“Brooklyn” and Reinvention

In keeping with my previously stated goal of keeping better track of all that inspires me in 2016, I’m sitting here to meditate on a beautiful piece of writing I encountered today: “Bronx, Brooklyn, Broadway: Saoirse Ronan’s New York,” by Colm Tóibín, who also authored Brooklyn, the novel upon which the Ronan-starring film is based. The piece is the cover story for the current issue of New York magazine, its annual spring fashion issue. I love Saoirse Ronan, but it wasn’t her as the subject that made me love this; it was Tóibín’s turns of phrase, his perfect articulation of what it’s like to reinvent yourself, and his understanding of why you’d want to in the first place.

One of my favorite elements of the movie Brooklyn, which I saw a couple weekends ago, was that it understood homesickness in a very real way. I have not moved between countries, but I moved from Oregon to New York at a key transitional point in life – right after I graduated from college and entered the quote-unquote real world – and I identified so strongly with Ronan’s character, Eilis, as she left Ireland for Brooklyn and began a new life. I have cried like Eilis cried in the movie, felt the same hopelessness and wondered why I ever did this. But I’ve also made friends, started a career and built a life in this new place, and felt with unshakeable certainty that this is where I am meant to exist right now.

In the article, Tóibín describes Ronan (in comparison with her Brooklyn character) “as someone familiar with rural Ireland who was also intensely glamorous and ready to be transformed.” That phrase “ready to be transformed” leapt out at me. My transformation has been less a physical transformation than one of attitude, one of thought. I have changed since moving to New York in ways I did not expect, but the more I thought about Tóibín’s words, the more they rang true. The expectation of some kind of transformation was inherent in my longstanding desire to move to New York.

The strangest parts of being home are those subtle moments when I realize how much I’ve changed. I’ll notice moments when I say something, or react to a comment, or take an action that makes so much perfect sense to me now, that I only realize later how out-of-character that would have been for the pre-New York me.

I left the theater after Brooklyn concentrated on one shot: Eilis, briefly back in Ireland following a family tragedy, running errands around her sleepy town in a bright dress and sunglasses. It embodied the transformation she’d undergone in Brooklyn; not just that she now wore sunglasses, but that it was only natural for her to wear them in public, even in rural Ireland.

saoirse ronan brooklyn sunglasses

I’ve thought about that shot for days. In the context of the film, it says more about homesickness and reinvention than I ever could with words, and I grinned when I got to the end of Tóibín’s New York magazine story and saw he referenced it:

Sometimes she tries to fit in, to pretend that she has not changed at all and that being away is no big deal; other times she flaunts her new self. There is one moment when she walks through the small Irish town wearing sunglasses and a brightly colored dress when she seems like a returned Yank…ready to gather the poor natives around her to show them the style she has acquired.

I’m still working on the literal style part of my transformation (I do think I dress better than I did in college, though when I made this observation to some friends I visited at home over Christmas, I realized I was wearing a plaid Gap button-down technically made for men) but in the broader sense, this is exactly what I experience any time I’m home, or when I’m in New York and stop to think about how I am different because of this city.

The Tóibín piece can be enjoyed apart from deep reflection on self-reinvention, though. His turns of phrase alone are a joy to read. A few of my favorite parts:

On observing people like a childhood neighbor in Ireland, who emigrated to America but would come back to visit: “They had white teeth and good suntans. They thought life was short.”

On the specific childhood neighbor, compared with her sister who moved from Ireland to England: “The American sister, on the other hand, was all glitter and fascinating talk.”

On the realization Irish immigrants to America had when fully understanding their freedom in the new country – no family members to bump into on the street, etc.: “You could invent yourself here, even if the term self-invention was not yet understood by you.”

On Saoirse Ronan in this moment: “She has come home to a place that is neither Brooklyn nor Ireland but rather a place that she herself has imagined and embodies.”

And more on Saoirse: “She invites envy, she lives in light, she loves glamour, but she also moves easily into the shadows.”

Read the whole thing yourself, and enjoy. And see Brooklyn while you’re at it.

Moving in New York is the Worst and the Best

Moving in New York draws it all out of you. It drains your bank account. It tires your muscles. It confronts you with old memories and fills you with doubt. It forces you in to a new routine.

I moved this past weekend and I am exhausted. First, there was packing and wrapping things up at my old place. Now, I feel like I’ve been unpacking for days but haven’t made any progress. I’m ready for it to be over. I’m ready to feel settled.

But while moving in New York draws it all out of you, the effects of this move are already starting to refuel me. Even the moving process itself was refreshing – well, maybe not refreshing, but encouraging. My dad flew in to help me move, which relieved some of the stress of hiring movers (knowing I could leave some items out of boxes, make an extra trip to the old place if need be, etc.), and gave me the chance to spend a whole weekend with him. I knew one of my roommates would be moving at the same time, and one of our friends was helping her, so I figured the four of us would tag-team.

We did, but we had even more help from some friends who all work at our church. They get Fridays off and chose to spend part of it lugging our boxes and chairs and suitcases and side tables. That was incredible to me. I feel like, in church circles, it’s easy to talk about doing good things for other people or lightening the load for your friends. To be in a community where people walk that talk…that’s why I love Redeemer.

I’m trying to look on the bright side of unpacking. It’s a chance to purge even more stuff than I did when I packed it the first time. It’s an excuse to watch my favorite old movies (because it’s too hard to multitask and concentrate on following a new movie while you unpack) and peruse Pinterest for decor ideas (I’m looking for a great print to hang on my empty wall…currently leaning to something that involves Bill Murray and/or The Royal Tenenbaums).

Another bright side of moving was having my dad in town. I hadn’t seen him since March, so it was great to catch up, introduce him to my friends and show him my side of the city. We also took one history nerd adventure, to Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, which was really awesome. I always thought it sounded interesting – tons of famous and famous-in-New-York people are buried there – but never went since it was too far away or too confusing to navigate or whatever. It’s a doable trip by subway, and my dad bought a cheap app that told stories about notable people and graves. Sounds morbid, but it was super interesting, and added an element we wouldn’t have had if we’d wandered mindlessly.

So for now I may be sitting amidst a maze of half-opened boxes and my brain might be a little fried from the adjustment, but the process of getting here was worth all the exhaustion. Until everything finds its place, I will savor life on the Upper West Side, a killer view of Central Park and the east side from my bedroom window, and a breezy commute to work on the 2/3 express trains. Here’s to seeing life in New York from a different angle.

“I just have a lot of feelings” (about New York)

My friend posted this article from New York magazine’s “The Cut” blog on Facebook today: “Why I’m Glad I Quit New York at 24.

Looking at the timestamp, I realized the article is actually from last week, but it triggered such an explosion of New York City/life/growing up feelings that I’m debriefing it a week later anyway.

I have fallen deep into the “young, difficult love with New York” the author writes about. I love it, yes, but there are days when I wonder why I’m not living a seemingly easier life in a place that is seemingly more comfortable. I was having that very conversation with my mom yesterday. Spurred by some trivial complaint, I was wondering why I hadn’t just stayed in Portland to live and work and run out my days in peace.

She helped me realize: New York isn’t the only place you have problems. They may be of a different nature somewhere else, but New York isn’t the only place you face financial woes or have a hard time climbing the professional ladder.

And while I don’t see myself quitting New York at 24 like the writer of the NY mag article, this part of the piece really struck a chord for me:

…a lot of people equate comfort with complacency, calmness with laziness. If you’re happy, you’re not working hard enough. You’ve stopped striving.

I am guilty of feeling a little better than other people because I didn’t just find a job, I found a job in New York, or I didn’t just make friends after graduation, I made friends in New York. The time I’ve lived here has shifted my perspective so I understand not everyone sees this city as the end-all, be-all of professional life and that millions of people are satisfied with a calmer existence somewhere else. On the other hand, there’s a big part of me that believes – for better or for worse – that comfort is complacency. That I should be wary of ever feeling too settled. That I need to stay on my toes. And for now, New York is keeping me on my toes.

Months ago, Thought Catalog published a post listing “15 Reasons Why People Move to New York City.” All the reasons were basically in the “we’re young and we want to make the most of our youth” vein, but this one made a big impact:

12. We’re feelings junkies. When we walk out of our door in the morning, we want our brain to be assaulted by a myriad of things. We’re not ready to feel balanced and healthy yet. Burning the candle at both ends still fills us with an intoxicating combo of joy and dread. We are like a strange mix of resilience and ultimate fragility.

As much as a professional or financial or social aspiration may have drawn me to New York, that reason sums up what keeps me here: There’s nowhere I’ve experienced that is so stimulating and challenging. Nowhere that is at the same time exciting and terrifying. And balancing the two is a thrill.

The way I see it, it boils down to this: Some people like New York. Some people hate it. But those of us who love it want to stay here and ride this wave as long as possible.

(Post title taken from Mean Girls.)

August Things + Welcoming Fall

There was a post on the Humans of New York Facebook page a few days ago, showing the hands of an older lady as she wrote in her journal. The photo caption read:

“I write in my journal everyday.”
“Why’s that?”
“So much happens in life, I think it’s good to live it again and get some distance from it. Or else everything is in a muddle, like on a merry-go-round.”

That quote made me realize it was time to take a step back from a busy month, to get some distance from all this craziness, and write it out.  So here it goes.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a huge fan of summer – it’s the humidity, mostly – but this one was (or has been, since it’s technically still summer) really wonderful. August was by far the busiest month of the summer.

It started with a family vacation to Disney World. My little sister, Beth, is the perfect age for Disney – still young enough to think collecting character autographs is cool, but old enough to ride all the best roller coasters. My parents like it because you always know what you’ll get with Disney vacations. There’s something to make everybody happy. Every family is susceptible to the occasional meltdown (Beth gave custom names to each family’s meltdowns, according to the first letters of our names – if I was starting to lose it, I was having a “Peltdown”), but for the most part, you’ll all leave happy.

And we did. Over the course of five days, we made it to all four parks and one water park. There was a nice balance of attacking the parks, checking all the rides and attractions off our list, and relaxing. I abandoned my family for one afternoon and spent it reading poolside, speeding through the excellent “Rules of Civility.” Thanks for the vacay, mom and dad.

About a week after returning from Florida, my sister Hope, who interned at the Wall Street Journal this summer, left NYC and headed back to West Point. I was sad to see her go since we had an awesome summer together, but I’m always comforted by the fact that she’s still only 50 miles away from me. We spent a good deal of time this summer at the movies; neither of us is a movie buff by any means, but we like to see anything with Oscar buzz. Our final movie together this summer was “Fruitvale Station.” Heavy subject matter, no doubt, but a well-acted, well-told, and powerful story. I highly recommend. (Our other summer favorite was “The Way Way Back.”)

In the middle of August, I moved. Let me tell you: Moving in New York City is no joke. Like, seriously stressful. I’m still in Sunnyside, Queens, within walking distance of my old apartment, and I didn’t do myself any favors by gradually moving out of the old and into the new. (My leases overlapped for a couple weeks.) I hired movers to handle the big stuff like my bed and bookshelf, but left some out some smaller items. If you’re ever moving in New York, NEVER do this. Say good riddance to the old place. Just do it all in one fell swoop. I still don’t feel completely moved in to my new place, but I’m so, so glad to be out of the old one. It’s funny how simply walking out a different door in the morning can change your entire outlook; it’s a small but meaningful shift in perspective. Pretty soon, this change of pace will feel like the routine, but it hit me during the moving process that this is my first big change-within-a-change. I’ve been in New York long enough to experience a major transition within the major transition of moving here in the first place. That feels strange, but rewarding, in a way. I never want to be at a place in my life where I’m unwilling to let changes – big and small – reshape my outlook.

Other August things: Everyone at work is back from their summer hiatus! Most of the show’s production staff take a six-ish week summer hiatus, but in publicity, we work year-round. I did enjoy the slow pace of summer, but it feels like the office has returned to normal now that all my loud, collaborative, pop-culture-crazed co-workers have returned. So here’s my plug: Season 8 of Rachael Ray started taping this week and the season premieres Monday, September 16. Check it out.

Also, there is real, live COLLEGE FOOTBALL. I woke up last Saturday, turned on College GameDay, and the first thing I saw was radio host/SEC troll/new GameDay contributor Paul Finebaum saying, “I think Gene Chizik is the worst coach to ever win a National Championship.” Go Ducks.

September is off to a pretty good start: I went to my first Red Sox-Yankees game last night, and a steady stream of family and friends will be in New York for various reasons over the next few weeks. Summer, thanks for the memories. I’m ready for the new season.