I write about a wide variety of subjects and in several different formats on this blog. One of my goals has been to share a series of essays about my relationship to New York City – particularly Brooklyn – and what it has been like to live here. This is the first installment in that series, which I’m tagging #primerealestate.
(I took this silly photo the first time I went to Times Square, in the fall of 2013)
When I first arrived in Park Slope, Brooklyn with my partner at the time and our two cats, I was overwhelmed with so many feelings. I was overjoyed at how beautiful our street was (it was my first time seeing it in person.) I was tired because I was sick at the time. I was excited to start a new phase of life. I was sad to be leaving my old life behind. And then there was a feeling I wasn’t expecting to have about New York City so soon – I was proud to be there and that I would be calling this place “home.”
What we encountered the day we moved in was unexpected. Neighbors in the building and from businesses on the block greeted us and our little moving truck. “Are you local or moving from someplace else?” some of them asked. When we responded that we were new in town, my partner from Maryland and myself from Louisiana, respectively, they responded with warmth and excitement on our behalf. “Congratulations!” most of them said. There would be many more congrats over the next few weeks from bodega guys, friends, and strangers that offered directions or advice. Moving to New York is something worth celebrating. It’s a bold step. For better or for worse, it’s life-changing.
I know that I’m not entitled to live in any particular city or neighborhood. No one is entitled to live in a particular place. But once a place becomes your home, it’s hard not to feel that way. When you build a life of meaning with friends and chosen family, or maybe start a family of your own… When you have jobs and hobbies that sustain you, a spiritual practice that fills your cup, a routine, you are a part of what makes that community unique and special and worth living in.
Once we choose a place to call home, and put down roots there, it’s easy to take for granted that it is ours, and it will always be that way, or at least, it will always be some version of what it is, when you account for the usual social and economic changes that can take place over time. It’s easy to feel like this is what your life will look like for most of your existence. No matter how well we plan or what we think we can anticipate, that can be taken away from us so quickly. A partner can leave us or force us to leave, a family member might pass away, a natural disaster can damage the building we live in, we might develop an injury or serious illness and the recovery process might mean having to move. There could be an act of war.
Or if we’re really lucky, the thing that can threaten to drive us away from home might be that the place we call home has become so desirable, that more people want to live there than can fit in the available housing at the market rate (or even higher.)
In popular culture, New York City is a kind of litmus test. “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.” New York is for the best, the brightest, the toughest. It’s for the people willing to stick their necks out, to stand out, to try things no one else is willing to try. It’s for people willing to compete to be the best, or at the very least, it’s for people willing to work alongside the best and still stand tall, without it shaking their confidence. Even when New York City was “dirty, old, dangerous New York” living here was viewed as a kind of special privilege that required grit, sacrifice, and uniqueness. That attitude hasn’t changed much since NYC has become cleaner, safer, and more expensive. It is now all of those things, plus the expectation that you are willing to pay that higher price tag, no matter where you came from or what it takes to make that happen. To live in New York City is to be frequently forced to examine your self-worth, and to do so in multiple contexts.
I don’t know that I should have moved to Brooklyn when I did, or the way I did, over five years ago now, and yet, I have no regrets. As a child, I went through several phases in which I was obsessed with the concept of New York City. I was a dancer and a theatre student and marched with the flag team in the band. So in my mind, New York City was the stage. It was studio rehearsals and people stretching in leg warmers. It was big parades, confetti and bright lights. And it is still those things. (Thank goodness!) But it’s also so much more. New York is a wonderful place to call home.
Keep following for the next installment of #primerealestate …and so much more!
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