Maybe I like the city?

What do you remember our occasional trips to New York City growing up, sisters? I went about a week and a half ago. It was a different trip than what we used to do—no time with family, for one. Some friends and I made a quick trip to see an amazing show and spend some time in the city beforehand. The Big Apple has always felt like something I should enjoy. Doesn’t everyone want to be there? Usually, though, I was very glad to go and very glad to come again afterwards, glad to see new things and glad to return to my quiet, green, familiar community. The city was like sweets or something–wonderful in small amounts but overwhelming in excess and I hit excess quickly. Too bad that isn’t always true of sweets, huh? This time, though, I felt the allure of the city more than I have in the past.

Central Park against the city.
Central Park against the city.

City life always seemed so impersonal before. In our town, when the colleges weren’t in session, we pretty much knew everyone who drove by, didn’t we? Over the weekend Joy and I were asked how we knew each other. We looked at each other slightly puzzled and eventually said that it was just from growing up in the same town. In my first memory of her family, I was 6 (though her brother says 5) and her brother was 5 (or 4), at swim lessons at the high school. But then we went to the same church and same Bible group, same summer camp, worked at the same store. My foundations with the people I know from home have multiple layers. We went to the same school and/or our parents were teachers at the same colleges and/or we rode the same bus and/or we went to the same church or Bible group and/or we went to the same day camp at the state school. Those connections happened and were reinforced so naturally that I couldn’t think how to recreate them anywhere else. As I’ve aged (is it safe to say matured?), I’ve learned more about how community is built and that it can happen in places with much higher populations than my little town. Lives might not overlap as frequently in the big city, but community is still built with the people you spend time with. Do you think that’s right? Though it might take more work in a city with so many faces. People meet at the store or on the subway or in whatever extracurriculars one is involved in. And oh the options for extracurriculars in a larger city. There is music, theater, art, culture, and good food happening everywhere. We spent some time listening to a free Indian music concert in Central Park, ate at a Turkish restaurant for dinner, had gourmet toasted cheese sandwiches for lunch, and I drooled over all the show posters I saw. We saw so many different styles and cultures, heard so many languages.

I understood the draw of anonymity for the first time this trip. If I so desired, I could head out the door and be able to disappear, be just another face in the crowds until I decided to return. Can you imagine being a celebrity who is well-known enough to not have that freedom? I could return the favor of not knowing to everyone I saw, as well. When I’m walking at home, I know or know someone who knows almost everyone I see, so interaction or the lack of interaction holds weight. There are so many faces in New York that I could just appreciate them as such. I saw a classically-dressed woman reach out to tickle the toes of a giant man on a poster she walked by and a bearded peddler with signs asking for money for both of his personalities. I could notice them or not, not have to think about their personal lives or drug addictions or any history we have. Does that sound harsh? I don’t want to downplay their lives and stories, please understand that. We are all important to ourselves and not important in the long run. The city reminds me that I am insignificant. I’m pretty involved at home, but in a big city I remember that I am one of 8 billion people on the planet. My life, my drama, my community is very important to me, but I’m not even a blip on the screen in the grand scale. That’s good to remember when I start taking myself too seriously.

Goofy face to send to Corey's daughter, who gifted me an AirHead before we left.
Goofy face to send to Corey’s daughter, who gifted me an AirHead before we left.

A quick trip allowed for a lifestyle I could never have if I actually lived there. I could follow my wonderfully organized friends to the correct subway trains, devoting whatever energy I would have used on figuring out metro maps to people watching and sightseeing. Corey’s travel points from her previous job paid for almost all of the hotel room located right off Park Avenue. The three of us shared parking costs, the expensive show ticket had been paid for five months ago, and we splurged on some fun food with costs that wouldn’t be sustainable long term. I definitely can’t afford $170 show tickets with any regularity. I probably couldn’t afford it this time, but, man, what a show. We gave ourselves the gift of a once-in-a-lifetime performance, seeing Kenneth Branagh and Alex Kingston as Lord and Lady MacBeth at the Park Avenue Armory. I won’t gush about it because this is already too long, so I’ll just say that it was soul food to see world-class actors, non-traditional and effective staging, amazing production work, and to be able to talk about it with intelligent, well-read, and thoughtful friends afterwards. I still get a theater buzz when I think about it.

We were just a little bit excited.
We were just a little bit excited.

There’s more that made this trip different. I used to be terrified of the potential for violence and crime and carried a lot of fear about being a woman in the city, but working at a drug and alcohol clinic has taught me a lot of lessons about relating to people, how to stick up for myself, and how to be smart in casual interactions. I travel a lot less than I used to before I started doing theater stuff, so maybe part of the enjoyment came from just getting out of town and clearing my head of daily life for a bit.

Don’t worry–I’m not packing my bags and moving to the city. Most of the time I’m still glad to be where I’m at. There is a buzz of potential in the city, the feeling of the possibility of flying or crashing, but my town offers a centered solidity of experiences and support. I am definitely glad to see many of you this coming weekend and to have all of us together in a few weeks.

See you soon! All my love.

Janna

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4 thoughts on “Maybe I like the city?

  1. Growing up I thought all city people were a certain way – that everyone in the city loved city things, that they were all cosmopolitan and loved shopping and fashion and fancy restaurants. But now that I have lived in a city I know that some people in the city are more outdoorsy than me, that some of them love it there, some hate it, and there are so many different reasons that have brought them there. And visiting a city is so different from living in a city. My memories of NYC on our trips with mom and dad are definitely happy memories, but also very exhausting. I remember a day we spent going to museums and doing everything, and then finished the evening with an opera at the Met (and I fell asleep sitting up!)

    Brad and I probably miss good food from living in cities the most. And dog parks 🙂

  2. Martha, I remember a trip to the city when you lost your favorite little bunny at a museum, and we went back to get it, and found it! 🙂
    Janna, I have been thinking recently it would be good for you to get out of small town living more. I mean, I love small towns too, it’s just that after a long time living there and knowing everyone there, it can feel a little…confining. The anonymity of a big city can be fun, the bustle, the art, the music. I’m so glad you had this fun weekend! We should plan a sister getaway sometime to the city, maybe when we’re all in the same country again.

    1. Rachel, I had completely forgotten that story of losing the bunny! Oh children, what difficulty we inflict on our parents 🙂 It would be fun to do a sister getaway someday, i Love that idea.

    2. Yes, a sister getaway sounds excellent. Rach, I agree with your thought about me getting out more. I can get really caught up in things here and it is good to get away and clear my head.

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