“Ugly?”, I asked.
“Yes. This is what New York is now.”
We were walking to catch the A train at Columbus circle after seeing an outdoor performance at Lincoln Center. It was the fifth day of our tap dance intensive and our feet were only allowing us to walk at a snail’s pace even though we just wanted to get to our beds as fast as humanly possible. She had come all the way from Austria to train with our teacher, and she was telling me how much has changed in New York since she was here in 1999.
I thought about her sentiments the whole ride home to Washington Heights. I see friends post on Insta all the time of sunsets over the Brooklyn Bridge and picnics in Sheep’s Meadow with #blessed and #lovethiscity captions. It always sort of puzzles me.
To be honest? I’ve never thought New York was beautiful. Not in 1999, and not in 2006, and not now.
I appreciate New York for so many things, but I don’t know that beauty has ever been one of them.
I don’t consider it a negative thing. There is beauty to be found in a friend date at The Bean or a breezy summer night after four days of Mother Nature’s worst, but I’ve never looked up 8th Avenue and thought, mmmmmm, look at the beauty. I’m not mad about it. I don’t spend time wishing for it. I just have always taken it for what it is.
I had a beautiful summer.
Well, okay fine, if I had to describe this summer of 2015 in one word, I would call out EXHAUSTING before the question was finished. But like definitely in a sweaty, wonderful, beautiful way.
Exhaust…ed. When people asked me how I was by the end of week two, I just whimpered, “I’m really tired.” To which they would chuckle and hug me and say, “Welcome back sister.”
New York both broke me and healed me this summer. I’m exhausted from the emotional roller coaster and the tap dancing and the trying-to-see-everyone-I-love part, but I’m also exhausted from yet another summer of confusing me.
I still don’t know where I belong. I still…don’t…know. And if I may take this time to pout but also be so grateful that I have to choose between a Hawaiian island and Manhattan island, I’ll try to lay it out.
Like, Hawai’i? Beautiful. Why do people ask me “how’s Hawai’i?” What exactly does that question mean? Like, are there really any doubts in your mind that it is beautiful, lush, breezy, and fragrant? I don’t understand.
New York? Aesthetically? First word that comes to mind is, beige. Mm, no. Black. Mm, no. Gray actually. Dark. Tall. Weird.
Obvious winner here? Hawai’i.
Hawai’i? Culturally? Super diverse, really interesting, a melting pot. With pineapples.
New York? Culturally? Super diverse, really interesting, a melting pot. With bagels.
We have a tie.
Hawai’i? Artistically? Barren. Stop it, I shouldn’t say that. It’s just the first word that comes to mind after spending all summer in the city. In this case, the first thought that comes to mind is the cop that pulled me over last year for speeding on Ali’i Highway who asked me three times if being a dance instructor was a real job. We are definitely building dance culture in Kona, and there is a community theatre, and there is a large theatre up North that produces some things within the community, but it’s hard to get what I need. For sure. I get to choreograph and teach and that’s how I pay my bills there and literally could not be more thankful to be doing something I love that keeps me fed, and I love the students so much that I just can’t bear to leave them yet.
The problem? I’ve experienced what it’s like to have artistic overwhelm. Like, I know too much. I know it’s out there. So it’s hard to accept what is not there, in Hawai’i.
New York? Artistically? Abundant. Dance classes that I can take. Cabarets. Piano bars. Jazz. Musical theatre improv. Broadway shows. Little shows at little theatres with better acting than Broadway. Tap dancing. Things, every day, so many things, I don’t know how to pick.
I didn’t appreciate New York for this while I lived there. I was so busy auditioning and working out, that the last thing I wanted to do was participate in more art. I had blinders on. No show tunes! I exclaimed. Ugh, I need a break from the dancing! I would sob.
Now, that I live 5,000 miles away, I would give anything to come to your basement cabaret with a $75 drink minimum.
And with all that to think about, there’s always the last issue.
Hawai’i? Socially? I have seven friends. I have dance moms and dance dads who I adore, students that keep me laughing, and acquaintances who are sweet. I have seven very wonderful friends, one of them being my ex-boyfriend. My friendships there are very present. There’s nothing to reminisce about, so we have to talk about current things. I don’t know, dogs, the news, life. It’s really simple and special and unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. We cook together and talk story and I do feel comfortable being myself, most of the time.
Until I come home.
Because, New York? Socially? Everything. I have a friend from some show, some job, some audition, some past relationship, some something, in every corner of three of the boroughs. And I’ve never felt more myself. We can sit and do nothing or we can go and watch something or we can sing and drink everything. We can talk about theatre, divas, tap dance, and harmonize to the Golden Girls theme song. We’ve known each other for years or we haven’t, but we have so much in common it doesn’t matter. Our humor is the same. We can bitch about the MTA or we can celebrate running into each other without planning it on 44th Street.
Is New York easier, socially? Of course, no brainer. Hawai’i doesn’t suck, it’s just hard sometimes for me to be 100% myself. I feel uneducated about a lot of current events and political issues because, well, I lived in a jewel tone dress at Pearl Studios for an accumulative five months out of every year and there just happen to be dozens more people in New York that understand that.
In Hawai’i, I can pay my bills. In New York, I overdraw my account.
In Hawai’i, I can go get groceries and drive them back to my spacious apartment. In New York, I can put them all in a backpack and hope to get back to my half-sized fridge before the ice cream melts.
In Hawai’i, beach. In New York, Broadway.
Hawai’i, beautiful. New York…
Is New York.
So now the question is, where, the hell, do I belong?
I know that I belong choreographing pieces, and shows. I know that I belong in a place where I can exercise my creative muscle. I know that I have a large network of people who would support me in doing that.
I also know that I can’t move back to a shoebox and bartend until I get my career back on it’s feet. I know that there’s a better quality of life for me, and I’m definitely not ready to compromise that at the moment.
I also know, that I would like to share my life with someone at some point, and the prospects in Hawai’i are definitely less than that of Manhattan. True, there are more terrible people in Manhattan than in the Aloha State, but the Big Island is not a young people, or single people island so much.
So I learned a lot. I learned, a lot. I spent two weeks tap dancing and I have a lot to say about that. I told someone I respect a lot that I had feelings for him. He said, “okay”. I had three Nutella milkshakes, but not in conjunction with anything bad happening. I saw two Broadway shows, one NYMF show, and one amazing production of Pearl at the Midtown Theatre Festival that had the most authentic acting in it I’ve seen in years. I logged miles. I got sunburned. I slept on couches. I didn’t wear bras all that often. I said hi to people in bars and they looked at me like I was insane. The aloha in me surprised me. I didn’t get claustrophic on the subway like I thought I would. I had unexpected run-ins with wonderful people I haven’t seen in years. I pissed some people off. I was a bad friend a few times. I drank too much with my college friends. I fell more in love with my body than ever before, which is saying something compared to how I was feeling four weeks ago when my parents brought up their concern about my weight gain. My hair looks amazing. I didn’t buy anything at Sephora and for that we can rejoice.
And I’m really happy. Today.
Everyone asks, “Are you excited to go back?”
To which I answer, “I’m indifferent.”
I am. I’ve been indifferent a lot this summer. Big events don’t give me a lot of feeling anymore. And I think I know why.
I used to get the excitement and the rush from a callback. That used to be my highlight. Being kept after dancing and singing for some people behind a table all day. I used to get pumped about getting one audition out of the thirty-five emails I would send out trying to get an appointment. I used to live for the events, and exist in between.
Now, the events are there, and I don’t hate them, or love them, I just appreciate them.
But the highlight for me now is the unexpected ferry ride to Nantucket where we get accidentally drunk on grapefruit and vodka. Or the Sunday dinners with my Hawai’i friends. Or like, swimming with fucking dolphins.
I didn’t know that little not-necessarily-career-advancing-moments could be so exhilarating. At least forty times over the course of this summer, I exclaimed “I AM SO HAPPY RIGHT NOW” and I think for thirty-nine of them, I was with people I love doing absolutely nothing important whatsoever.
I have learned, so much. And you know, maybe New York isn’t conventionally beautiful, but it gave me all the beauty I needed this summer and I feel on top of the world because of it.
Ask me in a week when I’m jet lagged and poor if I still feel the same way, but everything is temporary and I know that and I’ve really come to embody a life where I am present in every moment, so that the weight of the world can’t sit on top of me and smush me.
I love you, people of the east coast. I love you hard. And as Garrit Guadan, sexiest singer and piano player in the world so kindly reminded me in our 29-minute coffee date at Au Bon Pain last Tuesday…
I’ll always be back.
Mahalo, for all of your time. My heart.