It was New Year’s day, 2014. Back from a year’s travels, I was in San Diego and I was miserable, if anyone can be miserable in such a beautiful place. So I did the foreseeable.
I bought a one way ticket.
My suitcase and I showed up in New York a week later on the coldest day of winter. I had a sublet in Flatbush and that was about it.
Much in ColleenGetsLost fashion, I’d never set foot in Brooklyn. I didn’t know anyone in Brooklyn. I’d never thought about Brooklyn. I had no idea what Brooklyn even meant. It was just cheaper than all the other options.
And that’s how I unwittingly became a cliche.
Brooklyn, at least the grittier, wannabe circa 80s East Village Brooklyn of Crown Heights/Bed-Stuy/Bushwick, is full of young college educated wanderers, sandwiched between the longstanding black/Haitian/Jamaican/Hasidic community. They come because it’s cheaper than Manhattan and there’s some sort of “scene,” which is I guess why I’m here. Except that they are 10+ years younger than me and walk about in an enviably stylized state of dishevel.
And so I became an old cliche.
No mind. Fast forward a year and I have a lease in Crown Heights, where I moved because my window didn’t look out at a brick wall (shockingly common). I’ve held more jobs in these 18 months than I’d had in the previous ten years. I’ve grown a spine and some guts and a pair. I’ve also grown some hefty hefty calves. I’ve explored Brooklyn: Williamsburg, Bed-Stuy, Park Slope, Sunset Heights, Flatbush, Gowanus, and onwards. I’ve seen Manhattan from tip to top and ended up in Queens more than seems possible from missing a Manhattan train stop. I’ve hiked in the Hudson River Valley and crossed over into Jersey.
There are Chinese hand-pulled noodles here, and markets with live fish. There is such a thing as train traffic. You get yelled at at the Bodega by the kind person behind the counter who insists on putting milk and sugar in your coffee for you. People are nicer than you’d think. Everything is harder and smellier here, somehow, than anywhere else.
Stand for ten minutes on my street corner on a typical day and you’ll see a woman in a burqa, a gender ambiguous couple kissing, a Hasidic man on a fork lift doing business with Nigerian construction workers, some gang bangers, and a lot of tattoos, floppy hair, and chunky glasses. I swear I have landed in some sort of cultural tower of Babel. It keeps me hungry for more and running home for respite on a daily basis.
So what EXACTLY am I DOING here?
The easy answer is living, like everyone everywhere else. I’ve found work, made friends, started volunteering and going to interesting events. New York has a very visible population of “giggers,” people who survive working various gigs in order to maintain a lifestyle that incorporates creative work, or where you just have time to be human. While I worked 60-hours a week like a “normal” person for several months, I’ve also done a collection of other things trying to figure out what fits me best.
Happily, I still get lost, on a near-daily basis, whether actually or metaphorically. There is always an alternate route, a noodle shop, a new friend, a new park trail, a new subway stop to try. And as a newly fledged gigger, I now have the time to tell you about it.