I’m in the Via riding to Newark. It’s damp and cool outside, the first nice day in a string of draining, heat-filled afternoons. I lugged my roller bag over to the waterfront in Williamsburg to see the renowned New York skyline one last time in my 20 min wait for a car. I watched the price steadily go up—$54 then $58 now $64 as I attempted to precisely time the arrival to the airport, not too early, not too late, just the perfect slice of time to get the adrenaline pumping at the possibility of missing a flight.
my morning view pre-flight
For some reason, I have a consistent bad habit of getting anxious about getting to things even when I’ve planned out the details. Perhaps it reflects an undercurrent of distrust—the tiniest bit of doubt in the confident self-image I project outwards, a grandiose banner, the psychological equivalent of tricks with shadows and lights. There’s a tension between wanting to make the most of every moment and feeling too tense to enjoy it because of the fear of missing the “perfect moments.” I’ve been getting better at catching myself when this happens and viewing them as opportunities for growth, chances to say no to closing up and focus on being open to the world.
As I cross the bridge and weave my way through the crying sirens and jostling trains and humming AC units city, I feel a wave of something with the form of sadness. It’s that happy-sad post-travel depression that comes with leaving a place that newly feels somehow familiar. It’s the nostalgic ache for that unadulterated sense of exploration, of slipping into intimacy with a place, of your heart being marked. Even after a couple weeks, I feel like I know the city. It’s the naive impression that you’ve formed a unique bond with the place you were—that the person you are is no longer the person you’ve been. Of course, logically, I’ve only barely scratched the surface, especially given how large and wide and deep New York is, but my heart tells me otherwise. It tells me: this place resonated with a piece deep within you; some part of you craves that intensity and energy and aliveness even as the rest of you aches for the comfort of home and golden hour in the park and a constant cool 60 outside.
Empire State Building at golden hour which prompted me to write this haiku:
golden hour, summer days
fleeting, yearning memories
hope, for here, for now
Is it a special property of this city that makes it feel this way to leave? The fabled New York City. This evanescent city of fame and riches and culture. The city of brilliant lights and flashing signs, where there’s just so much to differentiate yourself, yet it always feels like you need to do more to stand out. It seems to me that only New York City can get away having piles of trash rotting in the streets be “part of the charm and experience” rather than a health hazard. It’s the ol’ Hollywood magic, the sense of wonder with a fantastical and contradictory yet comforting image of the city that’s been instilled into our very bodies and minds. We feel the city through the experiences that we’ve watched and read and imagined even if when we’ve never experienced them in reality (a sort of fake nostalgia). And through that, we somehow feel safe entrusting our hopes and dreams with this foreign city. A city of secrets and promises.
from Goodbye to All That by Joan Didion
I’m over the border in New Jersey now, and it feels like I’m taking a piece of the city with me. There’s the physical pieces: the callouses from the foot-led exploration of the city, a painted pair of shoes and a black sweatshirt embossed with a tiger, a bright yellow bag with red lettering of leftovers, three worn books from the used bookstore that my bag really couldn’t afford. And there’s the internal gears and seeds that have been planted: the millions of impressions that a place nudges against your soul. Being in a place shapes you. She makes you want to be more like her, but not in a forceful, do-it-my-way-or-the-hard-way kind of way, more of a slow before-you-know-it-you’ve-changed kind of way, an inevitable shifting of the tide. It’s like every place is a unique color, and everything you do there is tinted by a drop of that pigment. The people you meet and the trails you travel and the foods you savor and the smells you breathe. Every little thing, from the moment you wake to the moment you return to slumber, leaves a piece of it with you. And before you know it, you look down and find yourself covered in paint, a dazzling, wild, fierce display of pigments and textures, a piece of work that rivals the finest abstract painters. The canvas of your soul.
I’ve been really jamming to LMLY by Jackson Wang recently, and my ride out of town reminded me of it somehow (the music video is great and fully directed by the singer too!)
🎵 Don’t leave me, loving you
Whatever you do
Don’t leave me, loving you 🎵
Rex also gave me the wonderful recommendation to Goodbye to All That which I added an excerpt from above, where Joan Didion describes her complicated, precise relationship to the city. In response to “old york now, for you,” I whipped up a quick riff on I Love Kanye based on our friend York:
i miss the old york, straight from the 6th ave york chew up and spit out your soul york, grind for your goal york i hate the new york, the reservations on tuesday york the hot and stewed york, fill out the booze york
Thanks for the hospitality New York! I’m off back to cool, foggy, and just as beautiful San Francisco :)
This is the 28th installment in my experiment of publishing raw, lightly edited mini-essays every day towards achieving 100 public pieces. Check out the rationale and the full list here or view my evergreen, longer pieces on my website.