Whirr2005-08-18
New York City, center of the Universe
I just wrote a long email to my mother and grandmother about my feelings re the City, and I thought you might be interested, too. I'll post it here:

I just got back from Nathan Hall's wedding in New York, which was really my first vacation since I graduated from College. I mean, I've gone places over three-day weekends, and I've visited people for Christmas, but this is an actual Summer Vacation, like the kind that real people take. As it happened, Dedre was at various conferences while I had to leave for Taft for Granddad's wake, and then she was in Reno all last week visiting family, so she hasn't missed me at all. (:

My trip to New York was very emotional for me. I always joke about how it's my "spiritual home", even though I only lived there for a couple years, but being there again was a real reminder about how important the City is to me. Chicago is great, and it was somewhat of a surprise to realize that in many respects it is just as good as New York, but it will always be second best. Chicago at its best (Wicker Park, the Art Institute, &c.) is virtually indistinguishable from NYC. The only difference is that when you walk too far in any direction from Wicker Park (a trendy section of the city, with lots of interesting shops and what-not) you find yourself in residential no-man's land. In New York, you find yourself in a different, equally cool section of the city. You leave Union Square, and it turns into Washington Park--and this sort of thing lasts from the southern tip all the way up past Times Square.

There is also a very different social aspect to the City. I suspect that in a large part this is due to the fact that Chicago doesn't really have any public meeting areas. The cool parts, like Wicker Park, are mostly just streets with shops. We don't have very many places like Union Square, where there are a multitude of benches and a hugely diverse group of people (hip-hop kids, activists, goth kids with fake vampire fangs, tourists, business people, and hip-hop kids with fake fangs) all sit down together and enjoy one another's company.

Another thing about the City is the people that I know who live there, and there are quite a lot of them. What I love, more than almost anything, is rational discourse and the exchange of ideas. One person says "Vajrayanic Buddhism is almost dionysian, really" and another person responds, "Not at all! All forms of Buddhism relay upon rejecting the material world, so that would never work" and then a half hour later you find that you're discussing the politics of Italy in the 1500's. There are a few people like that in Chicago, but really not very many. They don't have the breadth of learning, or the training, or the interest, or something. Anyway, the vast majority of my friends in the City are like that--very, very smart people who are passionately interested in the world and who know a lot about it.

Anyway, so Thursday I was a little overwhelmed and a little sad that I no longer lived there. My thought was that I was already entangled in Chicago (especially with the great set-up I have at Triton College) and that I was only going to get more and more entrenched, and that there was no way that I could ever leave without wrecking my career. But then my friend Ben (a very talented lighting designer) told me that he was supporting himself entirely through lighting (he quit his day job and everything) and that if I moved there he could set me up with no problem at all. Apparently the minimum wage for a freelance (non-Union) electrician in New York is $15 an hour (what I make at Northwestern, and about the highest anyone gets paid for electrics calls in Chicago) and my friend Ben never offers anyone less than $18.

And then on Sunday I was talking with two more Hampshire friends who had just that day gotten an apartment in Queens, and I realized how happy they were to be paying $1000 a month for a one bedroom, and that was a bit of a let down. I had forgotten (or never knew, as my housing situation was so bizarre when I lived there) just how expensive NYC can be.

At any rate, I think I have a plan now, and its the first long-term (which is to say, more than six months in the future) plan that I've ever had. I feel like I owe Dedre another year at this job at least, but I'd like to work here for a minimum of two more years. That way I will have been here for three years, which is enough time to have been really useful (I've spent this first year just learning the ropes). I'm going to devote all of my Triton College money to paying off my debts, and then see where things stand. Probably Katya will be in the middle of Grad School by then, so I'll wait another couple of years, pay off more debt, and try to save up $3,000 for first, last and security on a New York apartment. I plan to move back to New York City in two to four years.
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