There is no place like it, no place with an atom of its glory, pride, and exultancy. It lays its hand upon a man’s bowels; he grows drunk with ecstasy; he grows young and full of glory, he feels that he can never die.
-- Walt Whitman
New York City has been my geographic base my entire adult life. I moved here from the Midwest at 18, and even when I was living abroad or visiting my hometown, I felt like a visitor everywhere else. Returning to New York always meant coming home. It’s the first and only place I’ve ever felt at home.
Over the years, I would occasionally flee New York in exhaustion, fed up by it all. But every time I returned, whether it was a day or a year later, I exhaled and my heart rate actually slowed as I re-emerged into the pulsating energy of the city. It is at once thrilling and calming to me.
Living in New York can sometimes feel like a survival course. At times I was too poor to take a cab, even when it was subzero and 5am and I needed to take the G to the L train (ah, the joys of being a college student in the city). And there were times when I hit rock-bottom, personally and professionally. So I started over. Because that’s what you do in New York.
Like most New Yorkers, I don’t own a car (and never have), so my view of life has largely been on foot, up close, and without a filter. That sort of proximity breeds intensity, but it can also foster immunity, as you must tune out certain elements to survive. I can instantly turn on my internal stimuli blockers.
One way I learned to deal with the constant stimulation is through mini-escapes: I took myself to the movies almost weekly for years; my own private hideaway amongst the urban frenzy. I traded my apartment for more bucolic abodes. And I occasionally spent 48 hours in my apartment, without any outside interaction -- save the food delivery guy.
Nothing seems to shock New Yorkers, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t highly visual creatures. Looking good isn’t a right or a privilege or a suggestion in NYC; it’s an imperative. Slim, stylish, and obsessively groomed -- that’s the New York norm. It’s a high bar, and it can be exhausting. And expensive. All the more reason to pride ourselves on maintaining it.
New Yorkers can be some of the flakiest people in the world -- always on the lookout for a better option in all facets of life and love. It's part of our quest for greatness, but it can be rather unsavory. And yet….there but for the grace and generosity of my New York network go I.
I worked a lot of colorful jobs in this city: I taught under-served first graders and wealthy college students alike, both of which left me wiser and tougher. I styled a lot of “real” people and felt immense pride in how their lives transformed as a result. I started companies -- some that succeeded, some that didn’t; but I learned the most from the ones that failed. I also had a fake career (which, at times, led to me drag a wild boar head around the city and keep it in my closet for years, not to mention the deer head prominently displayed on my wall).
New York is a romantic city and almost everyone comes here hoping for love -- but not just any love: extraordinary love. I was certainly no exception. I fell in love a few times and had my heart broken just as many, only to throw myself right back out there again. New Yorkers don’t wallow.
Over the years I’ve transformed my personal appearance to the point that friends thought I was in the witness relocation program. But that’s what the city does: it allows you to reimagine and reinvent yourself. Again. And again.
I spent several years almost consistently in costume -- and as a result, I’ve allocated a disproportionate amount of my very limited storage space to multiple boxes of tattered costumes I can’t bear to part with.
I’ve partied -- sometimes surprisingly very little (during college) and sometimes with wild abandon (in my late 20’s). I’ve had 12 hour brunches and wandered the city for 50+ hours without returning home or taking more than an impromptu nap. I’ve sang more karaoke than -- well, almost anyone. I’ve hosted 100 person parties in my 400 square foot apartment. I’ve cooked for dozens at a time. I’ve ended more than a few late nights dancing in the fog machine at my local gay bar. I’ve roller skated my way into a transcendental frenzy with people who look like characters from a Lewis Carroll novel.
I’ve forged amazing friendships and lost some along the way. I’ve reconnected with people I’d forgotten existed on the streets of New York. Because, eventually, everyone passes through this city.
I left and came back. I left again, then came back again and stayed for another decade. Until I realized it was time for a change.
At times, I’ve been sad in New York. But mostly, I’ve been really, really happy. I’ve not only survived my entire adult life in one of the most formidable cities in the world, I have, by most accounts, thrived.
New York, I love you. You welcomed me into your bustling dynamism and, finally, I felt at home. What a relief to feel so embraced amongst a city of 8 million vibrant characters. Eccentricities, quirks, intensity -- strangers feel like kin here.
New York is my first love, and we hold a special place for our first loves. They are irreplaceable. Our relationships with them are perfectly imperfect, but their magic is in their ephemerality. And in what they prepare us for: our future relationships.
So long, New York. Until we meet again...