Category: new york
I like to think I resisted this a bit but I think I’m slowly coming to terms with being a digital nomad. I’m typing this while in the back of a Lyft which is taking me from Long Beach California to Santa Monica where I have set up shop for the Summer. When I was younger, growing up in California, I used to fantasize about being bi-coastal.
I thought that might mean having an apartment in San Francisco and one in NYC and travelling back and forth for work. Now I think that’s a bit limiting. This country is mighty big, it’s true, but the world is mighty small. After spending time in Mexico City, Brussels, Berlin, and London last year I figure: why limit myself? I still feel like a New Yorker though. Perhaps that’s why I’ve resisted the moniker Digital Nomad.
True nomads, I believe don’t really have a home base. I like my home base. It feels good to “go home” from time to time (as I am about to do this week to teach some classes in NYC). Perhaps one of the reasons I feel at home there, is that it takes a long time to *feel* like a New Yorker. NYC is a brutal place at times and at other times – the times tourists seem to not understand – it is one of the best places on Earth.
I’ve had friends I care about, and strangers I’ve spoken to slam my city because of the brutish pride with which New Yorker’s speak about their home. “It’s the greatest city in the world” sounds incredibly ignorant especially to those who’ve been there. I think those who speak the most ill of New York are those who have tried living there and find it wasn’t to their taste. “It’s just a city. Why do people wear living there with a badge of pride?” It’s not a terrible question to ask, rhetorical though it might be.
Shall I answer it with an equally rhetorical and cryptic response? Do you think if you have to ask, maybe you don’t get it? I constantly hear from current and former New Yorkers, that we denizens of this city can be narcissistic. Having spent the past month in Los Angeles I can’t say I don’t notice the differences. Though I’d be remiss to say I haven’t witnessed a fair amount of self-absorption here. Indeed, I’ve been very curious about interrogating the differences between narcissism and self-absorption. If you figure that one out, let me know. But is being focused on one’s self entirely bad?
Understanding Adaptive Narcissism
I can’t say I don’t see the criticism that New Yorkers are self-focused as valid at times. I do, however, also sense that there’s something missing in the critique. I went so far as to find this article by psychology today that suggest narcissism isn’t all that bad. How can being aware of one’s self be bad if balanced with understanding one’s limits and an extreme focus on empathy? Is the adaptive narcissism described by Psychology today realistic?
On both coasts and abroad I find that there’s a renewed interest in meditation. Long the realm of crunchy culture, meditation is being considered seriously by science and is making it’s way into corporate culture. Having spent a couple Sundays in Long Beach taking meditation classes, I think I’ve found another word that encapsulates this kind of adaptive narcissism: Mindfulness. Merriam Webster (sorry brits) defines mindfulness as: “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.”
Mark Twain said: “All generalizations are false, including this one.”
A friend commenting on the differences between Los Angeles and New York said that New Yorkers are hard on the outside but soft on the inside because they know the struggle is real. What registers as smug self-absorption by outsiders, sometimes is, in fact just the opposite. I think New York breeds its own form of mindfulness. Don’t stop walking on the sidewalk. Don’t stand at the top of the stairway leading to the subway. Don’t have a long phone conversation on the train. Look forward and at others and: walk. fast. Does this mean everyone follows these rules? Of course not. As Mark Twain said: “All generalizations are false, including this one.”
People in LA I’ve spoken to found New Yorkers to be rude. “The people at the deli counter seem set on getting you in and out. No chats or pleasantries. Others cut in front of you on line.” I think this is the quintessential New York experience. It’s not that we don’t see that as rude sometimes. It’s that we don’t give a shit. Life is too short. We have our own shit to deal with. If you think we haven’t seen some shit, you’re wrong. Dead wrong. We just refuse to let it get us down. We are hardened on the outside but knowledgable within. That’s why you can take the New Yorker out of New York but you can’t take the New York out of the New Yorker.
Photo Credit: Kevin Horan
I am a midwestern son. There’s a sequence in the documentary ‘Life Itself’ that suggests that Roger Ebert styled himself as a Chicago journalist in an archetype of public figures like Studs Turkel. He was, for a time, hard drinking and hard living. Enjoying life in it’s ups and downs in a way that is both uniquely human and uniquely American. Seeing this film as I have now, in a time in life where for unrelated reasons, I’ve recently had to explain and often defend being both a New Yorker and American, it has given me pause to reflect on my midwestern-ness. It’s a claim I don’t often make about aspects of my personality and to say they are at best unsettled would perhaps be an understatement.
I grew up in California and having spent nearly a decade now in New York I’m often accused of being alternatively laid back (the West Coast side) or shall we say ambitious (the East Coast side). Sharing that I was born in Illinois and have fond childhood memories of returning to the Land of Lincoln and the land of my parents isn’t something that I’m oft to do unless you are close to me. I spent the formative years of my life learning how the world works from the perspective of diverse and conflicted California. By the time I had made it to Santa Cruz, a stereotype of California cool and a sign that you had made it by West Coast standards, I was constantly being accused of seeming East Coast. I lived blocks from the beach. I could hear the ocean crashing from my bed and on occasion sea lions barking – surprisingly – from miles away.
Eventually New York’s pull couldn’t evade me and I’ve made a happy home here and been able to watch Brooklyn change from my window and in some ways feel the gilded walls closing in in similar ways to Santa Cruz. Here people are compelled to say “Why would you ever leave?” In reference to California’s famous sun and weather and I say “Why not?” I couldn’t see getting to where I am now without moving. I’m a published author and have a successful independent business that has paid the bills for four years now. When I travel back to California and meet people from the tech industry out there I can’t help but feel that there’s not a snowballs chance in hell that I would have met them if I wasn’t where I am professionally in New York.
I’ve had a series of friends new and old visit from Europe and the continent and now that I’m an erudite New Yorker, I find myself having to explain my fellow countrymen in ways that don’t always feel natural. Perhaps that’s why the Ebert documentary hit me like a ton of bricks. When I think of celebrities, of artists, of people I admire and what I want out of life, there’s a certain midwestern quality that I find I am drawn to in somewhat inexplicable ways. It’s explained in ‘Life Itself’ that after Roger Ebert won the Pulitzer prize while writing for the scrappy Sun-Times – a commuter rag I can recall my Chicago suburban relatives explain to me – Ebert was courted by major publications like the NY Times and Washington Post. Roger was quoted as saying “I don’t want to have to learn new streets.”
When I think of celebrities, of artists, of people I admire and what I want out of life, there’s a certain midwestern quality that I find I am drawn to in somewhat inexplicable ways.
While on the one hand I’ve never lived in Chicago and on the other I feel deeply connected to the Bay Area and have a homey understanding of New York, there’s something about this sentiment that rings true for me. A loyalty to home, a sense of pride in the scrappiness of the paper. There’s something there that is American, heartland and Chicago. While in California, the dream is to be discovered and move up in the world and in New York, you wouldn’t leave because you feel well and true that this place is the best place on earth, the sense in Chicago that you stay despite being able to leave is both heartbreaking and wonderful. Something that I inherently feel and understand and fear perhaps that I’m overstating (as someone who isn’t from there) but I look at people like Studs and Ebert and Jean Sheperd and I feel like “yes” these are people who embody that spirit. They are people I aspire to be.
It’s why I felt so deeply hurt at news of Robin Williams passing. I can remember as a child seeing bits of my grandpa in him and feeling he was part of the family. It’s also why I think of Bill Murray as the archetype of the celebrity. There’s something in the spirit of Northern Illinois that is simultaneously understated and resounding – a midwestern cool. Look at Oprah! In ‘Life Itself’ we’re told time and again stories of unknown directors that Roger Ebert (along with Gene Siskel) pulled up from obscurity because they thought they deserved a voice. There’s a sense of Roger as an American success story both in his talent but also in his desire to give back. His humble beginnings were a tutorial for him on both the promise of the American dream but also the sense of duty to it. That’s perhaps what’s missing sometimes I feel as culture moves to the coasts. I’ve benefited greatly from being pulled up by others here in New York. It wasn’t always out of a sense of duty, but instead a sense kinship or reciprocity. In California I was brought in by the warmth of people’s generosity but it can often feel cold and individual there despite the sun. In neither place do I feel quite the same sense of humble duty. That’s not to say it doesn’t exist in either place, but rather it doesn’t exist in quite the same way.
There’s a wonderful reflection of death as a part of life in the documentary. The film doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of declining health as Roger Ebert went through many medical procedures towards the end of his life. It also confronts what death means in the context of life, cinema and America. I find intellectual communion in statements from Roger like: “Look at a movie a lot of people love and you’ll find something profound, no matter how silly the film may seem…” Through passages of the film Ebert is painted as both a sophisticated and stubborn egotist and at the same time a populist. At one point at a conference he’s asked why his opinion on a film matters more than anyone else’s and he says “because I have a Pulitzer.” It’s both harsh and true. Later though he’s lauded for his insistence that anyone can get a movie. Time and again we’re shown filmmakers like Errol Morris, Werner Herzog and Martin Scorsese who basically credit Siskel and Ebert with making their films more palatable to audiences. Morris says “I don’t think I would have had a career if it weren’t for those guys.”
Yet when Siskel and Ebert at the Movies was growing in popularity there was a staunch refusal in the LA and New York markets to pick up the show. There was a sense that New York and Los Angeles film criticism was superior. Look at this article Ebert wrote on unfair criticism of Michael Moore’s Roger and Me where he staunchly rebukes Pauline Kael of the New Yorker, a woman he admired and credits for opening up the path of film criticism for a new generation. From the article:
Does Moore “demean” the subjects in his film, the “little people,” by holding them up to ridicule? I don’t think so. I think he is looking at the infinite goofiness of human nature — at the things people will say — with the same deadpan astonishment that I sometimes have when I watch the TV news.
Though respectful and accomplished, Roger Ebert seemed resolute in his dedication to the everyman ideal found throughout American storytelling. He believed in the American dream in both it’s promise and it’s faults and in doing so he embodied an archetype of the American journalist/writer we see manifest from time to time in literature and popular culture. Throughout the film ‘Life Itself’ A thread of a quote from The Great Gatsby is played and repeated. It is noted as one of Roger Ebert’s favorite quotes and one that embodies the American dream.
“Most of the big shore places were closed now and there were hardly any lights except the shadowy, moving glow of a ferryboat across the Sound. And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes — a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.
And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…. And one fine morning ——
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
The Great Gatsby is a testament to American idealism, failure and reinvention. Famously read on stage, presumably ironically by Charlie Kaufman and retyped in its entirety by Hunter S Thompson, another iconic writer on the American dream from a previous generation, in order to gain insight on it’s rhythm. The story of Gatsby itself is an examination of the American dream through the lens of a midwesterner, Nick Halloway who is transported to the opulence of the East Coast to find the self-made Gatsby at once incredibly successful but as is described in the quote above, chasing an unattainable past. America allows for one to build their own path and for even the humble son of a electrician as in Ebert’s case to rise to the pinnacle of American journalism. But only to a point.
For all the optimism of the American dream, we can’t stop the inevitable passage of time. “He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him…” But what makes us American is our unwillingness to let that stop us from trying to reinvent the past by focusing on the future. What is sometimes seen by non-Americans as American ignorance of the past and the foolish, resolute pursuit of forward movement, is in fact laced with knowing fatalism and sadness, regret but optimism. Optimism in the belief that the failures of the past cannot be reconciled by dwelling on them. “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…. And one fine morning ——” And this is Fitzgerald writing nearly a century ago. What codifies the American spirit, and perhaps terrifies other non-Americans is the fact that we know the journey is unknown, we know the clock is impossible to turn back, but the only natural course of action we know is forward into the future. Even if it’s to chase an impossible past. “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
What is sometimes seen by non-Americans as American ignorance of the past and the foolish, resolute pursuit of forward movement, is in fact laced with knowing fatalism and sadness, regret but optimism. Optimism in the belief that the failures of the past cannot be reconciled by dwelling on them.
What I’m reminded of watching ‘Life Itself’ as a Californian turned New Yorker is that while that indomitable spirit of constant progress may be born on the coasts, it’s the midwesterners who celebrate it, give it life and frame it in such a way as to make it sustainable. Roger Ebert’s gift to us wasn’t only the work he did himself, rewarding and important as that is. Like Gatsby, Ebert is as aware of the past though refuses to acknowledge it. Unlike Gatsby he’s aware of his shortcomings. Ebert’s giving life to the next generation is a way of addressing the inevitability of death while reminding us it isn’t an obstacle to progress but a motivator. For all his success he recognized our world isn’t perfect and sought to make the best world out of what he was given. He “beat on, boat against the current” and was able to give new life to others through the stories he chose to give light to and the stories he created in his own life. Ultimately he was adding to the story of what it means to be American and what make up American ideals by backing up his writing with action and determined spirit. His midwestern values informing his perspective. What could be more American than that?
I can recall in my youth in Northern California a constant frustration called FOMO or fear of missing out. It is the anxiety felt that there’s someplace better you should be. You worry that you’re never where the cool stuff is happening. When I moved to the east coast and New York City seven years ago I felt that the big city had cured me of this ill. I was overwhelmed by all the choices, I simply had to deal with the fact that I would never be able to do everything. I learned that life is about making decisions. By making a choice you are inevitably missing out on the thing that wasn’t chosen. What moving to New York taught me was that wherever I was at the moment, was the right place for me to be. I brought the party.
During WDS we were in a space where what we said and did mattered as individuals
I’ve been back West many times to visit friends and family in the Bay Area and I brought with me my adopted New York attitude of nonchalance in the face of uncertainty or doubt. I brought the confident swagger that I had assumed New York had given me. I recently returned from Portland after attending The World Domination Summit (WDS), a two day conference built on the pillars of community, adventure and service. Attending WDS and finally seeing Portland, I realized something. It’s not about the space where you are but how the you change yourself in reaction to the space you’re in. In other words New York didn’t make me more confident. It was the permission I gave myself to see the confidence in me. At the conference much was made of the reactions of Portlanders to WDS attendees. I met some former Californians working in a food truck who claimed we were the nicest group they’ve ever met. Conference attendees heard this echoed everywhere, we were the kindest, most interesting and fun group they’d ever seen.
How did it happen? What was the magic that made WDS so worthwhile and impossible to describe to others? What caused this collective joy and positive outlook? As a teacher I’m often struck by the way the structure of a classroom affects the ways in which students interact. If I’m sitting at a table with my students, the questions I get and reactions to the material are much different than if students are in rows facing me at the front of a classroom. Reflecting on WDS I see this same sort of shift in how the space works to reflect back the attitudes of organizers, attendees and locals.
Two things, in my opinion, make WDS successful. One is that every attendee has a story. Not only were the speakers obviously very talented and amazing. It was equally engaging to hear the stories from attendees both on and off stage. Even the afterparty was interrupted briefly so an attendee could propose to his girlfriend. Why? Because it makes for a compelling story. The story of that wedding proposal was told in front of us because of the possibility we made for it to happen. During WDS we were in a space where what we said and did mattered as individuals and because of that we as a group made impossible things possible.
WDS is a collective wish to be positive about where we are in the present moment
The second reason for the success of WDS is Chris Guillebeau. He draws a stark contrast from others he’s sometimes compared to like Eric Reis or Tim Ferris. Chris’ character is what sets him apart. It’s defined almost entirely by his humbleness and kindness. At one point in the conference Chris gave what he called a “soft sell” which, for anyone who’s seen him speak before, is just what comes to him naturally. He can’t hard sell you or pressure you. You get the sense that Chris wants more people to be happy and comfortable like him. He invites you to enjoy life the way he does and you want to do it because he gave you a place to do it.
Portland itself is a magical place, filled with nonconforming and thoughtful people. The fact that so many of the attendees aspire to overlapping positive ideals and are brought to a place that encourages it is really what makes WDS great. It’s not about what we are doing for money or the bad patches you may see in front of you. It’s not about what you’re missing out on or the fear of it. WDS is a collective wish to be positive about where we are in the present moment and what we aspire to change in the future.
One of my favorite things about my new life as a freelancer is the sheer diversity of things I get to do on a given day. When you work for yourself, the only boundaries you have are those that are self-imposed. To give you a sampling. Today I started off my day (a little late thanks to the MTA) with a meeting about the future of education and this new lifestyle of teaching and working that I’m pioneering with the help of good people like NWCU and Skillshare.
Now I’m sitting down at New Work City, a coworking space where I’m piloting an education program. I’m waiting to meet up with a colleague of mine who is also developing a platform based around education. We’re going to discuss plans for a new event with exciting implications.
Later this afternoon I’ll be meeting with a small startup to discuss helping them out with some WordPress theming. Then I’ll meet with another instructor and finally finish my day by holding a class at New Work City.
So I’m going from education planning and brainstorming, to event planning and brainstorming to tackling code, to mentoring, to teaching all within a day. It’s an exciting lifestyle but it’s also an important strategy. By diversifying I’m able to ensure several streams of income that are staggered. It’s a great way to solve one of the biggest freelancer dilemas: cashflow.
To add a bit of context: our posting on craigslist was for a room in our apartment. We were using my girlfriend’s computer. She is jewish. So the “random generation” was all the more to the point and bizarre in it’s hilarity. [The room is still available and open to one of any faith]
Perhaps her computer is just sending her messages in general. Here’s what iPhoto had to say about her:
Living in New York, one’s mind might be lent to wonder about the legality of street advertisement. They are literally everywhere. I’m not just talking about billboards (though their omnipresence is also very hard to dismiss), but on every barricade, construction site (New York has many) and even just on empty walls.
According to this article on Rocketboom, most street ads are totally illegal. A group called Public Ad Campaign decided to do something about it. They reclaimed visual space with white paint and put wonderful street art in place of the ads.
Though I’m sure it must be an incredibly difficult job for only the top in the field, I can’t shake the impression that the people who work for the New York Public Library, must sit around coming up with truly nerdy things to do and then execute them. Take this as evidence. It’s a very thoroughly researched Google map of significant literary spots in the west village. It must have taken hours to put together.
I hope they do this on the clock. It’s marvelous to think that someone gets paid to be this nerdy.
(via NYPL Blog)
And Brooklyn cheers (though the sign equally applies to Williamsburg).
What I did yesterday. Didn’t fight but it was fun energy.
Wow, with a history of successfully resisting Robert Moses and prohibition laws, Broad Channel (or little Cuba) sounds like a pretty interesting place and only a few stops down the A. Looking at Google street-view it reminds me of Santa Cruz a little.
I’m not sure if this sign is FAIL or incredibly awesome.
I totally need an experience, babysitter.