Almost a year ago now I wrote my first post on what living in New York City was like for me. In summary: I find this city to be a constant struggle.
Things got better after writing that post. Summer came and with it the sunshine I needed to motivate me to get out and explore. I got into the habit of long walks every weekend – though I had to do them with headphones in order to avoid the abrasiveness of some of the sounds. I can’t say those walks ever calmed me, but they got me moving and seeing more. It’s a habit I’ve tried to keep up, even through this winter – which thankfully has been quite mild.
I was lucky that my student teaching placement last semester was within walking distance of my apartment, and my commute took me through some of the more beautiful parts of Central Park. As I watched the leaves change by the light of dawn and dusk this fall I started to feel that while I would never thrive here, I might learn how to like this city again after all.
As the semester went on I started to make deeper connections with my classmates, and reconnect with old friends nearby. Slowly but surely I found myself building a support system in this place, things were getting better.
This semester I was assigned to a student teaching placement in Chinatown – which for those of you unfamiliar with Manhattan is quite the slug from Columbia. My classes are on the Upper West Side, while my placement is on the Lower East Side. This meant no more daily twilight-toned walks. I wasn’t the happiest commuter.
I can’t say that I’ll ever truly be a fan of New York subways. They are dirty and crowded and the negativity and mental illness is sometimes impossible to escape. It’s an uncomfortable ride for me, physically and emotionally. I get home every night exhausted.
But there’s a little bit of magic there too. For one, going into the subway in Harlem and coming out in Chinatown is an experience that is so New York. The two neighborhoods may only be a few miles apart, but most of the time they feel like totally different worlds. I know that this is special.
I’ll be honest, most of the time I hate it when someone comes on the train to perform. I guess my time here has left me feeling like people don’t interact unless they want something from you, and I so often feel that I just don’t have anything more to give. If I gave a dollar to every person who asked for it on my way to and from work, I would go broke fast (not that I had any money to begin with). But sometimes, a performer comes on the subway who totally makes my day – whose talent and joy for their art is too contagious to ignore. I don’t usually carry cash on me, but I always make sure that I’m not one of those people on the train pretending not to notice. I take out my earphones and smile. On those days, I get off the train thinking that New York isn’t so bad after all.
And on the best days, serendipity grants me a funny connection that reminds me what an interesting place this is. Several times a week I realize that the world around me is somehow synced to the music in my ears. Sometimes it’s the person across from me who is nodding his head to the exact same beat I’m listening to. It’s an illusion, I know, to imagine that he and I are dancing to the same tune. But I entertain it nonetheless. Other times it’s more dramatic – like the handful of occasions that the crescendo of my song has coincided with the exact moment the train stops and everyone moves together to enter and exit. I sit in wonder as I consider that this might all be choreographed just for me. Stranger things have happened.
In a place so crowded, familiar faces pop up unexpectedly and often. Friends from around the world make their way through the city for business, pleasure, and layovers. Time is often limited, but those re-connections could not happen anywhere else.
People may not make eye contact with you here, but they scribble messages on advertisements or graffiti them on walls. Sometimes it’s not easy to spot them, but they tend to make themselves known in the moments that matter.
I still find New York to be a struggle, but 16 months after my arrival, I’m starting to figure out how to like it here. Lately, I’ve been finding myself – as I watch my second New York spring – noticing that I too have warmed up. In fact, lately I’ve been thinking that I may fall in love with this city after all.
Of course, this realization is coming just in time for me to leave. I’ll graduate next month, and move shortly after. I can’t say for sure that New York and I will part ways with love, but if you had told me this time last year that I’d have anything close to a fondness for this strange place, I probably wouldn’t have believed you.
16 months down, 1 to go.