Thursday, November 06, 2014

New York, Delusions.


This time last month I was in New York, all by myself. I didn't take Nye and the girls, which is what everyone asked me, both before I went and while I was there. I didn't take them because I was going to photograph a wedding and flying four people to New York for a week is inconceivably expensive and somewhat inconvenient when two of those people are three years old. Which is when people looked askance and said 'doesn't your husband mind babysitting the kids for a week?'

When I'm done rolling my eyes I explain that firstly, it's not babysitting if THEY'RE YOUR OWN FUCKING CHILDREN. Then I tell them that he went to the Alps for 12 days in the summer to ride his bike down a big hill over and over and over again, leaving all of us at home without him. At this point everyone breaths a sigh of relief, the world makes sense again. Because god forbid that the scales of Who Does What weren't balanced in a relationship. . . I sort of regret telling people about the Alps thing at all to be honest. The version of myself that exists only in my head just says neutrally 'no, he doesn't mind. Should he?' and watches as people's sweet little brains struggle with the idea of a man happily looking after his kids for a week while his wife goes gallivanting. But my actual self doesn't want people to think that I'm a bitch, that my husband is put upon or to make people uncomfortable. Sometimes I'm deeply irritated by my actual self. 

Anyway, New York. I went, by myself and it was both more than and less than and completely different to the trip I had played out in my head. I was there to photograph the wedding of a dear dear friend and that bit was exactly as wonderful as I imagined it would be; the wedding, the husband (whom I hadn't yet met) and their relationship which was a beauty to behold. But the rest of the trip - the me bit of the trip - that was not what I was expecting.

It was in large part because that imaginary version of myself is deeply, inescapably pervasive in my ideas of how things will be; how situations, conversations and interactions will go. Imaginary me is sharper than real me, less socially conscious, more gregarious, outgoing and funny. She cares less what other people think, both in good and not so good ways. I had pictured her sitting in bars, laughing with strangers, going to see some plays or music or literary stuff and meeting interesting people, staying out late and immersing herself in the culture and life of New York City. HA! I don't chat and I don't stay out late. I don't ever chat to people I don't know, interesting or otherwise and I don't know why exactly I thought I would do so just because I was away from home by myself. I didn't talk to a single person without prior arrangement or specific need ('can I have a white wine? How much is this yarn?' (in the same glorious store!)) the whole time that I was there, which was fine, I don't like chatting with strangers, it makes me anxious. Even when it goes swimmingly and people are interesting and funny and I come away thinking 'they were nice', even then I leave with my heart racing, my adrenaline flowing, my need to immediately find a dark and quiet place raging. I know it's not an ideal response and plenty of people have told me that I'm unfriendly/anti-social/weird, many times but I would much rather eat and drink with a book in absorbed silence and cut off any and all attempts by strangers to engage me with a polite reply, a close-lipped smile and a pointed glance and whatever it is I'm reading than start a conversation with someone I don't know. I went to therapy for a year but it took a week in New York for me to accept a) that I am not the version of myself that acts out the imaginary situations in my head and b) that THAT'S FINE. 

That I didn't want to talk to anyone but my family back home and the friends I was seeing while I was there unlikely surprised anyone but me. When people asked what it was that I was looking forward to about going away 'lots of food and lots of quiet' were always my answers; a break from the constant chatter and noise of two almost-four year olds (do you know how often almost-four year olds shut up? When they're asleep, that's it.) It's easy to forget when you are a part of a family of four people that spend most of their time together what it is like to be alone. It's blissful, but it is also lonely, in almost equal measures (let's call it 60/40).


Both the bliss and the loneliness were good for me. The silence gave me space to do nothing, to be nothing to anyone, to please only myself. To leave an hour in the morning between waking up and doing something about breakfast because absolutely no one but me was going to lose their shit if they went hungry for more than five minutes. To go out at 9am and stay out until whenever I wanted, because no one needed to come home for a nap (actually, I really needed to come home for a nap but after three days of waking up at 2.30am (7.30am GMT) ready to get up and make breakfast for everyone, staying asleep at night was more important than not sleep-walking through the days). To eat somewhere noisy and crowded because I only had to fit myself in and no one was going to get stressed about not being able to hear each other speak. Or to buy some tortilla chips, guacamole and prosciutto and eat the whole lot for dinner in bed, in my pyjamas, watching Friday Night Lights. These things were all blissful. And then there was turning the light off, switching my phone on and sobbing into my pillow while swiping through pictures of Nye and the girls. Or walking down the street behind families with small kids and realising that I had missed the way home as I had become so entranced that I was effectively stalking families with small kids wondering if I could just hang out with them for a few minutes. Because I missed my family like breathing. I missed them and I loved being by myself which is exactly how I would want time away from my family to be. Had I been unable to spend time alone any more or had I not wanted to go back to them I might have been a little worried, they might have been a little worried.

I was going to tell you what I did and where I went, but honestly I mostly just wandered around, slowly and hungrily. I took no photos with an actual camera and I only felt bad about it for 3.4 seconds. I drank a lot of coffee, mostly Australian it turned out. Why are Australians so good at coffee? (Genuine question). I looked in shops full of useless crap I didn't need and had no intention of buying and grocery stores full of things I quite fancied but couldn't afford. I bought the most expensive box of muesli of my life ($7 and no it wasn't from fucking Wholefoods, before you ask, just a regular bloody grocery store. My friends from Brooklyn are the only people in the world who have ever gone to Iceland on holiday and found it 'no more expensive than home.') I spent days walking slowly up one side of the street and then slowly back down the other, gazing wide eyed at truly terrible parenting (bookstores are NOT playgrounds), eating yellow popcorn in the cinema, drinking wine and spending my food budget on Japanese silk yarn. I ate food both amazing and bizarre (a 'steak and cheese sandwich' is made with neither steak nor cheese, fyi). I went to Williamsburg looking for the hipsters but they weren't there. I met up with friends I have made through blogging; some for the first time despite following each other's lives for the last five years, others for the second or third time over the years and yet others who despite the physical distance between us have become my dear friends, my people I talk to when I need opinions and advice or just to shoot the breeze. And it was the best. They are all the smartest, funniest, most interesting and thoughtful women, the kind of people you want to spend time with when you are missing your family and having a small existential crisis.  Not just because they're nice and funny and spending time with nice and funny people is distracting, but because they have smart, smart things to say, things to comfort and reassure and inspire. They are good people, and a timely reminder that the internet can bring magic and riches, not just stupidity and vileness.

I've been back for almost a month now and it sort of feels like it never happened, like it was all a dream. At the moment everything that happened more than 6 hours ago feels like a bit of a dream though, I'm living in a perpetual state of too much coffee, not enough sleep, no exercise and too little time by myself that isn't sitting in front of a computer screen. I still have scar tissue on my feet from that first day I went out without socks on, I'm pretty certain that my digestive system is still working on that 'steak and cheese' sandwich, and the ache of missing my friends is definitely real. Oh, and I can't stop thinking about doughnuts. So, probably not a dream then. 



30 comments:

  1. For a split second I wondered why would anyone like to go on holiday to a grocery store with frozen foods. Stupid brain.

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    1. Ha! I've only ever heard that one the other way around. Americans asking why anyone would be going to a volcanic island for their frozen goods.

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  2. I loved reading this. Sounds like your trip was a great one for you!

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    1. Thank you, it really was. Hard, but great.

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  3. Lovely.

    I always have that 'I'm-going-to-be-an-effortless-social-butterfly-on-my-solo-trip-to-wherever' thing and then in reality spend my days in galleries and coffee shops portioning my time up into two-hourly chunks and my throat closing up from not speaking to anyone one. And is that an anonymous hotel room? With a big TV and room service? Sorted. Good to know I'm not the only one.

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    1. Definitely not. Learning to value that in itself as not inherently less worthy than being a social butterfly has been such a challenge for me but I'm getting there.

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  4. I leave out the whole idea of being a social butterfly. I have had way too many examples of that in my life. But everything else is me! I do understand.

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  5. I love your words. I think I would do exactly the same if I EVER got to go on a holiday without my family. I don't know why we are so good at coffee, I just know that we are and that I would give a limb to have one right now if the caffeine wouldn't give me a panic attack xxx

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    1. It is such a rare thing to get away without your family. I suspect that most people only ever do it for work. And that's so sad about the coffee :(

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  6. I'm just so amazed you figured this out so young. <3

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  7. Love this. My biggest post-breakup panic over the last few months has been about whether I will be able to go on holiday by myself or whether I should persuade a friend to come away with me. Strongly suspect half the fun of going away is having someone to share it with. I'm like you in that I just know I won't talk to strangers despite telling myself I will. Strange just how much travel makes us learn about ourselves.

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    1. You know what, it *is* fun to share a holiday with someone but MY GOD, the space that comes by going alone is mind blowing. Do you read What Possessed Me? She doesn't blog much any more but she had a wonderful series about travelling to Mali alone and it was so inspiring.

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  8. Oof, P. I wept through practically this entire post. <3

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    1. Dammit, I never get tears when I'm actually *trying* to make people cry. <3

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  9. That moment when you read a post and your heart aches with familiar sentiment and your viewpoint seems to have been stolen by a very cool chick - who went to New York City ON HER OWN - and couldn't find the hipsters in Williamsburg EITHER (??!!urban legends??!!) . . . that moment. ♥♥♥♥♥

    Also - how f**king cool is NYC and then how bloody blessedly bloody amazeballs is it that alongside all that cool distraction lies that fierce pull back to your tribe?
    and you're right . . . " a timely reminder that the internet can bring magic and riches, not just stupidity and vileness" ♥

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  10. I might just have to read this all again because I enjoyed it so much. Which is really saying something as my attention span on the internet these days is about 2 nano seconds.

    I love the version of you in your head and the real you (slightly prefer the real you though).

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    1. THANK YOU for saying that, that's such a lovely thing to hear. <3

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  11. People are very, very surprised that I leave my house on my own and *gasp* sometimes travel on my own, leaving my husband to "babysit". I mean, how does he even know how to parent? What if he can't find the kitchen? Has he ever been there? No one ever asks him where our toddler is if he is in the world without me/us, but let me tell you every time I go somewhere alone I will invariably be asked "Where is your son?"
    My stock answer is currently "At home. Alone. I left him a bowl of water."

    Australian's are good at coffee because we have a history of immigration of people from countries with coffee cultures (Italians, Greeks and Vietnamese, to name a few); particularly in Melbourne there are wonderful communities of immigrants who set up restaurants and shops which lead to the cafe and coffee culture that has now bled across Australia. The coffee is a fusion and celebration of different types of coffee and Australian coffee is wonderful. WONDERFUL.

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    1. Ahhh, that makes sense about the coffee, thank you for enlightening me. (God, I'd kill for a proper coffee right now instead of the swill I made half asleep at 6am)

      I'm going to start telling people that I left them at home with a box of cereal and that I'm not worried because there's two of them and at least one will probably survive.

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  12. Oh god there is an errant apostrophe in my comment that I cannot edit. Don't judge me.

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    1. An errant apostrophe? GET OFF MY STOOP.

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    2. I'll just sit across the road. Not at all creepy.

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  13. I can't decide if I'm more entertained by the post or the comments sometimes...

    And even after you've said there should be spaces between the dots for ellipses, I can't bring myself to do it. Stupid fingers.

    Oddly, I like the real version of you, as described, a ton but based on that I'm pretty sure we'd never talk to each other if we ran across each other in person. I mean, assuming we didn't "internet-know" each other. In my imagination, we'd happily co-exist not trying to talk to each other, reading our books solo in random coffeehouses. (Come to think, that's a little bit like how PiC and I hang out now.)

    The woman running our "All about the first trimester" class used "babysitting" to refer to fathers taking care of the kid and my head exploded a little bit. It's PARENTING. It's YOUR CHILD. I refused to go back to any more of those classes. The internet can provide whatever information I need on pregnancy, thanks, and without any of that nonsense. So even now, before Little Bean's out in the wild, people acting like my husband taking care of the kid alone is unfathomable is met with an eyebrow and "he was 50% responsible for LB *existing*, pretty sure he can handle being 50% responsible for keeping LB alive". Why is it normal to expect me to take the kid on work travel and be aghast that I'd "make him" take the child on his solo leisure travel? People are so bizarre.

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  14. Ach - I was about to tell you about the coffee thing but I see someone already has. We are a country of immigrants (not that our government believes it sadly) but also a country of workaholics who are deeply addicted to caffeine! :)

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  15. i really enjoyed this post as I always do; you do realize you have been sharing with the world with your blog over the years. so there is more openness in you than you say.

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play nice.