Gold winking signs, facades of flickering fires,
Relentlessly proclaim the cheap-jack fame
Of Movie Stars and Chewing Gum and Tyres.
-Siegfried Sassoon, “Midnight on Broadway”
Two years ago, I did nothing “by the seat of my pants.” I planned everything in detail, followed those plans and let myself be guided by others’ plans for me. I liked operating with a safety net. But I was getting restless. My hometown, while not the cultural wasteland I had feared it would be when I moved back after grad school, offered limited possibilities. My day job was increasingly irksome, and most of the people I knew had scattered. It was definitely time for a change.
So, two years and 1 week ago, my parents and I packed up, coaxed my cat into the car, and set off on the Big Move East. The last two years have been a rollercoaster, but the balance is so far on the positive side that the dips and stomach-churning loop-de-loops fade away. I am more assertive, more certain of my path. I have made major strides outward, pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone. There is no question that I have honed my craft – my top has opened up, my low range is better than ever, and my middle is, slowly and surely, evening out. I am less fearful – or perhaps just more willing to move past the fear. I am finding stillness – vocal, physical, emotional – and moving closer to my dreams every day.
There is a lot to love about New York. The sheer number and caliber of colleagues, the inspiration and affirmation offered every night in multiple concert halls. The internationalism of the city – when I first came here, I found myself suppressing the impulse to speak in German or Italian, reminding myself that yes, I was in my home country. The history. The beauty of the parks and the endless opportunities for exploration.
For all of this, though, I am still not certain that New York is my forever place. There are plenty of things – important things – that NYC lacks. My family. Quiet. The ability to forget, even for a moment, that you’re in the middle of a huge city. I grew up in the woods; this time of year, the air is full of the smell of wood smoke and fallen leaves. Last weekend, on my way to the train, I passed some kids making a leaf pile on the sidewalk. For half a second I smelled the leaves, and was homesick. Part of the reason I’ve had to fight so hard for interior stillness is that there is so little of it outside. I’ve learned that I need the quiet, and I’m learning how to find it.
British poet Siegfried Sassoon is one of my favorite authors. A country man at heart, Sassoon visited New York on a lecture tour in 1920, and was initially overwhelmed by the city. Yet he found his moments of stillness, as I do, in the company of the people who filled the streets. “Sassoon’s best moments were spent with Sam (Behrman, a friend) in modest restaurants or cafes near Times Square, eating, say, a club sandwich while Sam lectured him on playwriting or journalism. At such times he felt he was in touch with the ‘reality’ of New York.” (Jean Moorcroft Wilson, Siegfried Sassoon: Journey from the Trenches). While the lack of certain people makes life in this city difficult, it is the presence of others that, more than anything, whittles the big, overwhelming city down into something that I can relate to and, yes, even love.