Timing, right. It’s crucial. When to release a film for Oscar contention. When to leave the house to get to the airport in time to go through security and not sit at the gate too long. When to leave for a party so you arrive at the sweet spot. When to ask the boss for a promotion.
When to uproot and move to NYC.
I picked a doozy of a time to move. May 2019. But it had been in the works for a while. I just had to become convinced by friends that it wasn’t beyond my capabilities. There’s no denying how formidable living in NYC is to the outsider. You may as well say you want to move to the dark side of the moon.
“So, is there gravity there?” I might have asked.
It seemed almost unsurmountable a task. I was floundering in Tucson. But being able to see how others managed made living in NYC attainable, maybe.
I had to pick an arbitrary date. I moved here. And goddamn it, it was rough. But no rougher than anything I’d already tackled. And I tried to face my challenges one at a time so that I could build a foundation and then start taking bigger risks. I used a series of coping mechanisms.
I didn’t leave the house until I felt settled in my clothes. Clothes are a huge trigger for me. If I’m physically uncomfortable, I’m likely to hit a wall and lose it several hours later over something that doesn’t deserve the intense energy. Clingy fabric, shoes that pinch, stockings that bunch. If I lost it far from home, there was no one to save me. At least not in Tucson. I found out that that wasn’t necessarily the case in NYC.
I learned how to buy groceries and keep things in stock so I didn’t have to shop in the food desert that is Bed-Stuy. If it meant spending $10 to get higher quality produce and meat and have it delivered up to the fourth floor, I just sucked it up as the cost of business. In Tucson, I would have just done without. Safeway delivered, but I didn’t care enough about my life to put the effort in. I wasn’t thriving.
I also learned how to scan my body from head to toe and check in with myself. What am I feeling and why? Any pain? Treat it. Acid reflux? Handle it. Anxiety? Deep breaths. In the beginning it was very intentional. The more I did it, the more it came second nature. For someone with big executive functioning issues, this was huge for me. (On that note, one of the comments I got in response to my conference keynote was, “She doesn’t seem autistic.” One, if I had a dollar. And two, my affect is the result of decades of practice. But if you saw the state of my bedroom right now, you’d be asking how I could live like this. It’s a concession. I have a cleaning lady come. The mess has a terminal velocity as long as she keeps coming.)
There’s a lot more to it, but the point is that I figured it out because I had no other choice. There was no cavalry coming to save me if I didn’t. In Tucson, that would mean floundering, whereas in NYC, it meant surviving. And it turned out there was a cavalry in NYC in the form of social networks and contradictory communitarian and individualistic values. Everyone has to live around people they find annoying or obnoxious here, but they’re going to make sure that no one kills themselves in front of a subway train because everybody is late for work.
It was through these means that I came to know NYC as an inhabitant. Interacting with the city in every way taught me a ton. I lived practically every day like there was no tomorrow, mostly because the woo woo told me that it wasn’t gonna last. The salad days would soon be over and all the things that people took for granted while they walked mindlessly through life during good weather and complained about on overcast days would not be important soon. I didn’t know when soon would be. Just that it was looming.
And then I went to Tucson. I was probably there a week before I knew for sure that I didn’t need Tucson anymore. It was just a place to shelter during the initial uncertainty. People were cold and callous. They were dismissive about my warnings. I didn’t wear a sandwich board and ring a bell, shouting that the end was nigh, but I might as well have for how everyone reacted when I told them to take covid seriously.
When I saw their reactions–it won’t come; the heat will take care of it; it’s not that serious; we have lots of open space–I just kind of shut up. Because if they couldn’t handle the truth about covid being a threat when there was demonstrable proof that it was, they certainly couldn’t handle the idea of a poorly equipped state like Arizona getting slammed. And they couldn’t handle the other things I’d already guessed would happen. Food shortages, borders closings, overcrowded morgues and lawlessness.
This wasn’t woo woo. This was just paying attention to what was already happening and knowing enough about communitarian vs individualistic societies. The first rely on shame while the second rely on guilt. You can’t use shame in an individualistic society. Try shaming someone in a parking lot in Arizona and you’re likely to get a gun pulled on you. The cops aren’t about to try and enforce the law on a state full of gun nuts. They’re not used to being the bad guy when it comes to white people. I saw the shit storm coming and all I could think of was how to get back to NYC before they closed the borders and stopped letting people back in without quarantining.
Now, everyone I told that NY would impose registration and mandatory quarantine on out of staters told me I was crazy and there was no way that would happen. They didn’t believe me in April. Well, it’s happening now. Just the initial stages.
We’re dealing with scarcity like no American has witnessed in their lifetimes. And it shouldn’t be a surprise. The recession wasn’t a surprise. The possibility of a super bug wasn’t a surprise. A worldwide pandemic wasn’t a surprise. The reaction from anti-intellectuals wasn’t a surprise. The lack of state action in states where white people have guns and don’t like being told what to do wasn’t a surprise. Frankly, the whole thing was just waiting to happen. You didn’t need a crystal ball. You just needed to be a polymath who read a lot of different sources and in different areas. You just had to be me or someone like me. It wasn’t that this couldn’t be foreseen. It was that nobody wanted to listen. Classic Cassandra complex stuff.
So yeah, I got to Tucson right before NYC shut down and I got back just before Arizona lit up because I was reading the tea leaves. It only looks like a coincidence to people who don’t pay attention. People who curse overcast skies and take the sunny ones for granted. They’re asleep and I can’t wake them up. If this is a gift, I haven’t figured out a way to help others beyond gentle nudges. I have to find a way to amplify the message. I’ve got a few inklings but, until then, I just kind of keep my mouth shut. I’m still projecting 5-10 years into the future. This isn’t going to resolve itself for about that long, from what I can tell. Try telling that to the average person and they’d dismiss it out of hand because it’s terrifying to think about. In the age of instant gratification, no one knows how to deal with momentary unpleasantness.
The real truth, which gives me solace, is that you can find ways to be happy inside of the unpleasantness. If you’re still alive and healthy, why the fuck would you spend a single day flagellating yourself? It’s a waste of a life to spend it grumpy and complaining. It’s a sin. You have to find the joy. You have to take the time to grow. You have to hope and then work towards meeting your hope halfway. Any other option makes you a miserable person to be around, frankly.
But what do I know?