A good friend of mine once made an astute observation that still sticks with me whenever I find myself talking about life in New York City (and this conversation seems to occur often). We were crammed into a (literal) hole-in-the-wall pizza joint in NoLita, pizza grease seeping through the bottoms of our flimsy paper plates and the clamor of orders and summer chit-chat filling the air.
We’d both just moved to the City from the west coast and were finding it hard to describe to our friends back home in L.A. just what a rush it was to be in such a Mecca of creative minds, diverse cultures and never-ending ideas. Finally, between thoughtful bites of thin-crust, perfectly sauced, cheesy pizza, he waved his hand in the air like a first-grader desperate to answer a call of nature.
“I got it. So this is what New York feels like to me. I feel as though even if all the people in the City were inexplicably gone one day — moved away in favor of a slower pace of life — I feel like the City would still be thriving,” he said. “It has this pulse and life to it that I think people come here for and add to, but it’s ultimately generated just by the City being here, ya know?”
And I knew.
New York City’s very nature — the cramped streets, tall skyscrapers rising up around patches of greenery, delis with striped awnings leaning up against floor-to-ceiling glass doors and doormen — the illogical juxtaposition of so many different lifestyles and cultures is what gives the City such character and vibrancy. It’s no wonder, then, that artists, writers and dreamers all flock toward this self-purported “best city in the world.”
It used to be that I assumed that to be creative was to take something not yet in existence and bring it into reality. New York, however, is a creative city because what already exists generates so many ideas and can be viewed in so many different ways that it becomes a unique entity to each person’s experience. In a city that is constantly pushing forward with innovation and the next big step, and is always swallowing up its inhabitants in speeding trains, it might seem as though New Yorkers become little more than game pieces. And yet, the city is still teeming with individuality.
So how do they retain their sense of self? Creativity. Living here in the bustle has taught me that being able to think outside the box often (if not always) involves introspection and a certain kind of affinity for the indefinable. People who are passionate about their craft and reinventing the wheel, so to speak, often don’t even know where to begin when they try to express what it is they’re doing or what they’re feeling because it’s never been done or felt before. When my friend and I were trying to put our finger on what it is exactly that makes the City what it is, there was more a sense we could both feel than there were words we could use to describe our thoughts.
And that, in my mind, is true creativity.