Those in the know will warn you: Living in New York is a rat race. That’s what makes some visitors say they love to visit the city, but they could never live here. And I have come to believe that it’s also what makes New Yorkers proud of living right here, smack in the middle of a too-fast-too-expensive-too-demanding sensory overload.
Oh, and that NYC special brand of fomo (fear of missing out)! When there’s 1,000,000,000 things that you could do, you are denied 999,999,999 things with every decision you make – or even one more if you don’t do anything at all (which is hard, especially in New York).
So you’d think another book about what you can/could/really should do in New York has got to be a burden. However, there is one person in this city who just proved the opposite: Jessica Tiare Bowen.
She uses her love of exploring New York as a a remedy against the hardhips this city puts upon its inhabitants – and that works so well that she made a book full of things with which New Yorkers can treat themselves at the end of one of those weeks (which describes pretty much any week in this city for most of us).
In “Treat Yo’Self in the City” she does not only draw from six years of blogging – you definitely want to follow what she writes at Used York City! – she also gets a whole bunch of authors from New York to spill their secret indulgences.
Due to an enormous lack of time (welcome to New York!), Jessica and I couldn’t meet for a talk. But sending a questionnaire does not meet my interview style. So I was delighted that she agreed to be my pen pal for a little while – which quickly turned into some kind of e-mail chat. On my side, that included thumbing letters while on the train (with long breaks to think it through before the wifi caught on again). So let’s see how Jessica’s book came about – and what the Rockettes, a Meetup group and a very special female have to do with it.
Jessica, as your new book’s title indicates, you encourage New Yorkers to treat themselves. What makes those treats so important in New York’s everyday life – and why is it necessary to remind New Yorkers to actually do that?
I’m a big believer in treating yourself, but especially so if you live in NYC. As anyone who lives here can attest, city life is so, so wonderful … but it can also be so, so hard. Everything that is basic living elsewhere in the country is just a little more difficult in the city—from lugging groceries home ten blocks on foot, to living in a 6th floor walkup with a baby and a stroller, to having a neighbor with a really yappy dog (and very thin apartment walls!)—you certainly have to make sacrifices to live here. However, in order to justify those sacrifices and make the struggle worth your time, you best be taking advantage of all the amazing things NYC has to offer!
I think there’s a big misconception that you need to be rich in order to do this, or to really make NYC living work for you, but that’s simply not true. As the book shows, there are so many ways to treat yourself in the city for under $20. From culture (cheap Off-Broadway tickets) to food (the best chocolate chip cookie of your life) to experiences (cruising around the city on a boat) to pampering (Chinatown massages, anyone?!), there’s something for everyone at a really manageable price point. By incorporating treats you really look forward to, it will make the other (harder) aspects of city living much more tolerable.
You asked a lot of New York authors to contribute their ideas of a treat, too. Were their first reactions to your request similar or different?
I wanted to fill the book with ideas of how real, local New Yorkers treat themselves in the city. Because I also run a monthly book club called Novels of New York which reads books exclusively set in New York, I got the idea to start reaching out to authors who both write about New York and live in New York to see what their treats look like. The authors were all very enthusiastic about sharing their love of NYC in this manner!
That sounds wonderful! How did your book club come about?
Being an NYC blogger, I naturally gravitated towards reading a lot of books set in or about NYC. One day, I thought, “wouldn’t it be fun to have a book club to discuss all these great reads with?!” And, voilá! I started the ‘Novels Of New York’ book club via Meetup.com, and three and a half years later, the club has 450+ members, and has been meeting monthly ever since! We’ve also been lucky to have NYC authors attend many of the meetings to do Q&A’s, and to delve deeper into their books with us.
Have you ever discovered a new place or thing to do in New York through a book – I mean a novel, not a guide book?
Last December we read “Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares” by Rachel Cohn which talked about the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights in Brooklyn. This year I made a point of getting out there to see them for myself! (Totally recommend, btw! :-) )
Oooh, I love those Dyker Lights (though I am worried about their climate footprint …), I just revisited them a few days ago. Since you are also roaming around in New York so often: How has your view on the cityscape changed from when you first arrived?
It’s always so fascinating to me how places can be there one moment and gone the next. Living here really teaches you not to get too emotionally attached to places … whether that means the apartment that you will be priced out of in another year or the bar where you had your first date with your now husband—places come and go, but the heart and soul of the city really remains the same, which is why I love her so much.
Ha! New York is female to you?
Oh, 100%. She’s strong, resilient, energetic, nurturing, and absolutely beautiful in that timeless sort of way.
And she can also seem quite intimidating to someone who doesn’t know her yet. What made you choose New York as your new home after college?
Oh I knew from the first time I visited her when I was a high schooler that she would be my forever home one day. My mom took us into the city for a family trip to see the Rockettes at Christmas when I was in 9th grade, and it pretty much sealed the deal in my mind from that moment on. Of course, living here is much different than the fantasy of living here, particularly the first few years when you’re trying to establish yourself in a career and your place in the city.
Apart from taking care of one’s sanity using “Treat Yo’Self in the City”, what is your advice for maneuvering the tough parts of life in New York?
Besides scheduling regular city adventures and “treats”, I think you need to constantly remind yourself of why you’re here. Sure, walking your laundry cart to the nearest laundromat 5 blocks away is a pain, but if your NYC raison d’être is to be near the best theater in the world, or to have every cuisine imaginable at your fingertips, or to be able to essentially see hundreds of different cultures within one short subway line, well. These things will remind you that you’re getting something you just can’t find anywhere else, and the laundry won’t seem like a super huge deal in comparison. Also, regular breaks from the city helps restore sanity. These don’t have to be huge, beach front vacations—even a quick weekend away on the MetroNorth to the Catskills can be so restorative, and make you glad to see the city lights upon your return.
You’ll find Jessica Bowen’s “Treat Yo’Self in the City” at a lot of book shops around NYC (support our indie bookstores!) or at the usual online dealers.