Farewell to the City
This is pretty unrelated to fitness, but I wanted to post it anyway. Two years ago, before my NYC life REALLY took hold, I decided I was done. I had been here 6ish years, I had waited tables, I had pounded the pavement as an actor, I had rented tiny rooms and had exhausted all my options in the city, so I thought. So I spent that New Years Eve by myself, on purpose. I went for a run on December 31st in Astoria Park at dusk, breathing in the icy winter air, and thinking about what I wanted for the new year. And it was a resounding: "NEAREST EXIT SIGN". I went back to my apartment, made a delicious steak dinner for one, poured a glass of red, and as the ball dropped just outside my window, I wrote this goodbye letter to New York. I cried the whole time I wrote it.
Little did I know, it wasn't actually yet my time. A few weeks later, I pulled back from my escape plan and realized that moving at that moment wasn't really a positive change for me, it was more of a "running away from things that were difficult in my life" type change. It was at that moment, that even though I WANTED so badly to pack everything up and leave in the middle of the night, that I HAD to stay. I knew I needed to finish my NYC chapter on a high note.
What happened between my goodbye letter to NYC and my life now as I know it is astounding when I think about it. Because of my choice to stay, to stare directly into the heart of the city, my story is now VERY different than the goodbye letter below reads. My farewell now would read more like this:
The city has taught me everything I know about being strong, independent, brave, vibrant, fleshed out, passionate, energized, patient, streetwise, resourceful, even scrappy at times and always full hearted. My choice to stay another two years lead me to a dream career that I never knew I wanted, which I was able to cultivate only by staying. I have gained endless world-renowned knowledge and expertise about my job as a trainer and what's even more, endless enlightenment on how to be a better human, more giving, more loving, more versatile. I also have gained a FAMILY. The entire Ninja Army + Team at Mark Fisher Fitness has adopted me a family of 900+ who teach me every single day how to celebrate being alive.
My choice to stay challenged me to run my very first NYC Marathon, which I completed on an impossibly windy and cold day, with all of my friends and loved ones cheering me on, including Michael J. Fox. It was one of the best moments of my life, running through all 5 boroughs of NYC.
My choice to stay also immediately lead me to the love of my life, who had been a friend for 9 years, who I am overwhelmed with excitement to call my husband in the near future. Growing with him, building a home with him here in NYC has been an exceptional highlight of my city life and because of him, my life is forever changed for the better. No, the BEST.
I have learned to love the city in a new light. I have found success in a solid career path. I also have accurately identified what I want for my future: to be an entrepreneur, a wife, a mother. I am heartbroken over leaving such an incredible network of vibrant, bright, incredible people in my life, but I know that they will always be with me no matter where Preston and I may go. But for now, it is time to make a highly anticipated return back HOME, to my wonderful loving family and start a life with the man of my dreams, knowing NYC will always be a piece of me. Frank said it best: if you can make it there...
xo + whole lotta YAS,
December 31st, 2013
You Were Here
Moving to New York City never happens by accident. I’d gamble that it’s almost always a conscious choice and probably more often than not, requires a cache of pent-up gall and sheer determination, mixed with a bit of sweaty palms and a paralyzing fear that you don’t have enough money in your pocket. Side-note: you will never have enough money in your pocket. Take the leap anyway, and build the plane on the way down. You’ll move here, probably with the best intentions: ready to pound the pavement, work your way to the top, determined to “make it” in whatever industry you deem as yours. Good for you if you actually stick to this plan. You are the rare few. Many will get entangled with other life choices and wander down a myriad of paths they never anticipated. Both good and bad, and in between. Some will leave after only six months, defeated. Some will stay five years, marry a man in finance and move to Westchester. Everyone's path is different and the choices are yours. Always remember that.
Once you arrive on the scene, enthusiasm oozing from your 20-something-year old pores, you’ll have to quickly get used to the back-breaking mile-trek home loaded with groceries from Key Foods and the sound of the creaking wooden floors of your outrageously priced pre-war three-floor walk-up and the obnoxiously loud neighbors yelling through the paper-thin walls in a language you might not understand. You won't mind. All of the things that might eventually, years later, feel like nearly unlivable conditions are simply endearing idiosyncrasies in the beginning, charming little reminders that you are here, in the center of the world. And you’re so grateful. All you can see is the white canvas that lay before you.
You’ll lie awake at night, listening to the city soundtrack outside your window. The very cacophony that at first keeps you wide-eyed at night will eventually be the exact melody that lulls you into a deep slumber once you’re acclimated. Some nights, you’ll stare at the ceiling letting your curious mind wander back to all of the past tenants who’ve inhabited these century-old walls. The breadth and depth of such history is almost dizzying. So instead, you blink ahead, speculating about the next tenant who will live here after you, but you quickly shake away the silly notion. Next tenant? Ha! There won’t be a next tenant! Who would ever want to leave this incredible town?! You vow then and there that you are going to stay.
The promise of your future and the endless opportunity that awaits you out in the sparkling abyss of that concrete jungle is the weirdly comforting thought that pulls you into a solid sleep.
Except for when it doesn’t. A few months, or perhaps years will go by – once the shine of the city has worn off a bit – and you’ll be jolted awake in the middle of the night, heart pounding inexplicably. You fumble in the dark for the lights, the city hauntingly quiet outside your window. And as you’re pouring yourself a glass of water from your impossibly miniature faucet in your impossibly miniature kitchen, a small voice somewhere inside of you will wonder what the hell you’re actually doing here. It is the first time you have heard this voice since moving here and it is at this moment that you’ll feel truly alone for the very first time. To achieve loneliness in New York City – the city that never sleeps, the ultimate nucleus that the rest of the world seems to enviously revolve around, an island populated by nearly 8.4 million people – only adds to the despair of this moment. This is the puzzling juxtaposition of New York City: to feel completely isolated amidst a sea of people. You won’t be able to pinpoint it at that moment sitting at your kitchen table (if you’re lucky enough to have the space for such a luxury), but in a few years you’ll realize that this loneliness derives from the egocentric circles that New Yorkers are feverishly running in order to survive the frantic pace of the city. And you will come to learn it’s a rhythm that can’t be broken, lest it breaks you.
With wisdom comes perspective but also sometimes at the cost of jadedness, and you think back to the bright-eyed girl who not too long ago was restless with enthusiasm for this city. You vow to get a little piece of her back, starting tomorrow, as you turn off the lights and try for sleep, round two.
Every day will be different. You will enjoy new theater with friends, explore new parts of the city you never knew existed. You will party too hard, and sleep too late. You will stumble into antique shops that have grand tales to tell. You will feel art in your soul in the places you least expect: graffiti on the wall, a sculpture on a random corner, an overly-qualified street performer. You will be inspired by magic. You will feel utterly alive. But also in your time here, you’ll fight to stay you. Some days will be much better than others. Some days you won’t recognize yourself. In the day to day grind – of trying to keep your head above water, operating on too few hours of sleep and far too much caffeine, witnessing homeless people defecating on the train and coaching yourself out of throwing a temper tantrum when your subway card expires the same day you’re running 15 minutes late – you will undoubtedly lose a little bit of yourself. You might become overwrought with anger, or anxiety, or exhaustion, or all three. This is when the dark side of the city gets the better of you. And for a moment you lose that spirit, that fleshy beautiful soul about you and become just another hard shell of a human darting here and there, brashly and unapologetically.
You will also get infuriatingly lost, probably somewhere in the lower half of Manhattan where you anxiously discover that “the streets are not perfect little grids and where the hell is Broadway what the fuck”, at one or more points in your life. But rest-assured, this hiccup will be a gift from the city, leading you down a beautifully unexpected canopied street where luscious green vines are creeping up old brownstone walls, the sun shining at just the right angle and each stoop looks perfectly set right out of a movie with pastel potted flowers complete with a turquoise Vespa perched picturesquely on the curb. (This isn’t fiction This street actually exists. I encourage you to find it on the Lower East Side. It will be altering.) And for a moment, all of the stressful days in the city melt away as you stop to take in the scene and lose yourself in the rapture. In that moment you think, ahh. This is my city. And this is precisely the kind of Spring day that will rob you penniless. The afternoon haze and mixture of pollen will make you woozy enough to skip over to some insanely priced marketplace aptly named, “Marketplace”, and purchase a warm crusty baguette and a bunch of fresh wildflowers and a wheel of cheese with a name you can’t actually pronounce, simply because it just “feels right” in the moment and you’re just so happy to be alive. And it takes a sobering 45-minute commute on the train back to your borough for the high to wear off leaving you with the realization that: you’ve just spent $100 on bread and cheese and weeds. So then that’s dinner for the next few days. But that’s ok. It was a magical New York day.
After purchasing too many whimsical groceries whilst high on life, you will start answering sketchy Craigslist ads for odd jobs to replenish your bank account. You will endure handing out flyers on the sidewalk, dancing in flashmobs in Times Square and cater-waiting fancy events that tear a hole in your soul every time you utter the words “pig-in-a-blanket?” So you decide that it’s time to finally admit that you actually live here, and get a real job. Something consistent. Something that pays the bills. Something with an actual four walls attached to it.
So now you are a waitress. It’s your first day at a busy Italian restaurant in Chelsea and you have no idea how you got this job. You may have embellished a little. Ok, a lot. But in your defense, there are only two ways to snatch up these coveted serving positions in New York City: having 10 years of serving experience, or lying about having 10 years of serving experience. So you muster up courage and fake it til you make it, cultivating friendships in high places which save your ass when in a bind so that the manager doesn’t notice you have no clue how to make a latte or open a bottle of wine or basically any inkling of how life works in general. And then suddenly, you blink, and three years of your life will go by and you won’t even remember that you never knew how to open a bottle of wine tableside. It has become habit. As automatic as driving a car, which you haven’t actually done in three years. You look around the restaurant and realize these people, your co-workers, a band of randoms that probably otherwise would never have met have become your posse. You are thicker than thieves, you know more about each other’s love lives, recent hook-ups, dates on Match.com, bad days, goals, dreams and aspirations than maybe even your family does, simply because you see these people every waking moment. And also you’ve built up a level of trust, which is a resource you have come to cherish in your time here.
You also develop a deep appreciation for the hard under-rewarded work of every guy behind the line in the kitchen. Most of them illegal. But full of heart. You witness them working tirelessly to provide for their families, always with a smile. On your worst days – days you’ve been rained on or pooped on by pigeons or overdrawn your bank account or rejected by a commercial agent – you are humbled by their optimistic attitudes and warm smiles as you walk through the kitchen. Their spirit is uplifting and you realize that this city is actually laced with really great humans. You just have to learn to look for them.
You come to find that this city thrives within a constant state of flux. It’s resilience and energy means that you can’t get too comfortable with any one thing – buildings come down as quickly as buildings go up. This variant pattern gives you greater appreciation for any business that has miraculously been able to stay open for more than 5 minutes. You live in utter fear and panic because you realize that at any given moment your favorite corner coffee shop could vanish overnight and suddenly transform into yet another fucking frozen yogurt shop.
And then there’s the health food epidemic craze. I've never seen an island of people more obsessed with fitness and food. Adopting a healthy lifestyle in New York City can be like falling down an obsessive-compulsive hole, overwhelmed with a barrage of choices from “Non-GMO” to “Organic” to “Organic Grass-Fed” to “Non-Homogenized” to “Probiotic” to the all encompassing “Organic-Non-GMO-Grass-Fed-Non-Homogenized-Probiotic” and one day you suddenly start to get agita because you feel defenseless in the milk aisle, incapable of making a choice about milk so what does that say about your life and maybe you should go see a professional to help you cope with your poor decision-making strategies since you’re obviously so lost in life so you put the milk down and once you’re back outside, a deep cleansing breath of exhaust snaps you awake and you realize, my God. It’s just milk. What the fuck.
So you book a vacation. You fly somewhere warm where people aren’t so bossy and aren’t in such a hurry and at first you seem like the asshole New Yorker transplant, clad in black and rudely zipping around people because you’re in such a hurry to be nowhere because that’s the pace you’re accustomed to, but after a few days, those layers shed and you feel like yourself again. It’s nice to finally just breathe. Lay low. Not get on the subway. And while away, you might watch a movie with a bustling NYC scene or pick up a magazine with an article chronicling life in the Big Apple and suddenly something surprising happens: a pang of homesickness comes over you and you think, uh oh. Am I a New Yorker?
One year turns into three, and three turns into six. Suddenly you’ve lived here long enough to converse with the cabby that “this winter is much milder than two years ago, but remember that random blizzard in October of last year?”, which gives you a proud sense of ownership over the city. You witness many seasons come and go. You soak up the sun of the city summers, enjoying walks along Riverside Park, buckets of icy beer in beer gardens with friends and friends-of-friends, late-night rooftop hang outs in Queens as you all watch the sun set in bright strokes of majestic watercolors beneath the glorious skyline. And at that moment, it feels like the only skyline. The night is full of laughter and warm breezes and you are here. Back at the center of the universe. And in those moments, you truly heart NYC.
Summer fades away just in time. Subways are becoming hot-as-hell saunas and you can no longer endure that pesky stream of sweat that drips down the small of your back while waiting an eternity for the N train. Fall comes as a happy relief with a wisp of cool air. Once the leaves change, you make excuses to walk through a corner of Central Park on your way to work and with that change in season comes a renewal of your spirit. Autumn in New York. You fall even deeper in love.
And you may very well be. In love, that is. Or in lust. It’s hard to tell sometimes in this passionate city. Through a series of potentially hilarious events, you may have met someone at the seemingly right time. And you fall into a feverish pattern where you can’t get enough of each other for a few months. You become falsely engrained in each other’s lives and circle of friends and you learn more of the city through their lens. You might even leave a toothbrush at their place. And if you live in different boroughs, well then, you quickly realize you're in a long-distance relationship. And you both pleasantly bob along within this sub reality until…
well, until you don’t. And then you begin the laborious task of removing that person from your life, one toothbrush at a time. Certain landmarks that once were just landmarks are now attached to a memory and you spend the next few months trying to white wash each edifice as you pass by.
And you will. You will wipe away those memories. And eventually come to a place where the past brings a smile to your face. Maybe even a laugh. Reminding you that just like New York City, buildings go up and buildings come down. And at one time, you shared a slice of your life with a beautiful stranger. And that’s that.
The city will come atwinkle around November and suddenly there’s a slightly kinder, more altruistic blanket that’s laid upon the city. Sure, the tourists might make you want to jump into the Hudson but your spirit is instantly redeemed when a stranger holds a door open for you for absolutely no reason. It’s honestly so uncharacteristic, you’re almost offended. Do I look like I can’t open my own door?! But then you soften at the chivalry, and think, ‘tis the season. You’ll stroll through Bryant Park and see the tree glowing over the ice skaters, and you’ll deem this your favorite holiday spot in the city. You’ll think back to the time when the song “Silver Bells” suddenly made complete sense.
You’ll ring in multiple New Years here, overlooking Times Square with the closest of friends you’ll ever have, a boisterous and intoxicating swirl of youth and glitter and expectation. You will once again set ambitious resolutions that you will keep for a few weeks. The daily grind will pick back up soon enough and the holiday sparkle will wear off. The wintry gray of January and February will feel oppressive and every year, without fail, it will almost be enough to make you want to move. And just as you’re considering your options – L.A.? Move back home? – that first tulip will poke through the ground and suddenly the city will come alive once more with bursts of color and flavor and beauty. And so it is Spring, once again. And you’ll deliriously go on another $100 shopping spree of bread and cheese.
You will accomplish things here in this city that you never thought you were capable of. The concrete jungle will make you stronger, more resilient, more worldly than you ever thought possible. In fact, if you went back and told the 20 year old version of yourself about the life you’ve carved out in New York City, she would stand wide-eyed in wonder, as you regale tales of how brave and how savvy and how independent you’d become. Of the metaphorical mountains you climbed on certain days. How you’d learned to layer your clothes in ways that once had seemed mysterious to you, combining colors and patterns and textures that only the influence of the fashion district could impress on a person. How you’d once gone on a hilariously awkward blind date that involved acro-yoga in the park. You’re still not sure you know what acro-yoga is. How you’d danced in the streets with friends after closing down your favorite bar, Black Door, at 6am while watching the skyline light up with the morning sun, feeling more alive than you ever have. How you deepened bonds with your college friends and reveled in the fact that you’ve known each other for over a decade, overcome with gratitude that your friendships have endured a move to NYC, multiple careers, relationships, and time. How you celebrated weddings. How you commemorated Broadway debuts. How you hobnobbed with celebrities, and lived like a pauper. How you survived the worst stomach flu of your life, by yourself. How you cultivated new skills, paid your way through continued education, crafted new careers. How you quit new careers. How you created networks and families engrained in the rhythm of the city as deep as the subway lines. How you swallowed into your lungs the vivacity of the city on dark starry nights or misty sunny mornings. And you will tell her how one morning you woke up, and knew it was time to leave it all behind.
City life can be so transient. So it’s not so much a surprise that this city comes with an expiration date for most of its dwellers. One of the many unique reasons it is such a tough, yet exhilarating place to live. But believe it or not, as enchanted as you may be, there may come a time where your goals simply don’t match up with those that belong to the city, and that’s ok. Or better yet, a time at which your current goals no longer align with those that you once had. This is still ok. You will make brave and exciting plans for your next step. You will pack up everything you’ve accumulated over the six years you’ve survived here: passion, willpower, strength, versatility, wisdom, friendship, courage, identity, love. You will scoop up armfuls of the best of what the city gave to you and pack them away.
And you will be grateful. So incredibly grateful. And as you close the door to your seafoam blue walls, turn your keys over to your insane landlord, bid farewell to the parks and the streets and the trains that now hold echoes of memories that you once shared, an overwhelming sense of peace and pride will wash over you: you did it. You made it here. You are a New Yorker. Your very existence resonated through the skyscraper-lined streets, altering the wavelengths and strengthening the pulse of the spirit that is uniquely New York. And you can leave content knowing that your heart will always own a little piece of NY real estate, because New York City is not the same as it was six years ago.
Simply because you