Letters to My Grandma: New York, New York
I don’t know where to begin. Ever since I moved to New York City I’m not able to see you as much, or mom or Dad, or Aaron, or the friends I spent the majority of my life getting to know.
I want to begin writing these letters because you mean so much to me. Although this life I’m living in New York feels so far away from California, new in some ways and similar in others, hard to grasp, I’d like to try and share it. Whatever it is I'm experiencing these days. I often wonder to myself - what did you think at my age? What questions did you ponder, what joys reassured you, what crevices of self did you take a leap of faith on?
It is odd because when I write I don't hold anything back. In our day to day encounters it can seem like we’re holding our breaths, smiling and enjoying life, surely, but not sharing something, the stuff that separates something from everything. Between ourselves and others, you and me, us and them, there are always words left unsaid. I'd like to be able to say them. To share them not just with my best friends I drink with, laugh with, and spend most of my waking days with, but with you. With anyone who reads this.
I’ll start with everything before New York, and then get into everything after.
I should begin by saying that my childhood means everything to me - you and Miyo, mom and dad, Aaron, Adrienne, Tenaya, Sierra… Being a kid sometimes seems like a universal joy, but I remember it’s an insurmountable privilege to think that. I remember grandpa spent his youth working on plantation fields, I remember a lot of our family didn’t have everything as easy as I do. Dad was almost beat unconscious. Miyo was separated from her family, prisoners of internment camps. I wouldn’t have it like this if it weren’t for them. If it weren't for you. Nothing has ever been that wrong in my life. I get sad and feel lost, but adversity is not a word I can say I am familiar with. I fell in love with friends and felt the pains of leaving the first home I knew, fought with mom and dad, forgot to pay attention to things I wish I did looking back at them now. I know I've had it easier than most. I think I still do. I stayed up all night with people who continue to fill my life with joy - eating snacks and laughing at jokes I barely remember. Now I laugh at other things.
College was the first time I uprooted, left, went somewhere new. Not far away from home, but not too close either. I remember believing it was hard, feeling it was hard - the first two years I barely felt like myself. I worked, and worked, and worked. I sheltered my heart and soul in certain ways, being friends with everyone and forgetting to make friends with myself. I had a certain wall built around me that melted away when I decided to go abroad my 3rd year. That year changed a lot. I met some of the most important people I'll perhaps ever meet in my life. I traveled. Uprooted, by all means, or at least through my lens. I trotted from country to country alone and in close company. I truly learned how to enjoy myself, saw other people enjoying themselves in a variety of ways. Saw everyone together, even though they were separate, they were together, between country to country and culture to culture. 2PM in one place and 2PM in another. Time didn’t mean much, neither did the visions of a certain life or self I’d spent so much time toiling over: Who I would be, what I would become… Going abroad really saved me in a sense, because it stopped me from trying to grow up so soon. It told me, wait - you don’t know anything. There’s so much in this world that exists. So much joy to find and so many smiles to engage in, perspectives to activate and explore. It told me I'd be mistaken to worry about who I was or who I'd be, because it’s all here right now. We’re all here right now. I partied a lot, went out, discovered feelings I never could’ve fabricated in my mind prior, built with people that made my universe make sense (and still do). After spending a year abroad I came home, and really fell in love with college. Maybe it was because I really fell in love with the world again, the way I’d been before leaving high school. I met more people, traveled new places, created more keys for nostalgia and really, truly, just learned to enjoy myself.
Then came the New York part. It is hard for me to grasp time when I look back between then and now, because New York always felt like it would be a part of me, and in that sense, it felt like it always had been. I don’t think I vocalized it much, but I’d had this dream since I was a kid. I put up that poster of the Brooklyn Bridge on my wall without ever knowing what Brooklyn was. The lights transfixed me. When I was little I wanted to be a singer, an actor, a writer, an artist - anything. I wanted to express myself and learn every facet of what that meant. It seemed like I could be me here in New York, whatever me was; even at 7 years old I thought that. After graduating I decided I didn’t want to do anything I planned on doing before. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew it was in New York. It was media, it was creative, it was a mosh of culture and arts and grit and passion and the life inspiration that moves our world by the millions. I won’t mull over the details because they aren't very important, but I tried a lot. I tried more than anyone I know - to figure out what it was I was looking for, to find a job, build a career, create a life in this city instead waiting for New York to send me a proper invitation. I worked for myself, for other people, and spent my money (I should say your money, grandpa’s money, dad’s money, and mom’s money... I’m a product of all your individual love, hard work, and dedication). After 7 months of internships, meetings, and split decisions, I found a proper job. I have a life here now. My friends are truly incredible and the emotions I experience on a daily basis, looking at the towering buildings, patterns of cars, and dimly lit restaurants that make the words “Manhattan” and “Brooklyn” mean something, surpass the excitement I had as a kid.
Every month I get this feeling that my life is growing at a scale by which I can’t fully recognize. It’s larger than life, just like the movies. Not one movie, but all of them. The dramas, the comedies, the ones with happy endings and the ones where everyone dies. I’m not always so gung-ho, I get caught up a lot. Mood swings and doubts. Life questions and general concerns. But at the end of the day I’m able to say I wake up and go to sleep with awe. I’m not sure if I’m explaining this clearly, and I’m not sure if there’s any way to properly word the ways in which life astounds us, but I’m sure you understand. There are little developments of self and life that I feel are taking place as I work, meet, wonder, and wander. They’re small, but they often feel macroscopic. I have no idea who I’ll be in 10 years and that thrills me. It’s the most satisfying answer I’ve ever been able to give.
Whenever I call you tell me to go see things, to make sure I’m having a good time, to adventure and explore. It’s almost become rhythmic, and it moves me every time. Typing this right now, I’m tearing up. I miss you and I love you. I’m starting these letters because I want to be able to share with you the life you’ve given me. The life we live together. I am because of you and grandpa, mom and dad, everyone and everything. I’ll be writing these letters every month, sharing my experiences. I’m trying to know -better every day- how lucky I am. I know not everyone has a grandmother like you. Not everyone is so entitled to be served a surplus of love. I want to spread it. I’m not sure if this will do that, but if anything, I think it’ll help me do it in the long run. The process of it all. That’s all I want to do.
One thing I love about New York is that there are so many people. The subways suffocate you in the summer and the traffic is astounding. What I love is the fact that we’re all human beings. We all have stories, ones we’re writing anew and ones we’re editing from before. I wonder where people come from, the grandmas they might be writing to, the families they live in honor of and the things they think about. I don’t think there is anything quite as beautiful, or worthwhile, as human life. Our every expression and interaction, our presence built by individual presences together. You really taught me that people are everything. You taught me to be kind, to pay attention, to always redefine what the bigger picture is, and by that I’ve been able to enjoy the people around me more than I believe I deserve.
I like New York because it interacts with me. This rosy, golden, sometimes burnt but usually bright perspective I have on life is, by definition, optimistic and naive. If I were to describe myself in 3 words it would be “optimistic”, “naive”, and “youthful”. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, but I think these three ingredients are the main building blocks of wisdom. These feelings I have towards our world have allowed me to live such incredible adventures, and find a tremendous amount of gratitude in the settings and situations around me that I know it can’t be me. There is no me. I wasn’t born with this fervent passion for life, at least not all of it. It’s a privilege and a product, built by you and everyone who has played a part in this life. I like New York because I believe it’s giving me more of this perspective, it's adding to the picture. People have this image of New York in which the city roughs you up, tears down naivety and replaces it with brazened attitudes. I don’t feel like that at all. I feel like there is so much here to learn, to grow alongside, in a rare and wholesome sense. We are the energy we thrive off of, because we are the ones who create this city. I’m falling in love with New York as I’m falling in love with the world.
Of course, I miss California. The winters here are beyond what I imagined, and in the worst sense. I guess I’m lucky to have the word “seasonal” in front of my depression, though. When the sun comes out we all come alive.
I’m going to make sure I visit California often, and I can’t wait to see you next. I miss you so much. I know you’re always with me.
Until then, I’ll be sending you these letters. This one turned out a bit large, broad, I guess you still don’t know that my favorite pizza place is on Franklin Street in Brooklyn, or that I can walk to my favorite coffee shop from my apartment in just under 3 minutes. I hope to share all of this with you in the months to come.
P.S. Please say hello to your friends Pearl & Suzie, and anyone else I’ve had the pleasure of meeting as your grandson!
Love you dearly, more than printed letters on a page can percolate.