A tale of two cities

Mental health

Ten years ago, I spent a month in New York with my sister, who lives there. It was Spring. The city was fizzy and infused with life – times a gazillion. I was in an exploratory mood and opened myself up. I studied everything and everyone around me; tiny things like how an older lady with very black hair stuffed into a red knitted hat was sitting on a bench, gesticulating to her male friend, who was nodding vehemently while clutching an over-flowing carpet bag. Or how, in one glossy neighborhood, all the women, heck all the men too, were so groomed that they seemed to shine, as if someone had painted them on to the street. I nearly bumped into Yoko Ono on the corner of a block and it was just one of those New York things – yep, there’s the iconic Yoko, just sauntering down the street. Horns honked with a special New York dialect that sounded like music to me, people yelled across the street, laughed, fought like lovers, carted bags of large, doughy freshly baked bread as they hightailed it down the street.

Everything was amazing. All of it. The people, the noise, the dirt, the guts, the glamour. It sounds corny, but I felt like New York opened its arms, drew me in, then gave me gift, after gift – wonderfully weird conversations, belly laughs, random, quicksilver friendships, beautiful vistas (even if it was rubbish over-flowing in a trashcan, I found beauty in it), things that made me cry with joy or want to punch the air. I was riding on a kinetic, almost tangible, vital energy I’d immediately tapped into on arrival and I didn’t want to ever stop skidding about on it. The city has a humongous personality, and if you get on the right side of it, it’s all-consuming, utterly intoxicating, enough is never enough; you want to keep piling more on.

A couple of years later, I went again. My mood was different, though I didn’t realise it at the time. I was closed off, sad. Worried about things. New York folded its arms, shrugged. It turned away. People were rude, relentlessly so. Its streets really were mean, just like the Scorsese film. People shoved and pushed, rolled their eyes. They had no time to talk. They didn’t want to know. I felt stifled, bewildered, wondering where ‘my’ city had gone.

Some time later I stumbled upon a quote by Ana├»s Nin: We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are, and with a visceral jolt back to the snapshots in my head, I thought of New York. Each time I was there, I had polar opposite lenses on. The later trip, I somehow became entangled with a grim underbelly of the city and its bleak undertow of negativity. And that first, explosively exquisite time – well. I’d risen up like freshly bloomed flower, delicate face turning eagerly up to the rain, sure of the nourishment that was to come.

I think about these two city trips sometimes. Why is it that when you are cranky as hell you come into contact with more of the same? Why, when you are as happy as a clam, do you get showered with an ocean of joy? It’s unfair, isn’t it? Perhaps the first time, New York should have been more unkind, made me wobble on its giddy merry-go-round. Later, it might have had the decency to cheer me up, throw me a few tidbits to haul me out of my grump. There’s a lot of awfully woo-woo stuff I could reference here but I won’t. If you think about it, it’s pretty obvious that this is how life works.

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