They say you either love New York or hate it, and I can see why on both sides of the spectrum. On the love side, there’s a lot going for New York: five boroughs, exceptional food and drink, plentiful museums, Central Park, stunning skyline views, the frenetic energy of Times Square––you name it, New York likely has it. On the hate side of the spectrum, New York is overwhelming. It’s crowded, enormous, and a lot to take in at once, especially if you enter the city without a plan of attack.
I’m not a stranger to New York City. At this point in my life, I’ve been to New York three times: once on a family trip when I was fifteen, the second time for a writing conference when I was 21, and, most recently, for a trip with my roommates, celebrating getting our master’s degrees, at the (almost) quarter-life crisis age of 24. Nevertheless, I never felt strongly on either end of the love-hate spectrum. In fact, both times I’ve ventured to this East Coast metropolis, I’ve always been mostly neutral, bordering more on the dislike end. If I had to peg a predominant emotion I felt during the first two times while in New York, I’d go with anxious. I think because I grew up in Madison, which, despite being Wisconsin’s capitol city, is not all that large, and has a park-like, spread your wings and soar like a hawk feel. Frankly, that kind of environment and freedom to fly appeals to me. Hence, diving head first into the largest city in the United States was daunting, despite preaching that I am a city person. It’s true, I adore cities. I just didn’t necessarily love being in New York, didn’t consider it the greatest city in the world, and still don’t. The first time I was there, I remember turning my nose up at Central Park, because while it was a beautiful staple, I was under the impression that New York had very little green space. I also remember feeling like there was hardly any room to roam, and there were people constantly in my space. As someone who has been battling social anxiety all her life, that constant state of elevated norepinephrine wasn’t ideal, and I heaved a sigh of relief upon landing in the Dane County airport.
The second time I was in New York, I felt more confident because I had come with a purpose: a Her Campus writing convention. The experience was mostly confined to a Wall Street high-rise, and then exploring at my leisure when the conference hours were up in the late afternoon. I felt slightly less anxious this time around in New York, but the anxiety was still alive and well. I had to resist the urge to curl up in a fetal position in my hotel room a lot of the time. Luckily, I had a friend who was interning in the city that summer, and we spent a fair amount of time together, exploring SoHo, Times Square, and Central Park, and dabbling in the nightlife.
The third time was different. I did genuinely enjoy my time in New York this time around. The intimidation factor was drastically reduced and factors that had originally served as stressors were no longer relevant to me. I was no longer anxious about navigating the “complicated” subway system, or overly sensitive to the lack of space in the city. Maybe it’s because I lived in Boston for two years and had gotten used to the East Coast feel. Perhaps it’s because I’ve developed a tougher skin. Or maybe it’s because all the publishing jobs are in New York and I’m trying to suck it up and accept that my path will likely be New York-bound.
But I also think it’s largely because, like a lot of hard things in life, New York takes a while to accept. It’s like trying out dry wines when you prefer the sweet comfort of a moscato. When I was in New York this time around, I had the opportunity to explore the city more on my terms––AKA not with my parents at a young age and not for the sake of a writing conference with limited independent travel time. I appreciated having time to wander without a strict agenda; I had an entire day to walk the Brooklyn Bridge, take photos at my leisure of DUMBO (the bridge, not the flying elephant, of course), hop over to the Bagel Store in Williamsburg and finally try one of the notorious rainbow bagels, and become deeply infatuated with the Strand Bookstore. I thought that the Brookline Booksmith back in Boston was my favorite bookstore to date, but I was wrong. Shameless plug: if you like books, definitely make sure to get lost in the three floors of this place. My friends and I completed our New York shenanigans by seeing Mean Girls on Broadway and then chilling in the Penn Station terminal, waiting for the New Jersey-bound train to get to us and take us back to where we were staying for the weekend.
I wonder if my newfound appreciation for New York is genuine, or if it’s just a subconscious musing about how I should be feeling. That I SHOULD be happy that all the publishing jobs are in, quote-end-quote, the “greatest city in the world.” I SHOULD be grateful that I have New York as the city I’m confined to. I SHOULD recognize that there are worse situations to be in, however I still don’t fully feel at peace with New York or the Fifth Avenue lifestyle that a lot of my publishing peers desire. Luckily, I have more flexibility than my die-hard book publishing friends, because my interests are not strictly in the book publishing sphere–– I also enjoy magazine and digital publishing. Thus, I am not limited to New York City, Fifth Avenue, and all the Big Five publishing houses. I can technically work anywhere with some sort of writing and publishing scene. I feel somewhat at peace in knowing that I am not limited to the city that is put so high on a pedestal, yet I also know that there is a high chance of me ending up there logistically. And there are certainly worse places to live than the Big Apple.
At this stage in my life, I am in the application stage for publishing and writing jobs, and many of them, naturally, are in New York. I am currently based in Madison as I job hunt and keep up with the writing grind. My loved ones inquire whether or not I plan on staying in Madison, moving back to Boston, or ultimately relocating to New York, and, frankly, I have no idea, but am open to all possibilities. One part of me does not want to be anywhere near New York, given the chaos. The other part is nudging me to give New York life a try. Ideally, I crave the freedom to live anywhere I choose, while fulfilling my writing and editing aspirations. If that is New York, so be it.