“Prometheus, teacher in every art, brought the fire that hath proved for mortals a means to mighty ends.” – Aeschylus
It’s a famous cliché — a writer goes to New York City and find inspiration. But it’s a cliche for a reason. Back at the end of June, I went to the Big Apple for the very first time. It’s a place that I’ve read so much about in fiction and seen in movies and television that I felt like I’d been there before. The entire time, I had bouts of déjà vu about places I’d never seen with my own eyes. I’d turn a corner and I’d see Dashiell Hammett’s New York. Around another corner, there was Truman Capote’s New York. Once, across the river, I glimpsed Junot Diaz’s New Jersey. They all really exist, in fragments scattered across the city.
Our arrival began like a novel. We emerged from a subway station on the Lower East Side on a sweltering hot night in the pouring rain. Completely disoriented, we scrambled with our suitcases down an unfamiliar street. At the intersection we looked up to see the Empire Stat Building looming over us. Its spire pierced the stormy clouds, unleashing the rain. At our Airbnb, it took us over half an hour to discover that you needed to turn the key twice in the lock to open the door. We ate Indian food and watched Hindi music videos before collapsing from exhaustion.
New York is a city with many faces. We awoke to a completely different New York. This one had sunshine and bagels and tourists clogging the sidewalks on either side of Fifth Avenue, all trying to get a selfie while people wash over them. We walked to the Chrysler Building’s gleaming art deco tower, observed the commuters speed-walking through Grand Central, hummed the 30 Rock theme song in Rockefeller Plaza, and strolled through Central Park. We saw 18th Century cathedrals sharing a block with modern steel-and-glass skyscrapers and ate an artichoke dip pizza. We walked the High Line and took in a Broadway show. We ate heavenly cannoli and had cocktails at a little place in Kips Bay. We attempted to immerse ourselves in everything New York City.
I can see why so many of my fellow writers have flocked to this artistic and cultural mecca for so long. If left to my own devices, I might’ve spent the entire trip holed up in the Strand reading first editions or people-watching in a cafe in Midtown. There is so much crammed onto this island. It is electric with the buzz of history and reinvention. A Gutenberg Bible is on display at the New York Public Library. At the 9/11 Memorial, there is a haunting sense of loss, but also of rebirth as the memorial’s rows of trees and new buildings reach skyward.
There is something about this place — something that writers and artists have known for generations — that I managed to glimpse. Stories ooze from every corner deli. I could ride the 6 Train from end to end with a pen and a notebook, observe people coming and going, and have material for dozens of short stories.
New York City is infectious. It is alive with energy; a beating heart of art and culture that makes you want to be a part of it. It’s the same quality that has drawn people here from all over the world. And after a couple of days in NYC, I was a bit overwhelmed by the sheer size of it all. It was good to come home to the quieter streets of Tacoma. But when I sat down to write again, all I could think about was New York. It has a way of capturing your imagination.
Author Walter Kirn once said, “My advice for aspiring writers is go to New York. And if you can’t go to New York, go to the place that represents New York to you, where the standards for writing are high, there are other people who share your dreams, and where you can talk, talk, talk about your interests.” I may not be a writer in New York, but I am a writer in Tacoma, a city with a blossoming literary scene. It has its stories to tell, as well, and it is full of writers who share my dreams. We can’t all be in New York, but I think we can all write as passionately and seriously as if we were.
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Jonny Eberle is a writer and photographer in Tacoma, WA with a serious travel bug. His newest short story, Inheritance, was published by Creative Colloquy. Follow him on Twitter or join the mailing list.