new york city bicycle

A Matter of Mood.

Mr. Magpie and I have occasionally despaired over the fact that we feel we were “cheated” or “robbed” of over a year of living in New York City. Almost everyone, everywhere has felt this way about the pandemic, to be sure: we are all grieving the loss of normalcies, of life experiences we were promised, of births and dinners out and weddings and first birthday parties and graduations as they should be. In our case, there is something galling about the amount of money we have paid in rent to live in such tight quarters, with none of Manhattan’s advertised amenities and diversions available to us. New Yorkers put up with exorbitant rent and diminutive apartments because, well, we are living in New York City: punitive real estate prices are the known tradeoff for access to the best of everything. But living in New York during a pandemic has been kind of like buying front-row seats to an act you’ve always wanted to hear live, and then being escorted into a small back room and being presented with a live-stream of the event, or still pictures of it, or perhaps just a peephole view of the proceedings. I wouldn’t say the event was fully called-off, but it was not the spectacle I was promised. I try not to linger too much on this fact in light of the far graver sufferings so many others have borne during this period, but still — it is an honest thought that has skittered through my mind. (Of all the possible permutations our lives might have taken: why New York, why now?)

I found myself rounding the corner of a different perspective on the matter last week, while walking Tilly in driving, 45-degree rain. It is miserable walking a dog in wet, cold Manhattan, but it is also — strangely — winning. I was listening to Ella Fitzgerald on my AirPods and the cherry and magnolia trees on our route were blossoming and I had that all-too-common New York sensation of gratitude for the entire shebang: the harried and put-out New Yorkers sprinting to their destinations, the slash of taxi tires on slick pavement, the way rain can briefly absent the normally-busy sidewalks of their pedestrians such that I notice the astounding architecture of my neighborhood in greater clarity. It made me think about how often my appreciation of New York is a matter of mood. I can prickle at the woman yelling obscenities on my subway car, or I can think about how quickly I have been whisked from my doorstep to Flatiron. I can huff and puff about the clog of pedestrians on my regular running route, or I can slow down and appreciate what’s drawn them there in the first place: trees in bloom around Jackie O.

The same, too, of Manhattan during this pandemic. I had two episodes of full-body chills that demonstrate this point perfectly: in the first, I was experiencing the wracking symptoms of COVID, and in the second, I was staring out the window, tears streaming down my cheeks, as New Yorkers erupted for the first time into applause at 7 P.M. to cheer on essential workers during the height of the pandemic. These twin incidents represent two sides of the same coin of living in Manhattan over the past year. I can be angry that I caught COVID despite taking every reasonable precaution or I can be grateful that I bore such close-at-hand witness to the strength and generosity of this city that never sleeps. (I realize, too, that I could have caught COVID anywhere in the U.S., but in all my many hours of browbeating over catching the damned thing, my final estimation is that I must have caught it while walking Tilly one night, perhaps while waiting to cross the street next to someone who happened to have it. I simply cannot remember any other excursions that would have led to an infection — we were having everything delivered at that point. And so my living here, in NYC, in consenting and inescapably close proximity to strangers, seems to have predicated my infection.)

I shared a quote from David Gessner on the occasion of my 36th birthday: “I am wary of anyone who offers ‘lessons’ from a moment of crisis. September 11 should have taught us that most of these immediate insights are disposable.” And so I recognize that even with the advances in vaccinations, we are still living in a crisis, and I am therefore on precarious footing if seeking meaning from this morass. I recognize, too, that there is something hurtful about sharing silver linings that point toward self-improvement when so many are deep in grief over matters far meatier. So let me present this next point carefully, acknowledging the good fortune it reveals, or at least note that any wariness you might be feeling is warranted: when I reflect on living here this past year, and I feel the tug toward frustration I mentioned at the outset of this post, I am also struck by how simple and small our needs are at the end of the day. We have now lived our lives so narrowly for so long, everything circumscribed within the span of our immediate family of four, our nanny, and my sister and brother-in-law; our small apartment; and a square about four avenues wide and ten blocks long. Give me Central Park, good health, my loved ones, enough door-demarcated rooms in our apartment to afford the possibility of privacy when needed, and we are set. How unlikely to come to this conclusion in New York City, glittering mecca of immoderation and indulgence. How, in a strange sense, fortunate.

Post-Scripts.

+Musings on catching COVID while caring for my children.

+On remembering to live my life during this pandemic.

+Thank you for sitting with me this past year. (When I wrote this post, we were less than a month into the pandemic. Wow. We are resilient, strong people!)

+On watching my sister get married from the couch of my apartment.

+My favorite quarantine cocktail.

+New York is still a shock. (Whoever said it was dead has not been living here.)

Shopping Break.

+These rope slides are SO good.

+Floral shortalls for a cute little lady.

+Adore this Jenny Lind bed for a little girl’s room.

+Having looked at a ton of houses recently, I’ve realized how big an impact attractive hardware can make on a kitchen or powder room. These reasonably-priced, handsome drawer pulls would transform a kitchen.

+Ordered this floral shirt dress on the spot, and now I’m eyeing this versatile seersucker.

+Fun sconce for a little boy’s room or bathroom. More great lighting options here.

+Can we talk about how much I love these espadrilles?

+Seriously pretty personalized stationery for summer. More stationery favorites here.

+Beginning to get organized for micro’s (very small, outdoor) fire truck-themed second birthday party at the end of next month. Can I justify these even though there will only be a handful of attendees?

+More truck-themed finds for little ones here.

+Not often you see black eyelet, but I’m in love with this under-$60 top.

+These personalized baby hangers!

+Spring clothes for little ones.

+Well-priced bamboo cutlery — an inexpensive set for your next outdoor hang.

+Cherry rash guard for a little lady.

+Recent Etsy finds and Amazon finds, too.

2 Comments

  1. Beautiful reflection. I have had a lot of similar thoughts bouncing around in my head like a tumble dryer throughout this pandemic. Here’s where I’ve finally come down, largely influenced by my growing interest in/time spent exploring New York City history over the past year: New York does not owe me anything. It existed far before I ever got here and will exist long after I’m gone. This is but a brief moment in time, and I think taking the long view is important. I know a lot of people have left New York, but I am staying for the next act. I’m just so curious to see what happens next.

    1. I love this long view, and am so rooting on NYC’s next act. It’s funny – my sister, bother-in-law, Mr. Magpie, and I tried to get burgers at the much-revered Red Hook Tavern this past weekend (major bucket list item for us) and we showed up at the stroke of 5 and were told there would be a 3.5 hour wait. (!!!!). My sister turned to me and said: “Welp, I guess New York is back.” Ha!!

      Thanks for writing in! Can’t wait to keep in touch with the city through your comments…

      xx

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