Finding Myself in New York City
Over the summer, I spent two weeks in New York. I was there for a summer program at The New York Times. Before I left, my dad offered some words of advice: “Always travel with a group and never provoke the crazy people on the street.” I wholeheartedly agreed. Visions of getting hopelessly lost on the subway or attacked by a stranger flashed through my mind, and I was prepared to follow his advice throughout my entire two-week stay in the city.
But once I arrived, I found it increasingly difficult to listen to him; all I wanted to do was to explore the nooks and crannies of New York by myself, with only a pair of earbuds, an unlimited Metro card, and an endless list of places I wanted to see. The truth is, I am so glad that I ignored my dad’s advice. Or some of it, anyway. (Thankfully, I had the sense to avert my eyes and walk faster whenever I saw someone suspicious on the street.)
I began to navigate the winding roads of Manhattan on my lonesome. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have left New York with a newfound sense of wonder and inspiration, tinged with a bit of sadness. I, a sixteen-year-old girl from sleepy Texas, felt at home on the streets of New York as I gazed up at the blue sky framed by towering buildings. So did the millions of people around me.
OK, I’m sort of exaggerating. I only explored the city alone once, and it was a nerve-wracking experience. Still, I did spend most of my afternoons trekking around with my new friend Rachel, who had a greater sense of adventure than me. After sitting through hours of class at The Times, we would plan our afternoons with excitement, immediately fleeing through the door towards the closest train station.
From famous ice cream parlors to small thrift shops deep in Williamsburg, we left no corner of New York unturned. We saw as much as possible in our short time. But unbeknownst to Rachel, I had a smaller, more private wish: could I catch of glimpse of myself—or someone like me—here?
The reason I was in New York was to attend a class called “Writing About Ourselves,” which focused on personal memoirs and was part of the Summer Academy of The New York Times. Our teachers provided us with several memoirs from authors ranging from the hilarious Fran Leibowitz to the inspiring Nicolaia Rips, and at the end of the two weeks, we were required to submit a piece of personal work. But I was less focused on this assignment and more interested in the experiences that New York presented every single day. My fingers itched to write about the city, but I hadn’t found my perfect material yet.
One lesson everyone learns, at some point in their lifetime, is that the little moments add up. I might remember my visit to the Museum of Modern Art or Chelsea Market clearly, but times spent with friends navigating the subway and hunting for little-known dining spots are somehow the ones I hold closest to my heart. Those times were special because I felt free and independent and wholeheartedly me.
New York has inspired me to focus solely on memoir-related writing—in my 16th year, the whirlwind of life sometimes catches me off guard. I don’t always have time to stop and reflect, and by not doing so, I lose the individual, mundane moments. Now, sitting in my room in dusty, quiet Texas, I wish I’d wake up to the honking of taxi cabs, to feel like I just can’t drink in the surroundings enough. Writing about my experiences helps me revisit my memories for a while, and to look up at my ceiling and see a blue sky, framed by buildings.
By Ponette Kim, 16