In 34 days I’ll celebrate 4 years of living in New York City. In that time I’ve held innumerable jobs, from day labor at food pantries to middle management at book publishing companies. I began sleeping in cramped spaces with few possessions and now spend my nights in a space surrounded by my artwork and books and things I’ve accumulated mostly since I’ve arrived (many things remain in storage in Chicago).
My life looks nothing like I’d imagined it would.
I thought it might take me six weeks, maybe six months, to get my affairs in order, to get a full-time job that I loved and paid well enough to afford a studio in the Heights or the Bronx. I thought it would, at most, take me a year to get my things out of storage in Chicago. Worst-case scenario, I’d rent a van and bring the stuff here, so at least all of my things would be in one city. But you know what they say about best-laid plans…
The funny thing is: it doesn’t bother me (much, or at least most of the time) that the timeline has been stretched out. Yes, it makes for a scattered existence, especially when I miss or want or need something I have in storage in Chicago (I’ve occasionally been able to bring things back, like when I’ve rented cars to make the trip). And the extra cost isn’t pleasant, either. But I’ve come to accept that this is just part of my journey. I’m doing all of the necessary footwork, and I can’t do more than what I’m capable of. I need to be easy on myself.
And besides, if I focus on everything I haven’t done, I lose sight of all the amazing things I have accomplished since 2012, the least of which is surviving in a hostile environment while remaining optimistic and retaining my belief that people are fundamentally good and trustworthy. This is no small task.
Some (ok, many) people say that last part—believing people are fundamentally good and trustworthy—is foolish and näive. It probably is. I should probably rephrase it as “people fundamentally want to be good and trustworthy if given the opportunity.” I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. I’ve also found that many people who are “bad” and “dishonest” with others somehow have the ability to open up to me and tell me the truth in ways they somehow feel too ashamed to admit to other people. I don’t know why I possess this quality; perhaps it’s because I’m not ashamed to be open and honest about subjects other people shy away from, either in my writing or my conversations. I expect this sort of honesty in my relationships—I tell everyone from my children to my romantic partners that I would rather be told a truth that may hurt me than be lied to because someone feels I can’t handle the truth. I’m a strong person. Dishonesty is harder for me to bounce back from than pain for other reasons.
In any case. My belief that people are fundamentally good and trustworthy hasn’t wavered by being in NYC. If anything it’s grown stronger. Yes, even amid the beggars others dismiss as scam artists and the CD hawkers and all the people who want your attention to sell you things that don’t exist. But I’m the sort of person who, every now and again, because I’m a writer, takes the time to stop to listen to the story behind the person who is trying to sell me something that doesn’t exist. And what I find, more times than not, is someone who also has big plans and is doing what it takes to get there. I’ve said for a long time that even treading water is still moving, just in a direction we don’t like to recognize as work. But it is. And, like it or not, it’s the hardest kind of work to keep going, but in a way it’s also the most honest, because it shows just how much you care about what comes next, just how much you want to keep moving and stay motivated to move forward when the time comes.
The people who have always been able to keep that forward momentum—which is so much easier, by the way—have no clue how difficult it is to tread water for days or weeks or months or even years on end. Those who do—the ones picking up cans or selling tickets on the streets or coming at you wearing a sandwich board or the cater-waters you sneer at—are the ones I admire the most. These are my people. I thought upon coming to NYC that I would want my people to be the ones with forward momentum, and in a sense I do, in that these are the people who will give me jobs and with whom I will work. But the water-traders are the ones I will always look to, perhaps with a wink or a nod of the head, and we will know that we’ve shared something just that much different. Is it important to anyone else? I don’t know. It matters to me.
Does this make sense to anyone else? Again, I don’t know. It makes sense to me.
Also: Despite all the crappy times I’ve faced during my time in NYC, the good times far outweigh the bad. All I ever have to do is walk outside and take a look around, realize where I am, breathe it all in, and all my troubles mean nothing. This city is the panacea. Period. Maybe that’ll change one day. But that day hasn’t yet come.