“In an era when rents are spiking, book advances shrinking and magazines shuttering, New York may no longer be a necessary destination for the young writer, she acknowledged. It may not even be a feasible one.” – NYT
Growing up, my theater arts teacher was my mentor. She was a beautiful, hardworking woman, a single mother and creative genius, and role model to us all. Her theater was a haven for those of us who didn’t fit in: the freaks, the homos, the artsy types. We found ourselves in her rehearsal space, in the scripts we wrote.
Although our teacher knew that she did so much for us, gave us a place to come out of our shell and use our talents, she resented her position in life as a mere public high school teacher. She always wished she’d tried harder, been more. She definitely had the talent. So what was it that she’d done wrong?
I remember so clearly: the look in her eyes when she talked about living in New York City, taking workshops with Uta Hagen and trying to get professional acting gigs. And when she said that she’d always regretted leaving New York City too early. That if she’d just stayed longer . . . who knew what her life might have become?
I could leave.
I could pack up my belongings, my boxes of books and inexpensive furniture and barrels of winter coats and boots, and ship out to Costa Rica and be a yoga teacher, or to Korea to teach English, or to my hometown near DC to find a comfy 9 to 5, or to Portland where one of my best college friends lives and work someplace, anyplace, and not deal with New York City. I could pack up and leave and not deal with the annoying roommates and crushing rents, the impenetrable higher echelons of the creative and literary worlds, the non-committal boyfriends and the flighty, distant friends. I could leave and live somewhere where I wasn’t always so lonely, so broke, so injured by the hazards of daily life whether a bike accident or aching shoulders or ever-enroaching deafness due to screeching subway trains.
I could live somewhere where people are nice, and have dogs that run around in backyards, and get married in their twenties but still go out to dinner on weekends because it’s actually affordable, and life has sit-com moments where you get hit on in the parking lot of the gym, and you save up money to one day buy a house, and if you get fired from your job it’s not the end of the world because you can live on a relatively small amount of money. I could leave. I could do this.
Last night, I was restless. Roommates were out of town, men were unavailable. The novel I was enjoying in the bathtub seemed insufficiently interesting. Being Monday night, the natural choice was to visit my old haunt, Smalls, in the West Village, where I used to get in free as a grad student because Mitch, the doorman, saw how much I loved jazz and that I couldn’t afford the $20 entry. It would be filled with tourists, and the A train was under some service changes, and I would be alone—that mysterious, slightly weird woman out by herself, nursing a neat whiskey at the bar—but I had to get out, so I threw on jeans, some red lipstick, grabbed a purse, the novel, and left before I could give it a second thought.
Six blocks later, passing by a neighborhood bar, I heard the tizz-tizz-tizz of the drums, the blop blop of the bass, the crooning saxophone and the dancing piano notes. I dashed in and there was a seat waiting for me at the bar. I ordered a Jameson’s and looked around at the bar, full of musicians waiting for the jam session to begin, their eyes bright, their bodies strong, their souls alight with beer.
Within two hours, I’d met most of them. The band bought me a drink and lent me cigarettes. I made friends with a woman who lives down the street from me, and had conversations with others who I’d surely run into again. You’re quite something with that sax, I said to the handsome musician, touching his arm and smiling. Are you on Facebook? the keyboardist asked me. See you next Monday, I said, laughing, as I let myself out and walked home in the cold.
A few days earlier, I’d stooped to a familiar low: I was going out on an OkCupid date. It’s fiction research, I assured myself, for a short story I was writing in the form of an online dating profile. It’s fiction research and maybe he’ll become a friend, or who knows what will happen—just go, and see.
He was nice, sort of boring, a little politically naïve (people still dumpster dive, really?): the standard let-down. I paid for my own hot chocolate and pastry, and gave him advice on a book he wanted to write. Then I checked in with a friend who was in town that I’d planned to meet up with. I hadn’t seen her since high school, and was curious about how our interaction would be. But the day before, we’d tried and failed to get together, as often happens in New York City—schedules and geography work against all efforts to be social, to connect.
I’m in Bed-Stuy seeing a friend, she wrote.
I told her the name of the coffee shop where I was having my date—my regular coffee spot, where I sit writing this now. Two minutes later, she was hovering over me. Is it you?
My date left, and I sidled up to the bar with my high school friend and the friend she was visiting, who explained that she’s a regular at my coffee shop. How have I never met her? Now we’ve been brought together. We chatted non-stop for an hour about career, romance, city life, DC versus NYC. We left together, huddling under one umbrella in the rain, a trio of sturdy, independent women, needing nobody to guide us, unafraid of getting soaking wet.
I could leave. Maybe someday I will. But when I do, I will miss the random and serendipitous encounters, the beautiful moments. And I will also miss the loneliness, the self-doubting, the relentless competition, and most of all I will miss the way my life is constantly in flux and unpredictable and at the center of it holding it all together as much as is humanly possible is only and entirely little old me, just a woman on her own, knitting the fabrics of life into one complete piece, shaggy and mixed-up and imperfect, and completely my own, just mine.