New York State of Mind
May 17th, 2010

There is the life I have.  And there is the life I want.  Much of the time they look a lot alike.  But there are times when real life takes a back seat to dream life and I spend a handful of days contemplating something I wish I had.  This happens every time I go to New York. 

On Thursday morning GAP and I loaded up into a cab, said goodbye to IEP (who was much more interested in the presence of said cab than in the fact that Mama and Dada were leaving in it), and motored to the airport.  Leaving my baby behind was difficult, but was eased by thoughts of a weekend of sleeping in, dinners with friends, shows, baseball games, and drooling over my favorite city in the world. 

It’s not the bright lights that get to me.  It’s the aggregated experience of a thousand little things that I love: The smell of street food, the brownstones, the pre-theatre menus, the way the park fills up on a sunny afternoon, the strollers everywhere, hearing more foreign languages than English being spoken around me, and the normalizing effects in being in a place where you are almost always in the middle of any demographic continuum. 

When I’m in New York I feel like a child with her face pressed up against the glass of a beautiful window display.  I want what I see, but it doesn’t (at least right now) belong to me.  I imagine myself there, not as a vacationer, but as a resident.  I dream up scenarios about what kind of life I would have.  And I contemplate how serious I am about all of these daydreams.

And then I come home.  I come home to my sturdy house, my affectionate dogs, and my perfect son.  I come home to a city that is comfortable and familiar.  I come home to a place that knows me as well as I know it.  I come home to a life that is good and happy and satisfying.  And I wonder if I’m being unreasonable.  All this lusting after a life I’ve invented in my head, is it innocent or not?  Living a life that wants for nothing, am I an utter ingrate to think about a life that might offer more? 

I’d like to find some tidy conclusion to these questions.  I’d like to say that I’ve thought them through, arrived and an answer and say The End.  But I haven’t, and so I will end this post honestly by saying that I don’t know.  I know what I think I want.  I don’t know if it will meet my expectations if I someday have it.  And I don’t know if I have any business wanting anything more than the life I already have.  Wanting more is a tricky thing.  It helps us strive.  But it also suggests that the here and now aren’t good enough.  And, at least for me, that isn’t completely true. 

This post was inspired by the topic of “lust” as a part of Momalom’s Five for Ten week.  I was a little late in getting my link for Friday’s topic of “Memory” posted, so if you missed it, scroll down or click here.

24 Responses to “New York State of Mind”

  1. Corinne Says:

    I do the same thing, conjure up a life for us wherever we visit. Still don’t know where we want to be, or why there’s the longing to be elsewhere, when I do truly love where we are location wise now.
    But then again… I don’t know.
    Such a good post – can so relate.

  2. Launa Says:

    Speaking as a once-and-future New Yorker, somebody who got to wheel her very own children’s strollers over the bridge of your dreams, I’ll tell you this:

    New York is a terrific place to live your life. The life of your dreams becomes your real life. There are plenty of neighborhoods that are great fits for families (as long as you’re willing to downsize the amount of space you have now, to much less than half.)

    New York is a place of incredible diversity, of endless variation, of beauty and flavor. It’s also the capital city of serious crankiness, everyday conflict and struggle, and super competitiveness.

    But we love it. City of big dreams and big lusts.

    I loved reading this. Thanks.

  3. Gale Says:

    Launa – Thanks for this response. You raise an important point – New York is not without its faults as well. For all the wonderful things it offers it also brings drawbacks to the table at once. No location is perfect. It’s just a matter of finding the place that is the most perfect for us, and then making peace with its negatives.

  4. rebecca Says:

    I know that place between loving my life as it is and striving for something more. The lust for more keeps me in momentum and I like that. But sometimes it is tiring. I suppose it is the balance, the ever-present balancing act.

  5. Liz Says:

    This was really good. I feel this way about Hawaii. I live in South Florida, a mere 25 minutes from the nearest beach. I have a pool. I am off in the summer. I have sand in my flip flops A LOT. Yet, I dream of what it would be like…leaving everything and moving to Hawaii…giving up the comforts of my 4/2, steady-teaching job, and family on every corner. I dream of living in a little condo, a shack, whatever…taking up another job to make ends meet…living that true beach bum life. I rationalize by saying that it will be my retirement plan. My fave line of your post? Wanting more is a tricky thing. It helps us strive. But it also suggests that the here and now aren’t good enough. And, at least for me, that isn’t completely true.

  6. C @ Kid Things Says:

    It’s perfectly normal to want better, more. If I just did this, if I just moved here, to think we might be happier if. It pushes us forward.

  7. Eva @ Eva Evolving Says:

    Baseball games? I hope you saw the Yankees win on Friday or Saturday, not the Sunday game where the Twins whipped some Yankee butt!

    This is so interesting, this longing for a different life but also being really happy where you are. We love visiting family in Portland (Oregon) and have talked about living there. The idea is great, but I’m not sure it would actually be as great as we imagine. You know what I mean? It’s hard to know if we’re longing for something that actually wouldn’t turn out how we imagine.

  8. Gale Says:

    Eva – Yes, we saw the Yankees on Saturday and it was a great game! (As was the cheesesteak sandwich and Carvel ice cream! I love stadium food. But I digress…)

    I know exactly what you mean. You build things up in your mind and then wonder if the reality could ever live up to the dream. You also wonder if what you aspire to would actually end up being a better fit or not. (That whole thing about the devil you know vs. the devil you don’t.) It’s one of those questions that will go unanswered unless you make the jump. Obviously we haven’t yet, and I don’t know if we will. So I continue to wonder.

  9. Anne Says:

    I can also relate. It’s so easy to build up another place in your head as bringing a richer, happier, more interesting existence. And while location is important, I’m learning it isn’t everything. These days, my biggest wish is to live somewhere that feels like “home”. That could mean moving, and it could mean staying put until my location becomes my home. There are so many things I want, but also so many things I have.

  10. Justine Says:

    I am having a complete opposite problem. I long for a life someplace else just to say I have done it – lived elsewhere – but I LOVE the city I’m in. It’s such a big part of me and while I lust after the white picket fence sometimes, I look at the row of brownstones and 100-year-old trees on my street, I just can’t imagine being anyplace else.

  11. Rudri Says:

    New York is a such a place. It is the ultimate definition of a cosmopolitan and raw city. I love visiting. I understand the need to want to live elsewhere, even though you may be content in your current home. It is all about the feeling, right?

  12. Christine LaRocque Says:

    I think it’s human to want what we don’t have. I also think it keeps life interesting. It keeps us reaching out for new experiences. I’m like you, when I visit a place filled with wonderful memories, a place that satisfies all my senses, I constantly go back there. It’s a happy place when I need to destress, or what I do when trying to fall asleep.

    And a post like this makes me so excited for my trip to New York this summer. I’ve never been and I can hardly wait.

  13. Aidan Donnelley Rowley @ Ivy League Insecurities Says:

    Move. Here. Now.



  14. Elaine Says:

    Location has not been as important as the people in my life of many locations. You can’t replace relationships – with people – not places.

  15. TheKitchenWitch Says:

    I feel like that when I’m in NYC, too. After a few days there, it’s always too crowded and too busy for me, ultimately, but those first few days are golden.

  16. Laura H. Says:

    New York, concrete jungle where dreams are made of
    There’s nothin’ you can’t do
    Now you’re in New York
    These streets will make you feel brand new
    Big lights will inspire you
    Let’s hear it for New York, New York, New York

    Alicia doesn’t sing this about our city for a reason!

    I chalk up my periodic ponderings about living life in NYC as part of my neverending interest in experiencing the most out of life. It’s the same as wondering what it would be like to be a criminal forensic scientist or a dolphin trainer or a novelist. Yes, I am smart and capable and could probably make any of these things happen, but I can’t uproot the most important thing to me – my family – in order to chase all these ponderings. I say ponderings because they do not rise to the level of dreams. Thus I travel and when I do, I go go go and do the most I can…and I justify spending the money to swim with dolphins on a trip to Hawaii so I can have a taste of that random dolphin trainer pondering. And I stay with my BFF in NYC in her 500 square foot apartment in the West Village rather than in a hotel room where I can be pampered because I like feeling how life is lived in NYC.

    So Gale…I say the lust is innocent, at least until the pondering crosses the line and becomes an actual dream. And not to sound too much like the English major that I am…there’s the rub.

  17. Kristen @ Motherese Says:

    Oh, Gale, I feel this exact same way about New York. My husband grew up in Manhattan and his mom still lives there so we are lucky to have a home-like place to visit. And every time we do visit, I start thinking grand thoughts of apartment hunting and brunches with all my friends who still live there and coffee dates with Aidan. :) But then I have to snap back to the reality that, as much as I love visiting, part of that love is based on my tourist’s splurging budget and that – with our lines of work – we would likely be living as a family of four in an itty bitty studio apartment. Sigh. But visits are good. Really, really good. As is your invitation for us to question the “what if?” of lust.

    Thanks, Gale!

  18. Privilege of Parenting Says:

    Hi Gale, I lived in Manhattan for eight glorious (and sometimes difficult) years, I really came into myself there and I fell in love there (with my wife, but also with my friends and that fantastic city). We moved to LA for a number of reasons and we found the most NY apartment that we could, and still we spent a long time coming to terms with LA just not being New York.

    LA has oddly grown on me, and as a psychologist there is plenty of work, but the one thing I have learned is that whether it is Provence, Paris, London or New York, what we really long for is the FEELING we imagine we will have when our lusts are sated. Sometimes it works, sometimes not… but I’m hoping that you might be able to conjure up that NYC feeling, even until you’re able to make it a reality, and even when you’re not quite physically there. You did as much for me with your post… and it reminds me that I’ve not given up on New York in my future (although it kills me that I had to sell the studio apartment I had managed to buy in the heart of the Village when broke back to Ph.D. program days left me no choice).

    Okay, fine. I just love New York, lust for it. Fine. Your post fired my imagination.

  19. Jack Says:

    I am biased because I love LA. It has everything that New York does and more without many of the problems. That is not to say that New York isn’t a wonderful place to live because it is. But for me it is not home.

    But that is not the point, what I really want to say is that I relate to the curiosity of the road not taken. I have blogged about what my life could have been more times than I can count.

    I have wondered, pondered and considered what could be and what is and why it should or should not be changed.

    The one thing that I really strive to do is just be happy with what I have. It is not always easy, I am filled with wanderlust and always have been. But I so appreciate your words.

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  22. Sarah Says:

    This post speaks volumes to me, Gale. I, too, have lusted after a life in New York forever. For as long as I can remember. For as long as I’ve known New York.

    One thing I know, that coming to a conclusion, to The End of a lasting question like this, frightens me. I don’t want to shut out possibility. I want to keep imagining a different life. I need things to NOT be static, stable, planned and perfect. I need to know I can crave more, daydream endlessly, think outside the box that is my home now.

    Such a lovely, personal post.

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