Love is Blindness (or is it?)

I didn’t come to New York City expecting to fall in love. I’m a country girl through and through; I like dirt roads under my bare feet and brilliant stars above mountain ranges’ evening silhouettes. But as I near the end, I realise I’ve come to love the endless kaleidoscope, the constant change and yet sameness of the people on the streets, the subways running like (broken) clockwork, the engines and sirens sweeping the streets day and night.

NYC rooftops

I binge-watched Daredevil this weekend, and out of the muddled hours of flashing guns, impressive ninja moves, and dramatically-whispered conversations, one line stuck in my mind:

Growing to love something is simply forgetting, slowly, what you dislike about it.

Wow. What a hit-and-miss theory of love. If you happen to stop noticing the bad things, that’s love, and if you happen to keep noticing them—sorry, not for you. It sounds pretty, but this version of love removes all intentionality and turns love into partial blindness. I would argue that love is a choice, not to forget what you dislike, but to emphasise what you like—to acknowledge the imperfections but focus on the perfections.

Loving a city is a little like loving a person. You begin as strangers, every corner and angle a surprise, and you slowly explore, growing more and more familiar until you don’t have to ask directions or read signs. You know what you can say and do and when you should go home and close the door. And as your acquaintance continues, you have the choice: will you focus on that bag of rotting rubbish on the corner, or will you look past it and see the windows glistening like jewels in the sun? It isn’t a matter of chance—it’s not sitting around hoping you’ll notice something positive before you see the negative—it’s a matter of choice, of looking for the positive and keeping your eyes on the good when the bad crowds in.

I’ve come to love New York, not because I’ve stopped noticing the dirty streets and jam-packed subways, but because in the midst of those I notice rooftops gleaming under the setting sun and ancient elms rustling in hot afternoon breezes.

You can’t love on condition; “I’ll love you when your faults stop bothering me” is not love. You have to love unconditionally, the dirty with the clean, the broken parts with the whole. You don’t love someone by not seeing what’s ugly; you love by choosing to look past to what’s beautiful.

Advertisements

On Sightseeing: Lessons from New York City

“So what do you want to see while you’re in New York?”

I got this question from everyone my first week in the city—from my flatemates, my coworkers, my mother, the barista at the coffee shop… Okay, I’m lying about the barista; but he probably would’ve asked if he’d thought of it.

My answer was the same every time: “Well, uh, I don’t really know…what are you supposed to see in New York City?”

6040277693_75c66634f1_o

So I googled “what to do in NYC” and, overwhelmed by so many suggestions, shut the whole thing down and drank a few cups of coffee. For a few weeks, I forced myself out of my flat every weekend. I dutifully visited the Museum of Natural History and got lost in Central Park. Then I stopped sightseeing, overwhelmed by the number of options, exhausted by the constant movement, depressed by seeing sights alone.

And then Emily came. I picked her up at the airport, escorted her onto the wrong bus, course corrected half an hour later, and helped carry her suitcase up four flights of stairs to my apartment.

I like to think we saw the entirety of New York City in one week of meandering down sidewalks and up subway station stairs. And I think our adventures translate into good sightseeing advice no matter where you’re visiting.

  1.  From the Statue of Liberty: Live beyond a lens.
    My camera phone is generally great, but skylines and statues aren’t really its thing. So I tucked the phone away and spent the ride to Staten Island and back leaning on the top railing of the ferry, breathing in salty air, and taking in the surprisingly diminutive Lady Liberty dwarfed by the city’s skyscrapers, marvelling at the waves and the seagulls and the glints of gold on sailboats. Instead a two- by five-inch screen, I saw the water and sunset stretching as far as I could see, the colours more vivid and real than my phone will ever show me. Don’t be so concerned about getting a photo that you miss an experience.
    camera2
  2. From the Museum of Natural History: Call it quits.
    Museums are fantastic, and New York City has more than its fair share. I’m thrilled that they’re here and that people enjoy them, but I don’t. Once I’ve seen one stuffed lion or unearthed pottery shard, I figure I’ve seen them all. And I refuse to feel guilty for that; I can always read a book or watch the history channel, and there are dozens of alternative things to do. I gain far more by doing something I actually care about than by trudging through a museum just to say I did it. Don’t visit a place out of obligation; spend your time on what matters to you.
  3. From Mezzrow and Smalls: Empty your pockets.
    I’m skint and stingy, so $60 for drinks and a show chokes me. But I spent the money, and I spent the evening listening to truly fantastic jazz piano and one of the best quartets I’ve ever heard. I packed in with people wearing evening formal and people wearing shorts and t-shirts, and we all had nothing in common except for the blue chords and smooth saxophone, and I’ve yet to regret it. A year from now, I’ll remember not the rent or the groceries but the memories. Shell out your money where it counts.
  4. From the Brooklyn Bridge: We came, we saw, we conquered left.
    We took the subway to Brooklyn and wandered through the park, along the pier, under the bridge. Then we got back on the subway and left. Most things besides museums don’t take as long to see as people seem to think. It’s important to pause and marvel; we all need a little wonder in our lives. But pausing and marvelling can be done quickly if that’s what you want. Don’t be afraid to stop, stare, snap a photo, and then leave.
    piano
  5. From Piano in Bryant Park: Improvise.
    We put off our afternoon plans to walk the Highline in favour of sitting on rickety chairs in Bryant Park, eating sandwiches, and listening to a ragtime piano concert. A free concert in the park is nowhere in the “must do in NYC” blogs I skimmed, but to us, an hour or two of rag tops a half hour of walking along a repurposed train track any day. Yes, the Highline is more famous, but we prefer Scott Joplin to a different view of the same skyscrapers. Decide what matters most—not what will impress your friends, but what you’ll look back on with a smile. It might not be the most celebrated experience, but what matters is that you celebrate it.
    Bonus: From Gilmore Girls: Put your feet up.
    Don’t get so caught up in the tourist scene that you forget to rest. We spent two evenings lying on the couch eating ice cream and scones and shouting at watching The Gilmore Girls. If you need to bum it with smoothies and Netflix…that’s okay. Let’s face it: if you’re too tired to care, you’re not going to enjoy seeing the sights anyway.

Chrysler

I know there’s a ton of New York City I still haven’t seen, but I’m satisfied, and that’s what matters. Seeing the world isn’t about crossing items off lists but about adding them—adding the places I’ve been, the things I’ve seen, that little street where I got lost and never did find the museum I were looking for or the tiny cafe where I had a cheap coffee because the famous restaurant was too expensive. In the end, any sight is worth seeing if I look for the novelty, the history, or the beauty in it.

6 Things I Tell Myself Daily

Last Monday morning, I walked into the Flatiron Building twenty minutes early (because my nerves woke me before my alarm), wearing four-inch heels (for confidence), trying desperately for a smile on my face despite my trembling insides. This Monday morning, I walked into 41 Madison on time, wearing flats, pausing to smile at the security man on my way to the lift.

I had no idea what to expect when I accepted this internship. Now, with one week’s experience in New York City, I feel qualified to share a few things I’ve taken to telling myself daily.

  1. Wear flats on the subway.
    FeetHeels are fantastic. I love my four-inch spikes. But rush hour means you’re liable to stand for forty minutes, and even if you don’t, you’re going to push your way through crowds in doorways, up stairways, and along walkways. You don’t want to do that in heels. Plus, if you make a spontaneous outing (or get lost and walk twenty a few extra blocks), you want comfy shoes. Give yourself a break. Keep a pair of flats in your bag.
  2. Smile.
    If you’re nervous, smile; it tricks your brain into releasing happy chemicals, and you’ll feel better. If you’re not nervous, smile; people like you better when you smile. It brightens everyone’s day a little. Don’t be the grouchy person who ruins the morning for someone else. Engage those muscles. Put a sparkle in your eye.
  3. Step out. Literally.
    step
    I knew maybe two people in the entirety of New York City when I got here. But now I know more than two, because I told myself, “Self, your coworkers are your community this summer. Don’t be a recluse.” So when the editors I work for invited me out for a spontaneous Broadway show, I stepped out and had a fantastic evening and made friends. We chatted. We laughed. They made sure I got on the right train home. When they invited me to a department happy hour and trivia night, I stepped out, even though crowds and party games aren’t my thing. I shook hands and learned names. I laughed and drank and offered wrong answers, and I made friends. Doing stuff that scares you is good. If nothing else, you’ll have a great story.
  4. Do the details right the first time.
    details
    No, I don’t love scouring websites for professors’ contact info to solicit textbook reviews. I don’t love checking every citation against the original source so we don’t get sued for reprinting a graph. But any job comes with perks and downsides, and if you want the fun stuff (yes, I’m geeking out about copyediting psych textbooks!), you have to do the not-so-fun stuff. Do it well. Realise the little details you work on in your cubicle in the headachy last few minutes of work are little details that matters in creating the big picture. Maybe nobody sees your little detail specifically, but they’ll see if you do it wrong. Take pride in your work, even if it’s scanning last year’s check requests for five solid hours (yes, I did that).
  5. If you don’t know, ask.
    Nobody expects you to remember every name the first day. Nobody expects you to know the secret of working the finicky scanner keyboard, opening those reports, or memorising the last year’s ISBNs. They’ll help you. They’ll tell you their tips and tricks, walk you through the process, tell you how to find the answers. Humility goes a lot further than fumbling attempts to do it alone. Just ask.
  6. Enjoy the scenery.
    SceneryI’m in the city that supposedly never sleeps. (Spoiler alert: people sleep in New York.) Here, amidst the express trains and honking taxis, I’m learning to slow down. No matter how impatient you are, you can’t make the subway go faster. Instead of worrying, smile at the kid trying to climb to the top of the pole. Marvel at the diversity of language around you. Read; you can’t be responsible, because cell phone service dies on the subway, so let yourself relax. Stop rushing to get there—to graduate, to find a job, to get promoted. Stop. Look around. See where you’re at and appreciate it. Stop thinking about the doors this will open, because where you go doesn’t matter if you don’t know where you are. I’m trying to stop watching the clock and appreciate that I get to sit in the office of a well-known publishing company and work on books that will influence students across the world. That I get to learn while I work. That I love my work. That I even have work. I have so much to be thankful for; why rush?

I remind myself of these things daily, moment by moment, because I still feel nervous when I step off the train and can’t remember which exit to take. I still eye the dragging minute hand on the clock and consider pitching textbooks out the window when I come across yet another table that might need copyright permissions. I tell myself these things because I have an opportunity that not many people have, and if I end this summer with only a fatter resume and four practicum credits on my college transcript, it’s nobody’s fault but my own.

So tomorrow morning, no matter how my nerves feel, no matter what’s waiting, I will walk into 41 Madison on time, wearing flats and a smile.

New York

Every Takeoff

My stomach lurches every time the plane’s wheels leave the runway.

5322596318_68bd271210_o

No matter how many times I fly, every takeoff feels like the first time. On days when the security queue feels like a recurring nightmare of struggling in and out of shoes, belts, and jackets, when every terminal looks the same, when I think I’ve lived my whole life in this one uncomfortable airplane seat—takeoff feels new.

As the wind reaches under the plane’s wings, tugging us away from the grime of the earth and into a sky so crisp I could crack it with my fingers, excitement rushes through me.

I am going somewhere, and I love to be going somewhere.

Travelling. Visiting. Flying to school or flying home.

My greatest delight is to soar through mother-of-pearl clouds and then shudder to earth in a new place—a corner of dirt I haven’t touched yet, a city whose streets I don’t know, a town grown a little older since last I saw it.

Every takeoff feels fresh, the sudden lift like the turning of a page, the adventures waiting at the end of the flight a mystery. Somehow I’m always certain this time will be the climax. This adventure, this new city—it will somehow be significant.

Somehow it will make me different.

And every time, it turns out that I’m still me.

walking-349991_1280

Still the same person when I fly home for holidays. Still the same when I fly back to school. I was me in London and Edinburgh and Dublin; I was me in Baltimore and Winchester.

Now I’m me in New York City.

If I expected something drastic—perhaps a shock rippling through me when my feet first hit the famous streets, perhaps a sudden shift from small-town-girl to New Yorker—I must be disappointed. I remain me, still myself in a new city.

But maybe, in the end, I am different, carrying a little of each place with me wherever I go.

I like to think I’m braver for having taken the subway downtown and back alone this morning. I like to think I’m more hospitable for the time I spent on the Mexican border, more open for the time I spent in Indiana’s cornfields.

And maybe, just maybe, there are pieces of me left behind, corners of myself that chipped off and stayed in those cities when I boarded yet another plane and felt that familiar rush of adrenaline as the wheels left the runway.

city