Photo credit: Kiki Murai
I'm shivering in a small, intimate theatre on 46th Street in New York City.
As the lights dim and the cast enters stage left, the chill running down my spine informs me not just that the heater is set too low (it always is), but also, that my life has officially changed.
I'm in New York City, and miracle of miracles, I'm not a tourist.
I no longer need to cram as many Broadway shows as possible into a week's visit, cringe at the selection (or not) of expensively bland food in Times Square, stop without warning in the middle of a very large crowd to photograph...a bus, or attempt not to get run over by cabs. I still nearly get run over by cabs, but less. Much less than before.
Having spent the past decade living and working in Japan, I was ready for the big move. Thwarted temporarily by the March 11th earthquake, I moved back home (to America) in late spring, but to the opposite coast of where I grew up.
To the city I had been stalking for just as many years. It was in just the shape I had left it. Alive.
There are more beautiful cities in the world than New York City, if judging by cleanliness. In fact, I've just come from one of the world's most immaculate countries, where polite toilet seats that warm in the winter will lift automatically upon sensing your presence, where subways and buses run flawlessly and arrive on the dot, where cars are cute and compact and candy-colored and of course, clean and virtually smog-free. Clean is Japan's signature, signed, sealed and delivered to you in a beautifully presented package.
New York City is the package that someone has already torn through.
Far from tidy, trash lines every street, grime covers the subway stations, rodents have mistaken the city for wilderness, and many other incidents of "non-clean" could easily make a Japanese person neurotic.
Why then, do people (Japanese and otherwise) keep arriving to this restless and chaotic city?
It's the shiver in the theatre. It's knowing your life has the potential to come alive, just as the stories onstage do. As the play unfolds before our eyes, I get goosebumps thinking that actually, the most fascinating and eccentric stories are hidden within the audience, like easter eggs.
You just have to find them.
Perhaps not everybody knows what their story is, or is willing to accept the plot and cast of characters that have appeared on their set. Whatever the case, New York City gives us the permission to go on a hunt to find our very own unique twist, and begin on that painful but exhilarating road to self-expression.
We're all characters in this city, each with an untold tale. Whether we tell it is up to us.
A few minutes earlier, as I squeezed into the middle seat of my particular row, the woman next to me smiled and said, "Oh, good thing you're skinny." Her comment surprised me for two reasons.
First, I don't think I'm skinny. Maybe it has to do with the definition of "skinny" in Japan, where everyone is skinny, but no one is skinny enough. Scary.
Second, the woman was so friendly and casual with her comment. She would never have guessed I'd been haunted by my weight my entire life, only to lose an alarming amount of it during a stressful, unhealthy period a few years ago where I just stopped eating. I didn't share that I kept getting thinner and thinner, until I was meeting anorexia at the door.
I was ashamed. So I joked lightly that I need winter clothes to sit in the theatre.
What do I do with the shame? If this were Japan, I would have (continued to have) kept it to myself.
But now here I am, writing about it. The play we happened to see was "Love, Loss, and What I Wore", a humorous and enduring anthem to relationships and self-image, fittingly enough.
Fitting enough to inspire me to out my own self-image issues.
Living in New York City, I feel my stories starting to form. Stories that threaten to come tumbling out if I grant it a pass. This is what the city does, bringing people of all backgrounds together, allowing a natural intersection (at times a clashing) of cultures and vision, and allowing each person a voice.
That's what I've come to New York City to do.
To tell my story. I didn't used to shiver so much.
People to Watch
People to Watch
People to Watch