First of all, thank you to everyone who has checked out and shared information about my new business, ESL Write Away LLC!!! Again, I have started this new business to help English language learners improve their writing and access international education opportunities. I have recently started a Facebook page to post writing tips and a Twitter that looks at the possibilities and trends for international education. Please contact me for help with your writing, follow, like, and share! Thank you! I look forward to helping you with your writing soon 🙂
A few months ago, in the middle of my Znojmo experience, I wrote a post called “Lessons Learned Alone,” about my experience growing and developing when literally isolated from my close friends, family, and many others due to language and cultural barriers. Throughout my year in Znojmo I always thought people in the US and especially in NYC could never possibly feel lonely in comparison. Yet, from the cultural readjustment standpoint from which I am now looking at the world, it seems that people in NYC are just as lonely, if not more than I sometimes felt across the ocean. Part of me thinks, how could this be when it is literally impossible to physically be alone–there are people EVERYWHERE and places open and things to do ALL THE TIME? However, since coming back to this “world,” the concept of urban and American loneliness has seemed to pop-up all over.
“Eleanor Rigby” is probably my all-time favorite Beatles song. I have a distinct memory of going on a trip to Boston with my dad and walking through Quincy Market where a street violinist was playing the song and I thought it was so beautiful. If you’ve never listened to just the strings version of the song it is gorgeous and almost as good as the full version with lyrics. Check it out 🙂
My first hypothesis is that the over-population and stimulation of NYC life, the same reason why it seems impossible that New Yorkers can be lonely, is in fact the driving cause of the lonely feeling. To handle this amount of opportunity for interaction, New Yorkers turn inward and thrive on their individualism over reliance on others. This also results in being less friendly and open to new and untested opportunity. In many ways, this is the complete opposite of my abroad experience where a lot of my survival and social interaction involved being fully reliant and trusting of near strangers. My fear of the physical loneliness resulted in taking chances for social interaction, many of which were openly received by the people I met in a smaller town. However, in New York, because people have a gazillion things always on their minds, it is easier to get lost and isolated in the bubble that they self-create.
My friend and founder of Unmasked Theater Company in New York found this lonely effect to also perpetuate a stigma about asking for help. Surrounded by the swarming competition, New Yorkers are afraid to show weakness and feel even more alone by the thought that a cry for help might not be heard among the constant forward-pushing buzz. She is truly awesome and is using theater to explore and #stopthestigma about mental illness that persists in New York. Check out her website here: http://www.unmaskedtheatrecompany.org
Two awesome movies that I have seen in the past few weeks have also touched upon the sense of disconnect at this personal level and also at the macro-cultural level. The first is The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, written and directed by Ned Bensen, which shows the relationship of two characters in their broken marriage. Jessica Chastain (appropriately named Eleanor Rigby) and James McAvoy’s characters deal with a mutual tragedy by isolating themselves from each other and their life together and by finding escape in other facets of New York City life. Throughout the movie, the city acts as a character in itself as Chastain and McAvoy weave around and circle each other in the attempt to cope with the pain they suppress.
The second film is Pump, a documentary about the American dependence on oil and its implications for our future. While this film made me very angry at our political system and twisted over-arching power structure, most of all, it emphasized how disconnected we are within the united label of being “American.” Our country is big and diverse and a lot of times we see this as a strength. However, it also means that it is hard for Americans to agree on much and come together to look at the bigger picture. With relation to the development of the oil industry and the persisting prevalence of oil in our lifestyles today, it is easy for Americans to make decisions about business or personal consumption in that lonely isolated bubble of short-term self-interest. We have our patriotism, symbols, and triumphant history, but I think American culture could do with a dose of self-respect, consideration for the collective, and active attentiveness to what we want the future of our country to be like.
Since coming back to the United States I have observed all of these types of loneliness. And even though I have rarely been physically alone, I have felt the feeling of being lonely in this time of transition. New Yorkers, and maybe a lot of Americans in general, thrive on the jobs they do each day. For me, in my post-Fulbright state of unemployment, it feels hard to participate in the culture of New York when I don’t have that central component of my day to connect me with this lifestyle and this city. In this huge city of millions of people and millions of things to do, it feels overwhelming not to have that daily commitment while all of my friends are at their jobs and then continue to talk about those jobs when we meet after they get off work.
If anything, my time in Znojmo taught me that work does not lead to happiness and that “living to work” should never replace “working to live.” However, in the fast-paced and obsessively driven culture of New York City, working is a huge part of the cultural experience of living here. I almost feel that so far I’m “missing out” on the culture of living here and yet, I know that a stressful and consuming work-life is a dangerous thing. I am intrigued to see the winter-effect on the people in this city. As the days get shorter and colder, it is the warmth of human connection and personal enjoyment that I have found the best strategy to get through the winter. From what I remember and guess, I think a lot of New York copes with the winter by further diving into their work and themselves. I hope to stay proactive this winter and continue to meet people, push my boundaries, and look for new adventure in whatever weather. Happy October and start of the new season!