We rehearse our fears to lessen them, I once read this by Freud and had a short-lived A-ha moment. Maybe that’s what New York was for me, a fear I had to let loose; fear of being average, fear of missing out, fear of disserting my ideals. New York happened once like a falling parachute, but not even this speed could keep me away from myself.
The day I left San Francisco a picture was taken of me outside the taxi that brought me to the airport. I can’t find the image anywhere, but it was the middle of May, I was wearing a blue dress, one feather earring, my mom’s vintage cowboy boots and was rocking an asymmetrical haircut that had faded from red to bronze with a streak of bleached blonde down the middle. I am not ironic about any of this. I was 23 and artsy as fuck. I was a recent photography graduate, a radical vegetarian, and had just surfaced from the tumultuous waves of my first break up. I gave my spacious rent-stabilized studio in the Mission District to a friend and sold my prized estate sale scores to randoms off craigslist. I kept only my medium format camera, a 35 mm camera, a tripod, and two suitcases stuffed erratically with clothes. I was numb. I was untethered. I was sad. And I was hopeful that New York would show me a way out of my confusion and into a fully blossomed artist that I was sure I was supposed to become.
My first summer, I learned about New York summer rain when my basement room got flooded and killed one of my cameras. Black mold started to grow undeniably in the ceiling and not even three weeks in, I started looking for another room, eventually relocating to Greenpoint, before the big hit of hipsters, but not too far before this. I was right on time for the explosion of Manhattan into Brooklyn without meaning to be. Just before my move I managed to get so drunk, because I had a new friend who was a bartender, that I passed out on the F train. I missed my stop home and woke up in Coney Island, deep in the night. It was beautiful but I was exhausted and wanted to go home; home to a comfort and to something familiar, but this was a vanishing point that followed me wherever I was. I was as much home here on the F train as anywhere. That moment stood out.
New York was my escape from a broken heart, from my emotionally faraway family, a very free playground to spend time. I considered New York my grad school, with a shelf life of 4 or 5 years, and then the plan was I’d be on my way to the next amazing place like Berlin, or maybe even Paris. I had places in mind to run to, and a lot to run from, which made me feel powerful, free, and like I knew exactly what I was doing. But New York would not let me run, instead it captured me. I couldn’t get comfortable, and so I started practicing yoga as if my life depended on it.
I changed my address 10 times in 8 years. I had less money then what I came with. It was the coldest winter of my life, every time- only with more expensive gear as I got more advanced. I upgraded my San Francisco hair-model cut for something more simple and serious. I replaced holed up hoodies for dark sweaters, sometimes more expensive than half the money I had made in a week. New York taught me you have to pay your dues before you pay your rent (to take a line from one of my favorite bands, Pavement). I got good at paying my dues and I paid a lot of rent too.
It was: first fire-escape hangouts smoking joints, while watching the sun fade into a dense building landscape; sudden summer rainstorms caught without an umbrella, shirts stuck to skin; later-than-midnight cabs across the Williamsburg bridge watching it all go by like stars. It was: bicycle crashes and radiators that spill out heat uncontrollably in the peak of sleep, first-bite of a Montauk peach from a lover’s hand, packed-train morning commutes staring at a stranger’s shoulder for five minutes, frittered days off, forts made out of sheets, mattresses on the floor, dinner on stacked suitcases. It was: crying from missing someone you can never have back, maybe a lifetime mistake, and a memorable wink from a friend that made everything wrong dissolve into the air. There was fashion photography, and cameras kept in my purse, prints organized above my bed, a clunky word processor imported from my 16- year-old self. There were dance parties at the Jane Hotel, dance parties at Lit Lounge, dance parties at Boom Boom Room, dance parties at Westway and Sway and Enid’s and places I don’t remember their names. It was failed short films, jitney rides to Montauk and the comfort of a Metro Card in your wallet. It was giving up on photography for acting classes with a teacher who changed my life permanently. I felt that everything, every little everything, was changing me. Just walking down Second Avenue, nothing special, I remember having the thought that my future was somehow better just from standing on the corner of E.10th St and 2nd Ave. That moment stood out.
My life became the art that I had come out East to make. Ultimately, I could never have predicted what would have happened to me here. I didn’t find my external success, but instead went straight into the tangle that was at my life’s core. An auspicious recommendation to work at the desk at a yoga studio got me to my yoga mat daily. I had practiced in San Francisco inconsistently, but a year into New York I knew no other way to get by then to practice. I needed a teacher, I needed guidance, I needed structure, I needed my breathe, I needed to slow down, I needed someone to tell me that I was everything I ever needed, that I was enough just with what I had come in with. I never believed that, it didn’t feel authentic. I was a 20-something child looking for my father in anything around me, a child looking for love and my dream. I found meditation. I came to the concrete jungle where dreams are made of (to take a line from JayZ) to find silence. I learned how to listen. I became a yoga instructor, I became my own parent, and my eyes got greener with more light.
New York, my teacher, a very stern professor who seems to shake his pointer finger and look at me through downward tilted glasses. How grateful for a place that attracts the wild ones, mad with dreams, and a delicious desire to be shaped by the towers of the city, to be tamed, and disciplined with the New York whip. It quickens you, it distills you, jolts you in order to refine your edges, like a diamond by bringing so much tension and pressure and over-stimulation to your senses that if you are not able to transform the obstacles, then you are never able to transform yourself.
My last week in New York before moving to Los Angeles, I got out of a cab and the silent cab driver handed me a receipt, looked me in the eyes, really looked at me, and said, “Keep shining”. That moment stood out.