Flaneur Therapy in the Big City

This city is my therapy. And I love therapy. Sitting in a room and talking about all the feels and the mental stuffs can be really magical. And so is roaming around on foot with music poking rhythmically at my ear follicles. Or whatever all that anatomical business is called.

I can’t decide whether I have a low threshold for overwhelm. I know so many people knocking it out of the park, busy as all get-out, running all over the planet like mad men. It feels like I work quite a bit, but I’m not certain whether I really work any more than anyone else. I also find myself having a healthy amount of time lounging around the house playing with cars and blocks and Tupperware containers and reading “Olivia” with our toddler. My life is a busy juggle, but I don’t know, I manage to figure out adult alone down-time when I need it.

A lot of it is possible, due to my husband. I don’t often rhapsodize of his greatness because I don’t want to be “that couple”. He really does help me find a satisfactory quantity of independence. I hope that all doesn’t sound too vomit-worthy. Over-the-top smoochiness on the regular for all the interwebs to see isn’t always my intent. You guys already know we’re an item.

Anyhoots. This time of the year gets pretty hairy. My therapy practice tends to pick up right after Thanksgiving. And I’m also working in lots of churches for Advent and Christmas and soon after, when my colleagues finally get to see their own families. I do manage to get a few hours to myself here or there every week or two, but especially when my body feels like it needs more significant relaxation, I wake up almost every morning thinking of New York.

The city has always been a fantasy for me. An escape from reality. Even when I worked here. And I say “here” and not “there” because I am here, right now. I always bring my laptop and hole up in a cafe for as many hours as my bladder can hold at one sitting to tinker around with my various writing projects. Plus with this crap-for-brains short attention span, it’s hard for me to do much of anything for more than a couple hours at a time. (Why I’ll never run a marathon, reason #3216.)

A trip into NYC is a little more logistically complicated since we moved further west of the city a few years ago so it involves a higher level of planning and time. But the night before, I decide what I’m going to read, how heavy my bag will be, whether all my electronics are charged and ensuring I have a phone charger.

A relaxing trip, for me, involves lots of walking before the writing. I may walk for up to two hours in the beginning, aimlessly, listening to music. I don’t always have a plan of where I’m going. Sometimes, the night before, like last night, I had some idea of wanting Indian food. There’s a place I once ate in up in Morningside Heights, but I’m not sure it’s there anymore. And I spent an inordinate amount of time on The Google, wracking my brain for the name or even what street it was on. I also typically avoid the subway or cabs on these journeys and I have to decide whether I’m up for the time involved in walking certain distances.

Walking first was the plan today. It’s chilly, but tolerable if you’re dressed for it. As a fan of police shows, I felt right at home seeing a guy in handcuffs getting escorted to a waiting NYPD vehicle as soon as I emerged from Penn Station. I turned up my music and walked.

Just like when I begin meditating, I slowly enter a trance, albeit a self-aware one. I have a healthy understanding of my surroundings, such that I’m always mindful of being the target of a shady criminal. I think pilots call it “situational awareness”. Someone calls it something like that. Today I chuckled, remembering my father saying to me once, when I called him on my lunch hour sitting in Bryant Park, “Don’t you ever worry about someone stabbing you in the back?” And then I wondered if he meant that literally or figuratively, but perhaps that’s a story for another day. A reading from the Book of George.

I’ve always loved cities. But I’ve mostly lived just on the periphery of them. There are lots of reasons for that, including possibly the desire for a city to always remain magical for me. That perhaps if I were to live there, it would lose its shimmer. I’ve also lived in enough apartments and listened to enough people snoring and coughing that I certainly don’t chomp at the bit to spend three grand a month living in a shoebox to listen to a neighbor urinating in the middle of the night.

I also have a mixed relationship with driving. I don’t hate it. Traffic isn’t my favorite, but the solitude of being in a car or having a private conversation or singing my crappy tunes or rapping is something I’d miss if I lived in a city.

It’s the holidays and even early in the morning, the tourists are out. I don’t completely avoid them. New York City is a place where thousands of people see it for the first time every single day. I love to see their wonder. I was once like them, too. I feel like I still am, after living over the river – and points further and further west – for over eighteen years. I love watching their smiles, pointing, and how they try not to look like tourists. How their eyes travel upwards, to see the buildings touch the sky.

I walk and walk and watch. And listen. The languages of a hundred nations commingling as we together pass through intersections.

This city saves my life every time. It’s been saving it since I arrived so long ago. These are the streets where I’ve worked out my grief, my failures, my career dissatisfaction, my failed relationships. Days when I’ve gotten really bad news or suffered a loss. Miles and miles of questions asked and problems solved and resolved and everything in between.

These are also the streets that have helped center my dreams and desires. The streets where I figured out what’s best for me. And what don’t work for me: CUBICLES AND FORTY-HOUR WORKWEEKS! And PowerPoint. And wearing a lanyard with a laminated picture of myself on a noose around my neck; please…don’t misunderstand me. If this is your life and you love it, I love you for it. But it took me decades to realize I don’t completely play well with others.

And I’m going to bring in the nausea-induction one more time and mention that I also learned on these streets that I had a fellow flaneur in the man who became my spouse. We carried on an email relationship for a short while before we met and I recall one day, walking all over Manhattan, bantering like crazy with this guy. He was regaling me with stories about flood data in the English countryside and some guy he grew up with that they called Dave Clark Bar while I concealed from him that I worked at a church and gave him various clues to try and figure out where someone would work that there would be various robes and drapey sorts of garments worn.  I was that dumb-dumb, furiously typing my most eloquent puns and cliches into my circa 2009 pink Blackberry. And doing it all with a silly grin on my face.

Early in our relationship, I traveled alone to Paris and it wasn’t until then that I knew that flaneuring was a thing for them. I spent hours roaming des rues (see how sophisticated I am? I used Google Translate to remember how to say “the streets” in French), listening to an MP3 player of music he gave me before I left. We do The Flaneur with our own Jersey flair. It’s significantly faster than the French, but we share a healthy distrust of scammers. (Unlike Paris, no one approaches you in New York asking you if you’ve “just dropped this gold ring”.)

At a certain time of day during these treks, I feel a little twinge of loneliness. I like being alone, but I also love sharing everything I see. I’m making a mental note of people and things I see.

So it’s probably about time to seek out some lunch. I’ve had sat in this place for a couple of hours. Chit-chatted with some people who weren’t from around here. Worked on a little writing. And thought about how much I love it here.  I’m at the corner of a complicated intersection near Lincoln Center so I have my choice of about seven streets to walk down. It’s time for some more Jersey-flavored flaneur therapy.

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