I just spent a week in New York City, and despite the fact that I had the flu while I was there, it was a great time. My husband and I stayed for two nights with dear friends in Staten Island, where I lived for seven years before moving to Seattle, then stayed in another friend’s apartment in East Harlem for the rest of the time. This friend was out of the country, so we had the place to ourselves. On top of that, the East Harlem apartment had been mine from 2001-2003, so it was really fun to be back in my old place – my first real “home” in NYC. East Harlem was where I lived alone for the first time in NYC, where the lease was mine (I was not subletting), and where I began to really find my skin in the city. The East Harlem apartment was the first one in which I painted the walls colors of my choosing – a sure sign that I intended to stick around. That apartment was where I moved when I was ready to set down some roots in The City. It is a very special place to me, and being able to stay there was a huge gift.
I travel to NYC several times a year, but this week there was unique in that I connected with many people from “my past.” I got to see a lot of old friends, some because we made plans ahead of time, and some because we ran into each other. In fact, I had many “random” encounters with old friends, so many that it got to the point that I just felt like God was winking at me. For example, I got tickets for a sold out off-Broadway show on Craig’s list, and the tickets were front row, dead center. This was a show that my husband and I were dying to see, one that we were told would be impossible to find tickets for, yet we managed to get the last two empty seats, and when the show began, I realized that one of the co-stars was an old friend of mine. It was a lovely surprise to see her on stage and connect with her after the show!
Another night, our last night there, we were walking in to the apartment and ran into one of my old neighbors, who informed us that another friend had just arrived in town that night. She had left the City two years before, but was back for a visit with her new fiancé. We invited all of them in for a glass of wine, and as we talked and got to know her new man (from Colorado), we discovered that he is good friends with the man who (accidentally, unwittingly) introduced my husband and me to each other in 2010. And my friend is working for a man in Colorado my husband was friends with in college.
New York really is a magical place.
# # #
Yesterday morning, my husband and I got up at 5 AM after just a few short hours of sleep. He had a 7 AM flight from La Guardia to Chicago, and I had to return the car we borrowed to Virginia, so I drove him to the airport and then, a few hours later, packed up the car and said goodbye to East Harlem and New York City.
In a very surreal way, that whole experience was, literally, a trip down memory lane.
En route from East Harlem to La Guardia, we passed Astoria, Queens, where I lived for a year in 1999. Memories of my time there (with my roommate, who wrote about that period of time) came flooding back. Since it was only 5:30 AM, the streets were unusually clear; I love driving around the City at that time of the morning.
From East Harlem, I headed down Second Avenue, it was like I was looking at a living scrapbook of my twelve years in NYC. There was my friends Danny and Sheila’s apartment, where we used to have praise and worship nights together. There was my current boss’s block, where he lives in a highrise with his wife and two kids. There was the block my first church in NYC was on.
I passed the block where Redeemer’s east side services were held, the theater where I saw Marcel Marceau perform, the building where I worked as an office temp to support my acting career. I also passed the Lexington Avenue station, where I used to busk, sometimes earning up to $50 in one hour playing my guitar and singing to people coming and going through the subway station.
At 39th Street, I crossed over to Park Avenue, waving at my IAM office just a few blocks west. I passed City Crab, where I went on a date or two and used to take advantage of the pre fixe menu during Restaurant Week. I passed Calvary Church, where I was in a Bible study and fellowship for people working in the entertainment industry for years.
At the corner of 17th Street and Park Avenue South is the building where I worked for two years as executive assistant to the CEO of a very famous cosmetics company. Across Park Avenue South is the deli that has the best cup of coffee I ever had in New York. As I crossed that intersection, I slowed down to see if any of my old co-workers were arriving to the office late – it would have been very fun to see one of them.
Continuing down Union Square East and then Broadway, I passed the Cosi where I met my friend Daniel and his then-bride-to-be, Gina, to discuss plans for the music I would play in their wedding. A block away was my friend and collaborator Gary‘s loft, where we co-wrote music for Walden Media’s children’s musical, Nautilus.
This is just a partial list of memories I had as I drove through Manhattan from East Harlem to the Holland Tunnel. I had the soundtrack for Once playing as I drove, and it was absolutely perfect accompaniment for my journey. My heart swelled as I thought of the twelve years I had there. New York will always be part of me, and even though my home is now in Seattle, New York will always feel like home.
# # #
On Thursday night, International Arts Movement hosted the launch of a brand new book, and it was a really awesome night. Space 38|39 was packed, the author did an incredible job speaking to the audience about his journey as a writer and, specifically, about his passion for the topic of his book. A woman from International Justice Mission was there as well, and I facilitated a discussion with the two of them on the issue of human trafficking. Afterwards, many books were sold and signed, and people stayed way past the time the event was supposed to end, energized, no doubt, by the passion and creativity represented in the room.
During the reception, I had a brief conversation with a young woman in her early twenties named Emma. She had come with her cousin, who is an artist getting involved with the movement. I asked her how long she had been in the City – a customary question at these kinds of things – and she said that she had moved there last August.
I asked her what she was doing, and she smiled in a way that was very familiar to me. “I don’t know, really,” she said. “I’m working in an office, and just seeing where it goes. I just always wanted to live in New York City, so I came. I don’t know how long I’ll be here, or what, exactly, I’ll do. But I’m here.”
That touched me deeply, because I knew exactly how she felt.
From the time I was twelve or so, I knew I wanted to be in New York City. True, I did have career ambition as well – I wanted to be Christy Tennant, star of stage and screen. But it was all about the city. The poster of the Manhattan skyline in my bedroom fostered my adolescent dreams, and when I was twenty-three years old, I finally took the plunge. I found a sublet and arrived by train in February that year, with a suitcase, backpack, guitar, and $47 in my checking account after paying my first month’s rent. I didn’t know what was in store – I had no way of knowing how long I would stay or what I would do.
I didn’t know that I would book my first acting job in New York – a small walk-on role as a protester on As The World Turns – within two months of arriving. Or that I would volunteer to read scripture at my church that Holy Week and be offered a role in a play after the service. Or that my faith in Jesus would grow wings and fly in ways I never imagined.
I just followed my dream of living in New York City.
I just went.
# # #
I don’t know how many people read this blog (or how many are still reading right now – this is an unusually long post!) But if you’re reading this, I want to say something very specific to you:
If you have ever dreamed of living in New York City, DO IT.
For a month, for six, for a year, for a decade – that’s something for you to wait and find out. But please, if there is a part of you that has always wanted to take a bite out of the Big Apple, I implore you – do it.
My friend Glen grew up in the midwest and lived for years in Long Island. He had many friends in the City, but he was always just a visitor who secretly dreamed of living there. It was completely impractical – he was a teacher in Long Island, he had a car, he was paying reasonable rent and everything he needed was there. But he was also a musician who was working on a recording. He was also a writer with an idea for a novel. Finally, when a friend mentioned he wanted to sublet his apartment, Glen took the plunge. I don’t think he stayed for more than a year, but at the end of that time, he was ready. He moved back to Long Island, asked his girlfriend to marry him, and, CD and manuscript in hand, carried on with his life.
He had done it.
It wasn’t “forever” for him, but it was something he would never have to look back on and wonder about. He never had to face the question, “What if…?”
# # #
I know couples who sold their houses in the suburbs of Connecticut, Florida, and Georgia, and moved in to apartments in Manhattan. Some have children who are now attending New York schools, some have children who are grown and on their own. But they always wanted to live in NYC and they decided to do it. It was crazy, and many of their friends and family could not understand why they did it, but they did. And they love it. I talk with them at parties and gallery openings and they are so vibrant and full of life. They were New Yorkers trying to live like suburbanites, and now they love to talk about living in small spaces and shopping at Fairway or Trader Joe’s (yes, there’s one in Manhattan) and going to Broadway shows and art galleries and museums. One goes to St. Paul’s Cathedral during his lunch break from his high-powered job.
I talk with people all the time who have visited New York and love it, but they have never lived it. Visiting is not the same. You can only live New York City by living in New York City. Doing your laundry there. Grocery shopping. Attending a home group. Having a routine.
If you are one of those people – one of us – I beg of you, live in New York City. Find a sublet for three months and make it happen. Need to work? Register with a few temp agencies or look for temp work on Craig’s List. But for heaven’s sake, do it.
I live in Seattle now.
According to my mom, in 1996, after my first visit there (on a business trip), I told her I would someday live in Seattle. I had forgotten that, but then again, it makes sense. Seattle is the only city, besides New York, whose skyline I have had hanging in a frame in my home since I was twenty-one. Of course, no one could have imagined the circumstances that would get me there. And honestly, Seattle was the last place on my mind when I began fantasizing about leaving New York. I had narrowed it down to L.A. (to either go to seminary or pursue acting out there) or West Virginia (where I would buy a house with lots of land and live an agrarian lifestyle inspired by Jayber Crow and Hannah Coulter. Seriously, that was the plan.)
When I was in Seattle on a short business trip in May 2010, I was not thinking I would be back for years. I was as surprised as anyone when I began corresponding with a man I met in a coffee shop the morning I flew home to New York. And I certainly did not anticipate marrying that man and moving there less than a year later to set up house with my dog, cat, and new husband.
I could not have known that less than a year later, I would be leading music at a small church in Seattle, I would have an agent for acting, and I would be joining the booster club at my local public high school.
Seattle welcomed me with open arms, and I am at home there now, making loads of new memories and, hopefully, shaping and being shaped by that beautiful city.
That city which is not New York.
# # #
Of course, not everyone dreams of living in the Big Apple. My parents moved from Detroit to Roanoke in 1982, and they can’t understand why anyone would ever want to live anywhere else. I have talked with people who, upon hearing that I lived in New York, commented on how much they did not enjoy their one visit there. They were intimidated by the subway, the dirt, the people, the fast-pace, the bright lights, etc. etc. etc.
Those people should not move to New York. It’s not for them, and they’re clearly not for it.
But for the rest of you, I’ll say it again: if there is a small part of you that has always thought, “I’d love to live in New York some day,” I beg of you – do it. At least for a little while.
Just to say you did.
Just to know what it’s like.
Just to satisfy that curiosity – a curiosity that will not fade away with time, but will grow, haunting your thoughts as you lay in bed on a sleepless night.
Because it is my opinion that everyone should live in New York City at least once in their lives. Everyone should experience what it’s like to “be” a New Yorker.
And when you do, promise me that you will live deeply. That you will visit the museums and see shows and eat in Little Italy and Chinatown and Harlem. Promise me that you will take the N train to Astoria at night, gazing at the skyline behind you. Promise me that you will toss money to the buskers (if they’re good) and that you will walk through Central Park in every season of the year. That you will have a game of chess in Washington Square park, that you will eat Grey’s Papaya, and that you will sit in Strawberry Fields and “imagine.”