Every season of America’s Next Top Model someone says, “When I first arrived in the competition, I didn’t really care if I won. I just wanted the experience. But now that I’m here, I really, really want to win.” After being immersed in modeling for a week or two, their home lives fell away and they became totally focused on the culture of their current situation. Working at the Dairy Queen, or living with parents, or being considered too tall and toothpicky was no longer reality. They became fully present.
That’s how I felt in my recent trip to my hometown of New York City. My life and business in California seemed worlds away and, like a typical traveler, I was focused on maximizing my experiences in these new surroundings.
I wasn’t eager for this New York trip because it was plagued with the task of de-hoarding a house in the Catskill Mountains. For 12 hours a day, we organized the piles according to “dumpster” (we packed the 30-yards of crap densely to ensure everything would fit), “give away” (a lady came once a day with an empty van), and “keep” (which we loaded into a U-Haul to take to our city apartment.) What started like an episode of bad reality TV ended with an empty house ready to be vacuumed and listed on the real estate market. I’m no neat-freak but being in a space without clutter feels infinitely more relaxing and healthy.
Autumn in the Catskills is colorful and crispy so I wandered around the 60-acre plot of land. There are no trails so I never know which stretch of road I might pop out onto, or whose farm I might pass through. I saw deer and the pond where I learned to swim. The week I had been gone from California felt like a year; almost like there’s no point in going back. I could’ve staked my flag in the ground and stayed right there in the trees. But we didn’t stay after the house was cleaned out because my 21-year-old nephew had a social life waiting in NYC.
By 10pm on Saturday night we had emptied the U-Haul, returned it to 23rd St, and were showered and ready to go out. My nephew went with his friends; I went to a bar/dance club in the West Village. I arrived alone so I made friends with a group of women at the semi-circular booth near the door. We bonded over all living out of town and watching a creepy male/female couple work the crowd in such a way that they were either trying to steal someone’s wallet or bring someone home with them. I stayed out late enough to be respectable for a New York Saturday night, then stretched out to sleep on the living room couch in the apartment where I grew up.
My nephew slept at his boyfriend’s house but we met up at 9am, both sporting lack-of-sleep-hangovers, and headed out to Long Island’s North Fork. We have family in the Slow Food movement who feed us, give us a comfy bed and, equally important, let us use the bicycles. Orient is a town of clean streets, historic houses and great views of the ocean and a lighthouse or two. We were only there one night and two days, but again I felt very far removed from California and could’ve easily been sucked into staying there forever, teaching yoga in Greenport and pet sitting for the city-turned-country residents. Because my time there was so short, I didn’t waste any moments. I was either walking the beach, biking the backroads, touring Greenport, eating, or at Boot Camp in the High School gym with my dad. There was no Netflix or invoicing or errands to whittle my time. But again, taking a 21-year-old from his beloved city is not a sustainable plan so we headed back.
Getting distance from my life in California made me realize that it IS possible to start a new life. We often feel stuck at our job or in our towns, and we can’t conceive of how to leave. The way out might be taking a vacation with a one-way ticket and deciding when you get there whether to stay or return. Once we have distance from our normal routines, just like in Top Model, we want to “win” in our new surroundings.