Once a New Yorker

Always

I woke up this morning for the fifth day in a row and wondered for a moment where I was. It’s a delicious but confusing feeling, when I’m still halfway asleep, not sure whether I want to stay there or emerge into the real world. And as I sleepily open my eyes, I try to remember where exactly I fell asleep last night. I’m only about half-moved back into my parents’ house and I’m still thinking of my apartment as my apartment. I haven’t settled in yet, and there’s a part of me—a pretty big part actually—that doesn’t want to get settled.

I’ve been saying for awhile that I needed a change, and that change would involve saying goodbye to Ms. NYC. But the thing is, it’s New York City! There’s always a reason to stay. Even when it drives me crazy, I can still think of half a dozen things that I love about the place. I still have a running list of things that I want to do which can only be done here. And so, when the time came when I probably should leave, I would be able to find a reason to stay, to say “not yet, wait just a little longer, give it one more chance.” I put down roots here, and despite my desire to leave, it would take a lot of strength to pull them out one by one and walk away. Not so anymore. I’ve been yanked out of the NYC concrete by a force beyond myself and set aside, back to a place where every fiber of my being yearns to leave.

With Roo, I’ve bitterly joked that I’m turning the clock back to 2010. Before grad school, before this blog, before my big starry-eyed move to NYC; back when I was chafing at the confines of my childhood home, dreaming of something bigger and better than this. Newly single, trying to decide what I wanted to do with my life now that one path (a life with Wolf) was blocked; frustrated and full of possibility. And, of course, incredibly naïve. That was back when I still had the Sex and the City idea of NYC, when I had a secret belief that my life once I moved would be all glamorous parties, club openings, and sexy men. Back when I believed that I had an advantage over all those other starry-eyed dreamers because I already knew NYC, she’d been in my backyard my whole life and knowing her would give me a leg up on the success we were all striving for.

It turns out, growing up in the shadow of those concrete and steel spires did give me an advantage; just not the kind I’d hoped for. It gave me the ability to leave. While those other dreamers are still struggling and scraping to reach the ten-year mark and authentically call themselves New Yorkers, I have the benefit of knowing that wherever I go, no matter what city or non-city I end up in, I will always be a New Yorker. Not the Carrie Bradshaw New Yorker I thought I would be; not the struggling, dreaming, all-hours strap-hanger I’ve been over the last two-plus years; not the brunching, happy-hour spotting, bar-hopping name dropper; not the culture fiend or hipster or dating-like-it’s-my-job single girl; not the work-is-my life corporate ladder climber or struggling-for-my-art starving artist. I’m the kind of New Yorker that has concrete and steel in my bones, that has a decades-long history with this city, that has seen it change and change again. And the kind that years from now, when I sink my roots in different soil, drop the baggage of my travels and say “this seems like a good place to stay for good”, will have the unspoken words “in New York” tacked on whenever I say, “Back home”.

xoxo

Cat

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Keep, Toss, WTF?

If you’re the kind of person that gets emotionally attached to things: your ex-boyfriend’s sweatshirt that still kind of smells like him, the sneakers you wore to run your first 5K (even though they smell like death and have giant holes in them), the t-shirt from your first concert…have I got a cure for you! Pack all that sentimental crap into boxes and move it to a place already filled with sentimental crap. I guarantee that within twenty minutes, you’ll be tossing things in the donation bin with ruthless authority.

I am a pack rat. I come from a family of pack rats. Between the four of us, we could fill a house with useless objects we keep “just in case”. When I first moved out of the house, it was easier to push the sentimental detritus of my life into corners of my old bedroom and leave them to deal with later. I didn’t have to decide if the sweatshirt Wolf gave me should go to the donation bin because it could hang in the back of an empty closet, bothering no one. I didn’t have to sort through the absurd number of shoes I’ve accumulated and decide which ones actually fit my lifestyle or give up hope of ever fitting into my high school size 4 dresses again. But when you’re moving an entire apartment’s worth of stuff into the spatial equivalent of a dorm room, some things have got to go. And it’s kind of refreshing actually.

There was a woman in my writing class this past semester who wrote a beautiful story about traveling around the East Coast in a converted school bus with a bunch of poets and performers. Without a lot of personal space and vagabond kind of life for the entire summer, she couldn’t take much more than a single suitcase of clothes. And maybe the performance-quality of her voice as she read the story aloud to the class, or the beautiful turn of phrase that just kind of hit me, but I found myself writing on a post-it in my notebook, with triple underlines, a single phrase of hers: the me-sized me.

With the banality of everyday life stripped away. Without all the possessions we claim we can’t live without, travelling around like Ken Kesey’s band of misfits in a graffiti-covered bus, she said she felt the limits of her own being: the space that she physically occupied being the boundary that separated her from the world. Here is my skin, here is where “I” stop and the world begins. It’s a very small space, really. Stripped down to it, it’s kind of hard to keep up the illusion that the world doesn’t affect you and that you do not affect the world around you. Normally though, we don’t have to worry about that. We insulate ourselves with our things. We spread out and take up space with objects that we collect and pile around us like block forts: this is my area, you can’t come in. But ultimately, it’s as silly to think we can keep out the world with our things as it is for a kid to believe his Legos, chairs, and blankets have built a real, impenetrable castle.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have a lot of stuff. Hundreds of books, dozens of shoes, and at least four pairs of jeans that I swear I’ll fit into soon. But by getting rid of things I once thought were important, that I would need someday, it feels like stripping away a layer to reveal someone a little smaller and a little freer underneath. And it also makes me hope that the things that are weighing me down now, that are insulating the me-sized me like a fluffy parka, might soon feel unnecessary. Maybe the pride that has kept me so NYC-centric—the fear that not “making it” here meant I could not make it anywhere—will seem as outdated and ill-fitting as the double-XL sweatshirt of Wolf’s I used to burrow into. Because the me-sized me is a lot smaller than I thought it was…but it’s also a whole lot bigger on the inside.

xoxo

Cat

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Let it Go

As I’m staring down the barrel of my imminent move, my mood has become a shifting grab bag of panic, resolve, and wistfulness. Walking through my neighborhood, I started thinking about all the things I never got to do and likely will not do before I leave. There’s the museum a mere five blocks from my apartment, the park on the water, the sculpture garden, the beer garden, bars and restaurants…I could go on. And that’s only things in my neighborhood. Range out farther, into Manhattan and Brooklyn, Governor’s Island, and you’ll find even more things that have escaped me. But I suppose that’s why some people spend their entire lives in NYC: you can live here twenty years and still not do everything. Even when you think you’ve checked off everything on your list, you find out about something else, or something new appears and you begin all over again. But I’m starting to come to terms with the fact that life isn’t about doing everything humanly possible. It’s about choosing the things that are most important to you out of a billion different options and putting your all into them.

I will never be a doctor (well, a medical doctor, I will be a doctor of…philosophy? What are you a doctor of when you get your PhD?). I will never be a lawyer or an actor or a singer. I can. There’s no one saying that I’m not allowed to do those things and there’s nothing particularly stopping me from trying. Except for maybe the singing, what with my being essentially tone-deaf. The acting is probably out too since I have near-crippling stage fright. But if any of those things were the dream of my life, I could find a way to do them. I did technically take all my pre-med requirements and I could take the MCATs and go to med school (probably in the Caribbean). I could go to law school or take voice lessons or face my fears and get on stage. Likewise, I could go skydiving or train to climb Mount Everest or learn Japanese or visit all fifty states or backpack across Europe. But I won’t. Not because I can’t, but because they’re not the things I want most.

For me, planes are for taking me from one place to another—preferably some place new and exciting where I will have wonderful adventures—not for jumping out of. I have a terrible fear of heights, but more than the heights I’m afraid of the falling. Maybe sky diving or bungee jumping would shock me out of that fear, but I have no desire to find out. Likewise, some people would love to visit every single state in the US, and I think that’s cool. But if I miss out on Alabama or Alaska or only drive through Delaware instead of actually exploring it, I’m not going to lose sleep. I would rather go to Italy or Ireland or India or Russia or…don’t get me started. The point is, we all have limited time in this life and while it’s admirable to try to cram as much life as possible into that time, it’s impossible to do everything.

When you’re a little kid, you’re told that you can do and be whatever you want. Or if you’re like me, you’re just expected to do and be something amazing and the particular strain of amazing is up to you. So over the years, you develop different answers to the question, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” A teacher, a mother, a doctor, a lawyer, a ballerina, a baseball player, a firefighter, Batman (because if you can be anything you want, always choose Batman). And when you’re five, every one of those is a real option. When I wrote in my sixth grade yearbook that I wanted to play in the WNBA when I grew up, I had no idea that I was going to stop growing in about a year and stop playing basketball in two. I didn’t know in second grade that I liked to play around and do cartwheels more than I wanted to put in the tough work it would have taken to be a world class gymnast. But I’m not in sixth grade or second grade or high school or college anymore. I’ve put aside my dreams of gymnastics or basketball fame, of kicking ass and taking names in a courtroom, of being a pediatrician or surgeon.

Those are the big things; the obvious things. I could not be a doctor and a lawyer and a writer and a professor, because I am human and ain’t nobody got time for that. But less obvious are the little things; the things you continue to want even after they stop making sense, even though they might take away from things you want more. Like not wanting to give up on NYC even though my path is leading me elsewhere. Like getting my EMT license to have an always-employable skill set and make some money on the side, even though it would take time away from writing and working on my thesis. Like following my mother’s advice and getting a full-time job (any decent paying, benefits offering full time job) so that I can find a new apartment back in the city and continue with that path because she couldn’t imagine living (or wanting to live) anywhere but here.

But I’m tired of hedging my bets, of having one foot in the “real world” of office jobs and NYC apartments and one foot on the path I’ve kept mostly to myself. The path of writing, of not only finishing my masters but getting my PhD and teaching, of working for children’s literacy and mentoring young writers. It’s a path that doesn’t fit with the world I grew up in, where you got good grades, went to college and got a “real” job that could support you and your family for the rest of your life. It’s a path with inherent risks and not a lot of stability; a path that hasn’t been paved by millions of other feet and doesn’t have easily discernible landmarks or directions. It’s one that I could fail on, and fail spectacularly. But I once said that I wanted to carve away the “nots”: trying on dozens of lives and ambitions to find the one that is really me. I have tried on many ways of being since that time, since moving to NYC, since being seduced by the bright city lights. And there are probably still many nots to slice away, but I am no longer looking at a shapeless piece of me-ness, wondering what it will become. Because I see it now, the angel in the marble, the me in the me-ness. And I’m ready to let the rest go.

xoxo

Cat

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Do the Right Thing

It’s been another long and crazy week with finals wrapping up, tracking down my adviser to make plans for next semester, and facing the daunting task of packing up my entire apartment and the packing a smaller portion of that for Greece. But for the first time basically since the month of May started, I’m feeling a sense of calm and relief. Which is not to say that things have calmed down. As I said, I still need to pack up my entire apartment and nearly two years worth of accumulated crap (where did I get all this stuff?), pack and buy things for my Greece trip, and tie up what feels like a million loose ends. But despite the fact that I will be uprooting my entire city life in the next couple weeks to head back to a place I was hoping had seen the last of me, I feel strangely settled. I guess it’s always been this way with me. Major changes and decisions throw me for a loop, jack-hammering me out of the habitual way I like to live my life and it’s devastating…for about a week.

Okay, sometimes more depending on what the issue is. My breakup with Wolf had an initial traumatic period of about two months with aftershocks rippling through the next oh, two three years? But that is rare. Usually it’s a matter of days or weeks before the initial jolt wears off and my new life, my after, begins to fall into place. It’s the chaos and confusion of change that is hard for me, the sudden feeling that the path under my feet has dropped away to a terrifying cliff with no way down or across. When my perfectly imagined future is devastatingly revealed to be just a castle on a cloud that is as easily wiped away as the tears this revelation often causes.

But the truth is, it’s never a cliff and there is always something beyond the illusion. It might require retracing my steps and figuring out a new way forward that doesn’t lead to a dead end. It might simply be a matter of taking off the rosy colored glasses to build a real castle out of the bricks crumbled off the imaginary one. Like when I was eighteen and deciding on what college to go to. I’d been accepted to all my safety schools and offered money by some. I was waiting to hear back from my top choice and looking over the measly financial aid package offered by my second choice (and now current grad school!). And then I got the news from my third-choice school: a full scholarship and acceptance into the honors program. I didn’t want it. I wanted to get into my top choice. I wanted more money from my second choice so I could afford to go. I didn’t want to go to some measly state school out on Long Island, no matter how pretty the campus was or how much money they were offering me. I wanted to be in New York City, in Manhattan, at one of the top schools in the country. And yet I knew I would be a fool not to take the scholarship, not to save myself the burden so many of my peers now face in the form of mountains of student loan debt.

I knew in my gut what I had to do, but I wanted a miracle. I wanted my top choice school to come back with not only an acceptance but an absurd amount of money that would allow me to live the dream I’d constructed for myself. Instead, I got the skinny envelope. No miracle. Just the tough fact of doing the thing I knew I should. And in the end, it turned out better than I’d imagined, perhaps better than it should. I had an amazing four years, three of them spent with Wolf. I graduated not only with no student loan debt, but without the pressure to stay in a major I’d become disillusioned by two and a half years in. With a free ride, I could do that sort of thing without feeling guilty that I’d made my parents pay for an absurdly expensive school only to change my mind. I could switch to something entirely impractical that I loved instead of forcing myself to stay with something that was killing me but promised a fat paycheck down the road.

Of course, I didn’t know at the time how things would turn out. I couldn’t know that I’d be glad I chose to do the right thing, the practical thing. But when I handed my dad the skinny envelope and angrily told him that congratulations, he wouldn’t be paying my tuition, I did know it was somehow right. I knew because under the disappointment and anger, there was a sense of calm in my gut. For better or worse, the decision had been made and I would figure out how to make the best of it from there. And it was the same feeling I had when I called my mom, anger and panic dripping from my voice, to tell her that I had to move and I was probably coming home. I knew as soon as I got the news from my roommate what I had to do. I also knew I would hate it and that I would curse this decision over and over again in the months to come. And again, I begged for a miracle. Maybe I could somehow stay in the apartment and take over the lease from her. Maybe I’d win the lottery (yea, I know). Maybe…

I got the skinny envelope again. There was no way I’d be able to afford the rent, even with a roommate, and there was a good chance the apartment wouldn’t even be available to rent in a couple months. The landlord wanted to do renovations, fix some of the weird problems with the place, and—if the rumor is true—knock down the walls between mine and the apartment next door to make room for his son’s growing family. There it was again: no miracle, just the disappointing task of doing the thing I didn’t want to, but that I knew was probably right.

xoxo

Cat

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Saturday Inspiration: Don’t You Dare

This is specifically for Roo and Robin, who need this reminder right now. But we all need to hear this every once in awhile.

Happy Saturday,

xoxo

Cat

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Another Soul Cut Up the Same

Today I’m doing something I hardly ever do anymore, something that I haven’t done on a regular basis probably high school. With a pen in my hand and my brain a hundred miles away, I’m sitting down to write a series of poems.

It started out as a proposal for the final project in my young adult literature class; a crazy idea I had on the spur of the moment and immediately cursed myself for having once I sat down to sketch out the plan. A novel in verse…I must be some kind of masochist. I’ve been putting it off, working on everything else I possibly could until the last moment (as usual). You can’t force these things, I reasoned. I can write my way out of a tight spot even on my worst days as long as it was prose, letting my imagination carry me away. But poetry…poetry takes some serious thought and motivation, and often pain.

Especially when that poetry is delving back into the past, to that time I’d rather forget when my insecurities wrecked havoc on my entire life. Before I learned to find something in me that I loved and hold onto it for dear life. Before I realized that taking down the mask that protected me from the world wouldn’t kill me. I have to go back and embody that moment, that me, when my only outlet was my journal. Sometimes in prose, sometimes in (cringingly bad) poetry. The things we do for art.

And this is the song that is guiding me through:

The Gaslight Anthem “Handwritten” I Music Video from Kevin Slack on Vimeo.

Enjoy,

xoxo

Cat

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The Final Countdown

I woke up yesterday morning and sat, staring at the walls of my apartment. And when I say that, I don’t mean I stared off into space. I mean I literally stared at the walls. I ran my fingers over the flat white paint and remembered when I was worried that I would never leave my mark on them, that they would never feel like mine. But the ache in my heart as I look at them now is for an entirely different reason. Because they were mine…emphasis on were. As in, not anymore.

My roommate got a new job outside the city, so she’s moving. And because the lease is in her name and I sublet from her, well, I’m moving too. But since I’m leaving for Greece in a few short weeks and will be there for a full month, it doesn’t make sense to either stay out our lease into July or to look for a new place now. So as I—somewhat overdramatically—put it on Facebook…I’m going to be homeless soon. Okay not really. In reality, I will likely end up moving to my parents’ house until I come back from Greece and find a new place to live.

It feels like my roots have been ripped from the soil, and it is not a clean break. Despite the disillusionment I’ve been feeling for NYC lately, despite the ultimate plan to leave it, I’m not ready. As I nodded and smiled my way through listening to my roommate talk about her new job, all I could think was, “I was supposed to have a year”. One more year in my sunny, weird little apartment to explore NYC, to say goodbye to my favorite spots, to visit the sites I still haven’t gotten to. And now, instead of a year, I’m looking at three weeks. Three weeks until this city life of mine becomes not-so-city, until Ms. NYC is no longer my home but a place that I go with stunning frequency. And it hurts. It hurts like when my wallet was stolen and I felt like the city, my city was betraying me. Like when I lost my job two years ago and felt the neat, straight path crumble under my feet.

Back then, I went home. I regrouped, applied to school, and came back. That was my goal: to come back. To be in NYC and live the life I thought I wanted. But while Roo is right, I will get through it, I don’t think I’ll be back. Not exactly. Even if I found another apartment, if I remained within NYC city limits, there would be a ticking clock hanging over every movement of my city life. One year. One year until graduation; until the last bind that ties me here is broken. And then…I don’t know exactly. Whether it will be another city or not-quite city. The clock is ticking. One year NYC, one year until goodbye.

xoxo

Cat

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