I think New Yorkers come in two flavors: True-Yorkers and Thru-Yorkers.
Until last fall, when I traded in my rent-stabilized Brooklyn Heights apartment for a Rocky Mountain house share, I could have sworn I was True. Just like you, perhaps?
True-Yorkers move to the city to "find their purpose," like the groovy kids in Avenue Q. Errant blossoms in their hometowns, fueled by formerly-impossible dreams, they sink their helpfully-toughened roots into Manhattan's schist and bloom.
Thru-Yorkers were wimpy-ass wimps. And not in the astrophysically cool sense of the word. By choosing to exit the City outside a coffin or urn, Thru-Yorkers waved a white flag before the City's Struggle To Be, I thought.
And for my first 24 years in the city, a life without struggle seemed unsuccessful to me.
Like a lot of potential True-Yorkers, I arrived after college. I was broke, but happy to be living in the gritty city that inspired The Taking of Pelham of 1,2,3!
I dreamed of writing novels. But sensible adults didn't write books. Sensible adults succeeded. So I began to write about the Why's of fashion, instead. A few years later, I began telling true city stories on stage. My apartment building in Brooklyn was full of wonderful characters. My neighborhood-at-large blended history with daily magic.
True-Yorkers had great city stories, too. "This is the rooftop where I had sex with that skinhead. Then we went out for bagels," one friend told me. His smile celebrated his urban Trifecta: the indecent exposure; the requited lust; the lox.
Having been ridiculed for being different, the True-Yorkers I knew embraced difference on others. But their tolerance stalled at True-Yorkism itself.
One night, my friends and I attended a party in a fancy apartment.
"Some day," my friends said, "We'll live in a place like this!"
"Some day, I'll live in the country with a man and a dog!" I said.
"Um," my friends said. "Well."
"I'm going to be the new Martha Stewart!" a woman told me in an urban chick Dream Fulfillment class.
"I'm going to live in the country with a man and a dog!" I said.
"Ew," the new Martha Stewart said.
Every time I spoke about my country dream I felt as if I was finding it for the first time. How and when and where it would happen, who knew? Dreams were future stuff. For now, I was writing my novel. The book was set in a fictional, True-York where the uncool kids ruled as quirkly delighted adults.
When I finished the book, I was happy, and broke. It was a lot like arriving in New York for the second time. But this time, I didn't need to succeed. I'd done it by writing the book of my dreams. There was just one problem: without the city struggle To Be, who was I -- and why was I here?
In college, I'd memorized the opening lines of Dante's Inferno. My subway rides began feeling like that. I was lost in a dark place, mid-life. The lease on my office and my apartment were up.
What if? I thought. And then, why not? And then...oh my God, why didn't I think of this before?
Three weeks later my dog and I were living in a country house with three guys I met on Craigslist.
I wasn't thinking about my dream as I packed to move. But my Inner Shopper had gotten the Memo about my move months before my soul. How else to explain the yellow headlamp, the pink fleece LL Bean jacket with reflective trim and the lug-soled, rhinestone-studded cowboy boots I'd bought from a store in Oklahoma?
I laughed as I looked at them. I hadn't laughed in years.
As an aspiring Tru-Yorker, I thought of success as a contract. A lover. A lease.
But here in the mountains, I've re-thought that idea. Perhaps success - for me - is the opposite of achievement: peace.
The Brooklyn Me suffered from insomnia. In my new home, I sleep through night. My dog has a new doggie sister. I'm starting to write another book, as part of a caring community of writers.
No place is perfect - internally or geographically. Wherever you go, as the saying goes, there you are. And both of me -- the old Thru-Yorker and the New Rocky Mountain Chick live here.
Last night, flipping through New York Magazine, I saw a former City Friend had been pronounced Playwright of the Year. Natalie Portman just optioned her work for the movies.
I felt a searing twinge of jealousy. And then, the twinge passed.
I haven't quit the idea of success entirely. But I've stopped chasing it, to give it a chance to find me.
If that sounds like countrified Kumbaya, well, I've always been a Kumbaya kid at heart.
Good things await me here, as sure as the Mountains. For me, the Truest way from here to there, where I am now, is Thru.