Go to Chinatown, alone, preferably in the late afternoon. Walk around. Go into one of the shops that sells mysterious (to me) herbs and dried things. Buy some condiments or beef jerky or sweet buns for, what, $2. Listen to the grandmas hollering at their children/grandchildren/the vegetable sellers. Listen to the teenz swapping unknowable secrets, huddled around their cellphones. Wander over to the park and see if someone’s playing chess, or mah-jongg. Are you feeling flush? Treat yourself to some foot reflexology. I like this place or this place or this place.
Don’t go to the big fancy museums. Whenever I was falling out of love with New York places like the Met made it worse, somehow. I resented the admission fees and felt pressured to consume Important Culture and on top of all that I wanted to slap the tourists. Luckily there are other repositories of history and art in New York, like the Museum of Finance, the Museum of Chinese in America, the Transit Museum, the Tenement Museum, the New-York Historical Society. Go to those.
Walk the stretch of Church Ave. from the B/Q Church station to the F/G Church station, preferably on a weekend or during the evening rush hour. You will pass a Golden Krust, an Islamic center, a Mexican hole-in-the-wall that sometimes advertises tamales via hand-written sign, a West Indian place, a synagogue, a halal market, Polish meat markets, a place that advertises tax preparation in several Eastern European languages, a couple Indian-Pakistani-Bangladeshi markets. You will pass Orthodox Jews in those black hats, women in hijab, women in saris, dudes in track suits, neighbors calling across the street to each other, parents herding a gaggle of parka’d children toward the bus.
Go to Sunset Park on a clear day. Watch the kids playing soccer. Wave at the Statue of Liberty; watch the light bounce off the river. If you get hungry, walk over to 5th Ave. for tacos, or 8th Ave. for dim sum.
You know that friend-of-a-friend who’s always sending you Facebook invites for stand-up/sketch comedy/spoken word/folk-singing/modern dance/interpretive thumb-wrestling events? Those events that are always at, like, 11pm on a Wednesday, in the east 30s or something? Go to one. Just go. Go alone if nobody else wants to go. Maybe it will suck, maybe everyone you meet will be obnoxious, but the point is that it is happening, someone is trying something, and even though we all know New York is a terrible place for creative types, it is also a wonderful place for creative types, because sometimes people show up at 11pm on a Wednesday to watch grown adults roll around on a floor in the east 30s.
Make sure you’re getting your recommended daily allowance of Pat Kiernan, and WNYC.
Try to remember a place that used to make you feel like you loved New York. If it’s still there, go there. If it’s been turned into a condo or an artisanal mustard store or whatever, try to identify what it was about that place that made you love New York. Was it the decor? The regulars? The people you were with? The band you were in? See if you can recreate it, even a little, somewhere else.
At the same time, remember that the New York you loved five years ago is gone, and the New York you re-learn to love right now will be gone soon too, and part of love means accepting change. This is one of the hardest lessons New York has taught me, but I’m grateful for it.
Avoid the following: gourmet cupcake shoppes, Times Square unless you’re on a side street and there’s a light summer rain falling, Pilates classes, H&M, any place with bottle service, Port Authority, any place where you are likely to feel self-conscious about your outfit, high-end boutiques, people whose default mode of conversation is complaints about New York, people whose default mode of conversation is industry gossip or negativity about other people’s career paths or start-ups or book deals or record deals.
Spend as much time as you can with people who are inclined (or willing) to avoid talking about how awful New York is, how hard it is, how much it costs, how it used to be better, how there are no good jobs, how it must be better someplace else. Spend time with the people you moved here to meet.
Volunteer. If you enjoy formalized volunteer programs, there are plenty. You could also do something more DIY, like making food for friends who had a baby, or helping your elderly Russian neighbors do their laundry.
Talk to strangers. This doesn’t have to be involved, this doesn’t have to lead to anything. Just say hello or start a conversation with someone in the gym locker room or the wine shop or the bookstore or the pet store or the coffee shop (maybe there are other places you go on a regular basis, these are the places I go on a regular basis). “I love your bag, where did you get it?” “That’s a great book, I just finished it.” “Catnip, amirite!” I never used to do this, but then a few people did it to me, and I realized that I left each encounter—brief, unremarkable—feeling noticeably more grounded, more at home, more content in this city.
Go for a long walk. I can’t stress this enough. See how you feel. It might be helpful to listen to whatever music you think is good for walking in the city; it might also be helpful to listen to the ambient sounds of the street. Be sure to smell everything: fried food, perfume, bodega carnations, smoky grills, floor wax. If you are tired of walking in your neighborhood get on a bus or the train and get off somewhere else. Anywhere really.
Work on your projects.
Go on a boat. Oh man, I wish I’d figured this out sooner. Being on a boat makes things better in general, and it is the quickest way I know to find a new perspective on New York. It doesn’t have to be a long boat ride or an elaborate one. The Staten Island Ferry will work fine. If you want someone to go on a Circle Line cruise with you, give me a call, I’ve always wanted to do that.
Get off the internet for a bit. Or at least avoid the corners of the internet that make you feel ragey. You know exactly where they are.
If none of this works, leave New York. Just do it! You’ll be fine. You’ll find a way to make a living, you’ll find a place to live. If you’ve lived in New York for a long time this might seem strangely intimidating, like moving to another country, even if it’s just a few hundred miles away. You might be tempted to tell yourself that leaving New York means you failed. People might even tell you you’re “giving up” or “throwing in the towel too soon.” Ignore them, do what you want, live where you want. Maybe you will move someplace else and love it. Maybe it will be exactly what you wanted and needed in order to feel strong, centered and fulfilled. Or maybe it won’t be, or maybe it will be but only temporarily. Maybe you will fall out of love with the other place. It happens.
If you do leave New York be prepared to miss it more than you can imagine right now. I had no idea that one night I would lie awake for hours because I missed the lilting “clear” in “stand CLEAR of the closing DOORS, please [BING-bong].”
If you decide you don’t love the other place, or if you fall out of love with it, or if circumstances change such that it becomes practical to move back, then you can move back. New York will not be the same as it was when you left, but it will be here, and if you want to you can learn to love it again.