Happy Birthday to Me

Here is a picture of me from when I was eighteen or nineteen years old and did not know anything about the world except that I wanted to be in it, running around.

On Monday I will be thirty-four and in a couple of months, in July, my first book will come out, and the month after that, in August, I will have lived in New York for five years exactly. I am not sure if I know more now than I did when I was eighteen or nineteen, but the things I know now are different.

I am reading Rachel Kushner's The Flamethrowers; I am only fifty-seven pages in, but it is already living up to the hype, which is both lovely and rare in a book. "I'd thought this was how artists moved to New York, alone, that the city was a mecca of individual points, longings, all merging into one great lightning-pulsing mesh, and you simply found your pulse, your place," her narrator says. Five years after I moved here New York is still a romance, even as it is also just the place I live; the resonant echoes of other people's dreams catching you up on street corners, in bodegas, as you look out the window of the Q train on its trundling journey over the Manhattan bridge. Today I went into a shoe store in Soho and that Biggie song came on: remember when I used to eat sardines for dinner, now we sip champagne when we thirsty, et cetera. I drank two glasses of not very cheap sparkly wine at the Lucky Strike because it was ninety-five degrees already at noon and the bar was cool and nearly empty. The summer light came through its front windows and pooled golden on the worn floorboards and I thought about what an amazing feeling it is to have two glasses of not very cheap sparkly wine at noon on a Friday and not have to worry about how you will eat the week after, which is a new feeling in my New York life, although let me tell you, I am not having any trouble accustoming myself to the considerable improvement in my fortunes in the last year. Sipping champagne when I am thirsty. New York does not teach you to save, but it certainly teaches you to live.

If you had told me when I was eighteen or nineteen years old that I would be here, now, in this life, in this summer, the cicadas crawling out of the earth like memory, I would not have believed you. I never liked New York before I lived here; I thought it was dirty and the people were mean. In truth it is dirty and the people are busy. I cannot imagine any other life I would rather have for myself. It is not everyone who is lucky enough to say that, and it is luck as much as labor that's brought me here--which is to say, a formidable amount of luck to match a formidable amount of labor. The last five years have been the hardest of my life and there were vast, bleak stretches that I often saw no way out of, but every time I have nearly given up in this city, every this-is-my-last dollar I have spent, every miserable job I have worked and subway ride I have cried on, has made me so grateful for this afternoon in that bar in Soho, looking at myself in the grainy old mirror behind the rows of bottles, thinking, that person, that person is a writer. I am getting sentimental, I know, but it's true. I came here to be a writer, and I fucking did it. Here is a champagne toast to all of you, who've been reading all this time. Thank you.