28 June 2006

Unsettling In

Apologies for the lack of updates this past week. Not sure what happened: decompression from the fest, perhaps, about which I had planned to write more, and hopefully still will, or perhaps a vague bout of angst and anomie as the realities of taking up residence in a new city begin to sink in.

One thing I hadn't wanted, and which I'm nevertheless forced to admit is happening, was to simply transfer my London lifestyle in toto to a new geographical setting. Had I been satisfied with the way I was living in London, it would hardly have seemed worth the effort to uproot myself, but as it happened, I wasn't. Life there felt rootless, disconnected, and too much of my daily routine involved either the internet or wandering the streets in a fairly predetermined if largely pointless circuit around the West End and Soho.

I've got nothing against wandering the streets in principle, and aimless wandering can be even better in my book, but when it's the same few streets over and over, and you don't even know particularly why, except perhaps that you're slightly more likely to run into someone you know there, it can be a bit dispiriting. The fact that London was replete with wander-able streets made it far more attractive to me than Berkeley, where you can also wander through your choice of bohemian suburbia or edgy ghetto, but unlike London, are not likely to wind up anywhere more salubrious and stimulating than the Telegraph Avenue homeless encampment or the Shattuck Avenue beggars' arcade.

But London had also begun to pall some time ago; I just didn't want to admit it for fear of people quoting Samuel Johnson at me. Plus I was worried that it might not be London, but me that was the problem. Every time I'd come back from a visit to New York I'd bore all and sundry with how much better things were Over There. Cleaner, safer, the subway ran all night, cafes and bookshops stayed open past 8 pm, people were friendlier and more open-minded, etc. etc. And all that continues to be true, but the one thing that held me back from moving to New York was my fear that if, when I got there, it wasn't exciting or rewarding or fulfilling enough, there would be no place left to go. After all, for years I'd romanticized and fantasized about London, convinced that once I was able to move there on a full-time basis, my life would finally begin, and yet within a few years, London began to feel like a dull provincial town, constraining and confining me.

Clearly this was not many other people's experience of London: not only did I meet people on a daily basis who were simply ecstatic to be living in what they considered (and what I had once similarly considered) the greatest city on earth, but people from the USA and other countries regularly told me how much they envied my being able to live there. And even when I transferred the "greatest city on earth" mantle to New York, it wasn't as though I'd completely gone off London; I'd only downgraded it slightly, to New York's more stolid and less glamorous twin.

But - and here's the worry - after only a few weeks I find myself doing exactly what I'd hoped I wouldn't, taking up a less than fulfilling routine of internet surfing and aimless wandering over a predetermined circuit; all I seem to have done is to substitute the East and West Villages for the West End and Soho. Ten thousand restaurants within walking distance and I patronize the same handful of pizza, coffee and sandwich joints. More movies and plays and clubs on offer than probably anywhere in the world, and I haven't seen or entered a single one. Eight million people and I often go for days at a time without talking to anyone apart from a sales clerk or telemarketer.

So it wasn't London, apparently, or perhaps even Berkeley that was lacking; the trouble apparently lies in me. That doesn't mean I'm not happy to be in New York. On the contrary, just knowing I'm here gives me a thrill even on days where I barely set foot out of my door. But there's a near-constant sense that I'm not making anywhere near the use I could out of the mass of opportunities this city offers, and I guess that's just today's metaphor for life in general. How long have I felt this way? Oh, since the mid to late 1950s, I'd reckon, but being cast adrift in The Greatest City On Earth puts it in especially sharp relief.

1 comment:

Wesley said...

If those are the coffee shops, pizza stands and so forth that you like, why not?

I'm not trying to brush off your mood, which is one I find myself in frequently, regardless of the city I'm living in, wherein I chastise myself for not getting out and giving life a right thrashing every moment of the day.

So what's realistic? I don't know if, energy-wise, I could take having new and varied experiences every day. I personally need down-time and the comforts of home, Internet, and established vendors of bread products and caffeinated beverages.

You didn't ask for my advice so I'll quit while I'm ahead. But it seems to me the key is being mindful about the matter, and the right balance will emerge.