Growing up, we had a LOT of literature, novels, art books, cook books and garden books in the house. I devoured as much of them as fast as I possibly could. But every week, we also had The New York Times, The New Yorker, and New York Magazine noisily barging into the house, demanding attention.
The New Yorker shaped my idea of the world, reading from our sunny tree-house-like living room in Providence. I remember graduating from the cartoons to the music and art review "short lists" (and I would sit, curled up in an armchair, all of 13, and think about how great my life would be if I could go to all of these rock shows and art openings every week. I would be transformed into a cool bohemian rock New York Kid). Soon the other pages beckoned, and I moved onto the short fiction (which frightened me in a way that I could not yet understand), and then to the movie reviews, which I loved for putting into beautiful, accurate prose just exactly how I felt about a certain movie. I learned quickly not to read those before I saw the film. The first time I read one of the lengthy profiles was in that same armchair: Jon Krakauer's excerpt from Into the Wild, chronicling Christopher McCandless' doomed exaltation of nature. From that moment, I was converted.
I loved New York Magazine the least, but was drawn to it like a crime scene, specifically by the extensive and graphic ads for cosmetic corrections in the back section. Breast lift tummy tuck stomach staple cellulite removal and the horrific varicose vein repair, all of them fed my developing and insecure teenage self-image, until I was twisted into knots I don't know I've ever untied.
Finally, every Sunday, I would read The New York Times arts and social
pages, trying to imagine myself at the parties and openings, and
being allowed- or even applauded- for wearing outlandish outfits. If I wore anything out of line at my boring prep school, I was labeled a hippie and asked if I was "on the mushrooms" (this actually happened).
Is it any wonder that I moved here, and stayed? When I moved to New York, and came to visit my friends in Brooklyn for the first time, I finally felt it: HERE IT IS! and HERE ARE MY PEOPLE. They had not been in Providence, or Amherst, or Florence, or North Carolina. I could never find shoes I really wanted to buy until I moved here (sorry, I know it's been said before, but it is remains true). It has been 13 years, (albeit with a two-year break for grad school) and I have not yet been able to effectively re-imagine myself into any other city. And not for lack of trying.
My true and deep love for being in nature has not been able to trump the image I had of myself as a kid, strutting cool and lean through the streets of New York, with a loft on Great Jones and a boyfriend who looked like Basquiat. I never became long and lean, am not sure if I will ever feel cool, and have made a lot of painful discoveries about the cruel realities of the place since then. (I would love to be able to remark on my admiration for any actor or artist at any dinner or drinks without someone immediately telling me what a cheat or a shit or a liar that person really is. I would love to be able to afford ANYTHING. I would kinda like to have a last name that opened doors. Gross, but also true.) The gentle Virginian boyfriend I am lucky to have, and the modest apartment with the beautiful weirdo cat on the edge of Greenpoint is pretty far afield from that initial reckoning, but some kernel of belief in the magic of this city runs deep.