How to Survive Your First Year in New York City
(work in progress)
Immediately in the city everything is just as hard as you’ve always heard it is: the disgusting humid summers. Finding an apartment. Getting a job. Locating friends. But the subways become easy, once you get the hang of it, and Manhattan is comprehensible, once you orient yourself. Be careful not to over-orient: you will change.
Invest in an air-conditioner. August will be brutal.
Distract yourself by going to every Brooklyn roof party you can find. Ask everyone for their New York survival tips. One boy with great hair says “a solid pair of skater shoes” ‘cause they’re so durable to the constant new relationship of your feet to concrete. A German girl who’s lived here ten years says, “an expensive, fancy pair of headphones” that she puts on before she leaves the house and takes off only when she gets to where she’s going. An older woman from the West Coast says “nature shows” remind her of the earth and essential oils give her that sense memory. A young queer boy says “a day bag, a perfect day bag,” with pockets for all the survival tools you need for the city: book, notebook, pens, subway map, Manhattan map, metro card, water bottle, wallet, hand sanitizer, tissues, smokes, cell.
Search everywhere for these tools. Your search will teach you the city. Do not stop until you find them.
When the leaves start to become undone and summer’s oppression begins to unravel and the tourists leave, go to the park. Buy a skateboard or roller blades or a bike or a Frisbee. Borrow a dog. Promenade the West Village with a pretty girl, any pretty girl. Fall in love, that’ll help. Best if she knows the city better than you and can take you to her favorite Mexican restaurant, dive bar, dance club.
This is good. Keep yourself occupied. But be careful not to get too comfortable in her world: you won’t be there long. Do not assume you will get to keep anything from her, other than the memories. You are still making your own New York. Join some organizations, make some friends, make some art, take up time. There is so much to be done here.
Keep trying to figure out what you’re doing here. Once you figure out what you’re doing here, you will know how long it will take to do it, and then you’ll know when you can leave. But you won’t know until you know. And it always takes longer than you think.
By the time the first snow falls, you will have an idea of what your own New York looks like. Re-read Colson Whitehead’s The Colossus of New York and remember that it is only after your favorite Thai restaurant becomes a coffee shop that the city will begin to show you its ghost.
This is a good thing. But winter is a hard time here, and you will loose two of the four of the following: your job, your apartment, your community, or love. It is hard to hold more than two for very long in this city. Watch the New Yorkers, they have these four balls in the air constantly but rarely touch more than two at a time.
You may loose the girl. The one whose hair swirls, whose breath you feel all the way to your toes. This will hurt. That’s okay. Feel it.
The girl you want isn’t in New York anyway, the girl you want would never live in New York. She’s too tender, sensitive to the overstimulation, just like you. But you can take it, for a little while. You can learn to put the armor on, and then take it off again.
This is how New York makes you strong.
When you’ve finally given up on the trees, they will start greening again. It is time for a few more things to hop into place. Your sister will become your roommate and you will learn so much about your childhood. You will begin to watch and understand how what you take into your body effects you. You get a friend, a best friend, suddenly, an instant connection, someone you call when something big happens, someone who is usually free for beers at the pub on the weekends.
This city may exhaust you, but you will never exhaust it.