June 05, 2014

How To Be By Yourself

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I’m in NYC with lots to do and lots to see. A lovely friend from my old workplace moved out here six months ago and since then I’ve been really excited to see her and spend some down-time doing those things you cannot do in frantic day to day life. The plan is to explore a new city, read my long list of unread books, eat bagels/eggs/waffles, do some writing and meet with some industry people and online friends I’ve made on Twitter/this blog (who live here) for coffees and chinwags. All in all, pretty darn dreamy.

I came to New York for the first time five years ago, when I was twenty with my parents, sister and my best friend’s family. We stayed in Manhattan in the same block of apartments and did everything together: sightseeing, shopping, eating, exploring, ticking off the Lonely Planet guide to see every possible cultural side of New York. We soaked up the culture, museums, galleries, buildings and each other’s company, and gasped with delight at every purchase made as the exchange rate was that rare period of time when it was two dollars to the pound. Half price everything. We laughed as my sister sprawled out her new clothes from Jersey Gardens disappearing underneath the mound and realised she’d have to buy an extra suitcase. It was a fantastic holiday and I knew from then on that I would need to live in a big vibrant buzzing city. 

This trip was a different one, mainly because I am travelling alone and it is universally acknowledged by my friends and family that I was unfortunately born without a sense of direction. This blog name after all, having chosen it lightyears ago, was due to the fact that I get lost everywhere I go. I don’t have that inbuilt compass that most people have, like my boyfriend who “just knows” that something is “this way”, or that we might have “taken a wrong turn” by intuition alone. He knows shortcuts. I will never be the person to know a shortcut. I am glued to Google Maps like it is oxygen. I don’t naturally feel compatible with people who just know things like the “sun light is coming in from the South”. 

So hopping on a plane with my Passport, temporary visa, suitcase and plans I need to stick to, in a big city was going to be more of a challenge than a group holiday. And I was up for it. Although I was physically prepared, I wasn’t so sure I was totally mentally prepared for having some “alone time”. It was always going to be the way that in between meetings and dinners and my friend coming home from work there were going to be spells of me having to fill my time. I am in New York for god’s sake, there’s PLENTY to do. But being on my own is not something I’m used to, which of course is a lovely thing not to have to think about. Living with my best friend who is like a sister, next door neighbours who have become close friends, my boyfriend’s house a 15 minute bus ride and so many of my friends living in Hackney; it just happens to be that I don’t really spend anytime alone expect if I’m ill or overtired and go to bed early. It’s lovely but it’s made me lack the skills of being completely cool in my own company. Something I think I used to be a lot better at. 

Being “on your own” in your hometown or a city where all your friends live also isn’t really the same being on your own in a new country. It’s a different feeling because it’s more effort to actually arrange to see people or let people know you’re around. Your less in control of plans because they’re not so easy to make. But this trip has been a wonderful experience already and it’s not over yet. I’ve remember what it’s like to actually really enjoy being on my own, making my own plans, choosing my own locations, and meeting people along the way. Everyone in NYC is so friendly after all.

Yesterday afternoon I had a few hours to kill before going out for drinks with my friend and her colleague in East Village. I had been really busy all day and wanted to do *that* dreaded thing that is on my list of “things to do in life”: eat at a restaurant on my own. Now was the time. This was my window of opportunity. I had to remind myself that it is a *nice* thing to do, this isn’t a scene from Mean Girls when Lindsay Lohan goes and eats her school dinner on the toilet. 

First of all, I don’t know why I made such a big deal out of it, but I thought I’d find it weird and awkward and feel like people were wondering why I was on my own, but the secret is: no one cares, only you (which you shouldn’t anyway). Here are my rules of having a lovely lunch date with yourself:

1. Don’t be shy – When the waiter asks if you are expecting “any one to join you” as a genuine question (he wants to know if he can take away the other cutlery) don’t get nervous and stutter, just say “nope, just me!” and you’ll exchange smiles.

2. Don’t have two many devices out at one time: Remember you are having lunch on your own because you want to, not because you’re being forced to. Having a iPad, iPod, book, Kindle, laptop, Nintendo, Blackberry all out of the table looks like you’re overcompensating and you won’t be able to relax. One or two max.

3. Definitely bring something to do: It doesn’t necessary have to be electronic either. I brought a notepad and a pen and also had a book I was reading but it felt more relaxing not to have to frantically look like your checking emails etc. Also having something lighter (like a notepad, or crossword or whatever) allows you for more people watching/overhearing…. (which brings me on to):

4. Have a look around, but try not to stare: At the lovely restaurant I was in the Bowery part of NYC there were LOTS of interesting characters around me. There was a older couple who were loudly casting models in one corner (I saw two models I definitely recognised), a first date happening to my left, and a group of older women, covered in tattoos, who had just performed a feminist play round the corner. If I was wanting any character inspiration then this was the place to be. It was hard not to stare at everyone around me and intensely watch and listen, but I knew that I didn’t want to be that creep in the corner with a newspaper with eye-holes. I would dip in and out of listening and just casually soak in the atmosphere.

5. Make friends with the waiter/waitress: This was easy to do as I’ve discovered anyone who works in the food/restaurant industry tends to be so so friendly. After all, you don’t have anyone else to talk to for the next few hours, so you might as well make a new friend. Also you can ask long boring questions about the menu or ask for something a bit weird, because no one is sat opposite you, judging you.

6. Try not to drink too much: By all means, get pissed. But from experience, I know that a few too many can lead to being slightly wobbly and not being able to find what street you live on. Considering the fact I am extremely navigationally challenged and find it hard to find my way home completely sober, I decided to just have the one.


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