#SouvenirStorytime 2/28: New York City Love

An ode to the City of Dreams – New York City, USA (Dates unknown / Multiple)

Love, New York – fridge magnet

I cannot remember exactly when I bought this. I have made several visits to this bustling mad city. I’ve never not been taken by it. In fact, the first time I visited at nineteen – I was the wide-eyed girl from India who was excited to see Greenwich Village, home to her fictional idol Mia Thermopolis, and see how it compared against the world that Mia had painted for her in her mind’s eye. I loved the brownstones, the subway, the crowds, the traffic. All of it. I took several hundred pictures of buildings. And fire escapes, which were another made-for-TV concept to me. I loved the energy everyone seemed to have, just like in the movies. What a rush to be part of it. People walked so briskly with purpose. No one seemed to be loitering. So they must all have found purpose, no? I wanted to taste some of that magic NYC juice that gave everyone destinations, and put fire in their feet. I left with the dream to live there someday.

As I got older, and found myself living in the US, I continued to enjoy visiting. But I realised I no longer harboured that dream of living there. It was all a bit too much for me. Too much movement. Where was everyone off to, anyway!? It had dawned on me that purpose doesn’t come from having somewhere to go. And that maybe being lost in a sea of people, still feels like being lost after all. The energy that I had once found infectious and energising, I recognised to be infectious and draining instead. Too much. I didn’t want to lose my wonder though. Never want to lose my wonder. I made peace with loving the city, but from a distance. Enough to want to visit, again and again and again. Finding something new to discover on each visit. And each time, leaving with the feeling of content that this frenzy of a city showed me a little more than she had before. Be it getting across the city for the best, chewiest, densest bagels I’ve ever relished from Absolute Bagels. Or walking across the Brooklyn Bridge at sunset, and being surprised by a woman getting her wedding photoshoot in the middle of the bridge, foot-traffic be damned. Or dissolving into Lady M‘s matcha mille-crêpe cakes. Or elbowing through crowds to see the big Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, only to realise the stress of it all allowed little Christmas spirit. Or getting lost and realising I was (finally) walking through Greenwich Village for real, which was serene and very different from the Village in my imagination. Or getting lost in Central Park, and witnessing a large group of people lost in dancing to drums…wondering in awe if I would ever be able to let go and surrender like that (I would, I just couldn’t imagine it yet).

Getting lost in general, I think. Feeling very small in a big, big city. With friends though, with my people – also lost with me. Mmm happy times.

I want to say I bought this little souvenir on one of my last visits, when I knew I would be leaving the US shortly. I didn’t expect to see the brilliance of New York City again. I vaguely remembering buying this from a street artist selling his wares on the walkway of a bridge (which bridge?). It jumped out at me because it sort of took away the seriousness of the city (and reminded me of Seinfeld, for some reason?). On further thought, I realise it captured the nostalgia, the movement and the sentiment that every movie and book and TV series set in New York had silently promised me: that it is the city to find and lose and find again.. love, usually with someone else who is also lost and misunderstood in the same crowd. Movies set in the city, especially in winter (Christmas) are still my absolute feel-good favourites. I re-watch them every December. The rational part of my brain is fully aware that New York City is one of the loneliest, most isolating cities in the world (sidenote: lose yourself in reading Olivia Laing’s ‘The Lonely City’ for a rich picture of this, what a beauty). But, the tiny part of my brain that is an eternal romantic, that chooses to dream fluffy, that wishes to be Mia Thermopolis, loves to hold that feeling of a hot-cocoa-and-snowfall romance in dreamy New York City.

(Hey, so what if reality is grittier than that, this is how I chose the souvenir for me.)


~M. xx

Recap: what is Souvenir Storytime? The magic of creation through words is always deeply nourishing. If new memories cannot be made, I decided to pay homage to all the beautiful places I have already been, by honouring my ~fridge magnet~ collection. Seriously. I had collected several over the years, knowing that they were the ultimate tourist-y kitsch. I have held them close not for their beauty, but for the stories within. With Souvenir Storytime, I am attempting to bring to life the memories held within these ubiquitous magnets – in no particular order. This is not to help people “armchair travel” (a term I’m growing to dislike through this pandemic). It is to re-live small, significant moments from years past. In the process, I hope to help you – dear Reader – recover your own pearls of memories from deep within. The journey will continue, but for now let’s pause and look back on its meandering path, shall we?

A Reluctant Admission

I know I said I would write more frequently than once a month. I remember laughing to myself in September at the thought of taking a whole month to post again. After all, I love writing. I would never post-pone doing more of it again.

And yet I did just that, again. I have been having this squirmy feeling in my belly this whole time, this discomfort that rises up into my chest. Because I know I have been putting off doing what I love. And until recently, I felt too much guilt to even look this avoidance in the eye.

I feel like I’ve been standing on a diving board. Looking down at the rippling blue water. Knees bent, all wound up like a coiled spring but not ready to jump. Not ready to jump. Holding that pose. Mind dashing back and forth between intent to act, and the comfort of waiting – because the jump cannot be taken back. It’s the same feeling I had when I was learning to swim at age seven – my swim instructor wanted me to jump into the deep end. And I just couldn’t. It was as if my feet were glued onto the wet edge of the pool. I could not get my feet off. I could not get myself to plop into the murky green pool. Why? Because I couldn’t imagine what that jump would feel like. I could only imagine jumping in and not being able to feel the surety of sturdy ground under my feet, I could imagine flailing and drowning. I couldn’t be sure that I would be able to surface and swim. I could only anticipate that primal fear, and was too scared to lean into the grey area between fear and knowing.

Today, two decades on, I am trying to (over)analyse a similar reluctance to commit to something that I love doing. It’s not obviously terrifying like a deep, opaque swimming pool would be to a child who can barely swim. However, it is terrifying in a deeper, more subtle way: writing has been the dream to me, full of potential, beyond that fear of plunging in. I’ve always told myself, in quiet whispers (lest they be overheard), that I think I can write expressively, engagingly. (Ugh, my ears are warm just from writing that sentence) That thought, rarely tried or tested, has been like a warm blanket to me, comforting me after a long day’s work, after a long season’s work, every time I’ve felt weary of my day job, my nondescript life. There’s been this naïve, hopeful thought – that in an alternate version of life, I could be a writer who can connect to the hearts of people through her words. That I could help another soul feel more seen, less alone on their journey. Not trying, not testing that theory – because what if it isn’t true?

What if I jump in only to prove myself wrong, and lose this mental safety blanket? This secret hope that was a salve when my less-exciting “real life” dealt blunt blows to the spirit? I can’t take the jump back. And I’d potentially be left with a void where this reassuring, blind dream used to be. Reluctantly, shamefully, I admit – I am unwittingly choosing to be comfortable not knowing. < pauses to feel pretty shit >

< takes a deep breath >

On that wet afternoon, aged seven, I didn’t jump. I kept crouching, wound up to jump, feet glued to the edge of the pool..until my instructor shoved me in anyway. I was terrified, but I surfaced. I swam. The salty pool-water mixed with the salty tears on my face, but I swam. And things turned out okay. Except that I was too terrified to go back to that swim class. That was my last swimming lesson for the next five years. It was probably also the beginning of my tendency to stop, to quit, at fear.

The last seven months have been a wonderful, painful, quiet, subtle journey to stop resisting fear and walk towards it. That has been an overarching goal of this time away from Real Life. Every single time I have leaned into the discomfort – be it big or small, visible or invisible – I have come out glad for it. So this time should not be any different. I have been blessed with one life as me, might as well live the most colourful version of it. Even disappointment, helplessness, disillusionment adds brush-strokes of colour – deep and bold – to the canvas of life.

So this time, this girl vouches to jump – even if it takes some time hanging out, all wound up, toes curled, on the edge of a metaphorical diving board. I can’t take this jump back, but I’ll see it through.