Refusing a bite of the apple

I might be one of a rare breed of female twentysomething journalists who consider themselves city mice: I have never made any serious, good-faith attempt to “make it” in New York, nor have I ever wanted to and honestly, unless an amazing opportunity arises or I move for a partner, I sincerely can see myself never wanting to.

A friend of mine shared this blog entry today, which I read and which maybe finally made me realize why I never sought that city the way so many women my age and in my profession do. New York City, the presumed epicenter of culture, literature and intellectual thought, is crowding out (and has been crowding out) the very people who contribute those things to the city. Creativity must be nurtured, and that requires basic security, energy and time, things that can be difficult if not impossible to attain in the city, especially if, like the blog author, you have to work a “real” job to make ends meet. The author decided to ultimately sacrifice location for that trifecta she needed to do something fulfilling, and left.

Which brings me back to myself; reading that, I have to wonder if I always knew, subconsciously, that I wouldn’t find in New York what I needed to fulfill me. Rather than needing to live there to realize that, maybe I always had a sense that it wasn’t really worth it. It wasn’t worth paying four figures to live with a bunch of other people in some outer borough, or doing a menial and unrewarding job, or going without food, just to be able to say, “I live in New York.” If “living in New York” doesn’t really come with the actual lifestyle implied by “living in New York” (creative freedom and intellectual growth), then what the bloody hell good is it? It’s an empty phrase, designed to impress outsiders or people from home; it would have no bearing on how I actually lived my life. That air of superiority, given the living circumstances of so many people like me in the city, just felt unearned, and I’d be damned if I moved there to perpetuate it.

And obviously it’s different for different people. I have friends there who love it, and I freely admit that I’d feel perfectly happy living in that other New York-esque metropolis with which I’m so familiar (London, I mean London). But after reading the blog entry and seeing a woman who might, in another life, have been me, it clicked. I had “gotten it” before I really even knew what I had “gotten.”

But then again, I never really knew or noticed how prevalent “Good-bye, New York” writings were. Time and again, young women aspire to go to New York, do so and then leave, for one reason or another. Maybe I just cut out the middleman.

In all fairness I do say this as a Washingtonian (via the Midwest and some stints in Britain), living in a place that isn’t exactly inexpensive. Many people in D.C. view it as a step on the way to New York, including at least a few of my friends. The District’s alleged inferiority complex is often remarked upon, and I’d be lying if I didn’t find the Times’s sometimes downright snotty coverage of the city (including, at times, bush-league geographic errors) to be grating. It seems like no matter what D.C. has, New York has more of it. Which is to be expected, as New York has more than 8 million people and D.C. only recently topped about 650,000, although it’s only getting bigger. But often, any criticism of New York by a D.C.-er brings allegations of jealousy or attempts at one-upping.

Which is why I found Andrew Sullivan’s own farewell to New York to be comforting; it’s rare (at least in my experience) to have someone that high-profile in the creative/journalistic community so publicly and forcefully side with D.C. over New York. For once, we’re not the ones being jilted. And Sullivan noticed that, too. It was “incomprehensible” to New Yorkers, he said, that a person might choose D.C. over their city.

And that’s at least partly why he left.

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The Solo Traveler

It was after 11 p.m. Saturday by the time I was finally able to sleep. I had been awake for almost 24 continuous hours, barring some bad sleep on a plane. My trip back to D.C. had involved a long-distance ICE train, two planes, an airport shuttle, a bus, a subway and a taxi. I was exhausted and sore and still I’d rarely felt more personally satisfied.

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I’d spent the last week away, first in New York City for a day visiting a friend, then in Germany over Thanksgiving. It was the first time I had traveled abroad on my own, without going (back) to school or doing something for work. I’d done a European circuit in college with my best friend and had just gone to Sweden with that same friend. But this was different. It felt riskier — apart from simply wanting to go, I had no good “reason” to, no justification. It felt empowering.

I planned and booked the entire thing myself, asking some advice from friends who’d been to the cities I was visiting. I ditched my normally strict tendency to plan every day to the detail, and just did what felt right, whatever I wanted to at any given time. One day this involved eating a plate-sized Schnitzel with fried potatoes and a Frankfurt-style green herb sauce, washing it down with half a liter of beer (that was somehow the smallest glass available). I ended up visiting a modern art museum, wandering around Frankfurt’s Dom before the sun had risen, strolling through a giant food hall. 

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I went to Bonn for a day and wandered around its Münsterplatz, which was packed with stalls for the annual Christmas market. I found a present for my mother, ate sweets from the stalls and just took in the atmosphere.

Thanksgiving morning, I sat alone in an empty first-class train compartment as we zipped through early-morning fog. I saw glimpses of little villages along the river, buildings that looked ancient and sleepy. I wondered, sleepy myself, what it might be like to chuck it all in and settle down in some little burg.

When the train arrived in Cologne, my last stop, the first place I went after dropping off my luggage was to the Dom. More than any other cathedral I’ve seen apart from perhaps York’s minster, it evokes the phrase “pillar of the Earth.” Photos of it, though I took several, do it no justice. It is simply mind-boggling in its enormity and it amazes me that the people living in Cologne must just get used to it, like a stone Godzilla just sitting there.

Cologne’s Christmas market seemed to go on forever; it actually has several of them and they just bleed into each other. I had mulled wine and hot potato cakes covered in apple sauce. Everywhere there are sausages, sandwiches, cookies, cakes, pretzels, wine, hot chocolate and arts and crafts. At night, with the strung-up lights illuminating the sky and the Dom in the background, it’s downright ethereal.

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I perused Cologne’s Greco-Roman Museum in the afternoon, admiring the mosaics, jewelry and pottery on display. Later that night, I went on a date and ended up drinking Kölsch in a Brauhaus and sipping hot mulled wine in the Christmas market, snuggling up to stay warm. Thanksgiving indeed.

I’m in that buzzkill-ish period right after a trip, when it’s over and done and you just think, “Well now what?” But going on this trip, short though it was and to a place I’d been before where I more or less knew the language, gave me a lot of confidence. It might be the introvert in me, but I really believe that you have to be able to manage on your own before you can manage with anyone else. So for that reason I enjoyed my taste of solo travel (although I still plan to travel with friends, obviously), and I feel brave enough to do it again. It was also exhilarating to go somewhere just to go, because I could, without it being for school or anything else or anyone else but me. 

I think I owed myself that.

The Hierarchy of Needs

Earlier today one of my friends shared an … edited … version of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The base — the broadest, most pressing immediate need — was Wi-Fi. Some days, that’s a very accurate assessment.

Maslow’s hierarchy should be familiar to anyone who took a high school psych class, ever. The actual base is physiological fulfillment: food, water, warmth. Next is stability and security. Love — friendly, familial, romantic — is in the middle. After that comes self-esteem and respect. Self-actualization is the highest point. The idea is that you have to fulfill the lower needs before you can fulfill the higher ones.

Marking my one-year anniversary, both at my job and in D.C., has lately gotten me to start reevaluating my needs and what I want out of my life. Despite seeing so many of my friends starting families, I reaffirm to myself that that’s something I want, but only when the timing is right. It’s not something to do just to tick off a box.

I guess the hardest part of climbing the pyramid is figuring out what self-actualization, on an individual level, actually means. Some days I’m afraid that maybe I’m doomed to be a nomad, shifting from place to place without ever putting down real roots. Then I think of staying in any one place forever, and I can’t breathe. So it’s a pull in opposite directions: fear of loneliness on the one hand, fear of being trapped somewhere on the other.

Ultimately, I think, self-actualization (and the accompanying feeling that you’re where you’re meant to be, doing what you’re meant to do, with whom you’re meant to be) is probably like being in love. When you’re there, you know. And if you have to second-guess yourself, look for exits or wonder if you’re there, you’re not.

So for now, until I do get that feeling of actualization and permanency, I’m going to embrace my nomadic nature and appreciate people and places that I know are probably fleeting. And when I get to the “right” place, I’ll know.

Just a little bit of wanderlust

It’s been about a week and a half since I was in Stockholm, and traveling again — especially traveling abroad again — just made me want to do it more. Rather than sate my need to move, it just spurred me on.

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Stockholm, while beautiful and full of friendly people and gifted with perfect weather, just didn’t “grab” me the way cities like London, Paris and Florence did. I might not be being fair there; London and Paris are the twin jewels of the continent, and Florence has perhaps the best art collection in the world. Still though, I left Stockholm with a niggling feeling, like I was missing something.

I recently decided that in lieu of spending Thanksgiving in the U.S., I was going to make use of the two paid holidays and take a week-long trip back to Europe. But not to the U.K. — I’m going to Germany. It’s been about two and a half years since I’ve been there, and that was a rushed visit to Berlin to sit the Foreign Service Exam. I’ve only ever been to Berlin and Munich.

This time, I’m taking an early morning train up to New York City, spending a day with friends there, and then flying on a red-eye flight to Frankfurt. I’ll spend two days there, two in Bonn and then two in Cologne. I’ll hopefully see a combination of old and new friends, browse the Christmas markets, practice my (very rusty …) Deutsch and see the Dom in Cologne.

This won’t be my first (or my last) Thanksgiving spent overseas, and I’m excited to see some friends, see parts of Germany I haven’t seen before, and just, in general, escape for a few days. I think that’s what appeals the most to me about travel, especially now that I’m working full time: It’s the chance to fall off the map for a while and to just be accountable to yourself.

See you in a few months, Deutschland.

Going to Stockholm

I haven’t “been” anywhere lately. There was England — which was for school — and D.C. — which I visited for my interview and where I live now — and Boston — where I’ve been before a few times so visiting friends there felt pretty routine.

But this summer, I wanted someplace new. Someplace I hadn’t been before. I settled on Stockholm and sweet-talked Cheryl — my best friend since forever and travel buddy — into coming with me.

I swooned at photos of the islands and the outdoor cafes and the boat tours. I winced at the food prices but admitted the restaurants look amazing. We swore up and down we would eat cheap street food to save money for dinner; we’ll see if we can stick to it.

As is my wont, I’m researching restaurants, cafes, museums and galleries to make the most out of the week-long adventure in July. It’s exhilarating to have something to “plan” again.

Can’t wait.

Welcome to 2013

I have, unfortunately, been delinquent at practicing my own writing while editing the writing of others. Shame on me. Right now, I’m taking a break in between holiday on-call shifts, posting news and updates about the dreaded fiscal cliff. I fluctuate between thinking that what I’m doing is important, and wanting to never, ever hear or see the phrase “fiscal cliff” again.

I will not miss 2012, or at least, I won’t yearn for it the way I still do 2011. The second half of it, at least, was exciting and interesting and challenging: moving to a new city, meeting new people and starting a job I love. But that just leads to a continuation of that in the new year.

I already have a lot planned for 2013. I’m celebrating my birthday a week late, when my best friend comes to visit and I expose her to the awesomeness that is The Passenger’s cocktail menu and Founding Farmers’ brunch. Sometime in late February, if the weather isn’t atrocious, I’m planning another long weekend in Boston. I’m playing restaurant hostess for my parents again in late March, and hoping to visit Europe again (I’m thinking Stockholm) in June. And of course I’m hoping to see how POLITICO Pro keeps on trucking and growing, and maybe try my hand at some reporting.

I feel like I’ve grown up a lot in the last few months, and I’m hoping to spend enough time in Washington to feel settled. Since I graduated high school, I’ve never stayed more than a year in the same place (although England the last time was about 14 months all told), and I’m at a point where I want to just stay still for a while.

So that’s where I am now — working and still getting the hang of a truly wonky city. Stay tuned.

One week in

It’s been about a week since I set up shop in D.C., and things are going great. I’m catching on at work and really enjoying my new co-workers and the work I’m doing for Pro. I’m especially excited for the legislative recess to end and for the new verticals to launch.

I have also been exploring Petworth, my residential neighborhood, and other parts of the city. In the past week alone, I’ve discovered new pubs, restaurants, shops and coffee houses. I went to a party in the Shaw neighborhood last night and met new people, and I’m making notes of fun upcoming events that I see on Twitter (such as a September ice-cream expo at Union Market in NoMa).

I really love the city so far. There’s so much going on, so many little intricacies that differentiate the neighborhoods, and so many people doing a lot of cool things. I’m following the political scene with one eye and the food scene with another. I’m excited to keep trying new things, and hope to continue making the most of my time here, both personally and professionally.