When I left New York City to move home to California, and left my ex-girlfriend, Florence, behind, my father comforted me with this: “At any given moment, there are a hundred amazing things going on in New York, but even if you are there, you can only go to one of them. So, at any given moment, you are only missing 1% more than Florence is missing while living there!”
I thought of this the other day in conjunction with the overwhelm sweeping the world. Do people go to events any more? Do they buy things or take classes? Or is there so much out there that is free that it’s hard enough just to get noticed? So many books being published, so many blogs, so many online communities, messages, ideas, conversations, products, newsletters, notices . . . Aaaaah!
But what if turning on your computer is just like going to live in New York, except you don’t have to pay a stupid broker’s fee? New Yorkers–well, transplants, I mean–learn to live with the chaos, the thousand faces going by, the million opportunities, the overload of information. You have your people. I remember riding the subway with my friend Lisa, a long time New Yorker. She bumped into several people she knew, between 42nd Street and the Upper West Side! Crazy. But you make your way.
There’s a sort of honor in the fact that when you read at Bluestockings, five famous authors are reading at the 92nd Street Y and Woody Allen or Bill Clinton is playing saxaphone at a local pub and Jamaica Kincaid is delivering a lecture at Columbia while Kate Bornstein has a play premiering off-Broadway and fifteen amazing bands are performing here and there, and several dance and opera companies, as well as that Chekov production in the park staring Meryl Streep. Not to mention the movies, the galleries, the museums, the cafes, the restaurants, the gyms, the writing groups and cocktail parties and marches and rallies . . . And yet, a swath of folks show up for your reading. Maybe even more people than there are chairs. Because New York is a big city, man, and there are a lot of people choosing where to go based on mood and distance from apartment and who else is showing up there.
New York has cultivated loads of culture and the explosion of possibilities hasn’t short-circuited anything. Sure, if you live in a rural town in Indiana, everyone in town will show up for your book publication party. But everyone in town is about the same number of people as the 0.0000001% of New Yorkers who will show up for your book party there.
All I’m saying is that the internet might turn us, each and every one, into city slickers.
My father also said that we humans are accustomed to seeing only faces that we know, and that it confuses our brains and our biology to see so many unfamiliar faces everyday. But in New York, you learn not only to “mind your own business” but also to be willing to fall a little in love with any face you pass on the street. My father, it should be noted, was a New Yorker who fell in love with strangers on a frequent enough basis.
I confess, I prefer the bracing weather and the cramped sidewalks and the noise and smells and rats and roaches and architecture and history and parks and flesh-and-blood people of New York to the bits and bytes of the internet, but still, thinking of New York reminds me not to panic. There’s much to be gained from crowded spaces.