Moving to NYC to relax is almost unheard of. Beneath all the shimmering lights and bustling excitement that visitors may ogle at with ease, realities like working 70-hour weeks at demanding office jobs, not being able to find success due to a lack of connections, or even squeezing through dismal and disheveled masses to board a public transit vessel can constitute a taxing experience on an individual.
Those who enjoy the challenges of NYC may argue that the competition is beneficial for betterment and that the rewards are ultimately worth the struggle. Of course, in a city of over eight million, everyone’s case and situation is different. Here’s how some of us at BTR gauge the stress.
I moved to New York about three years ago from Dallas, TX. I remember how I felt when I moved in to my freshman year dorm: my parents rented a car and we were driving down 12th Street when I pulled over and had a panic attack somewhere in the East Village. But it was worth it. My second winter in New York, too, was a long one, biting cold, sunset at 5pm, getting to me in ways I didn’t think possible. I went through a low period those few months, both lonely and homesick, missing the warm, dry winter of East Dallas.
I often think that, in New York, surrounded by so many people, we tend to put on our blinders and keep to ourselves. Same bars, same restaurants. I do the same. But if I just open my eyes sometimes and really experience the city–the kids playing basketball at Brower Park, the rooftop parties, the sprawling world-class museums, the days spent inside hunched over a computer writing and working, or driving through Hasidic South Williamsburg–the screeching trains and crowded platforms and hard winters all become a little more worth it. There’s just so much here. It’s impossible to take it all in.
I got used to the stress. Now, when I go home to Texas, I revel in the relative slowness of it all: the lazy days and long drives, the huge portions of Tex-Mex cuisine, the leisurely bike rides around the lake. But, inevitably, after a week or two on vacation, I start to get antsy. I want 2am pizza, or bars that don’t close, or the ability to walk anywhere at any time. I want New York. It’s stressful and hard but ultimately this is the place where I need to be right now.
There are times that the stressful situations do make me want to explode: trying to take a peaceful stroll in the park but hearing some guy blabber profusely about his boutique investment firm; getting visually bombarded by spazzy advertisement images that make their way onto any possible surface, from cardboard coffee sleeves to subway turnstile rods; feeling too drained to possibly marvel in the greatness of canonical architectural structures I casually pass.
Would I say NYC is a stressful place? Yes. However, I’ve traveled a decent amount and been able to judge by perspective. I envied the clean and efficient metro system in Berlin, but reminded myself that my daily commute was probably not as grueling as the standstill traffic of the smoggy LA freeways. I reminisce about the easygoing lifestyle and easily accessible resources I enjoyed in Portland, but don’t miss the excessive, extensive hours of the work culture of South Korea.
While I never missed the stress per se, I did long for this city’s skyline, cultural institutes, and vibrancy that’s accessible by simply strolling down the sidewalk. I missed the diversity, the instant exposure to cultures so far away from the immediate geographical surroundings. So, while having to cope with stress is not always the most enjoyable characteristic of living here, there are plenty other of unique opportunities that–depending on your interests–outweigh the drudgery.
Anyone who is my Facebook friend knows New York and I have a tumultuous relationship. It isn’t fair to say that in the past seven years of living here I’ve both loved and hated it because the number of times I’ve hated it far, far outweigh the number of times I’ve loved it (I can think of, like, three).
What makes it so terrible? Well, the weather sucks save for six weeks in the fall and two in the spring. It’s prohibitively expensive, meaning, yes, I could go to a Broadway show any time I wanted to, if I could afford it, which I cannot because groceries and rent eat up my monthly budget. I’m working on learning not to eat anything at all and then maybe that will change.
But no, in fact, the biggest reason I hate this stupid, smelly, emotional black hole of a city (that’s me being kind) is it perpetuates this impenetrable ruse that you are just shy of “successful.” Walk two blocks from your rundown, floor-less, heatless, lock-on-the-front-door-less excuse for an apartment and you’ll find yourself face-to-face with the lavish “one percenters.” Look! Wealth and fame and stability are right there, surely you can attain them too!
Now, I’m not saying you can’t. That’s really not the point. The point is it’s easy to forget to enjoy what you do have when you can so easily fixate on what you don’t, and living with the unceasing conviction to achieve, achieve, achieve means that nothing is ever good enough. For me that is the epitome of a stressful environment.
If you haven’t moved here yet, don’t. If you’re here already, you have my condolences.
I was shuttling a good friend home the other night when she asked me how the hell I could ever enjoy driving through New York City. We were heading down that tremulous stretch of highway along the East River that New Yorkers lovingly call the FDR, trying to avoid craters in the road and pockmarked concrete resembling the aftermath of IED explosions. Then we hit standstill traffic for 10 minutes. A homeless man kept tapping on the passenger window with an empty cup–singing what reminded me of old Broadway show tunes–except really drunk.
The truth is, some part of me really does enjoy being swept up into the maelstrom of this crazy place. It’s like the feeling I used to get when I’d go surfing during a storm, or when weaving through the crowds of a large concert. There’s something about the endless shuffle, the new faces and rhythms and experiences passing by. I can understand why it stresses people out, but the heightened awareness almost calms me.
A Buddhist cab driver once told me the ceaseless motion brought him peace through meditation. Like a cog, snug in some great machine.
Part of me realizes I’m actually bullshitting myself. Do I really enjoy the constant and frenetic pace of this place? The way everyone seems to be hunched over in a ceaseless struggle forward? Forward to what? What’s the goddamn hurry? Materialism? Status? The American Dream? I’m not even sure it exists anymore. But if it does, certainly it must be here, somewhere…
That’s not it either. It’s the feeling of being at the epicenter of the universe, in a place where the tongues of every culture bark from the street corners. It’s the metropolis where everyone you meet shares the same burning desire to hold on, despite the odds. Where there’s a wacky camaraderie on certain avenues. Where you can still feel the history underneath layers of glitz and gloss seeking to bury it. Where jazz and blues are at home in the night and old tenements house inspiration from artists who haven’t given up yet.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that this place confuses the hell out of me, but I like it. I can’t say that I will forever, but for now it’s tough love.
Feature photo courtesy of Bex Walton.