They say living in New York toughens you up. I often find the opposite to be true. This city has rendered my heart open in more ways than one. It has made me more vulnerable, more tender, more human and I’ve got the embarrassing crying in a subway station/street corner/park bench stories to prove it. In what is conceived to be one of the most abrasive places in the world, I find myself becoming more compassionate. Because despite their cynicism and no-bullshit attitude, New Yorkers are no exception to what I believe is a Universal truth, no matter where you are or where you go, people want to be treated with kindness.
Saturday morning at Murray’s Bagels. I meet an old college friend for petit déjeuner. We weren’t there, however, just for the delicious lox and black coffee. This is neutral ground where we could safely unstitch past wounds and face some uncomfortable emotions. Oblivious to the light drizzle, we sit on an outside bench baring our insecurities, our fallacies, the scars left behind by words spoken in anger or not spoken at all. Our light breakfast offers no levity to the heavy conversation but six hours later, as we say our amicable goodbyes, I feel the past float away from me like the dissipating rain. We made amends, spoke from an open heart, and grew up a little more in the process. No longer anchored by our history, we were free to move into the friendship of our future. We’d probably never have the same relationship again but it was from a more honest place and perhaps more worthy of merit because of it.
Later that day I went home to work on Love (Asterisk), a web series Vicky and I had been creating for the better part of a year. At one point (the “we’re so tired from working we’re now deluded” point) she gets on the air guitar, I take the air drums, and we sing impromptu lyrics to random online tunes. Needless to say, we got nothing done that night. It was a crucial reminder that good friendships can sometimes be as simple as sharing moments that make you pee a little from laughing so hard. Or as simple as crying together over a glass of wine while watching Beaches. If you’ve never seen it, I suggest you immediately drop whatever you’re doing, grab a girlfriend, a bottle of Merlot, and enjoy what is the ultimate authority on tender-yet-fraught female friendships. I dare you not to tear up by the time Bette Midler softly croons “Wind Beneath My Wings.”
As Holly Golightly explains it, the “mean reds” differ from the blues. They defy explanation, reason or logic. Triggered by no event in particular, they arrive unannounced to invade every single nook and cranny like a rude house guest who won’t leave. The mean reds have nothing to do with how well life is going. They are, more often than not, the ungrounded fear of tipping over the edge, of shattering your fragile psyche. Unlike Ms. Golightly who hops on a cab to Tiffany’s, I hop on the D train straight to my bed. I hide under the covers and read old issues of The New Yorker until the melancholy passes or, at the very least, eases up long enough to stop questioning my sanity and get through yet another neurotic existential crisis. This wasn’t about fluctuating hormones (not that time of the month), it wasn’t about the audition I missed because of my complete lack of discipline to get up early (that’s happened more times than I care to be upset about), it wasn’t about the weekly Chekhov workshop I was attending (I’d done these same soul-searching exercises in college and they never left me feeling so sensitive). It was about nothing. It was about everything. I couldn’t stop sobbing over God knows what. In the same day I cried over seeing a beggar in the subway and an old woman crossing the street. It felt like my top layer of skin had been razored off and all that remained were the exposed raw nerve endings. I couldn’t pinpoint the reason for the bout of dejection that not even my cousin’s birth nor a cute postcard from my favorite niece could drag me out of.
Tuesday afternoon I get a call from Mom which somehow escalates into a heated argument. The kind of argument that only two people who know and love each other deeply can get into. I suppress my frustration for the sake of my co-workers but it becomes too much and hurtful words are exchanged. I can’t remember now what the argument was about (or maybe I subconsciously choose not to disclose it) but I do remember the realization I had days after our Battle of Waterloo. It slowly dawned on me that my wistfulness was a byproduct of isolation, one that isn’t easily resolved over drinks with friends or working the day away. It’s the kind of isolation that comes from sleeping alone. It’s the loneliness of being single in a city away from your family. It is the loneliness that feeds on homesickness. You wake up in the middle of the night with feelings of disembodiment and it’s all you can do from reasserting your own existence. Some birds can fly astray for long distances. Others require a return to the nest more often that not. The next day I book my plane ticket home for the holidays and feel instantly comforted. I’m just that kind of bird.
The Buddha urges us to go through life with an open heart but sometimes it becomes too painful to let it all in, all the time. So I add thin layers of armor. Not too thick a hide but I still need them if I want a fighting chance to make it through the day. At the end of two unsettling weeks, I slowly get back to feeling like myself. Since the season was rapidly changing, I also didn’t have the luxury to mope about. We were on a mad dash to finish filming Love (Asterisk) so I pull myself up by the bootstraps and go to work. We manage to extend summer or at least make it look that way on camera.
The beginning strings of autumn’s concerto play through the air. Tea kettle on the stove and Fleetwood Mac singing in the background. This is how I soothe my soul. I spend Sunday afternoon thoroughly Spring cleaning my room. A crisp fall breeze sneaks in through the window. I cannot wait till spring for a Chi cleanse. On the midnight of the autumnal equinox, I sit on my bedroom floor to work a little witchy moonlight magic. It is a simple ritual of burning away the fruitless stalks to make room for the harvest. I light some sage, say a blessing, and ponder upon the veritable cornucopia that is my harvest: drinking tequila shots with great friends on their birthdays, drinking sangria glasses with great friends on their non-birthdays, a family to love back home, roommates to love like family, an apartment to come back to, a bed to find refuge in, industry meetings full possibility, a team of people to create art with, and yes, even this, a heart wide open to the blues, the reds, and all the other shades of life in between.