On leaving NYC and being in charge of your own happiness.
It's been over fifteen years since since I turned my back on my hometown of NYC. Sometimes I miss it, but more often I don't. When I tell people here in Dallas that I spent my adolescence riding the subway to school and knew my way around Central Park and got into my first cab accident on the way to my prom and was mugged at 13, they do one of two things: ask why I left, or how I managed to survive there in the first place. New York City seems like an exotic place to some of my neighbors, with their tidy suburban homes and sprawling mega churches and somewhat bland uniformity. It's true that it was a difficult place to grown up in. I didn't have a backyard or washer dryer. A pigeon pooped on me on my way to kindergarten. My parents struggled to afford a place for my brother and I to grow up in, with good schools and low crime and friendly neighbors. And let's not talk about the traffic, noise, sweltering summers and frigid winters.
But it could be magical, too. I have 24 years of wonderful memories from growing up in the city. There was the Bronx Zoo, where I went trick or treating as a child among giraffes and elephants. And the nice lady at the library who always gave me a cherry lollypop because she knew it was my favorite. There were oak trees a thousand feet into the sky on the playground of my elementary school and hot bagels from the deli on the corner. As a high school student, I befriended the crazy homeless woman who perched near my subway stop. Between her mutterings, we talked about politics and whether the grafitti was getting worse on the F train and what happened on Beverly Hills 90210 the night before. I had my first kiss in the whale room at the Museum of Natural History and my first heartbreak in the corridors of Carnegie Hall. I met Diane Keaton and Dennis Miller and the guy who DJ'd for Madonna in the nineties. And I never much missed having a washer dryer - on a cold winters day, the warm hug of the laundromat was better than anything else in the world.
I moved to Dallas as a newlywed in 1999. It felt like landing in a foreign country. The food was weird, the people loud, the houses sprawling. All the open space terrified and fascinated me. Over the last 13 years, I've relocated from Brooklyn to upstate NY to Texas to Long Island to Georgia to Texas to Iowa back to Texas again. It's been over three years since I've moved back, and it's finally staring to feel like home. I'm not 100% there yet, if I'll ever be. There are still moments of lonliness and fear, but that's art of being human. The location has nothing to do with it.
I occasionally come across articles online about living in Dallas, and how pretentious and unfriendly it can be. This is not an easy place to live. Dallas is a messy, complicated city. It's populated by some of the wealthiest people you'll ever meet in areas like Uptown and Highland Park, and some of the poorest in South Dallas and parts of Oak Cliff. This is a land dominated by sprawling suburbs in the north, home to mid-level executives who work for Frito Lay and their stay-at-home housewives who stain the air with the carbon runoff from their gigantic SUV's and block the sun with their rhinestone bedazzled jeans. It's not easy to make friends here. While the south has a reputation for being home to friendly, hospitable folks, I've found Dallasites to be quite the opposite. They can be judgmental, and standoffish, and often just plain rude. It can be hard making friends here.
I've read similar articles about the challenges of residing in NYC, including this smugly self-congratulatory one in The Cut. Most of these articles annoy me, not because they aren't true, but because they cling to the notion that a place should make you happy. I think one of the enlightening truths unveiled to us as adults is that you must choose happiness, no matter the circumstances. You aren't owed happiness because you live in a big city, or a small town, or someplace in between, and these places aren't capable of handing you the happiness you might think you deserve simply because you live there. You, and you alone, are in charge of determining what makes you happy, and you alone are responsible for finding it.
Happiness begins with the basics. It's choosing a job that fulfills, challenges, and inspires you. A job that leavs you exhausted at the end of the day, but also excited to come back the next morning. A job that you're excited to talk to friends about and adds a new dimension of fulfillment to your life.
Happiness is choosing friends that make things better. It's having one friend who you share your deepest fears, anxieties, and truths with, someone who doesn't judge or laugh at you and gets you out of your house when you're holed up wallowing in your own depression.
Happiness is choosing a significant other who adds something to your life, who isn't just your best friend and a shoulder to cry on and a warm body to see movies with, but someone who understands and supports you and loves you unconditionally.
It’s finding a place to live that can be your refuge, a place where you can go to escape from the world, where you feel safe and relaxed. It's a place for you to keep clean, and light candles and hang up pictures and invite people over and make your bed every morning. It’s up to you to make it somewhere you’d want to live, and get out if you can’t.
As for me, I'm finding a little more happiness within myself every day. I can thank my job as a teacher for keeping me busy in a challenging but inspiring way. Getting to know Dallas better is also important to the process. It's like we're dating -- the relationship is still kind of new, and it's taking some work. But it's really worth it.