Moving to New York

So many things have been written about New York. Honestly, SO MANY THINGS.

Before I got here, I had been introduced to it from the hugely popular book series, The Babysitters Club. This, of course, happened when I was a young girl. Not when I was old enough to actually come here. For those unfamiliar with this amazing series, a group of girls formed a club so they could babysit for kids in their neighborhood. Hence, the title, The Babysitters Club!

The reason I liked this series, apart from the fact it was really easy to read – according to my Year Five teacher I was a lazy reader – was because these girls were so independent. They always had so much fun. They had so much freedom. I did not have that freedom.

A couple of books had the group of girls go to New York City on the train (alone) from Stonybrook, Connecticut. A group of 13 year old girls (and two 11 year-olds; shout outs to Jessi and Mallory!) were allowed to traipse around a huge city that by most accounts, was not a safe place back then. They went out to lunch, to dinner, to fucking Bloomingdale’s, and around Central Park all alone.

Reading this – obviously fictional series – I often wondered why I couldn’t have that same freedom, and why I didn’t have options like that available to me. I lived in the literal middle of nowhere.

I once said to my mum that I wanted to be able to “leave the house, tell you I’m going out, and then NOT COME BACK UNTIL I WANT TO!” She calmly explained to me that I was ten, and (quite rightly) I wouldn’t be going anywhere without her knowing about it.

But this feeling carried over into being a teenager, and again when I was an adult.

While I would mainly feel this way when I spent time at home in Grafton – at 25 I told my mum I hated being away from Sydney and at home for too long because I wanted to just go for a walk and get a coffee, and I CAN’T DO THAT HERE – it started to become more apparent in Sydney, too.

  • Why can’t I go and get a drink at 2am if I want one? Why can’t I go buy some alcohol to drink at home at midnight?
    (This is why.) 
  • Why can’t I look up what’s going on in my city on any given night and find something amazing to do?
    (This is why.)
  • Why can’t I go out and get a meal that isn’t Maccas or a kebab after 10pm?
    (Because the options are very limited.)

This huge FOMO I had was made worse after I visited New York for the first time in November 2014. New York is a place that’s been represented, recreated, and fed to me through so many TV shows, movies, and songs. A place I already kind of knew before I even arrived, a place I recognized even though I’d never been before.

There’s something about it that makes you feel like anything is possible. And I don’t mean that in an ultimate, #blessed #followyourdreams kind of trite inspo way. I mean it in a smaller, every day way.

I can go anywhere I want, at any time I want. I can start Friday with no plans for the night or the rest of the weekend, and then realize on Sunday night that I managed to fill up two whole days with last minute, fun plans. I can find something last minute and different to do every night of the week.

It’s also the kind of place where, since there are so many people crowded in it, things are bound to go wrong sometimes.

But even when you feel like everything is hopeless, or when you have that quick stab of realization that your closest friends and family aren’t around you – something that usually presents itself on a crowded subway in peak hour when everyone seems to be looking right at your face – something little will happen that reminds you it’s OK.

For me, it’s seeing people being kind to others even when they don’t have to be. Or watching the city lights flash past from an Uber going over the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge, when I was too tired or lazy to get the subway home.
And seeing the morning sun over the city from the Manhattan Bridge, when I’m jammed up against the wall of the subway with three other people touching me.

On one particularly difficult night, I’d been in line for a bus home (one of those big yellow school buses) from a music festival for about an hour.

I was feeling anxious being alone with all these people who were obviously in groups with their friends, and my mind did its thing where it asked: “What if it’ll always be like this? Going to festivals alone! Being alone on a bus home! Being alone… FOREVER!”

When I finally got on the bus, I was questioning all the life decisions I’d made to date, and convinced that everything was ruined. I would never get used to New York. Never get over this feeling. Never not be alone.

A guy in the row next to me looked around at everyone, and out of nowhere started singing:
“In the town, where I was born. Lived a man… who sailed to sea. And he told us of his life, in the land of submarines.”
As he continued “So we sailed, into the sun, til we found a sea of green. And we lived beneath the waves, in our yellow submarine,” more people joined in.

Then the whole bus was singing “We all live in a yellow submarine, a yellow submarine, a yellow submarine!”

It was like that scene in Almost Famous. Something so small, as some loudmouth guy wanting to sing to change the mood on the bus, completely changed how I was feeling.

And that’s something I try to think about when things haven’t gone my way here. I look for the good. I look for the reason behind the lesson.

I will be writing a lot more about my experiences so far, but this is a short introduction into the start of my ongoing love affair with this amazing city. I hope you’ll continue to follow my steps!

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Justine McNamara

I'm an Australian living in New York. I work in marketing but I write about music, New York, and my own personal experiences.

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