One Foot, and Then Another

Long exposure of a tree and purple-brown sky

When I woke up for the second time yesterday, I had a hard time getting going.

I’m glad to be in New York; I’m glad to be visiting my friend. But even though I’ve been here several times, even though this is the opposite of traveling alone, I felt¬†the difficulty of self-initiating. After more than an hour of obsessing over subway routes and possible late lunch locations, I finally ejected myself from the apartment at about 5 pm. (This is what happens when you have to recover after a red-eye flight.) I walked to the first lunch option, but everything was $18. Dizzied, I looked down the street, which is now full of clever little cafes and outdoor tables and all sorts of stuff, a sharp difference from ten or even five years ago. Where. Where would I go. I was very hungry and at the end of my ability to make decisions. Where to go.

I walked another half block, saw the words “red eye” under the coffee menu and the words “vegetable panini” under sandwiches, and figured that was good enough.

But even then, sitting in that most ordinary of situations (if 5 pm lunch is ordinary to you), I felt the familiar frisson of anxiety that always falls on me, at least for a little while, when I land in a situation where I don’t feel on top of everything. This is an old thing, a way I lived until my mid-20s, where I expected mastery of myself in most situations and would hate myself for a while if I didn’t have it. The heightened stakes of travel and expectations resurrect what I’ve pushed out of my brain in most other situations. I sat there, a gentle summer breeze saying hello, happy people walking by, feeling blurry with new-place overload, breathing deeply, waiting to acclimate. I think this is as much a travel tradition for me as the Hallucinatory First Day.

I texted my mom; I texted my friend; I read nerd fiction. I ate my sandwich and then sat, deliberately taking up space for a bit, watching people walk by, and reminding myself that openness and time were, in this situation, a gift.

And then I headed to Manhattan.

The three-hour chunk of time ahead of me was daunting, but I reminded myself that I was in one of the greatest cities in the world. If I ended up killing 90 minutes reading in a cafe and watching people, that in itself was worth the trip. Instead, I wandered into Central Park, looked at people, wandered through terrain, and then stumbled on a world-class orchestra playing just an hour from when I arrived.

It was during said show that I took the picture at the top. First by myself, and later with my friend, I listened and I watched, and – most importantly – I inhabited, and I reminded myself that, even in these dark-as-fuck days, the world is still generally on the benevolent side (if only just, sometimes). I played with my camera’s settings, and I listened, and I began to relax into what the next week may bring.

If yesterday¬†was any indication, it’s going to be pretty great.