Writerly love for New York City

New York you do not disappoint take 2

Every New York-based publication I’ve picked up lately has had an article about young people, mostly writers or artists or other privileged creative types, packing up their bags and saying “Good riddance” to New York City. Many of them are inspired by the new anthology edited by Sari Barton, Goodbye to All That: On Loving and Leaving New York. The publisher must have had some great PR work because big articles about this “trend” heavily reference the book and have appeared quite notably in New York Magazine and the New York Times. The articles all mention that Joan Didion’s iconic essay “Goodbye to All That” inspired much of the writing (as well as the title) and Didion’s essay is certainly among my favorites ever written about being young and creative in New York City. However, reading all of these articles I felt a kernel of annoyance welling up in me. Of course I don’t begrudge anyone’s decision to leave the city, but I realized that I’ve been through an opposite thought process this past year, and wanted to give the city a little writerly love.

This time last year I was convinced I needed to get out of New York City. I felt done with it and, further more, done with the high cost of living, terrible weather, and the fact that it smells like garbage most of the time. A year ago I was convinced that at present I would be packing my bags and my cat and heading out to sunny Los Angeles.

Before I tell you about my change of heart about New York, let’s review the facts: The New York City is expensive and only seems to be getting more so. Rents are insane, it’s difficult to find a decent place to live, and daily life often feels like one hassle after another. Everything feels intensely competitive, it really does smell like garbage most of the time, extreme injustice and inequality gets thrown in your face almost every second, and commuting on the over burdened subway system sucks.

When I moved here to go to college I told myself I would leave soon after. I kept giving myself “one more year in New York” until I decamped to Portland, Oregon or Paris. That “one more year” became “three more years” became “I’m not going to leave.” I realized that the community I’d cultivated here couldn’t be picked up and moved to another place and that New York offered the kind of opportunities I wanted to find.

This year I felt like I spent almost as much time out of New York as in it. I traveled all around the Midwest, Texas and the West and East Coasts. I made multiple trip to Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit and Portland, Oregon. I was charmed by places I’d never been to before, like Omaha, Cincinnati, and Tulsa. I found that with the growth in appreciation for things that are handmade and locally produced wherever I went to I was never too far from cold brew iced coffee, artisanal cocktails, and farm-to-table meals.  I met inspiring people who are pursuing creative and entrepreneurial projects and working to help others in their towns and cities do the same. I think on the Grow book tours alone I visited 24 different cities, and visited even more when I factor in other work and family travel. So I feel like I got a pretty good sense of the country in a pretty short period of time. And what all that travel showed me is that while I think it’s crucial to get out of the city and that so many places have wonderful things to offer, New York is the only place I want to come back to. It’s the place I want to call home.

New York you do not disappoint take 1

There’s a huge number of smart, talented, driven and creative people living here and those are the types of people who I want to be around. Those are the people I want to meet and learn from and have as my friends. As I work to transition my career from arts nonprofits to creative startups I realized that it’s much easier to do this in a city that is a center of both cultural organizations and a huge, quickly growing number of startup businesses. I also realized that, as much as I complain about it, New York has a great infrastructure in terms of public transportation and is getting progressively more and more bikeable.

Is it hard to “make it” as a writer and creative here? Sure it is, but where is it not? Does one need to live in NYC to write, play music, make art or launch the next cool start up? No, of course not, but I find that is I want to find people who are doing these things, there’s a great concentration of them in NYC. On a typical day here I can write in a bustling coffee shop, ride my bike across a bridge that is an architectural icon, visit a world class museum, browse a farmers market, learn to code, go to a punk rock exercise class, head to band practice and then a dance party that puts an emphasis on fake blood and homemade costumes. This is the way I want to live my life.

Beyond all of this is the feeling that I can be exactly who I am in New York City. The city is vast and diverse and as such, there’s far less pressure to cave into social norms, or to live life according on anyone’s schedule except my own.

I also know that New York City owes me nothing. What I’m able to do here is directly related to what I’m willing to put in. The city does not owe me a living and I fear that those who quit the city with a feeling of “Good riddance!” deep down felt like somehow they were owed something simply because they were young, smart, privileged and wanted to make their way here.

Working job #2. Sunset is a reward for the hustle.

Of course, leaving a city is a highly personal decision. I think New York has something for everyone if you are willing to look for it, but it won’t offer it up without a fight. Whether you stay somewhere depends on your personal goals. For example, I know a suburban or rural lifestyle with a car, dog, yard, house and children is absolutely not for me.

Of course, New York is changing and not always for the better. Is the city better off because of the plethora of glassy luxury condos and Duane Reades that have sprouted up over the past few years? I’d say not really, but I also think that New York has a grittiness that difficult to tame. Does the level of inequality here drive me crazy? Absolutely. But living in New York is messy, complicated, intense and frustrating. It’s also exhilarating, rewarding and completely absorbing. I’m a high energy intense person who loves a good challenge and need a city that matches these qualities in me. So hello to all of this. This is one writer who is happy she’s stayed.

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Seattle Through the (iPhone) Camera’s Eyes

Seattle vue de touriste

Oh don't even start with the "Sleepless..." jokes

At the end of one of my recent posts I mentioned that I had just gotten my first “real” camera – a Canon digital SLR. I’ve been amazed at the quality of the pictures it takes and how easy it is to use. However, sometimes when I am traveling light a big camera is not thing I want to haul around. I still have my trusty Power Shot point and shoot, but increasingly I find myself using my iPhone and the camera apps Instagram, Hipstamatic and Camera + for every day picture taking and sharing.

Memory of moody Seattle skies

Queen Anne hill and Lake Union

I remember some camera advice being “The best camera you have is the one that’s with you,” but I may also be remembering that advice incorrectly. In any event, on our recent long weekend trip to the west coast I made the most out of my iPhone to document the trip, including a short one up the Space Needle!

Seattle! Tacoma! SeaTac! What's up?

Arrival in Seattle and testing the new light rail from the airport. Note the rain on the window and the wool scarf + sweater combo.

Though I lived in Portland, Oregon and have been through Seattle a few times I had never had time to explore it. While February is not the ideal time to go as a tourist and will remind anyone who has lived in and moved away from the Pacific Northwest precisely why they made that choice (persistent grey skies and cold rain), it’s still a fun and relaxed city. I discovered great food, excellent coffee, nice views, and a surprisingly stylish hair salon! I also only took off my sweater and wool scarf to change into wedding attire for a few hours. It may be green and non-icy, but Seattle is cold in the winter!

My first morning I met up with the groom’s side of the wedding party (the wedding being the reason for our weekend trip) at Pete’s Egg Nest for a post-bachelor party brunch. Pete’s is a quintessential greasy spoon that is crowded on weekends and dishes up huge servings of eggs and hash browns. That’s a way to beat the winter – drink more coffee and eat more eggs!

Post-bachelor party brunch!

Only half of my breakfast would fit into the camera frame

For a wedding weekend we had a surprisingly relaxed time and I even found a chance to get my hair cut. I can be lazy about making time for a trim and because my hair is so short I have to stay diligent about it or suddenly, before I’m even aware of it, about two months after my last cut, I look like a sheepdog. Fortunately A. (the groom) recommended Derby Salon, just north of the U District. I was unsure, but as soon as I walked in and saw the Bumble and Bumble and Dermotologica products  for sale, the retro aesthetic, and the cool, friendly people working there I knew I had found the right place.

Wedding haircut all set!

New do from Derby Salon

Just down the street from Derby is another den of pampering and temptation: The Trading Musician, a locally owned music equipment store that sells new and vintage equipment. SMH was late in meeting me, so I amused myself by playing around with Phaser pedals. You know when you are in a shoegaze band when you can always justify one more pedal (just like one more pair of shoes). After hemming and hawing about features, tone, uniqueness and analog vs. digital I came away with a simple, functional “Small Stone” El Nano pedal made right here in New York City by Electro Harmonix.

Music store at the rainbow's end!

The Trading Musician: A pot of gold of vintage equipment

Which to choose?

Phaser sampling

After checking out the sights it was time for the wedding. It was nice to have a chance to dress up and be celebratory amidst the rain and the fog of the northwest winter. It was also inspiring to be at a wedding that was so much a product of the bride and groom’s vision and valued their relationship, family and friendships above all. There was also some funny internet confusion because the bride’s first name is my last name. No, I’m not getting married yet.

Tenue du soir bonsoir!

My wedding get up as seen in the mirror in the groom's men's dressing room: BB Dakota dress, Repetto shoes, and my grandmother's necklace and alligator clutch purse

Vows (and groomsmen in converse)

Vows with the groom and his men in matching Converse high tops

The day following the wedding we decided to work off our post-party stupor by getting in our Seattle tourist fix. Now, let me explain that SMH is from the northwest, so any tourist activities were mostly for my benefit. I can also say that a lunch of fresh seafood at Elliott’s Oyster House was a great experience for all. They are committed to local and sustainable seafood and are extra sensitive to food allergies. Their dining room has a great view of the ferry dock, so you can watch the Washington State ferries come and go on their way to Bremmerton and other points in Puget Sound.

Sampling the bounty of Puget Sound

A selection of local oysters at Elliott's Oyster House

Alder plank northwest salmon!

Alder plank baked northwest salmon

After I was satiated with fresh fish there was one more touristic thing we had to do. It really is THE touristic thing. Yes, the Space Needle. As a New York City resident for ten years I have proudly never gone to the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, or Rockefeller Center.  But in another city, why not? I love idea of the past imagination of the future space age, and while the view was mostly of the shifting fog and clouds, it was completely worth the $19 is cost to ride the elevator 600 feet up in sixty seconds. Viewed from the sky I started to gain a better understanding of the city and it’s relationship to the water, sky, trees and mountains, which were well hidden behind winter’s clouds.

Oh yes we are doing this

The past's dream of tomorrow, today!

Foggy Seattle sky view

Downtown Seattle from the top of the Space Needle

However, sometimes when you visit a popular tourist attraction, unfortunate things happen. I’ll leave you with this fetching image.

Paris This Time Last Year

It’s feels strange to imagine, but exactly a year ago today I was getting on an Air France flight at JFK airport and leaving cold, damp grey November weather in New York for cold, damp grey November weather in Paris. Even in chilly November Paris sparkles. It’s just getting ready for the holidays and all the glitter that come with them, and late fall sunlight never fails to make even the dampest, greyest sidewalks inspiring.

I try to remind myself that I am lucky to live in New York, but when I look at pictures of Paris, I feel my heart start to soften and melt and nostalgia overwhelms me. This is the city I feel I am truly meant to be in. I feel about Paris in my 20’s and 30’s how I felt about New York City in my teens. There’s a deep attraction and a longing to be in a place that I feel fits all the contours of who I am, or at least who I wish myself to be.

I know it’s irrational. I live in a big city and I understand the frustrations of daily city living. It wears you down. People are rude.  It’s exhausting. But then there are the rooftops, the sky, the open markets, the cafes, the boutiques, the culture, the Seine, the rues, the quartiers, the Canal St. Martin, all the many nuances that make up Paris.

Last year I set myself a Parisian itinerary guided by collections of “bonnes addresses”  from blogs I had been reading and Pia Jane Bijkerk’s book Paris Made by Hand.  I visited my dear sister, ate croissants like there was no tomorrow (the average Parisian croissant is better than the best New York croissant, which should not come as a surprise to you), and learned about the 80’s teen pop sensation Lio.  I spent a lovely afternoon (and several awesome evenings) with my dear friend Leila, running around to indie boutiques like Corner de Createurs and La Cocotte (twice!), and doing silly things I love like going to Monoprix, having tea at Mariage Frères, cooing at beautiful clothes at Antoine et Lili, and buying bras at Princesse Tam Tam. I also just let myself wander until my feet were frozen, rode the metro just because I like it (I never do that in New York), snapped pictures, and soaked it in what I hope was enough Paris to sustain me until I can come back to the city that feels like my rightful home in the world.

Petite Atlier de Paris. Great for handmade gifts!

Near Gare du Nord

Repetto paradise on Rue du Paix

The cozy apartment of my friend Leila. I love how Parisian apartment have the most perfect, tiny balconies.

The only disadvantage being that old Parisian apartments are also walk ups. In this case 7 floors!

Noodle soup lunch at L'Alicheur, just off Rue Oberkamf

My first breakfast in Paris at Pick Clops in the Marais after my overnight flight

Rue Cremieux, stumbled upon close to the Gare du Lyon while I was on my way to catch the train to my sister's house.

Perfect Parisian pierre de taille