“Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.”
– Mason Cooley
When I lived in Los Angeles I spent a lot of time in the car driving to meetings and shoots. One of my favorite ways to unwind was to roll down my car windows and sing at the top of my lungs. Even when I was having a stressful day it calmed my heart, and if the music was loud enough I felt like I could hang with Mariah and Whitney.
Another stress reliever was to turn off the music and drive in silence, or pray out loud. Car time was me time.
At least once a week I’d steal away to the beach and set up my beach towel and read — even if I could only do it for 15 minutes.
Those little breaks were like water to my soul. I needed them.
I didn’t realize how much I cherished that time until I moved to New York City.
Although I’ve been here for over three years, I am still trying to find the balance of how to live well in this city. Most mornings I wake up to the sounds of construction or taxi cabs honking their horns. When I crawl into bed I can often hear my neighbors talking or having karaoke competitions. The walls are thin!
When I leave my house in the morning it feels like I’m gearing up for battle. I have my bag (which is basically a diaper bag with no diapers and no baby) loaded with snacks and a change of clothes in case I want to go to yoga. Then I begin my walk to the subway, up and down lots of stairs and through subway corridors to make my transfers to wherever I’m headed.
I didn’t think much about this until my mom visited me in August. In true southern form she would say hello to every person we passed, only to be repeatedly disappointed when people looked at her like she was crazy. More often than not people stared at the ground and kept listening to their headphones.
“Why are people here so unfriendly?” she asked.
At first I felt defensive, as though someone was making fun of my little sister. But as I thought about it, I realized that for many of us, the time we spend on the sidewalk and in the subway is “me time.” Instead of having time alone in the car as we get to our next destination, we’re walking on uneven pavement and sitting uncomfortably close to a stranger in the subway.
But that’s the nature of life in a city. When you leave for the day you have to be “on,” and you don’t let your guard down until you’re back safely in your bed at night, drifting off to sleep.
I can’t speak for all New Yorkers, but I’ve realized I still need space, so I’ve been finding creative ways to make that happen in a place where it feels like I’m never alone. It’s still possible, but I’ve had to adjust my expectations of what it looks like. It’s no longer a few minutes of reading on the beach, or a quick catch up call with my mom in the car on my way to dinner with friends.
Instead, I’ve decided to take tiny movements to create stillness in my everyday life. Even if it’s on a smelly subway with a thousand people surounding me, I can create stillness in the midst of chaos if I choose to. What this has started to look like for me is:
- Paying $20 for a 20 minute back massage at a nail salon if I cannot go home before my next commitment.
- Quietly singing along to my Spotify playlist on the subway with my eyes closed (pretending I’m in my car with the windows down).
- Reading. I’ve always been an avid reader. At any given time I’m reading 2-3 books. My mentor in college told me, “Reading makes you smarter, so do more of it.” I took his advice to heart. When I first moved to NYC I would carry my books with me and read and highlight them on the subway. Now I take my Kindle Paperwhite with me, and am able to enter the world of whatever book I’m reading. Lately I’ve been reading A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, along with Falling Upward by Richard Rhor. My Kindle is small, easy to carry, and I can still highlight and mark my favorite quotes. Reading allows me to create space for myself, even in tight quarters.
I’m learning that city life is all about shifting my expectations. Finding rest in New York is not going to look like it did in Dallas or in Los Angeles. It’s not worse or better. It’s just different. As I let go of how I used to do things I’m trying to create new ways of rest in the city that never sleeps.
And I am up for the challenge.
**This post is sponsored by Kindle Paperwhite.