Empire State of Life

Last month was an anniversary of sorts for me: my one-year of life in New York City.  I’m not sure if that counts as a milestone in other parts of the world.  But here – where so many people pass through in pursuit of big dreams or stop in for a couple years of adventure – each anniversary seems significant.

I graduated from college in 2008.  Failing to procure a job before graduation, I ended up living out the nightmare that had haunted my entire senior year: after graduating, I trudged back home to Minneapolis from Boston.  I made peace with the situation by promising myself that it was temporary; I would make my way back to the east coast come September, job secured or not. As it turned out, September came and went, the economy bottomed out, and I ended up sticking around until February. When I left, it was still without a job or an apartment lined up and with only vague ideas of how to go about finding either one.  With fresh winds of economic collapse at my back to complete the send-off, some people back home called my move courageous; others euphemized, in typical Midwestern fashion, for untimely, unwise or downright stupid.

On my end, there was really no question of mustering courage. The risk of bleeding my savings away until I was forced back home for a second time was one that I simply had to take; moving to New York was just the next (already delayed) step, like learning to walk is the next step after learning to crawl.  I knew too little about what I would encounter to form any concrete expectations, especially concerning the likelihood of finding a job, so I just hoped for the best and hopped on the plane. I crashed with a friend in Brooklyn for a couple weeks, made a list of neighborhoods that she told me to avoid, and scoured Craigslist for apartments.  I didn’t know what “sublet” and “lease” meant—but I learned fast.

Convinced as I was that it was possible to find a decent place not too far from Manhattan for $600/month, it surprises me now, in retrospect, that I found one—albeit right in the neighborhood of what I (perhaps luckily) didn’t realize at the time is the “bloodiest block in Brooklyn.”  There, for two months, I got my first taste of New York City life: four flights of stairs, four roommates, a rooftop with a view of the city skyline, and mice who played tag under my bed at night.  The next couple moves brought me to cheap Manhattan sublets where I earned my New Yorker cred in roaches, water bugs and stifling heat.  Finally, I landed a lease back in Brooklyn.  Over the course of one year, I had moved five times and called six different places home.

The job piece had taken a stressful while to stabilize too. I tried bakeries, flirted with ice cream shops, worked two unpaid internships, and held down a temp office job that stretched on for months before it led to a permanent paycheck.

Clearly then, I came here unprepared to jump into a comfortable city life and more than a little clueless on the habitation front.  But I wouldn’t call my move brave.  Those who come from an entirely different country, speaking an entirely different language, might be a testament to true courage.  My relative success (I’m still alive and still here) is just a personal triumph—and, in hindsight, perhaps proof that I was no more foolish than I was courageous.  Maybe, I was lucky.

And maybe I, along with the rest of the city’s transplants, am a testament to something else altogether: the power of this place.  I may have had no idea where to picture myself in one year’s time when I arrived, but I realize now that I did have certain broad expectations and hopes for what I would find here.  I chose New York as my ultimate East Coast destination because I wanted to be surrounded by an eclectic mix of impassioned people who are eager to make new connections and to delve into lengthy personal and political discussions.  I came here for the opportunity to get involved with all of my [far too numerous] areas of interest; I came here for the proximity to the cream of the crop in whatever field(s) I might choose to pursue (or happen to fall into) first.  I came here to feel challenged by life.

So far so good.  I’ve found people who are willing to engage with other people; I’ve found enough ambition to rival my own; I’ve found a pulse of energy, a diverse artistic community, and a world with arms wide open.  I’ve found the pace and the turbulence that my soul needs to feel alive.

And, thank Deity-of-Your-Choice, I’ve found an apartment, and a job.

I’m still here, I’m still alive, and I’m settled to boot.  That’s about all I could accomplish in a year, and it’s a happy anniversary indeed.


Filed under Opinion & Essay

4 responses to “Empire State of Life

  1. Judy Penly-Russell

    Wow, I am surprised, energized and inspired at reading this wonderful anniversary journal and personal triumph! Congratulations, Clara. You are such a gifted writer…. but more than that you are a brave and curious and passionate woman who accepts challenges with a hearty attitude and a gorgeous smile to boot ! To survive even a month in the Big Apple is a feat but a year and 6 residences! Can’t wait to hear the newest and latest adventure to come your way. Keep on being yourself and living your dreams. ! Love, Your surrogate Aunt Judy

  2. Clara, I so enjoyed this post, especially after having just celebrated my one year anniversary in the city too!

  3. Pingback: Fearful Sanity | Clarapy

  4. Pingback: I (Still) Heart NY: Reflections on the Creative Life in the Big Apple | Clarapy

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