New York, Don’t Panic

Don’t panic, It’s ok, I’m here, I’ve bloody-well arrived. Making it to New York marks a major milestone in my trip – and I feel funny about it.

Some of my anxiety is probably quite rational – unlike my fear of birds, hedges, and footpaths. The thing is, New York is something of a “black hole” in my itinerary – and who isn’t slightly afraid of the unknown?

I have spent the best part of three months working non-stop in Korea. I have just finished participating in a one-week conference in Boston. I started feeling weird on the first day (maybe I am NOT the king of jet lag), but I held out until half-way through the final day before taking myself to bed with a cold. I have spent most of the last 5 days convalescing – catching up on all of the television I have not been watching this year. Sure, I did venture out into the street. I wanted to get my hair cut at a barbershop, eat a giant slice pizza on the Common, ride the T, walk around Harvard Law School whilst listening to the Original Broadway Cast Recording of Legally Blonde. All of the things that one dreams about doing in Boston.

All planned and accounted for.

My original plan for New York had been to undertake a couple of residencies here, and for it to be the end of the road. It made sense because it is close to Boston, I have friends here, and there are some very interesting artists doing things that I would like to see and experience. But those plans, for reasons beyond my control, didn’t exactly pan out. In their place, an opportunity to do a residency in Singapore has popped up, then I’ll be home for Christmas, after which I’ll be completely tied up in a (soon to be announced) project in Brisbane in January / February. My budget is stretching (thinly) all the way to April with my activities wrapping up in Far North Queensland (more on that when the time comes).

So for now I am in New York, and while I am not going to be twiddling my thumbs, I just can’t sum up what I am doing neatly, and in one sentence. I am doing workshops and classes. I am stalking, interviewing, and watching artists at work. I am undertaking creative developments on two new projects – one of which has emerged through my Asialink residency. I have a bunch of writing to finish about my time in Korea. I have an audio documentary to edit. The grant writing is about to start up all over again. But I am (as always) nervous that I am not doing enough.

Should I laugh? Should I cry? I don’t really know.

I am an anxious person naturally. Actually, I am not sure if nature has as much to do with it as nurture does – my therapist told me it’s a little bit of both.

For example, I have spent an inordinate amount of time this week fantasising about being shot. This may seem a little extreme, but it is actually nothing new for me. Even though gun crime is not at all rampant in Brisbane, when I am home and on walkabout, I do imagine this happening to me once every 500 metres or so. For someone without a car and reliant on the old “ankle-express”, this means that I fixate on this particular method of death and/or grievious bodily harm a lot. To the point where it seems quite natural to me until I suddenly realise that this is probably not a concern for anyone else. Also, being a creature of habit, I very rarely deviate from a route once I have learned it. This means that the locations of these fantasies have organised themselves into grid, overlaid on the landscape and I subconsciously check certain bushes, bust around certain corners, and clench my fist over my heart (like that is going to help) when stopped at certain crossings. In sleepy little Brisbane.

I know the streets of Seoul just as well as I do Brisbane’s. However I think about meeting a grisly end only about once a week there, and only if I am in Itaewon, or I am waiting to cross the street at a crowded intersection. Several years ago, someone I assume to be suffering more profoundly than I, attempted to push me in front of a bus in Gangnam. He probably thought I was an English teacher, so I can’t blame him, really. Generally, however, there is no place that I feel more safe than in Seoul.

This isn’t to say that Seoul does not hold its own peculiar set of anxieties for me. I do worry about my sub-par language skills, that I am not interesting enough for whichever cool cafe I have stumbled into, that the cute cafe owner will strike up a conversation and that I will be forced into dating him and that we will end up naked at some point, which triggers anxieties about my body which are just too complicated to get into here…

But I do love Seoul. And I had to leave Seoul to come here. I left my friends and lovers and regular cafes and jogging routes and my pansori teacher and her husband and their beautiful company of talented misfits to come to New York, New Fucking York in the United Bloody States of America.

I have listened to my ex-housemate watch enough Law And Order Special Victims Unit (9 months non-stop) to know that the Big Apple isn’t all RENT and Avenue Q and West Side Story and Glee Season 4.

But I rolled into town on the Amtrak, wrestled my bags from Penn Station up to Madison Square Garden, hailed a cab and directed it to 530 Hudson Street… I’m sorry, the West Village, Hudson and Charles…

And I didn’t even get shot.

Lord Mayor’s Young and Emerging Artists Fellowships are an initiative of Brisbane City Council. This project is supported by Asialink and Arts Queensland.

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2 thoughts on “New York, Don’t Panic

  1. Jez I’ve been there four times and never even seen a crime, let alone a gun…actually i did see an awful lot of machine guns once but there were all being held by entirely competent and highly trained swat team members walking with a pack of giant alsatians down the 42nd street subway station. Totally safe! 😉

    1. I often wish my over-active imagination would lead to me being a more convincing actor. Alas. But thank you for the reassurance. X

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