I am back to the question of affordable housing and space and “home” as of late.
Is NYC my “home?” Should I make it my permanent home? Can I make it my home?
In a way, it seems ludicrous and outrageous. Who do I think I am? Only wealthy people can live here now. It is not the place of free thinkers, writers, immigrants, refugees, artists, and political progressives it used to be. Those days are long over.
Yes, I have been here now since May. Yes, over the past few years that I am lucky enough to come to NYC , I never want to leave. But is that because I have made my own life so miserable in Michigan, or because my life in Michigan is just not a good fit? What about my son? I am his guardian. Michigan is “my home” even if I do not have a physical location to call home. It is where I am from.
It is true I have wanted to live in NYC ever since I was a child, because I loved to read and many of the writers I loved lived in NYC. But, let’s get real; that is why tons of people want to come to NYC. I am not unique. Yes, I wanted to live in NYC after learning about social/artistic movements. (Or California) But so have a lot of other people. When I applied for graduate school in New Jersey years ago, I applied to that school because it had the number one women’s studies program in the country, it was near NYC, and it was by the ocean. That was my criteria. I don’t know why I did not apply at a school in NYC, but I had no idea what I was doing. I Just knew I wanted “out.” I did not feel I really had any agency or choice in the matter, but I was determined that my son and I were getting out. Out of Flint, out of the life that was supposed to be in the cards for us. And then so I could get the degree to live the life I wanted to live, to be healthier than my family; to be able to help others who had helped me so much and to whom I felt eternal gratitude. I wanted to be able to give back.
As I mentioned before, the graduate school made a mistake and sent me an acceptance letter when they meant to send a rejection letter so I drove out to convince them that I could do the academic work after they told me they made the mistake–but before I drove to the school in New Jersey, I drove instead to New York City, before cell phones and GPS’s, I had never been here before, and by myself. In the middle of the night. I had a map. And then I saw a big sign on the expressway that said, “NYC 100 miles” or whatever it was. So, instead of driving to the hotel to get the sleep I needed after driving 12 hours like a normal person would do, I followed some random sign to NYC and then drove around for hours in the city. To this day, I have no idea where I was in the city, I just remember driving around thinking, “I did it, I made it, I am in NYC.” I felt so happy.
When I lived in New Jersey, I came to the city a lot but it often felt daring–like once you went through that tunnel or over the bridge, all bets were off. You may or may not come back out. It never occurred to me to live in the city, though. I was always lost in the city as I have a horrible sense of direction.
Fast forward many years later. I don’t have space to myself but I don’t dare complain as I am fortunate to be here, many people who I know would love this chance, to be here even for a week. And then to have nice friends to stay with and a place to stay. But I also very much value my own time and space in my life and I have had literally none.
But, this past week, I have been staying in a little apartment by myself, taking care of another friends place as they went to South Africa. (I wound up realizing it was impractical for me to go so instead I am staying at their place. I love it here!)
I can navigate my way around the city much better by the day. This spring, when I first got here I said I was going to make it my goal to explore every crevice and crack in the city. A lofty goal, one I could spend my entire life trying to meet–I like the idea, though.
I keep thinking about what it would mean to get my things out of storage and make a commitment to “move here.” Earlier in the week, I took the subway up to the most northern part of the Bronx as people say it is cheaper there. I wanted to see what I thought of the area and if it was something I might be able to swing. Is it worth it to spend all the money I make on rent, in essentially a closet, and then I will have to deal with all the things you have to deal with in the city, just to be in NYC? I have been without a home for almost four years now. I love my friends and I am grateful but I am starting to feel eager to have my own space. But I know what I am dealing with per the city, it is not as if I am not in reality. Life is tough everywhere if you don’t have money to live but it is especially hard here.
This past week, I had a chance to practice what it would be like to be in NYC on my own so I am now giving myself some pause to consider how the experience has been. I have been lucky enough to have the experience without having to pay every dime I make on rent.
I like it. I want more of it. A couple friends suggested that I look in New Jersey again because rents are cheaper there but I don’t want to live in New Jersey. I already lived there years ago. I did not like it there why would I like it now? What is the point of living in New Jersey when I want to live in New York City? The way I am looking at it right now: it would be cheaper for me in the long run if I look at the amount of “free” things I can do in the city that would cost me money outside of the city. For example, there are many free or reduced yoga places. The Al-Anon meetings would be free anywhere, but I really like the people here. There are many free cultural events. I love the library and I now have a NYC ID card. I live here. This is my home. I feel free relatively speaking. I don’t feel like I am waiting to live, I am living. The city forces me to be my best self or I will be swallowed up and eaten alive. It is definitely one day at a time and everything could change tomorrow. Some days are too much but if I had my own place, I could swallow up those moments in a safe space, maybe. Unless neighbors are screaming and fighting, and the sirens are too loud.
What would it be to get rid of most of the things I have in storage and just bring the few essentials here to the city? What could I do with my car?
I have spent most of my life working to pay the rent without much left over anyway, so what is the difference? At least in the “off time” I would have things to do that I like. True, I cannot kayak and there are no solitary walks in nature, no beautiful beaches to sit on. There are rats and cockroaches and bed bugs. And tons of hot, sweaty people all smashed together in a subway, in lines, in aisles, on the sidewalks. It is noisy and obnoxious.
I keep waiting for it to get old. Some days it does. While I do work a lot, the work is not stable nor does it pay well but that is true wherever I go. It has already been established that I, like all adjuncts, am deeply exploited. I need healthcare. Last week I applied for jobs that I am overqualified for; they still do not pay well, but they did have a healthcare package. I noticed lots of other people applied for those jobs, too. I also started researching what one has to do to get in line for a lottery for affordable housing–it is a lottery–and like a real lottery, the chances of nabbing a place are slim to none. There are too many people here, and not enough jobs or affordable homes.
I like the lifestyle of NYC minus the expensive part. I like being able to walk to friends homes, or to the store. Yes, it is a pain sometimes to have to limit myself but it also forces me to be more conscious about what I am going to put in my body, since I have to buy it and walk five million miles in the heat in order to consume it. I like the fact that there are “awakened” people here. And there is so much to do, so many options, that it is overwhelming. Do I want to go a book signing? Free yoga at Riverside Park? Last night I found out that there was free opera at Lincoln Center outside for the next week? What about a museum? A protest? I love the fact that yesterday a bunch of women marched down Broadway bare-breasted because they feel women should be able to go topless just like men. Would I do it? No, but the spirit made me happy.
I loved the spirit of the protest art/statue of Trump in Union Square-people were not morally outraged, they were having fun, taking pictures of the emperor with no clothes, before the NYC parks took the statue down, with this explanation, ” NYC Parks stands firmly against any unpermitted erection in city parks, no matter how small.”
It is this spirit I love. I think to myself, OK, I took the big step to come out here and I have had this experience. Maybe it is best, now to think about other cities. I have been fixated on NYC all of my life. But maybe I should consider moving to Colorado, where it looks like healthcare there might become universal. People in Colorado report being “happy” and “healthy.” It is a liberal state. Michigan is the worst–it scores very high on the depression scale and I can see why.
But I am rambling now.
Yet, what city would have such a come-back to a naked Trump?
I don’t know what the outcome will be, I go back to the other friends apartment tomorrow. But I do know that despite my absolute pain for my son, I am also simultaneously grateful that I have had these moments. It is true that I have been socialized to be invisible, to think I don’t matter, to think my feelings don’t matter, to think I don’t have a right to have what I want, and to be critical of the fact that I am even having this conversation–because who do I think I am? I know what time it is, economically, in this country. It is the absolute worst time to live in the most expensive city in the country. And I am sick. And haven’t I already learned this lesson? I keep going where I don’t belong and I try to belong. Some people get to travel the world, other people have to stay where they “belong.” That is how it is. I seem to not want to stay where I belong. I am tired of being in other people’s spaces as much as I appreciate the fact that I am fortunate enough to have people who let me stay with them. I want a space of my own. But it feels impractical, and too much to ask. I picture myself trying to make the leap, and winding up on a park bench, with a sign attached to myself, “You should have chosen the practical route.”
I don’t have the answers, but I do plan to continue to document it the best I can, when I have moments to do so.