On Ennui

During one of the first dizzying months I lived in New York, I sliced my finger opening a bag of frozen peas. The fingertip wasn’t severed, but it was cut to the bone and I haven’t felt anything in it since.

Having been a resident almost a year now, I worry the numbness has spread.

It takes an enormous amount of effort to exist in this city. Just to be. You’re constantly jostled — the subways, the sidewalks, the office corridors. Always making space for someone else and fighting to keep enough room for yourself. I feel I’m always swiveling my hips to let someone pass. I haven’t approached a building square on in weeks.

It’s noise too. Sitting in my apartment, the one place I have the pleasure of no one else’s company, I look out the window and see my neighbors. I hear cars. Voices. Music. I’ve learned that everyone in New York is lonely, no matter how many friends you have. I’m lucky enough to have a huge and loving support system in the city (and I’m not counting the compression stockings my parents insist I wear on airplanes), but sometimes the pace — and the place — is overwhelming.

A good friend (a man who listens about my encounters with other guys,  that kind of good friend) told me that the key to living in New York is to find your church. Not a religious experience, but a ritual for you and you alone. To be done every week. He used to ride the G through Brooklyn to volunteer at a museum. He said this would counter my feelings of isolation.

So many people have tried to explain the loneliness in New York.  I don’t want to go much into the philosophy of this effect in America’s most-populated city. I’ll just tell you how it is for me.

I alternately crave putting my head in or taking my head out of an invisible vice. I waver between the two but neither mental containment nor expansion ever seems like the right thing.  I always feel like I’m posing for a picture.  My heart breaks when I make eye contact with someone I don’t know.

The thing about church is that, ultimately, it’s creating a connection between you and God. It’s a personal, private, solitary thing that can’t be shared with other humans. The definition of lonely. But how can my church — reading a book by the Hudson’s tidal waters in Astoria Park — satisfy me if there’s no deity on the other end of the line?

I guess in that case, it’s just me and the city.

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