I like attending other people’s graduations. The shot of optimism and “you can do it!” encouragement is always a refreshing change from the cool cynicism of the places I generally hang out (in recent-graduate speak, I think those places are called “the real world”). Two weeks ago, Adam and I flew out to Manhattan for my sister-in-law’s graduation from NYU’s Tisch School for the Arts— where we were made very, very aware that we attended a public university. I mean, this thing took place in Radio City Music Hall (for comparison: ours took place in an under-air-conditioned indoor sports gym).
Iconic venue aside, Sarah’s graduation really did deliver an extra-strength dose of motivation. The speakers gave a lot of tangible advice on the business of achieving dreams— be really, really patient, have grit, structure your creativity, do what you love because it’s who you are, put rejection into perspective. Looking out on those rows of students in purple gowns and listening to the speakers share personal stories of failure and eventual triumph, I felt more connected with my own ambitions— to the life Adam and I are in the process of building together, to becoming a better writer, to shaping my career, to finding the right place to settle, to finally making a goat cheese soufflé (because sometimes its good to think small).
Radio City, a venue that is so quintessentially New York, couldn't have been a more fitting place for this celebration of talent and potential. This city, as the cliché goes, is a place where people come to write their stories, realize their dreams, etc. Even with its obvious obstacles (high rent prices, practically unmanageable winters...), New York hums with the energy of eight million people hustling to do whatever it is that they do (or in the case of recent graduates of The Arts— are trying to do), day in and day out.
Even when I was little, I understood this about New York on a subconscious level. I remember being in the city for the first time when I was eight years old or so. My family and I were on our usual summer vacation, visiting relatives on Long Island. In between a happy blur of big Italian dinners, seashell hunting, trapping lightning bugs in jars, and body surfing in the Atlantic, I have this vivid, glittery memory of the day my mom took me to Manhattan.
We did the things you’re supposed to do— walk through Central Park, eat ice cream cones on the steps of the Met, see St. Patrick’s Cathedral. But what I remember most clearly is a moment we were crossing the street on the West Side right as the sun was setting. People were just leaving work and stopping to watch a drum circle in the corner of the park. All kinds of people: Chasidic Jewish men with briefcases, college students, faux-hippies in tie-dye, women with beautiful bags and shoes coming from their offices. My story was just one in an epic of plot lines playing out in the city that day.
I still love that idea of being just one of the multitude. On this trip, I realized why. As we were walking around Williamsburg on the last day of our trip, Sarah (now a bonafide New Yorker) mentioned there's a culture of doing things alone here— dining, drinking, going to shows, etc. I completely understand why. The unexpected sense of solitude I get from standing in a crowded subway station with people in motion all around me or from squeezing into an already-crammed jazz club is somehow freeing.
That sense of anonymity may not work for everyone. I went to college in a small town, so I too appreciate the warm-fuzziness of having people know me. But being in New York amongst herds of people and that towering skyline, I feel just the right amount of small. It makes me long to act out my own story here, and to dig just a little significance out of this vast place of possibility for myself.
Let me not get so wrapped up in talking about big dreams that I don't acknowledge the many small victories from this trip to New York. 1) We went to a Broadway show for only $35 (thank you, Sarah). It's called Fun Home, and it will resonate with anyone who has two ears and a heart and has ever struggled with concepts like family and identity. So like, everyone. 2) We ate bagels that were so perfect and chewy, we questioned our lives back in California. 3) New York rained on and off our second day there, but it stayed completely dry and sunny for the precious 45 minutes it took us to walk from one end of the Brooklyn Bridge to the other.
Given all this talk about achieving dreams and my absolute affection for New York, you want to ask me, “Renae, why don’t you just move to New York?” Actually, you probably don’t, and I’m just projecting onto you (which my therapist recommends I apologize for— so sorry, reader). I do ask myself this all the time, though. If I find the lifestyle, the people, the food, the culture, and everything else so compelling, and I don’t have kids, and I have an incredibly wonderful, supportive husband who would certainly make it work if this was my life’s dream— why am I not writing this post from a too-small, one-bedroom condo in Brooklyn??
Well, apart from high rent prices and a limited availability of comfortable living space in the city, the reason is more complex than I fully understand. For now, suffice it to say that, graduation or not, I come to New York for that shot of inspiration and perhaps dreaming about living here is a part of the experience of being a visitor that I've come to love so much.
Until next time, New York!