For the first time in my adult life, I do not mind the snow. It is the first day of Spring on the first Friday after my first week in New York City as the managing editor of Baeble Music, and I find the snow rejuvenating. It is a reminder that weather exists in this concrete labyrinth of brownstones, row houses, office complexes, and skyscrapers. And although any one who learned to drive on the mountainous slopes of West Virginia’s rural back-highways and the congested hills of Morgantown should dread winter and snow like it’s the return of the locusts — here to destroy everything you love — I can’t. Not today.
I regret not snapping a picture of the over-burdened branches of the firs, their extremities sagging over the steep walls of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway like an out of shape man stretching and failing to reach his toes. I regret not having a spare coat to offer the young black man with his hands shoved wrist deep down his sagging pants because he was not wearing any jacket or top with pockets. And I highly regret my terrible personal health, my calf muscles seizing after only a week’s stay in the city with only a short walk from subway to home and subway to work to strain me. But I do not regret the cold. And I openly welcome the snow.
I could utilize every possible cliche phrase for the painful sting of the wind and the moist tickle of the snow, but none of them would capture the central emotion of my walk home from work tonight. I was thinking about work but only in the most ancillary sense — I wasn’t concerned with page views or community engagement or pitches for feature op-ed articles. I was thinking about work itself, about what it means to feel fulfilled and challenged in life, and about how I can’t have fulfillment without challenge. And as the wind pierced my poorly sheltered form — I was wearing nothing but jeans, tennis shoes, a t-shirt, and a pea coat — the pain was restorative. It reminded me that I was alive, that I was a resident in the city I had desired to call home for years, and that for the first time in over half a decade, I felt as if I had the chance to craft the story of my life with the tools and language of my choosing.
A not insignificant portion of this feeling has been my fault, but my life has been defined by a sense of confinement. When I was both a child and teenager, I grew up in a portion of my beloved home state where people my age were often miles away. I did not have close friends in the way I would define that word now until high school when their access to cars and driver’s licenses meant we could see each other without the aid of our parents. But even then, I was so geographically removed from most of my peers that I have spent the vast majority of my life in a form of social isolation. For much of my teenage years, I lived with my father, and he worked long hours in a store an hour away, and I learned to entertain myself and pass nights in quiet solitude.
College represented a broadening of both my social and cultural horizons. The close proximity of co-workers and students in WVU dorms forced me out of a deeply ingrained social bubble, and access to internet that wasn’t dial-up for the first time in my life opened my eyes to our digitally connected world. And while I grew in Morgantown, I grew too fast. A summer spent in Florence, Italy, showed me the world past college towns, and I suddenly resented the smallness of Morgantown when only two years prior, it had felt vast and unconquerable. I felt cheated by the town’s lack of cultural venues when it’s deeply unfair to compare small-town America to the heart of the Renaissance, but I did it anyways. The follies of youth.
That isolation paired with a deep existential crises related to my professional aspirations led to one of the darkest periods of my life, a period that I consider myself highly fortunate for surviving with my sanity intact. But a move to this city I now call home in 2012 seemingly offered the ultimate escape: my chance to live and learn and create and adventure in the halls that my heroes called home: Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Thomas Pynchon, and Jack Kerouac to name a few. And it both was and wasn’t. My initial stint living in Brooklyn and working in Manhattan had been among the most intellectually and emotionally fulfilling periods of my life, but it only struck me tonight, on my walk home in the joyously bitter cold, that I had been ignoring the real source of my anxiety and neuroses and fear in favor of more surface concerns.
Its roots are more complex than my simple rural isolation, but I spent most of my life lacking the simple ability to connect with others. Whether it’s chemical, psychological, or spiritual, I was a solipsist and narcissist, primarily concerned with my own affairs and with little qualm with pushing other people aside to get what I wanted. Cities like Florence and New York represented a spiritual deus ex machina where by virtue of the hundreds of thousands/millions of people in their confines, I would find the people who would complete my personality. That’s not how cities work. And it’s especially not how relationships and friendships work. But we create the fantasies we need to rationalize our own humanity.
As I was walking home tonight, with the snow mercilessly flying into my face and settling into my hair, my mind was firing on all cylinders. My only known way to combat the brutality of the cold is to lose myself in thought. And as I observed the multitude of humanity ferrying its way through life all around me, I thought about the true relationships I’d forged over the years: the philosophical friends who transformed my world view, the artistic friends who pushed the limits of my imagination, the adventurous friends who jolted me out of comfort & routine. I was being buffeted by wind and freezing snow, but that sensory overload was feeding back into the knowledge that everywhere I’ve lived and everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve had what I wanted within grasp, and on the most fortuitous and blessed occasions, I’ve embraced the wonder of connection.
For the last several weeks, I have categorized this move to New York City as the beginning of the newest chapter in my life if not an outright re-invention of the entire story. But, tonight I find that to be less true. I have always felt disconnected from my past selves — viewing the mistakes and triumphs and tragedies of my earlier life through a distant lens. But, tonight, as the Park Slope streets that I now call home find themselves covered in inches of snow on an unnaturally cold first day of Spring, I feel all of the “me”s that have ever been. I feel the convergence of my experience and memory and this sprawling, messy narrative I call a life. And I don’t want to close the chapters that have come before. I don’t want to sever the connection to my roots and my past and the many beds and doors that have served as home. So, instead, as I feel the last of the snow melting and evaporating from my hair, I renounce this as a new chapter. It is instead the next verse in a poem — a form for which I’ve never had much talent. A poem in rough meter and unpolished prose, but what better way to add some shine than springtime and snow.