I've been traveling a bit recently, a retreat for verses in Montreal for 2 weeks, a couple of weeks infected with COVID back in SF, home to Houston for family, and now I'm writing this from a stylish Airbnb in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
It might just be that I caught the start of spring, but I've felt a tangible magic here strolling through neighborhoods lined with brownstones, working from hip cafes, and people watching on the subway.
There's a sort of aliveness that permeates the city of New York. Sitting in cafes, there's so much life to bear witness to: friends meeting up to catch up, two young professionals sitting next to each other, a pair of lifelong friends sharing old age, two college students grabbing coffee before returning to the grind. There's this sense that Things Are Happening. If you're in a stupor, it rips you out, drags you to confront the fact that people, anyone, everyone is doing things and that you should be too. It's a brutal forcing function to embrace some sort of passion or hustle. Eat If you want to eat, don't be eaten. If you want to be seen, don't be hidden. If you want to live, don't stay still. You have to carve out an identity that is simultaneously unique and marketable to society.
Maybe there's this sense of people just doing whatever they want to do. There's a sort of freedom in being able to find passion and success in whatever you want to do, following your latest obsessions. It's mixed up with all the societal pressure to conform. it forms some sort of hybrid, where you're chasing for a weird contrarian hybrid of clout. You want to be recognized by others, famous in other words, but you want to do so in a way that feels special, different. It's a desire for the best of both, a defiant demand for it all, no compromises.
Because so many people are trying to make it, while forging their own path, there are so many pockets of personality and texture where people have planted their dreams. That's why I feel like people-watching is so fascinating here—there are so many different kinds of people with their own styles and drives that I can take inspiration from all day. But because "making it" is tied to having lots of money in our current society, those passions are made tangible in the high cost of creative cocktails, unique dining experiences, and inspirational shopping trips. Things are always changing and to keep up, you have to keep spending along with all your making.
There is such a diverse set of rich, textured vibes and visions that are being brought to life here and they are located everywhere. All these visions need money to be brought to life, so they're sustained by the people who live here. In San Francisco, I feel a lot more self-sufficient. This is also definitely influenced by the fact I live in SOMA, which I have referred to as a cultural desert (sorry SOMA), whereas New York might be described as a cultural dessert. As a result, I don't feel really like a regular at a lot of places or an ingrained part of the community whereas I can definitely imagine having that relationship at a bunch of the cafes and restaurants I've visited here. There's also a not totally unfounded aversion to people working on laptops in SF compared to the ample WiFi and space and aesthetics in NYC.
One example is this cafe I came across a block away from my Airbnb called Land to Sea. It's this wonderful Hong Kong-inspired space with a modern, airy front and a provocative, neon-filled backroom.
I felt simultaneously comforted by the homey, personal decorations and intrigued by the creative displays of local artist work. As I worked there for the day, I watched the owners get interviewed by one of their baristas and community members have a quick catch-up while waiting for their order. There's an extended community here that forms the basis of a community of fate, one that recognizes solidarity and mutualism and will take costly action on behalf of the community.
It leaves me wondering how we plant the seeds that will create the environment for communities of fate to emerge. As our generation grows old and starts thinking about making families, will we resign ourselves to the increasingly isolating suburbian living situations of our parents? Or will we forge a new path forward, one that involves interdependence and mutualism with the broader web of people around us (both physically and digitally)?
I know I haven't been posting that much to this newsletter (especially compared to my almost daily posting from my mini-essay days). I'm still figuring out the best use of this medium of communication... These posts end up being very lightly edited (so similar to my mini-essays) but slightly longer-form and reflective (like my normal posts). I've felt less motivated to dig into concepts and post on my website as posts and more motivated to create collaborative artifacts with others and iterate on some especially meaningful pieces for literary submission.
If you have thoughts on what you'd like to read about or what this should be for or just want to say hi, I'm all ears :)