My very oldest friend is moving next week from our humble home state to the Big Apple. Together we have shared the innocence of elementary school, the angst of high school, the guilt of church youth group, the particular pride of sequined music numbers.
We weathered completely different college experiences while at the same university, anchored by a daily Latin class. While I moved to California and pursued my shallow goals, he soldiered on through a successful life of academia, earning multiple masters degrees and his PhD.
Together, from thousands of miles away, we stumbled blindly through our twenties, grimacing at each others mistakes and smiling broadly when one or the other of us declared something we'd both known all along.
He may be older than I am, but moving from a small town to the big city is my area of expertise. So, not for the first time this month or even this week, here is my unsolicited advice.
All of your steps before have led to this moment, this life-changing move that will affirm for you what the rest of us have always known: You are strong enough, in fact meant for, a big world on a big stage.
The first several months may feel like a scene from Hinds Feet on High Places, but I hope that you let yourself stumble, that you're able to laugh wisely at the transition period instead of forcing a bravado that makes changes so painful.
A few Do's and Don'ts:
Do spend some time arranging your new apartment, but not too much time and not too much money. You're going to be suprised how much your style and taste will change over the next year. Not because it's a new city, but because it's a new you.
Do Not ask the cab driver where he's from. They hate that. I learned this one recently.
Do give the homeless guy a dollar sometimes, and other times Do Not. You'll know which is which.
Do Not, under any circumstances, invite someone you just met back to your apartment. Even if they seem perfectly nice and harmless.
Do Not, under any circumstances, accept an invitation back to anyone else's apartment, especially if they seem perfectly nice and harmless. You're not in Kansas anymore, Toto.
Do try to find a healthy balance between trusting everyone and believing everyone is a serial killer. This takes time. And there's more to it than just instinct. Although
Do trust your instincts. On people, on transit, on impulse purchases.
Do not give in to the impulse to stay inside and decorate and re-decorate your apartment or fiddle on the computer for hours on end. The only way to learn the city is to navigate the city. Force yourself to find a grocery store you like, a bookstore that's close, a gym with a decent membership fee. Find all of these places without using the maps feature on your phone.
Do try to meet a neighbor or two. Make friends with your doormen. Establish people in your life who you could call if you needed local help in the middle of the night.
Do not lose your accent. You have letters behind your name, you've proven your intellect. Some will find it charming, others will find it thankfully familiar. You will find it shameful and then later grounding.
Do all the tourist-y things, even though this feels very, very uncool at first. Still, resist the tempation to pretend that you're a native New Yorker. It will only make you feel like a fraud. Actually, it will make you a fraud. So
Do see an impromptu musical matinee.
Do stroll through Central Park with a goofy midwestern grin.
Do visit Ground Zero and cry for your home country and your new city.
Do not take a second of this for granted, even the hardest parts. One day you will look back and proclaim Spring 2011 as a pivotal moment in your life. You'll want to be there when it happens.
I love you, my friend. I love how your story is unfolding.
photo of a sunglasses-wearing Drew staring directly at the camera while rehearsing his groomsman role in my wedding. photo by Rob Garland.