Twenty Stories

It’s nice to acknowledge milestones, whether they’re anniversaries, month-iversaries, how-long-has-it-been-since-you-smoked-iversaries. But simply marking a date doesn’t mean anything in and of itself, unless you take a moment to reflect on how far you’ve come – the same way a ritual only takes on meaning when you repeat it, remember where you were the last time, and notice what has changed.

Rituals are puzzles, or the slow and deliberate solving of puzzles. They’re what we use to look at the broken pieces we’ve been dealt and try to form them into some kind of picture, arrange the sounds into sheet music. Repetition helps us see the picture when we step back far enough, hear the song when we close our eyes.

This fall will mark my twentieth year living in New York City. I came here in August of 1993 for college, and except for a few months in the summer of 1994, I never left.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to have lived somewhere for that long, to have racked up that much experience on one place. Without any kind of reflection, twenty years doesn’t mean anything. It’s just time. And since time is a made-up concept, it’s really more like just…aging. (Oh good MORTALITY TALK.)

So I’m going to try and distill this time into something sharp, distinct, meaningful, by writing up twenty stories from my twenty years – one story each week between now and the end of August. The stories will come from any and all points along the timeline of the last twenty years. They will be of varying length, style, and quality.

The challenge: for a writer, I’m not a terribly strong storyteller; I have a hard time knowing where to begin and end a particular sequence of events, because those are the hard choices that stamp an experience with meaning. But in this case, isn’t that the point? I want to trace lines through the stream of my memory, set up signposts so I know where and who I am. Because if it’s one thing I envy when I hear other peoples’ Archetypical New York Stories™ it’s the indelible sense of identity they carry. And I feel like I lack that. Despite all the time spent here, I’ve managed to retain quite a… “portable” sense of self. I definitely feel marked, influenced by the city, but I don’t think of myself as anchored here.

…which is an utterly ridiculous idea. I mean, I’ve spent my entire adult life here; I’m a creature of New York in ways that would be laughably apparent if you shoved me out of a van in another city. But instead of knowing that in a vague, abstract sense, I want to KNOW it. IN CAPS. I want to understand my particular brand of New Yorkness and be able to point to it with words.

So here we go. Story #1 will post by April 8th.