New York: A Love Letter
Over a decade ago, while driving from the tiny town of Alfred, New York to the slightly less tiny town of Saratoga Springs, I started mapping out my first novel. I was a recent college graduate working a low-paying writing job and getting over the second terrible breakup of my life while realizing I’d never really gotten around to healing from the first. I was depressed, and I needed an outlet.
All my life I’d dreamed of becoming a writer.
I hit the road to visit a friend who was maybe becoming something more. I’d burned two CDs full of music I felt summed up my entire being and titled them “My Life, Volume One & Two.” By the time I’d driven the 280-some snowy miles, I had a fairly decent idea of where I was going plot-wise. Somehow, driving for five hours in my Chevy Corsica that would never quite get warm, I figured out a framework that worked for me.
Anyone who’s ever tried to write any kind of a story is probably familiar with the whole “I know kind of what I want to write about, but the idea is eluding me” frustration. I wanted to write about the people who change your life, regardless of whether or not they end up being “the one.” I wanted a vehicle to talk about a real-life relationship I’d had. I wanted to write what I knew. But I didn’t want to write a book about myself. I needed distance and familiarity at the same time.
So I decided to write about actors falling in love and helping each other become their authentic selves. But instead of just talking about theater and acting as a metaphor for change, I decided to actually show the play itself, make characters that would test my characters, so to speak. The best setting for this was obviously New York City.
I’ve never lived in New York, but I always tell people that I feel like I have. I’ve visited probably forty times over the past fifteen years, and I more than know my way around Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan. Several of my like-family friends have lived there or still do. What I’ve always loved about New York is how completely solitary you can be in such a massive city of so many people. No one cares what you’re up to. No one necessarily notices your movements. You can be completely incognito in a way I’ve never experienced in any other city. If you’re searching, it’s a safe place to do that. If you’re foundering, it’s easy to switch gears. You can be a total changeling without ever leaving the island.
New York was the perfect city for my wayward characters to explore themselves, because it was the perfect place for me to do the same. Over the years (and many, many drafts of this book), New York has been and remains the place I go to escape my life, to practice mindfulness, to stare into the deepest, darkest parts of myself without fear. I go by myself, mostly. I visit friends, I eat good food. I walk for hours through bustling streets where no one talks to me and no one takes notice, and I listen to music as loud as it goes. I listen to myself.
I’ve never lived in New York, and maybe it would be different if I did. But for now, it’s my home away from home, my little secret. Not because I know something more about it than the next person, but because what happens to me there is mine and mine alone. New York, the mother and protector of my characters, the nurturer of my dark side, the hand-holding friend I can always call up for brunch and a walk in the park. New York, my love.