I’ve spent my whole life growing up just a stone's throw away from New York City, but never actually in it. Despite its proximity to the pulsating life of the Big Apple, Northern Jersey, as much as we wish it was, is just not New York City.
My mother, unlike myself, was a New Yorker. She lived there, socialized there, rubbed elbows with seriously powerful ilk. She ate New York food and spoke with a distinct New York accent. She made her mark on the world while wearing decisively urban, executive lenses. Yet, no matter how hard I tried, none of that industrial attitude rubbed off on me. No matter how much time I spent in the city, no matter how many magazines and videos I watched, nothing ever stuck.
This realization is something I've grappled with since childhood. I've always yearned to be a true New York artist, someone who's au fait with the latest fashion, knows where to find the best new music, where to try avant-garde food, and where to discover artists before they hit the mainstream.
We understand, intuitively, what that entails: some grunge, some glamor, and lots of romance. It's a poetic, bohemian lifestyle. Sometimes it can be hedonistic. It's tactile and dirty, but in a classy kind of way. Standing in my glass house, clutching a fistful of stones, I can't shake off a persisting fear.
I worry that I'm too dressed up, that my makeup is too careful, that I try too hard to fit into a mold that I don’t naturally inhabit. When I speak, is anyone listening? Are my allusions off base, do I sound like an outsider, an alien speaking a second language when I try to mimic the city's slang? Does my artistic interpretation of trends disrespect the original sentiment, the essence of the movement?
My hands, dry from the alcohol and solvents, feel too clumsy to hold the intricate, impractical accessories that seem to adorn every New Yorker. My time, ever-so-consumed, leaves little room to appreciate the little art galleries, the opera, or small theatre productions. I don't even even know which movies are showing on the silver screen these days.
I look in the mirror, disheveled and embarrassed. I should read more poetry, more feminist literature. I should spend more afternoons in the park, as the city goers do, sunbathing with a hat, and enjoying the hours pass me by.
Each day brings forth the same question: Is this relentless pursuit of my daydream self, this NYC-cool version of me, a path to fulfillment or a recipe for dissatisfaction?
Despite these insecurities, I still harbor a dream. A dream of someday living in the city, maybe Brooklyn. I'd open up my own little studio and retail space, decorated just how the other artists and shopkeepers do. I would host book clubs, meditation circles, dinner parties. I imagine selling beverages, running pop-ups, creating a warm and inviting atmosphere that sparks creativity. I'd finally be a part of "building community" in my area. I dream of becoming a part of the city's vibrant tapestry, perhaps inspiring a new generation of starry-eyed teenagers.
But as I dream, I return to the question that has shadowed me for years: Will I ever be NYC-cool? Will I ever successfully merge the seams of my upbringing with the edgy, ceaseless energy of New York? What part of me is holding me back?
NYC-cool is an elusive feeling that has captured the hearts of many for as long as NYC has been a thing. I have always chased it, but maybe one day, when I get there, I'll remember that it was never something outside of me. Perhaps my own sincerity and aspirations were cool, that they were fine and commendable and earnest as they were.