Before I moved to New York, I felt small. Not in a bad way, just in a one person surrounded by the whole entire world kind of way. Just one girl, a pinprick of a being on the planet, an all-encompassing globe of a place. And the world is a big place. Overwhelmingly large, in fact, but full of potential. So big that it seems as though it could be boundless.
I’m a New Yorker now. Sounds great, right? Um, of course it is. But when I moved to New York, I think my world got smaller. This city is so big that it became my world all by itself.
Maybe for some, New York is a world enough. It is amazing that so much exists within the city limits. But to work, shop, eat, dance, sleep – to live within those city limits also means existing within boundaries, and I’m just not used to thinking about a world with boundaries. So sometimes I feel like, when my world got smaller, so did I.
It’s like this: Is it possible that somewhere out there in the world, another person is listening to “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” by Bachman-Turner Overdrive? Sure. Is it playing somewhere else in New York? Maybe, I guess. What about here, on this Manhattan bound F-train, in the ear buds of another passenger? Nearly impossible.
It’s ironic that a place renowned for being larger than life can reduce one of its inhabitants to such isolation. Maybe that’s the true significance behind the great irony of NYC: so much squeezed into a space that is, geographically speaking, quite small. I might be the only person in my zip code who’s still listening to BTO, but I can’t be the only one who is feeling a little squeezed.
That’s a comfort, I think, as I wait for the uptown 6. I’m watching and listening to the other subway passengers, a humming swarm all migrating north or south, all on their way to somewhere. I hear snatches of chatter, but it’s not eavesdropping because this is New York, and this is a subway platform, and this is how we communicate.
There is a girl to my right telling her friend how much she likes snow. Over the Guster that’s now playing on my iPod, I hear the friend say that her super was adorably overzealous about the first snowfall of the season, about half an inch this morning. I picture a balding man in a thick sweater vest, scraping merrily at the dusting of flakes on a stoop.
I’m not part of their conversation, and at the same time, I am. I try to remember the last conversation I had with one of my friends in the middle of a crowded subway station. It wasn’t unlike this one.
Because talking is what we all do. We talk about people. Family, friends, enemies. People we don’t know. People we like. People we want to be like. Even when we’re talking about things we read or heard or saw or tasted, whoever wrote or yelled or asked or sang or did or baked is part of the conversation.
New Yorkers. There are eight million of us, and we’re all talking about each other. That’s something we all share. We’re all participants in an ongoing conversation about all that’s seen or heard, changing or happening in this city.
There are always going to be those times when I crave camaraderie, and I continue to be surprised by how hard it is to find in New York. A few weeks ago, an unpleasant odor had southern Manhattan all a buzz, and I thought, “This is it? The smell of natural gas is going to bring us all together?” But the air cleared, we stopped making wrinkly-nosed faces at one another and asking in spontaneous unison, “do you smell that?” and we were all sort of on our own again.
At times like those, the only thing to do is affirm your own presence. No promises that someone else will do it for you. So here I am, on a waiting train in Grand Central now. I have my feet up on the seat across from me. I’m wearing my mom’s pearls. My sweater has a hole in the armpit. My iPod has shuffled to Toad and the Wet Sprocket’s “Good Intentions.” I’m using a black pen to write all of this down in a tiny blue notebook, using my immoderately large bag as a lap desk. I’m on my way out of town for the weekend, but I’ll be back in New York by Sunday.