To celebrate Earth Day, I highly recommend a trip to NYC’s first museum, the New-York Historical Society, to see Hudson Rising, their gorgeous exhibit about the Hudson River. Inside you’ll meet a family friend of mine, folk singer Pete Seeger. We were introduced to him by another family friend, Faith Emerson Ward, my father’s childhood neighor. His boat, the Clearwater (a model of it is in the museum’s exhibit and is pictured here), was a common and prominent fixture in the Hudson Valley when I was a kid. At our annual Clearwater Festival, I ate stone soup, boarded the boat, and learned about environmental conservation. There, I first learned that not everyone loved and cared for the planet as we did so we had to show people why it mattered so much. I remember Pete as a kind, gentle, and unrelenting soul. This Earth Day, I’m thinking of him and his message. I’m sure he’d be proud to know how many of us are carrying on his legacy and working hard to help all people live in a way that supports life.
A year ago today, I moved back to New York after a couple of years away living and working in D.C. My time in D.C. was very valuable and though I thought about making it my home, there really was never any place for me except New York. The rhythm of this place, the opportunity and dreams it holds, and its energy are all the right match for me. What feels really good is that in this magical year, I learned for the very first time what it feels like to be home. Sometimes you have to go away to find out how much something means to you. I’ve left New York City multiple times, and I’ve always eventually come back.
What I love most about this city is that we’re all having a collective, individual experience. You get to have your New York and I get to have mine. They’re the same streets, the same subways, the same sky. But no two people have the same New York. Every inch of this city has seen someone fall in love, and someone have their heart broken. Every inch has seen the whole span of human emotions from happiness to anger, from hope and to despair. I used to tell people that I’ve lived most of my adult life in New York City. Now I tell them I’ve lived many lives in New York City.
I was coming home from a trip to Ireland last week, and there was a man from Dublin looking around JFK airport, wide-eyed and completely lost. I asked if I could help him navigate his way into the city, and he happily accepted the help. He said to me, “It’s always been my dream to come to New York.” I told him it was mine, too, and that it still is, every single day. And before we parted ways on the subway he thanked me for my help and said, “You’ve already made me love America.” For him, America is New York. And that’s true for me, too. I’m a New Yorker first, and an American second, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I love this town with an unbridled, unrivaled passion. And as hard as some days are, I’m always grateful and fully aware of how fortunate I am to live here. Thank you to everyone who supported me and cheered me on as I made my way back here a year ago, and re-invented a new life for myself these past 12 months. I couldn’t have done it without you. Here’s to another year of discovery and transformation in our wondrous, turbulent city.
“There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born here, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size and its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter — the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is the New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something.
…Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness; natives give it solidity and continuity; but the settlers give it passion.” ~E.B. White
Is there any more perfect description of New York and New Yorkers? I am solidly in this third group, someone who came to New York on a quest, who’s left several times, is back now, and is never leaving again. It took we a long time to learn to live with my passion for this place. That passion burned me up from the inside out several times. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned how to take a break, how to let my passion for this place fuel me and light me up rather than wear me down. It’s a process. Somedays I manage better than others, and I’ll say this: every day I get better and better at riding the wave here. And just when I think I can’t possibly love this city any more than I do, it does something magical that just makes me more passionate about working alongside other New Yorkers to make it a better place for all of us. I wouldn’t live anywhere else. This is home.
I once read that if we really want to find our purpose, we should think about what we loved to do when we were 8 years old. I’ve been thinking a lot about 8-year-old me lately, and sifting through the writing I’ve done about my childhood. I came across this piece that I wrote 5 years ago. And it floors me that it still rings so true that I might as well have written it yesterday.
“I grew up in the dirt, literally. There was (and still is) a tractor crossing sign across the street from the house where I grew up. My rural hometown fostered a childhood that involved climbing trees and making mud pies. When I was little, I was convinced that there was a dinosaur skeleton hiding under the ground in my backyard. I enlisted my sister, Weez, to help me dig and dig and dig. All we found was a small mouse skeleton, but I thought it was clearly a prehistoric mouse! Other kids wanted to be doctors, firefighters, or teachers. I wanted to be a paleontologist. I still do.
My childhood was far from idyllic, but there were some very positive things about growing up in the sticks. I got my hands dirty in the process of making things. I ate organic food because that’s really all there was, not because it was trendy. Animals were my friends and companions, as much as people. Maybe even more than people. I learned to appreciate the Earth, her majesty and her power. Weather was a way of life, and I still watch it with fascination and wonder.
An article in the New York Times last weekend talked about a movement in this fine and fair city I now call home to bring more nature into the lives of city kids not by taking them out of the city, but by bringing nature to them. Brooklyn Forest, a husband and wife startup, “takes toddlers into Prospect Park to promote learning through creative play like building teepees out of branches.” 7 students were in their first class. Now there are over 200. More people are eager to get into mud these days; I was a pioneer.
There’s something to be said for the slow life, the life we build rather than the life we buy shrink-wrapped and delivered right to our doorstep. Creation builds confidence and bolsters the imagination. It makes us self-sufficient. I’m all for it, for our children and for us. There’s a lot of beauty down there in the mud.”
Yesterday I spent some time talking to a friend of mine who’s a real estate agent. She’s helping me get on a path to homeownership here in New York, which is not a task for the faint-hearted. After talking about my financial picture, we talked about the idea of willing dreams into existence. This last set of years have at times been extraordinarily difficult for me and greatly blessed. All in, they have led me to the place I am now: in my favorite neighborhood in my favorite city, starting what I have high hopes will be a dream job, and a book 8 years in the making about to be published in just over a month. A year ago, this scenario was unlikely. Hell, it felt flat-out impossible. Today, it’s my everyday life, and I don’t take a single moment of it for granted. It’s not perfect, but I’m extraordinarily grateful for it, even in the moments when I’m most challenged. With effort and a belief in the wisdom of what we don’t yet know or understand, life becomes exactly what we imagine it can be. Every difficulty and blessing I’ve had was needed; each one played a role in making my life today possible. Perspective is a beautiful thing.
A month ago today I packed my rental car and moved back to New York City. Yesterday while I walked Phin in Central Park, a man I didn’t know stopped me and said, “You’re the happiest person I’ve ever seen in New York.” I think he’s right; I was smiling wide for no reason at all.
Being away from New York for almost three years made me even more grateful for what this city has to offer. Every day I wake up and think anything can happen. Possibility is everywhere. Part of making things happen has to do with my energy and efforts and part of it has to do with the energy of this city. Put them together and something is bound to happen. It always does.
Phin and I went for a long walk around Central Park. It’s one of those perfect New York nights. Cool breeze, warm setting sun, and soft grass. At one point, he sat down on one of our favorite hills by the reservoir, looked around, and smiled. I sat down next to him. “It feels good to be home, buddy, doesn’t it? Isn’t our city beautiful?” He looked up at me and kept smiling. He agrees. Life is good. It’s so, so good.
“What are you going to do in New York?”
It’s a logical question when you move to a new city. My neat and tidy answer catches people off guard: love every minute of my life. Someone cracked me up yesterday when they responded, “No, really. What are you going to do here?” My answer stands.
I do have some more specific answers for more specific questions. For work? I’m looking at many avenues that bring together my passions and my talents. For love? I’m dating. For my writing? I’m promoting my first novel, writing the prequel chapter by chapter, writing my second novel that is the next in the series about Emerson Page, and pursuing freelance nonfiction writing. For fun? Phineas and I will be enjoying our long walks in the park. I’ll be spending time with my wonderful friends here, and making new ones. I’ll be at the theater, in the museums, listening to live music, creating art, and following every interest I have. I’m hoping to teach writing classes, mentor young people, and volunteer in my community. I’m going to try to learn to play a real song on the piano.
Anything can happen here in New York City, and it often does. While the city has a reputation for making people hard and tough, I think it’s much easier, and more enjoyable, to be a little soft. People can be gruff and self-absorbed. You have to stand up for yourself and then shrug it off. This city moves fast and carefully crafted plans have a way of disintegrating at the most inopportune times. Flexibility is key. If your dream today doesn’t work out, tomorrow you’ll have a new one. That long night of disappointment in-between is a tough thing to endure but you have to endure and persist and be determined to keep rising in spite of it all. New York is a tall order, and it’s the only one that really fits me.
The move into New York City was a pretty magical day. As stressful as these past few months have been, there were so many incredible moments in this move when I felt everything going in the direction I needed. I had fantastic movers. The ride up was perfect without an ounce of traffic. Phineas was an angel traveler. My friends Moya and Dan helped me get the contents of my packed car into my apartment. The super, manager, and neighbors in my new building have all been lovely. Within our first 30 minutes in the neighborhood, I met Vinny, a man who lives just a few doors down who runs a doggie daycare and dog walking service out of his garden apartment. (Phin loved him immediately!) Now my internet is humming along thanks to insanely good customer service from Time Warner, and I’m getting my handful of belongings in place while I wait for the rest of my things to arrive in the next few days.
In the meantime, Phin and I are taking in the park and visiting all of our old haunts in our neighborhood. It feels good to be home.
It’s official: I’m set to move back to New York City next month. There have been so many synchronicities in this move: from my friend, Ria, telling me not to feel pressured into taking what would have been a terrible apartment because I thought that was the only option to finding my new place completely by chance with a building manager willing to show it to me via a Whatsapp video call before turning around a lease overnight. It’s on the Upper West Side, my very favorite neighborhood in the world where so much of my history lives and breathes. I’ve got many preparations to make, much to be grateful for in D.C., and much to look forward to as I return to New York. I’ll be reflecting on all of that in the coming days, weeks, and months. For now, I’m just smiling and feeling so thankful for this journey.
Phineas and I are excited to visit all of our old haunts in Central Park, and spend time with our New York friends—human, canine, and feline! Phin’s particularly looking forward to Dachtoberfest this Fall when hundreds of dachshunds from all over the New York area congregate at Washington Square Park to celebrate their breed. (More on that later.) New York, here we come!