New York and I first met when I was sixteen. Now after six years (We choose to ignore our two brief separations when I traveled to China and France.), Mr. Big Apple and I are taking a break from our passionate affair as I leave him behind for an indeterminable period. Cue the nostalgia, and, in turn, this blog post.
In reflection of how I first viewed the city with my naïve pre-teen eyes versus how I view it now as my similarly naïve young adult self, it’s become clear that New York is really a fiction of a rare kind. I’ll have a surreal experience meeting one of my creative heroes on the street, but then—and often without warning—I’ll end up on Ludlow and Delancey and smell poop. Like really fucking smelly poop.
We should start at the beginning though. When I was sixteen, I wore my metaphorical Glee-colored glasses over my real-life glasses, which made me look like that wizard boy called Harry Potter. (See picture below.) I was so self-conscious about my wide rims, in fact, that I used to take them off in the hallways of my elementary school upon spotting an upperclassman. But in this place, in New York City, I experienced a new feeling of comfort while roaming the streets with crowds of people who looked even wackier than I did. While clutching my mom’s hand as we scurried down 42nd Street to make it to the theater on time, I learned I could be anonymous if I wanted to be. I thought I could—enter aforementioned metaphorical Glee-colored glasses—walk into an empty Broadway theater, hop on stage to sing my little heart out, and then return to the crowded city streets, changed but unnoticed.
Then Hairspray happened. First, the lights went down. Next, an overweight girl from Baltimore had a dream. And then three hours later, plump little Tracy Turnblad had successfully integrated The Corny Collins Show and I left that theater with a dream of my own. I didn’t know what it was at the time, but I knew I was going to find it in New York. It being that same feeling I had while watching that show and those people. Those people who shared the way they connect with the world—song and dance—with everyone in that theater. It was this feeling, this transcendent feeling I had as an audience member that night, that fuels everything I do now.
Sometimes it pains me that I have so much difficulty articulating what this exact feeling is because if I can’t locate it exactly then how will I know I’ve achieved it? All I know is I feel it when I see it. Like when I saw Beyoncé in concert and when I saw a YouTube clip of Obama playing The Lion King at the White House Correspondent Dinner. Or when I see my best friend Will directing and my friend Amanda singing an original tune. Watching them discover how they want to connect with things makes me want to do the same.
And so, as I prepare to move to Chicago this weekend, I can’t help but to be reminded of where it all began. The Big Apple. A place offering a fast-paced existence in which most people’s lifestyles are totally unbalanced, but also where really scary things like talking to your favorite writer or doing standup comedy can be made just a little less so.
So here’s to you, Tracy Turnblad, you wonderfully plucky, hairspray-loving sonofabitch. You gave me a dream.