Here Is My New York
After moving to New York City, the author discovers E.B. White's classic essay "Here Is New York" and considers what the city, as it is today, means to her.
In his classic essay ďHere Is New York,Ē E.B. White recognized three New Yorks: the New York of the lifelong resident, the New York of the commuter and the New York of ďthe person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something.Ē He continued, ďOf these three trembling cities, the greatest is the last ó the city of final destination, the city that is a goal.Ē
More than 50 years after White wrote his essay, it still seems everybody wants to move to New York, either in search of a new job or a new life. But I wonder if New York City isnít a little bit like the popular girl whom every boy wants to be around and every girl wants to be, except everyone eventually realizes that the girl is somewhat superficial.
I moved to New York City to attend graduate school. Since then, the reality of New York has settled in, and I find myself dreaming of other destinations.
Itís not that Iím uncomfortable being in a big city, which some people might accuse me of. I spent my childhood in the Maryland suburbs outside of Washington, D.C., a place that I associated with special occasions, such as visits to the National Zoo or Smithsonian museums. I attended college and worked for several years in Chicago. Chicago seemed a shiny, happy city to me, an impression encouraged in part by Mayor Richard M. Daleyís efforts to keep the city clean and to beautify it with parks and flowers.
New York is not even the biggest city I have lived in. I spent the first few years of my life in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, and visited frequently when I was growing up. My love affair with cities began then.
Although I grew up in the suburbs, I didnít experience that quintessentially idyllic suburban childhood one always reads about in books. There was some going back and forth between friendsí houses, but I always felt geographically isolated in the suburbs. It didnít help that my mom, who stayed at home to raise the kids, didnít drive. When one lives in the suburbs and doesnít drive, one misses out on a lot.
In contrast, everything in Taipei seemed accessible. Stores, bookshops, playgrounds, swimming pools, museums, cultural attractions ó everything was within walking distance or a short bus or taxi ride away. To a kid from the suburbs, being in the middle of this constant action was exciting.
As Iíve grown older, however, Iíve begun to perceive downsides that outweigh the excitement of city living. In his essay, White warned, ďThe quality in New York that insulates its inhabitants from life may simply weaken them as individuals.Ē Iíve seen this borne out in the way people refuse to acknowledge each other on the street, even though theyíre making eye contact with each other, or the way they pretend others donít exist as they plow ahead with their lives. I think New Yorkers, more so than residents of other cities, are guilty of this kind of self-centeredness because of the enormity and density of the city they live in. One of my friends was yelled at because he apologized for bumping into someone on the street. ďDonít apologize! Never apologize!Ē the man said vehemently.
Iím worried too that my consideration of other peopleís lives has dulled. I was horrified when, almost reflexively, I bumped into a woman who had stepped in front of me to board a train (and even more regretful about my behavior when the woman turned around and apologized). I donít want to become the type of person who believes I have to carry on a Darwinian struggle just to carve out a place for myself.
Living in New York City is also not affordable. Residents like to take pride in being in a city known for its cultural and financial institutions, its history and nightlife. I hear people say they like the option of going out at any hour of the day. But I wonder how much New Yorkers actually take advantage of the city, especially after they have paid each monthís rent.
White ultimately came out in favor of the city, writing, ďThe city makes up for its hazards and its deficiencies by supplying its citizens with massive doses of a supplementary vitamin: the sense of belonging to something unique, cosmopolitan, mighty and unparalleled.Ē Maybe I do not share his sentiment because I do not feel that I belong here. New York might be the greatest city in the world for some people, but not for me.
What Iím writing about here, this is my New York: Sometimes I look out my window and feel a little weepy when I see the skyline awash in sunlight on the shores of the East River. Other times when I look out, the city has disappeared completely into a night fog, and I imagine Iím in a remote town far away. In my mind, I have moved to a place where the rents are cheap, where strangers say hello to each other, a place where I belong.