with you in order to become a better writer. After all that, if you still want to be a writer… get a day job that has NOTHING to do with writing. You’ll otherwise be too worn out from writing all day to come home and write your own stuff. (I’ve learned this the hard way.) 

Why do you write about such personal things? Because they are my stories to tell. And (as some of the folks who’ve been in writing workshops can tell you), these aren’t even the really personal ones. My blog is like an open-air workshop for me. It’s a way for me to try out new material; some of the things I’m working on for publication (in book/essay collection form and for submission to literary journals) had their beginnings in some form on my blog. In other words, the blog entries are the “Shitty First Drafts” Anne Lamott talks about in Bird by Bird (though I hope they aren’t really all that shitty…). 

Do you accept donations? Um, yes. Why wouldn’t I? It costs money to host this blog on an annual basis, not to mention the effort it takes to write the blog posts… and I’m also a starving artist/writerly type, in case that hasn’t been made clear a million times over. I prefer Square  Cash (https://cash.me/$YellowbirdCreative) but Paypal works, too (vegan04 at gmail dot com) if you prefer to go that route.

When is your book coming out? You know, the one that you started writing in 2012? It’s been a long labor of love, delayed mostly because I’ve had to work insane amounts of hours to support myself and that’s prevented me from writing. (I’ve also had health issues.) BUT BUT BUT! It looks like—fingers crossed!!!—July 2016 is going to include a sabbatical from work for a substantial part of the month… and I have Big Plans for Much Writing of The Book. Stay tuned! 

on returning from a hiatus

Writer’s block isn’t as simple as not wanting to type, just as procrastination isn’t as one-dimensional as being too stubborn or too lazy to get up and go. Maybe the same sort of people who believe in Horatio Alger myths and pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps* and that obesity can never, ever be due to anything other than a lack of self-control. I do not abide by these people. They must be the same ones born on third base thinking they hit a triple, the ones who get excellent jobs believing it was due to their own hard work and leave their jobless friends behind, the ones who spend hundreds of dollars on a pair of shoes and throw them away rather than get them fixed when a heel breaks. These people are not mine.  Continue reading “on returning from a hiatus”