I started writing this post on a moving bus that was just passing West 43rd Street going up 10th Avenue, on my way to Boston from New York City. Typing was quite uncomfortable because the passenger in front of me had chosen to recline her seat as much as it could extend on its hinges. I prefer sitting up straight, and so the laptop was awkwardly close to my arms, which were too long for the compressed space—you can imagine my hands hanging limply on the keyboard like a tyrannosaurus-rex. Anyway, I was on my way to Boston to visit a friend. Leaving my home, New York City, for about two days.
Home. It is not a word I readily attached to NYC a couple of weeks ago, and I realize that I have not written anything about my experience living here for almost two months now (and about a month during the summer as well). This silence was due in part to the fact that I wanted to first acclimate fully to living here—I wanted to develop the inner workings of my quotidian life as it became a comfortable routine, not a foreign one. I think part of what was always strange to me was that I have lived in New Jersey my entire life. New York City, while certainly an entertaining city, was always so close, so accessible, that I never understood it as the covetous hub of culture and connectedness that it truly is. My parents were averse to the city when I was younger, and so our visits were infrequent and my interest relatively nonexistent. They did not like the hustle-and-bustle, mostly because they understood NYC to be Times Square and nothing more. Large, glittery advertisements, epileptic lights, swarms of tourists, retail-priced stores—all show and no substance.
It was when I started interning at Random House, Inc. my senior year of high school that I started to ground myself more in the city. My sister too began taking frequent trips for shows and friend visits and the like. My "love" for the city grew slowly and incrementally. I use the word within quotation marks because I am always hesitant about applying love as ubiquitously as it usually is nowadays. I am not an "I <3 NY"-shirt type (although I do have one that was given as a gift, and so I wear it to bed occasionally, but pajamas are okay). Moreover, my perspective of the city was always that of both an insider and outsider—the former because I have always lived so close to the city, the latter because despite this close proximity, I was never truly under NYC's daily spell, its grinding lifestyle, its true vigor.
My parents warmed up to the city when I became a student at New York University, but again, my first year was spent in the same insider-outsider limbo that comes with being a commuting student. Waking up early, coming home late, doing homework, sleeping, with a small window available for a social life because of all my time spent on trains and subways and doing homework, and because of the fact that I simply didn't live on-campus with my friends—it became an arduous and quite frankly depressing routine. One I adapted to, but only out of necessity. I established a closer connection with NYC, but it still remained somewhat elusive in my grip.
Fast-forward to this past summer, when I spent about a month apartment-sitting with my sister in a fancy Chelsea apartment (remember this?). My parents—especially my mother—by now were already much more comfortable with the city, because my sister and I had exposed them to the truth that NYC has—gasp—parks and greenery and places that are not as insane (and overrated) as Times Square. The beauty of the city is not its commotion, but its diversity. It has everything for every niche, and that is why it is popular.
Fast-forward some more to late August, when I moved in to on-campus housing at NYU for the first time, as a sophomore. Still sufficiently close so I can go home to NJ conveniently, but removed enough so that I did not feel like an outsider in the city. I officially (mentally) branded myself as a New Yorker, with a snazzy numerical street name as my home to match. "Home," however, was not a word I used to describe my living: I called it "my dorm" more than anything, until one day while conversing with a friend I said that I would "go home" for a bit. It slipped out unexpectedly, and I didn't mean Jersey, of course.
It was such a banal thing to say and so naturally it did not mean anything for my friend, but for me, that was the moment when it truly hit me: I am living in the city that was always so close to me but the city of which I had never taken advantage, the city of which people spend their entire lives trying to catch a distant, shining glimpse, sometimes without realizing that dream. Yet here I always was, a hands-breadth away but never quite conscious of how significant that was, how lucky I was.
Locations are strange, the concept of "home" is strange, moving is strange—it is all very strange, especially for someone who has called the same small Jersey abode "home" since birth. Home was a stagnant schema in my mind. Location is a paradox of the permanent and the temporary—unchanging for an indefinite amount of time, then suddenly jostled back and forth. In fact, when I started writing this blog post, I was on my way to Boston. I wrote a little more of it while in Boston, then I wrote some more when I was back in NYC, then a little more when I was on my way to Connecticut the following week, and now I am writing it in my original residence, my house in New Jersey, the place where I was raised, the place where my knees chafed from learning to crawl, the place I would walk to and from every day on my way to the elementary school around the corner, the place that has remained static during years and years of chaos and sorrow and joy and anger and depression and confusion and growth and death and memories and change and change and change. As I write this, I am sitting on my bed near my window that overlooks my backyard, and the nostalgia is so incredibly palpable—it's raining, and I am stricken with the sudden recollection of running around the lawn with my friends during a torrential downpour, several years ago. I was young, but the rain was the same. It is the same rain that falls now, more or less. The same, but different—rain is rain, but time has altered its meaning.
Perhaps it is fitting to conclude the week-long, sporadic composition of this blog post within the walls of my original home. Only now, as I edit this post, I am in my dorm, my home, in New York City. That this blog post was written and edited in so many different places was not intentional but may indeed be confusing—which is the exact irony of it all. So much has moved, so much has changed, and an effort to quantify change is always fruitless, despite constant attempts to put it all in words (hence the long blog post, of course). So much has changed, good and bad, and so much continues to change, and the melange of feelings and thoughts only continue to complicate themselves and interweave in ways foreign to me.
Life is growing increasingly complicated. This is not always bad just as it is not always good. But right now—sitting in bed listening to the rain obliquely hit the large window that overlooks a Broadway intersection, scooping speculoos spread out of a jar using a cookie as a spoon, writing this post instead of studying for three imminent midterms—I realize that for all the strangeness that comes with "home" and "life" (and everything else that is just as broad and personal and significant and ineffable), it is necessary. Necessary strangeness and necessary change—good and bad, but change all the same and strange all the same.