I was programmed from an early age that New York City is bad. I fully understand that in the 1970s and 1980s New York was a very different place, but as I see the same programming flowing from my elders on social media in 2024, I’ve learned this has very little to do with New York City. I lived in New York City in 2017 and 2018 for the first time, which I enjoyed, but this time living here, I am falling deeply in love with the city I’ve spent a lot of time fearing. As I rode the 1 from Columbus Circle to Cathedral Parkway, and rode the M104 back down Broadway, I realize just how rich, beautiful, and nourishing this city can be, that it was me was not programmed to receive any of this, which is something that is changing in me in this moment.
As I continue to unpack my New York baggage I realize just how pervasive my anti-NYC programming has been. Between Hollywood, the news, and my elders, I have a completely fictional view of what is New York City. Sure, much of what I’ve learned exists, but the majority is made-up, make-believe, and stories intended to keep people where they “belong”. Or rather, where people believe others belong. I learned in 2017 during the early Trump administration that the number one reason the elders in my life did not like New York City was race. Sadly, black and brown faces terrify them. One of the reasons I absolutely love it here is that it is a place that is unfriendly, intimidating, and often terrifying to many folks I grew up with in rural Oregon. I’ve learned through my own hard work that it is not New York City, and that feeling you have when you see all the black and brown faces going about their day is you, not them, and definitely not New York City.
Beyond just race, you hear that people aren’t friendly in New York City. Once you live here you realize again, it isn’t New York, it was me. I didn’t know the customs. I looked different. I move at a different pace. I take up the sidewalk walking 2 or 3 abreast. I stopped and looked up. I wasn’t in rhythm with the city. After living here for a while you begin to see how stark tourists are, and when you are just trying to get to and from work, I can see how people might occasionally get the impression that I am not nice. However, once you find the rhythm, you figure out there are more songs other than by Alicia Keys or Frank Sinatra, depending on how old you are. Don’t get me wrong, New York City is still intense. It is the human condition amplified, which I can deal with more than I can deal with the banal rural human condition in mono over a shitty single speaker. New York City is rarely ever what I had imagined in my 1980s mind watching movies and television, which as always, leaves me questioning what else in my head is just the result of programming.
I know that some folks I grew up with snicker at my over the top and in your face style of performing that I live in New York City. The performance is so dramatic because it is designed to counteract years of programming against New York City, and if possible throw it in the face of anyone responsible for my programming between 1972 and 2024. You know who you are. I am always fascinated by each of our lived experiences in this world, and just how different my childhood might have been if you ask any one of my six siblings. I think there is only one sibling I think comes even close to seeing big cities like I do, but they are 16 years younger than me, and we definitely received a different dose of programming in our youth. I am angered. I am disappointed. I am saddened by the programming I received. I realize that all of this isn’t the responsibility of the elders in my life, and that it is part of the fabric of this country I call home. Honestly though, I find it really difficult to live anywhere else in the world now. New York’s culture combined with intellectual outlets, and opportunities for my career, makes it where I want to be at this moment, and possibly for the rest of my life.
I am thankful I have made it this far. Even though I am angry for the programming I have received growing up white, male, and in rural America, I am deeply thankful for having found the truth. It is that significant for me. This is something that is so very hard to explain to most I grew up with. That all that pain, suffering, and hardship you see in the world around you, is because of this programming. This is why I can’t look back. This is why I can’t go back. I watched my step-father post NYC fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) on my brother’s Facebook post after he ran the NYC marathon. I find fear fascinating. That you are so terrified of a city that you can’t see what a monumental achievement your son is making. Leaves me very sad. ;-( Sadly it is a record on repeat from 1984 for me. It reveals for me how the news, and now social media is used to program us. It leaves me questioning all of the stories I hear from news, media, and people I know, love, and trust. I am thankful for having this clarity and for my ability to step back and develop this new relationship with this beautiful city.
It’s not you in New York, it is me. I am barely worthy of being able to appreciate you. I am learning though. I am listening. I am exploring your parks and boroughs. I am experiencing your food, culture, and art. I am working to reconfigure the programming I received via the 6:00 news during the 1970s and 1980s. I am doing the work to understand the role Hollywood has played in my distorted view of things. I am doing the work to atone for my sins in helping amplify this programming via the web and digital algorithms, which is now being amplified with artificial intelligence. Sadly, I am not getting programmed around the dinner table and on the porches I grew up on out west. However, I am working to balance this out with museums, Broadway shows, ethnic restaurants, record stores, and exposing anyone who will visit me to wider experiences. At this point I think New York City is my home. I think I am ready to put down some roots. I think I have a lot of work to do, and I need to stop roaming around so much. I think I just need to stay put and listen, learn, read, and write. I think I need to spend as much time during the next 50 years in the library, bookstores, record shops, parks, and restaurants within walking and subway distance to my home here in NYC.