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on greatness/smallness

It may go without saying that anxiety - or, more concretely, the simple act of worrying - is embedded deeply in our culture. I've been thinking a lot about that lately.

Having been thrust into the vast ocean of this gigantic, enterprising metropolis I find it too easy to get caught up in this cult of individual progress and blind, yearning ambition. I feel lucky that I didn't come to New York looking for anything in particular; most people I know here have been let down by dreams of the city they've harbored in the most romantic corners of their imaginations since childhood. The mythology of New York is deep and enduring. This is not the sixties. It's not dirty anymore. The avant-guard, if it exists (and most angrily, bitterly claim it doesn't), has become so inacessable it's a monolithic institution in itself. There isn't much space; physically, artistically, economically, to build something from scratch. And i'm convinced the small, beautiful things that exist can only be found by accident.

Yes, New York is constantly inspiring me to step up my game: with so many humans endeavoring to do so many ambitious things, how could it not? But sometimes it looks more like a gigantic, flailing mass trying to run to the top of something it doesn't understand. Every day I hear my peers reflecting on what they see as the truly valuable artistic practice of living in New York: the arts of self-promotion, networking, and marketing.

We're driving ourselves crazy trying to place ourselves. I understand the sentiment; it's so easy to feel lost in this ocean. Moving to a city whose purpose and identity relies on the sheer, mind-boggling scale of it is to invite existential crisis. But when we come out the other side of our initial plights of identity, I hope it's not to internalize the kinds of structures that caused our anxiety in the first place.

I love New York, but I don't want my life here to be characterized by a quest of selfishness, vanity, and anxiety. I love the accidental conversations I have in public spaces that seem even more precious because of their rarity. I love voueristically engaging in the stuffy chelsea arts scene, and drinking their free wine. I love being packed in every direction by people who probably feel the same way I do, they've just perfected their poker faces. I love dancing in bigger spaces than i've ever seen, and being afraid of the shrink-wrapped model types I pass on 6th ave. I love meeting friends just trying to Make, instead of Making It. I love that people move here and have their egos combusted. And I love that last weekend I saw DJ Rupture play in a basement, and got to talk to him about the article he wrote for my professor's literary magazine.

But I still think that capitalism, individualism, and the anxiety they create stifle true and valuable artistic endeavors. Instead of feeling anxious about our smallness, we should embrace it. Instead of pushing each other aside and tirelessly cultivating new ways to impress those we admire, we should be building alliances with each other. I refuse to join the race to make something gigantic of myself. So little are we directly confronted with the reality of our personal insignificance. It's not something to be fought brutally against, but an opportunity to get down on some small-scale appreciation.

...and all this, when i set aside the afternoon to write internship applications.


November 2009

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