Sometimes I think that to live in New York is to relinquish agency over the pace of your life or else gloriously exit in pursuit of regaining it. That live-or-leave binary is baked into the appeal. If you’re anything like me, you’ll both love it and hate it as long as you’re here, and spend most of your time oscillating between thinking that’s what makes it incredible and that’s what makes it a tidy nightmare. My recent adoration for summertime in New York, for example, has led me to believe that east coast winters are worth it. But ask me to revisit that hypothesis in January and I’ll be too busy looking at rent prices in L.A. to respond. I’m nothing if not accidentally cliché. I could say the same about New York.
This place is so many nonsensical things, but it’s never a snooze, which is why anyone who considers themselves existentially bored ought to consider moving here right away. We have entertainment and anxiety in spades — and not an emotional offbeat in sight. We’d welcome you with stiff, crossed arms and the humble request that you kindly move aside because we’re walking here. Just make sure you don’t arrive without a paying job, a shitload of optimism and a pack of Lifesavers worth of coping mechanisms to get you through the weeks when it runs dangerously low.
Those mechanisms are key. Mine currently entail staring at my baby nieces’ double chins to remind myself of youthful innocence, complaining on Instagram Stories about needing to get off Instagram Stories and tapping into my well-stocked bank of daydreams. The daydreams are especially critical. If you ask me, they ought to be fully-formed and accessible at any given moment, like when you’re standing on an over-crowded train platform and have been for 27 sweltering minutes and need to quickly access the visceral experience of living upstate and milking a cow. Such a vision will serve as your proverbial escape button until you see the New York skyline and are again reminded why you love this place, at least aesthetically.
I have a stockpile of such visualizations and consider my creation of them part of the New York cost of living. For example, when I’ve spent the whole night tossing and turning because the street I live on moonlights as a dance club, I like to imagine that instead of needing to wake up and fulfill my 9-to-5 duties, I am instead urgently needed at the Cincinnati Zoo, where I am paid in cookie dough for my job feeding entire watermelons to Fiona the hippo and her doting parents.
Or when the city strikes me as especially cruel and I don’t feel up to the task of fighting it, I imagine I’m the relatively unknown but enthusiastic sidekick of a famous dog show commentator with whom I travel the world in search of the perfect Pekingese. In this career visualization, I’m neither required to recall breed-specific requirements nor expected to do more than make dog puns and cry during the non-sporting group.
On particularly off days, like when I realize a party I’m at is filled with people who are somehow both empty and full of themselves at the same time, I imagine that I live in a small cabin in the woods and work as a remote freelance consultant for candy companies looking to re-introduce their classics in new shapes and flavors. (My first gig would be writing a case study for Mars, Inc. on why Skittles need to abolish their “new” green apple flavor and bring back lime.) And when that visualization becomes inevitably stressful and morale-destroying on an ethical level, as many of my visualizations do, I revisit an old classic: my life as the full-time hype-woman at Bunny Island in Japan, in charge not of attending to visitors but of getting thousands of bunnies in a platonically affectionate mood.
And when I feel burnt out and everyone I know seems to feel the same, I imagine a career in ASMR content creation: afternoons spent dragging feathers across blank sheets of paper and drawing stick figures in sand while whispering any old thought that pops into my mind.
And when all of New York smells like rotten trash, every bridge is grid-locked, every restaurant has a three-and-a-half-hour wait and dreams seem to break as fast as they form, I imagine with every cell in my body that I am not me but a humble attendant to the train of every red carpet dress Rihanna has ever worn, in charge of lifting it ever so delicately off this troubled earth so that she may continue to thrive. And when that fails — a rare occurrence — I resort to visualizing my parallel life as a Pomeranian influencer, in which I eat sponsored dog biscuits and generally bask in the limitations of my self-awareness.
That’s when I take the cutest nap I can muster until the sun sets just so through the glinting glass buildings, the hustle of the street feels like enthusiasm personified and an old woman on Canal Street gives me a warm smile and I remember that I think this place is more than worth the trouble. Probably.
Illustrations by Aimee Bee Brooks.