being alone in ny

I almost started this journal off with the phrase, “for the first time in a long time…” — but I realize that’s not quite right. This has been a somewhat gradual process, an accumulation of being with HJ and living in China with not much to do and now being in New York, the city of my dreams since forever, and now being in it in a unique semi-optional but not permanent aloneness way.

Semi-gradually, I’m beginning to truly realize that life is more the day-to-day happy than the long-term happy, and perhaps that the long-term happy doesn’t exist at all; perhaps the long-term happy has always been nothing but something waved in front of me like a goading flag, always whipped away and out of reach as I think I’m charging towards it. And from there, I’m beginning to learn what makes me this kind of day-to-day happy, and furthermore to learn to actively search for what makes me this kind of happy.

I can bike for hours and be truly content. Rivers, the city, the late afternoon light is all somehow more beautiful on a bike. The wind is fresher. The rushing view is exhilarating. And I get the feeling — no, I’m not even aware of the feeling — that there’s nothing more in the world I could desire other than this: not people, not success, not friends, not family. I know this is fleeting, this encompassingly content state, born from a decent enough day of interactions and the security of the temporary solitude and HJ’s worldview, but the ephemeral nature of it doesn’t make it any less real, or any less sublime.


When I visited NYC last week, I drove through Harlem. I have a fascination with how neighborhoods work in cities – how could one street be posh and swanky and affluent and the next block over be trashed and poor? And yet, that’s how it is. We drove up Manhattan, past nice hotels and doormen, and then suddenly, there were garbage bags lying on sidewalks; there were cracks and dirt covering windows and there were crumbling buildings, and finally, there were exclusively black people.

I’d read so much about institutionalized racism, about socioeconomics problems, about Harlem – and to be there, in person, was overwhelming. How does anyone with any bit of knowledge deny the existence of a racial problem? The only excuse is total ignorance.

We drove by a park with kids playing basketball, and I suddenly thought of a book I’d read – The Other Wes Moore. And I guess I felt obligated in that moment to get out of the car, to walk around as the only non-black person, and to feel completely unwelcome and uneasy simply because of race. I am guilty of being colorblind. Here was a situation in which I couldn’t be.

I basked in my uneasiness. I basked in my subconscious racism telling me that this was dangerous, that these people did not want me here. I noted small things – the cautious looks people gave me, the police officer trailing in his car with the windows rolled up. I noted differences. Why was there a police officer in a park? that would never happen back home. I smiled at the black art initiative that the city had implemented around the walkways. I laughed at the children on the swings, and felt profound sadness that they were growing up in a racist world.

And yet.