How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.
There are some experiences in life, they haven’t invented the right words for.
I am now in my second month in New York and beginning to feel like a local: it’s much easier getting around the city (strangers have even asked me for directions!); I have favourite places to shop including the Saturday Farmer’s Market; people in the neighbourhood are familiar; and I am close to figuring out garbage collection.
Impressions so far
I recently came across a book while browsing in an independent book store (Yes those still exist) about a young man who took a year off to travel and do all the things one dreams of doing. Much to his surprise, he was paralyzed with indecision in the face of countless choices. He found himself either running around trying to see everything or frittering his time away. All of this was completely unexpected, and he realized he needed to figure out what he really wanted to do.
What he wrote resonated with me. I wake up in the morning and think: what shall I do first? Having left behind the responsibilities that occupied much of my time at home, I am faced with a free day- every day. It’s incredibly liberating, but the risk is filling the days by doing too much. An alarm bell goes off when I have explored some area of the city and find myself squeezing in another neighbourhood or site to see.
Therein lies the challenge of living in New York- wanting to do it all but knowing I can’t. The field of limitless possibilities requires choices and knowing priorities. But what are they? The routines and pre-occupations that anchored my days at home were familiar and comfortable. This is not a bad thing, but I realize now how I relied on them and need to let them go.
Thankfully, moving to New York has helped with that by taking me out of my comfort zone. A blank canvas of time in new terrain invites me to consider what I really want to do. How do I ensure that what I love to do is central to how I spend my days?
I decided the best way to figure it out was to pay attention to what is going on around me. It is difficult to do that when you are running around. So, I have slowed down so that I am better able to notice what is happening in my New York life.
The big Eureka came to me while grabbing a bite to eat before going to a play. Much of what I do revolves around two areas: food (finding great restaurants, cafés, bakeries) and the arts (museums/ art galleries; music; theatre). In some ways this should not have come as a surprise, but for some reason it did. So, I thought further about what I have noticed and what brings me joy and an appreciation of simple pleasures in New York City. Here are some examples:
- Enjoying great places to eat– I am getting reacquainted with the pleasure of dining. It seems a waste not to take advantage of the extraordinary eateries in New York- so I do. I enjoy places that have both good food and atmosphere. Noisy bistros in which I must shout to be heard and which target millennials are not for me. Quiet cafés, great pizza places, fantastic bakeries, and smaller restaurants that emphasize flavourful offerings are the ones for me.
- Loving the crowds and bustle and noise of the City that Doesn’t Sleep– The vibrancy of the city that does its own thing is like an adrenaline rush. To be sure, I need a break from it from time to time to pause, ideally with a cup of tea, but I do love this place.
- Experiencing different neighbourhoods– One of my favourite things to do is walk through neighbourhoods. Neighbourhoods are not simply destinations to visit- they are where people live and work. I have an almost immediate response to certain areas of the city, feeling more at home in places where there is a mix of people of all ages and backgrounds. It is fascinating to observe who lives where and what the ‘hood is like: shops, dwellings, parks, vacant lots, converted warehouses, who hangs out where on the street- if they do, the popular restaurants and so on.
- Writing in the Rose Room– I need the discipline of showing up regularly at a library where others are quietly working. The Rose Room of the New York Public Library with its tables and desk lamps is perfect.
- People-I am fascinated by the diversity of people for whom New York is home:
- volunteers (usually ladies) at the Met who love to talk about art;
- the mix of people at talks I have attended and the lively discussion that follows;
- the crowd of young guys that hang out at the local barber shop;
- the disconcerting homogeneity of parts of the Upper East side;
- individuals for whom life is a struggle but who bring a dignity to their presence. Some are trying to sell me something; some are in low paying service jobs; and some are telling their heart wrenching story on the subway, hoping passengers will dig into their pockets. I never cease to be in awe of it all.
Like every other place in this world, most people are kind and friendly and a few are rude and obnoxious.
- The fascinating news. The dominant stories over the past few weeks have been hurricane season and the polarizing Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanagh. The partisanship, outbursts, and politics angered just about everyone including me and have galvanized people on both sides of the political divide, including me, into action for the approaching Midterm election. Even the witches are protesting: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/oct/15/witches-public-hexing-brett-kavanaugh
- Plays, concerts, talks, museums/galleries (especially the Met)- I love it all!
- Parks: There are small patches of green throughout the city and of course, Central Park, but I have come to love the quiet of Prospect Park in Brooklyn.
- Reading the New York Times- thoughtful and well written. Always a pleasure to read.
Favourites so far
- Sadelle’s (See below) for brunch in Soho https://www.sadelles.com/
- Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Shop https://www.birdsblack.com/
- Walking through the Chelsea Market
- New York Philharmonic at the Lincoln Centre- Open Rehearsal performance (see below)
Living in this fast-paced city is a wild adventure of life in the present moment. New York is astonishing!
Above images: 192 Books, Chelsea; Rockefeller Plaza; Flatiron Building, Madison Square; and Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party at the Brooklyn Museum.