Tales From a Gypsy Soul
I spent an extraordinary two years traveling and subletting until I recently “settled down” in my new apartment. Recently I was going through some old writing and found this piece, written in the throws of that gypsy lifestyle. Here’s a little flashback to that time…
This week I entered my next but not final sublet of 2011. Since January I’ve lived in nine places, including a couple of week-long stints on couches, and over the past year I’ve experienced the majority of the neighborhoods in NYC. It’s been a stressful and tiring lifestyle at times, yet I’ve learned more in the past eight months than most people will over the course of their life. The current sublet situation is by far the most interesting. I am sharing a very nice high rise apartment in Williamsburg with three other roommates, none of whom I have met yet. I moved my things in yesterday when I was at work, came home last night to an empty house, and woke up this morning to silence. It is completely bizarre. The only signs of life have been fresh water marks in the shower, indicating that someone snuck in early to at least clean themselves.
Living as a gypsy is no joke. The word itself sounds very exotic and exciting, but the reality is that you are completely unstable and unsettled for an indefinite period of time. Just as you get adjusted to an apartment or neighborhood it’s time to head out and learn somewhere new. You spend an inappropriate amount of time on Craigslist desperately searching for a new place to call home, dealing with rejection on a consistent basis as you discover someone has beat you to the alleged room of your dreams and praying that you will find another option ASAP before you have to move all your shit back to NJ and commute.
Many artists I’ve encountered, interviewed, and bonded with over the years have expressed an understanding and empathy for this particular living situation, as they’ve also lived as gypsies at some point during their tumultuous and unpredictable career. In honor of those who’ve proudly marched the streets of NYC, suitcase, laptop, and instrument/equipment of choice in tow, I’ve compiled a list of the most important things I’ve learned over the past year as a vagabond. Learn, laugh and enjoy.
1. It doesn’t happen overnight. Finding an apartment on Craigslist to sublet is more difficult and emotionally draining than dating in NYC. You will encounter days, if not weeks, of grief and frustration as you dart all over the five boroughs trying to get your deposit in before another rips it out from underneath you. Often you’ll be cancelled on just hours before the appointment, or even worse you will be left hanging as they ask every person they know just to make sure a “friend” isn’t interested. Keep your chin up. Just like that tool that blew you off three hours before your date, it just wasn’t meant to be.
2. Pack lightly. In the summer (and usually winter) months, I adopt the no pants policy. Men, this clearly does NOT apply to you and if you choose to follow it please stay within the same boundaries as your last restraining order. But women, seriously, dresses are the best way to go. My entire wardrobe now consists of dresses, workout clothes, and underwear, with a bag of shoes that work for all occasions. My hair stays naturally curly, I wear little make up, and I keep the accessories consistent to what works with most outfits. Do I look like a runway model? No. Let’s be honest, I wouldn’t look like one even with a team of stylists manhandling me. There are plenty of ways to pull yourself together without putting four hours and seven pounds of make up into it. Learn to be as minimalistic as possible when it comes to your style… either that or hit the gym hard so you can manage the twelve suitcases it takes to get you looking your best. And on that note, hit the gym hard anyway, because no matter how minimalistic you are, lugging any amount of shit around New York, in and out of subways, cabs, and NJ Transit is no joke. I have inadvertently body/bag checked a number of people, and I have the biceps and bruises to prove it.
3. Every neighborhood in New York (and it’s surrounding boroughs/cities) is it’s own little country. Learn the language. I lived in Harlem, the UWS, Midtown East, Williamsburg, Jersey City, the UES, and Chelsea in just this past year. Each spot had it’s own flavor, culture, and community, and I found myself easily adapting to my surroundings as I moved at a more frequent pace. It’s exciting and sad all at once, to become acquainted with someplace new yet quickly have to say goodbye. There were parks where I spent mornings going for long walks, coffee shops where I spent hours writing, bodegas that had the best fruit and grocery stores that sold the cheapest pita chips and hummus. Some apartments I walked in and literally had no idea who I was living with, whereas others I found comfort in the company of friends. Some areas bustled with noise and energy while others brought a sense of calm and escape from the usual heartbeat of the city. Each spot became home in it’s own way, teaching me that no matter where I laid my head at night, MY sense of home came from within.
4. You will burn out fast. The gypsy life can be exciting at times, opening you up to new people, opportunities and experiences far beyond anything you would encounter staying in one predictable spot forever. However, it’s tough. People would ask me where I lived and I couldn’t provide them with an answer. I joked the other day that I was actually part of the Witness Protection Program, but I’m under the impression that most federal agents would not find that funny. Employers and contractors wanted to know where to send checks or mail and I defaulted them to my parents and brother’s houses until I finally sprung for a PO Box just so I had an address to put on invoices and resumes. I’ve spent an extraordinary amount of money on toiletries and food, since I never really knew what the kitchen situation would be and sometimes deodorant and toothbrushes are the hardest damn things to remember. I remember getting in cabs at night and feeling tears coming on as the driver asked me for directions to my apartment and I literally didn’t know where it was or how to get there. (Not that it’s MY job, city of New York, to bust out Google Maps for your cabbies). It’s totally draining. But it builds character, and character is the platform on which dreams, creativity, and success are built. Add a dash of self-deprecating humor and you’re good to go.
5. You learn who your true friends are. This was one of the most important lessons of my life to date. It is really easy to stand by someone when there’s a pair of pocket aces in their hands… But who are the people who believe in you when you’re playing with a two of clubs and three of spades? Who are the people who patiently listen to you cry as you feel like your life is crumbling around you, then hug you gently followed by a swift smack across the face until you do something about it? Over the past year I’ve experienced generosity and support from both friends who’ve known me for years as well as new friends who I connected with instantaneously and built my heart and self-esteem up from a very low place with their bare hands and kind soul. I discovered the depth of compassion and I’ve seen the sometimes ugly face of selfishness and inconsideration, and I finally understood the lesson my parents instilled at me at a young age- “If you’re lucky, you will have a handful of people in your life that you can count on and call real friends.” To every kind, generous person who offered a couch, a room, a shower, a toothbrush, a helping hand, a home-cooked meal, a JOB, an ear to listen, and even an ounce of support, I thank you. You gave this gypsy soul hope in darkness and faith in chaos. I can only aspire to provide others with what you have given me.
I could continue this list forever, and perhaps one day I will. But for now, I just want it to be known that no matter where I end up, every single moment in every single apartment in every single neighborhood in this ever-challenging town has served as a brick in the foundation of my life that will one day become a full-fledged home… May it always be colorful as it is simple, complex as it is calm, and safe as it is challenging over the course of my journey.