When we throw ourselves into new surroundings, the world seems to explode with sensational details. The sweetness of the air on a tropical island, the sounds of a market bustling with foreign words, the neon green of soft rolling hills on a cross country road trip, the exotic spice of meat from a street vendor. We can’t help but feel enchantment (or disgust, or fear, or curiosity, or satisfaction) over the differences from our routine existence – evolution has assured that we pay attention to that which is unusual.
Upon arriving in New York in April, I felt overwhelmed – with stimuli, with joy, with excitement, with nervousness. I wanted to absorb everything and miss nothing. I had three months of city living guaranteed, and I was going to make the most of it. Restaurants, museums, parks, buildings, dating apps – I would leave no stone unturned, no garbage pile unappreciated. If this meant I would never sleep, so be it. I needed the full, crazy New York experience.
And for those first few weeks, I got it. From the moment I stepped off the plane, my system went into hyperdrive, processing the world around me in ways I didn’t know I was capable of. That first day alone I ran across the Williamsburg bridge, went on a Tinder date, had a quick happy hour with my new roommate, noshed on beef carpaccio and halibut at a welcome dinner at The Lion with a dozen friends, then sipped on a vodka soda at the Dream Hotel, all after a sleepless redeye. I loved it.
It didn’t seem to matter what I was doing, I found New York endlessly fascinating. The lesbian burlesque show in Brooklyn, the lavish Central Park South apartment owned by the nephew of a very famous business man / aspiring politician, the vast collections of art amassed by individuals like Henry Frick. Each new person I met, whether through a friend or at a bar or on Hinge, impressed me with their perspective. It was refreshing to have conversations that didn’t center around the entertainment industry, and who was auditioning for what. Everyone seemed so… enlightened.
And the subway! My god, the subway. I knew I disliked the transportation in Los Angeles, but I hadn’t realized to what degree. Every time I strolled the half mile to the L train and descended the steps into the metro, I grinned. This was how a commute should be! Some fresh air and movement to get the blood flowing, then a good shoulder rub with strangers (not the massage kind, sadly.) I read every poster, advertisement, and poetry in motion, memorized the lines in fellow passengers faces, made up elaborate stories about where they were coming from and heading to. I easily could have spent an entire day just riding the subway if I hadn’t had so many drink dates scheduled.
But as with all new things, eventually the novelty wears off. Our senses adjust, our systems drop from red to green on the alert scale. We fall back into routine, and the things that thrilled us a month ago become mundane, even annoying (do you not know how to apply deodorant, Brooklyn dude with strange pineapple tatt?) Pretty soon, the new city (or car or girlfriend or job) morphs into an old, comfy hat. Sigh.
The other night, as I was walking with my boyfriend in the 1st Ave subway station, a poster caught my eye for a new TV series. I commented on it, realizing I’d completely stopped paying attention to them on my commutes. Now I spent my time listening to podcasts or reading books or newspaper articles. Not a bad use of time, per se, but… I suddenly felt sad, almost guilty, over my declining enthusiasm in all things New York. Why had my Kimmy Schmidt-like excitement dissipated? When had the city become Old York? Why couldn’t I still be totally present, amazed by the details?
And then I realized, I could. But unlike 4 months ago, it would take a little more effort (and a little less drinking.) Or maybe a lot more effort. And that maybe this was actually a good thing. Maybe this effort would lead to a richer understanding, a deeper, more fully realized appreciation. One beyond the shiny surfaces. Because after all, it’s easy to be impressed as a tourist. But to savor this world as a local, to spend day in and day out with awareness and passion, to see the beauty and meaning in the everyday? Well, that’s a life skill truly worth cultivating.