I used to spend a lot of time in New York a few years back: I was seeing a woman (hey Alina!) who lived there, so I was bouncing back and forth from Seattle to a nice little apartment on Spring street.
New York has always felt, and still does feel, like an exotic place to me. It’s a center piece to something although I’m not sure it’s the center that anyone talks it up to be, which is the the thing that I want to ramble on for a bit about.
It has always bothered me when people say “I’m a New Yorker”, or “THIS is New York” when seeing something high contrast happening around them in the city. Many people have written on the idea of what New York is to them (For some reason I think of the Flamethrowers when I think of writers writing about New York, which I can’t actually recall the narrative structure or tone that is used to capture the city, although I’m quite sure it is there), which is something I can’t really get into since I never spent enough time there to consider myself anything other than a visitor.
But the insistence of being FROM a place is something I can relate to, as I’ve had time in a few places that I consider to be in my blood at this point. Even so, I’d never distinguish my personality by announcing my relationship to some physical place. I’ve found myself embedded deeply in many places, but emotionally I have never thought of a place as defining that sensation of being embedded; perhaps part of what that place was at a certain time.
I think what’s bothersome to me is that saying something like “I’m a New Yorker” seems to place on oneself the stereotypes of the place they are from as they suppose it is seen by outside people. The quality they seem to actually be addressing, however, is nuanced and a particular quality of that place as seen by them; in how it supports and amplifies something that they hold dear to themselves. And to diminish this important quality by draping it in a name of a place, is to diminish one’s self. It’s like pants that make someones ass look great: I agree that some pants make an ass look better, but without the ass the pants are useless.
I remember writing a paper in college about Fela Kuti, and the TA wrote the comment back “Okay paper. Very western viewpoint of the individual”, which maybe someone would write on the top of this post. Perhaps the annoyance I have at this whole New Yorker thing (or any other time I hear people refer to a city/place as part of their core identity) is the fact that I struggle with an overriding sense of being an individual first, which I agree in the world today is not only socially irresponsible, but also a bit scientifically incorrect (I’m still on my Hyperobjects kick. Hi Bradford!)
For now, I’ll wander these streets of LA, where I have not heard even once: “I’m an Angeleno”. Although I do admit to uttering the phrase in an exhale “Dowtown LA…”, the place I now call home; a place I watch a bit tentatively out of the corner of my eye at, as if it’s someone dressed as a clown hiding in a parking structure (an actual description of someone once seen in downtown).
Maybe what I’m getting at is the duel role of content and container that is a place of belonging. And I guess the things that we are most passionate about, and strive to conjure the most in our daily lives, are usually in this role of content and container. What is a disservice to ourselves is when we delegate these passions to be only one of these things.