postcards from new york, no. 2: happy one-year anniversary to me!
I know I've been gone for a bit; I've been so busy in the past couple of months I haven't had a chance to get all of my thoughts together enough for a coherent blog post. But I recently realized that although I've been telling people I just moved to New York "eight or nine months ago," I actually just passed one year in New York. Which is absolutely wild! Time flies when you actively procrastinate.
I thought it was time for an update, so we're going alllll the way back to December, because I think that's when I wrote my last one.
I've been here for a minute now. I still don't know if I feel like a New Yorker, but a girl that I recently met remarked to me that while being a real New Yorker is a distinction you have to earn, it's not necessarily about whether you were born here or how many years you've lived here. Most people I meet here aren't actually from New York. It's more of a collection of shared experiences, like Girl Scout badges. There are these shared bits of knowledge that you acquire when you live here, and the faster you acquire them, the faster you acclimate. Which I suppose is true for any place, but New York is special in that it's somewhere that everyone can belong; it just takes the right attitude. I like that sense of optimism. And I like showing people these things when they visit. Like that you cross the street when and where you can; traffic lights are irrelevant. "Emergency Exit Only" signs are suggestions. And empty subway cars are empty for a reason.
A surprising number of my friends have moved to New York since I last wrote, which I'm thrilled about! I've reconnected with so many people from both high school and college, some of whom I didn't even know were moving here. I love it. There's always someone who's down to do something. And because I know how difficult it is to make it out here, I always admire the people who have the guts to pick up and move cross-country.
The people closest to me know very well the story of how I got to New York. You can read it here, but the short version is that I came here with little to no plan, moved with one suitcase, and sealed my internship deal 12 hours after I stepped off the plane from California. People are always impressed by that. And it's true that it is hard and you do have to hustle to make it here. And you'd be surprised at your own resilience when your survival depends on it. But it should be noted that the stakes vary. I come from privilege, and I feel it's almost dishonest not to acknowledge that. So far, I haven't failed in New York. But I also know that if I did, I would have people to help me until I got back on my feet. And I think that's important to mention in conversations about "the hustle." Privilege is so easily ignored. And it's not to say that you aren't smart or you haven't worked hard, but you've just had so many opportunities that allow your intelligence and hard work to be validated by your success. Which is why I have such a complex with the whole "Kylie Jenner as a self-made billionaire" thing.
I survived my first East Coast winter, which is a positive! My family was very worried about me, because I am always cold, but honestly, I loved it. The first morning I woke up to snow, I frolicked around outside for a good twenty minutes. And I was equally as thrilled every time after that. And it is sometimes miserably cold (it was 8°F the night I came back to the city after New Year's), but I expected just as much. And I had a big, fluffy teddy bear coat that I wore all throughout the winter, which was lovely.
Actually, I don't think I really understood "winter" until I moved here. Apparently the sidewalk will be covered in snow one night and it'll all have melted by the next morning. I was under the impression that it just stayed snowy for four months. Maybe it's global warming, but I feel like we only got a couple of snow days this past winter. We didn't really get a spring either, now that I think about it. One minute it was snowing, and the next week it was 80°F and sunny. Seriously. It snowed at the beginning of April, and then suddenly one day, it was summer. I'm a little salty that I've been here a year and I've only seen two seasons.
I started a new job as a strategist earlier this year, which has been amazing. It's especially nice because I'm the only strategist in the New York office, which means a lot of autonomy, a lot of influence on strategic direction, and I get to say that I am the department. And as difficult as strategy is to get into, I'm glad I've stayed with it, because I genuinely love my job. The worst part of my morning is my commute (I'll get to that in a bit), but I wake up legitimately excited to go to work. I like that even though I'm young, my senior colleagues actively seek my advice and genuinely respect my opinion, because I know that's not the case in a lot of industries.
I also like that I have the freedom to do what I want in order to get my work done. Sometimes that means taking a walk through Madison Square Park, and sometimes that means reading BuzzFeed and watching YouTube videos (ask me about my deep-dive into Gen Z). Strategy is a difficult thing. Anyone can do it, but not everyone can do it. It's very data-driven, but equally as creative (this is a great insight into what I actually do). So you need to be very focused, but also constantly exercising your creative muscles. We are an industry of ideas. And that's hectic and frustrating and stressful sometimes, but it's also pretty remarkable (and a bit dangerous) when you think about the fact that we can actually affect the way people think. There's always a new challenge, and I love that.
I'm very lucky that my agency is very about work-life balance. My boss frequently encourages me to take time off, and almost everyone at the office leaves right at 5 pm, which is unheard of in advertising. We work hard while in the office but are fully "off" when OOO. But I also think the fact that that's so unusual indicates a flawed work culture, particularly in advertising. It feels wrong that we're practically expected to show that we're working hard by staying late or being busy all the time. Especially because in a creative field, you don't necessarily get the best results by working hard and grinding it out; you have to feel inspired and in the right mindset. And neither our lives nor our worth should be determined by our careers. Work isn't everything, and that's why work-life balance is an important distinction; it acknowledges that the two are separate entites and should remain such. I'm always reminded of this quote by Bill Watterson.
But that's also a point for another post. As soon as I can cobble together something that makes sense.
Something I also realized is that for a year, I still haven't put down too many roots. In my last postcard, I mentioned that as much as I loved my life in Singapore, it didn't feel like "real" life. I always recognized that it was temporary and in a sense always felt a bit detached. It felt like an extended vacation, despite the fact that I was working full-time (which I suppose is where the "working holiday" part of "working holiday visa" comes from). I had a return ticket in my pocket, a Cinderella stroke-of-midnight end to a beautiful six-month escape from reality. But I've realized that this is my actual life, so I need to start thinking of it that way. I think in part I still have to get used to living here. I still have the same sense of wonder as I did when I first moved, which I love, because it makes every day feel fresh and exciting and like something to be appreciated. Sometimes I still can't believe I get to live and work and discover hidden gems in my favorite city. I still feel lucky every day.
But this also means that I have to make more of an effort to put myself out there, to really participate in the New York lifestyle and to experience living in the city. I've recently taken up ballet classes again (after a quick nine year hiatus), purchased a membership to The Met that I've already taken copious advantage of, and I'm currently preparing to audition for the NYU community orchestra in a couple of months. I'm always happiest when I'm busy, and hopefully this is a step in the right direction.
I am especially enamored with The Met after this year's Met Gala. Are we over talking about the Met Gala yet? Because it was two months ago and I'm still not over it. I don't think I fully appreciated the Met Gala until I learned what it was actually for. Better known as the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Benefit, the Met Gala raises money for the elaborate costume department exhibitions at The Met museum (tickets are a cool $30K apiece). You may remember my fascination with the 2015 theme, China: Through the Looking-Glass, an examination of the influence of Chinese culture on fashion and design. This year's theme was Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination, and the dresses were absolutely otherworldly (favorites were Blake Lively, Cardi B, Diane Kruger, Priyanka Chopra, Kate Bosworth, Lily Collins, and Chadwick Boseman omg). I actually bought the absurdly expensive and luxurious Pat McGrath Mothership IV: Decadence palette. It was created in collaboration with The Met, and I can honestly say I have never been this infatuated with an eyeshadow palette in my entire life. It's everything Kat Von D's Serpentina palette wasn't for me. Just look at it:
The colors are absolutely gorgeous and ultra-pigmented and smooth, and they were so perfectly Renaissance-esque that I was inspired to recreate some of the makeup looks on the red carpet (Lily Collins, Kim Kardashian, Gigi Hadid, Selena Gomez, and SZA, for example). They came out pretty well, I think.
I can't really say I relate to Catholicism (or fashion) at all, but I am really interested in how fashion works and where designers draw inspiration from. The most insane thing about runway fashion is that no one actually wears it in the real world; it's solely designed to shape the future of fashion, which means that things we see now can last for decades. It's wild to think that how a few select people can dictate the style of entire generations of people and fashion.
This exhibition explores how the Catholic imagination has shaped the creativity of designers and how it is conveyed through their narrative impulses. These impulses are reflected in the organization of the exhibition, which unfolds as a series of short stories told through conversations between religious artworks in The Met collection and fashions of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
The actual Heavenly Bodies exhibit itself is breathtaking. The dresses are so indulgently ornate. It's quite literally jaw-dropping to see that much wealth condensed into single garments. I've gone to see it at least five times now, and I'm still amazed every time. It's very Requiem for a Dream, with eerie orchestral music playing and pale mannequins draped in heavy silk and delicate lace. It's haunting and very strikingly beautiful.
Some of the pieces in the special collection are on loan from the Vatican itself, the first time they've ever left Vatican City. We were not allowed to take pictures. But they were even more ridiculously ostentatious than the dresses. Some of the rings and medallions the popes wore were pure gold and encrusted with hundreds of diamonds and other precious jewels. Which explains Pope Francis' unconventional aversion to lavish displays of wealth.
It's summer now, AKA hot as hell. And I am dying. Ironically, I am very poorly equipped for the New York summer heat, even though I've literally lived in Asia, where it's 90°F and humid all year round. But there's something so completely debilitating about it. I can't function normally when it's hot; I just melt into a lethargic little sloth-puddle. Just the mere act of existing exhausts me. To me, being cold is always better than being hot, because you can put on more layers, snuggle under a blanket, turn on the heat, go on a run, anything. But when you're hot, you're just hot. You can only take off so many layers of clothing, and fans mostly just circulate the hot air, so places without actual air conditioning are a considerable no for me.
But what I do love about summertime in New York is that there's always something to do. There's so much more going on, people stay out a little later; as the sunlit sky fades into dusk, there's a very rom-com-like romanticism in walking around the quietly humming city in the evenings. There's something magical about watching the city slowly switch on while people sit around fountains, talking and laughing and enjoying the cool night air. I love walking through the park on my lunch break and seeing people sunbathing and relaxing on benches, parents taking their kids out to play in the playgrounds, couples picnicking on the lawns. New York summer energy is a very specific mood and something I will never tire of.
It's the kind of energy that compels me to wake up at 4:30 am to see Florence and the Machine on "Good Morning America!". It was torturously early and very crowded but hearing Florence sing live made it worth it. She sounds like a literal angel.
And then my friend and I did it again two weeks later for Fall Out Boy, except that we were absolutely determined to be as close to the stage possible, so we woke up at 3:30 am. The 13-year-old in me was absolutely psyched, but the 24-year-old in me was stressed about a presentation at work I had to give after. But I was still 100% overjoyed to be there; they were amazing. It was all of my middle school dreams come true. And it was hilarious because they've had such a long career that a lot of their fans are grown up now, so the entire audience was people my age or older. Some of them brought their very reluctant kids. Everyone knew all the words. It was surreal. Patrick is one of the cutest humans ever and has the most incredible vocal range live.
I finally saw Waitress on Broadway! With Katharine McPhee! My first Broadway show actually on Broadway! It was so good. I was instantly in love. I think it's replaced Wicked as my favorite musical, which is quite an accomplishment. But the story is great, the music is amazing (of course, because it's written by Sara Bareilles), it was much funnier than I expected, and it brought literal tears to my eyes. I had "Bad Idea" stuck in my head for weeks, to the point where I'd wake up with it playing in my brain.
Two of my other favorite things to do are a) food festivals and b) outdoor movies. Food festivals are, obviously, the best things in existence (à la Smorgasburg), but outdoor movies are something special, too. They have them everywhere—on the High Line, at rooftop bars, in Bryant Park, at Chelsea Piers. It's the best thing. It's the New York version of a drive-in movie, except I'd argue that a beautiful, sweeping panoramic view of the Hudson River is a much nicer aesthetic than the inside of a car.
Oh, and parks! I love Central Park and Brooklyn Bridge Park in the summer, but a brand-new one just opened in Williamsburg, called Domino Park, and it's even more gorgeous. I'm in love. It's built on the grounds of the old Domino Sugar Refinery, and it's so clean and beautiful and modern and it's right on the water, so you get an amazing view of the stunning jewel that is the Manhattan skyline. It's such a nice place to spend a summer day.
And because I'm extra like that, I went to something called The Dreamery by Casper. It's essentially a micro-hotel. You pay to take a nap for 45 minutes. I know. The most New York thing imaginable.
But I actually went partly because I was genuinely curious (and also perpetually exhausted). I'm very intrigued by this "culture of chill" that's overtaken the global consciousness. It's everywhere. I've read obsessively about it, attended lectures about it, and I'm just fascinated by it as a whole. Because not only is it directly linked to rising stress levels, but self-care has become a status symbol. Wellness, relaxation, and emotional acuity are now coveted rather than selfish, a luxury only the most privileged can afford. It's become the cult of the wealthy elite. Because it means that you are lucky enough to have both your basic needs taken care of and space in your mind to prioritize your well-being. There's an excellent Refinery29 piece on the commodification of "Sunday" that explains this exact phenomenon.
Everything was provided: pajamas, Sunday Riley skincare essentials, socks, toothbrush, earplugs, sleep masks, Headspace podcasts. You hang out in the lounge with free coffee and snacks, and then 15 minutes prior to your nap session you go to something called a "refresher room" and get ready. You go into this little sleeping pod that comes with a Casper mattress and blackout curtains and you just...nap. I thought it would be difficult to fall asleep in the middle of the day, but it was surprisingly peaceful and I fell asleep much more quickly than I expected. It was lovely. All in all, 100% worth it.
But the highlight of the summer is that I'm moving to the city! I honestly hate that I have to move out of my current apartment because I love it so much, but I'm also immeasurably excited to be closer to work (my current commute clocks in at an hour door-to-door). Remember my friend Melissa? Well, our eight-year relationship is coming full circle, because she just moved to New York and we're going to live in the city together! You don't even understand how happy this makes me. Our parents are also thrilled. Truly we were destined to be friends when we met at trivia on that cruise. Our story is one worth telling everyone I know.
Also, in a strange twist of fate, my other housemate's boyfriend is from San Diego and went to one of the local private high schools, and he happens to know my high school boyfriend and we were in the same SAT prep class back in junior year high school. Small world. I am the poster child of six degrees of separation.
And I do really love Brooklyn—it has such a unique vibe and a charm that's inspired cities all over the world. But I've always thought of myself as more of a city girl. I like the orderliness, I like the energy. And as my friend pointed out, I'm not very hip or very artsy.
A lot of people ask me if I miss California and if I plan on going back. I always reply that yes, I miss the weather and the beach, and of course I plan on going back someday. But the truth is that I don't really miss it. I miss my friends and my family, but I Skype them as often as I can (you know you're an adult when you use Google Calendar to schedule your Skype dates). And there's really no shortage of people that visit me here; I think I counted at least a dozen in the past year, so it's never very lonely (my friend Kat made a lil video of when she visited in May!). I always planned to stay in New York for around five to seven years, and then move to San Francisco to be back in California. But now I'm not so sure. The longer I live here, the less impressed I am by other cities. I love some cities in other countries passionately, but I can't picture living anywhere else but here, at least for now. New York has had and will always have my heart.
So cheers to my one-year love affair with my favorite city. To many more.