FINDING “GOD” IN NYC


I’m diving right in with a controversial topic because, as I said, this is my honest account of growing up in NYC.

My mom was raised as a “Christian” in Cleveland, Ohio. She went to Baptist Bible camp in Wisconsin every summer and managed to corral all of her friends to come to church with her on Sundays. My grandparents used to joke that she had a whole aisle full of boys next to her in the pew at church because if they wanted to hang out with her on the weekends they had to come to church too. They were a religious family, but they were also extremely welcoming and accepting of all types of people. It’s unfortunate that my experience has been that this isn’t always the case. I’m told that after all the boys came to church, they would go back to my grandparents house, roll up the rugs and throw a party. My mom played piano while they had sing alongs and my grandma sat in the kitchen as the teens told her about their adolescent problems. My mom recalls the kids telling my grandma about their marijuana habits, and girl troubles.

This photo is unrelated but just so good.
This photo is unrelated but just so good.

When I was growing up, my mom tried to create the same type of church community and tradition for me. It didn’t prove to be very easy. We generally would find a church we liked the looks of and would attend services for anywhere between 1 Sunday to a few years. Without fail nearly every church would eventually make a statement on their disapproval of homosexuality. As soon as this topic came up and we realized their stance was less than accepting, we would move on to the next church. This went on for years.

Throughout this time, my mom simultaneously meditated and traveled to an Ashram in Switzerland to chant with a guru for 24 consecutive hours. She’s trained in Transcendental Meditation and was initiated into Parmahansa Yogananda’s Self Realization Fellowship. We had a meditation altar in our apartment and we each had special meditation mats which were meant to soak up our positive energy.

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Though I also attended “Bible camp” every summer and went to Catholic  high school, it was a circuitous journey to my current spiritual state. I went through a religious rebellion for many years as teens often do, never to the extent where I denied the existence of a higher power altogether, but I wasn’t sure that praying to someone would help in anyway. Eventually in college I started attending church on my own volition as well as becoming a part of various religious groups. Here again I had trouble associating with groups who weren’t accepting of all types of people and was never able to fully commit to any one group or church. During this time I developed my own spiritual practices, frequently meditating and reading religious texts such as scripture and spiritually based “self- help” books.

In New York I’ve seen slow but steady progress towards all inclusive faith based communities. In recent years I’ve been going between two churches in Manhattan. Hillsong United is a mega-church which originated in Australia that attracts primarily young hipsters and celebrities. I like this church not only because I’ve seen Justin Beiber there, but also because 1) the music is incredible and 2) I think it’s important that young people have a place where they feel it’s safe and even “cool” to openly celebrate their faith.  Church is held in a night club and looks like a disco party. There’s 8 services in two locations in NYC every Sunday as well as various mid- week events.

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Hillsong United, NYC.

The Church of Saint Paul and Saint Andrew on the Upper West Side is an incredible place that states on the front of their program that they accept people of every gender, sexual orientation, race or religious belief. This is the kind of group I want to be a part of. Not only do they walk in the gay pride parade and marry homosexual couples, they also share their church with a Jewish temple. This is so central to my beliefs. I’m not sure how to make sense of this to people who question why I read the bible if I clearly disagree with major parts of it, but all I can say is it works for me. I identify as a Christian, but I don’t believe it’s the only way. I don’t believe only Christians go to heaven, I think everyone goes to heaven. I think one person’s practice of Islam or Hinduism is just as valid as my practice of Christianity. I think praying in bed at night is not so different than sitting under a tree and having gratitude for your surroundings.

I think everyone’s spiritual journey is personal and ever-evolving. This has been my experience thus far within the context of my history and my upbringing. I think it’s a fascinating topic and I always love to hear other people’s stories, whether they are similar to mine or completely opposing.

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Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew

THESE ARE A FEW OF MY FAVORITE THINGS…

A few of my favorite things about NYC/ Reasons I will probably never leave this great city unless it’s to live in a cabin in Maine…or somewhere fancy in Europe… or…

Ok here we go:

I love New Yorkers. I love how they come in every variety, just like bagels. I love authentic Upper West Side women with their linen clothes, butch hair cuts, and funky glasses. I love when New Yorkers defy stereotypes, like the one that says all New Yorkers have to be rude. We aren’t all rude. Sometimes we are really nice. Sometimes we like to assist tourists when they are lost, or give up our precious seat on the subway. Antithetically, I also love that New Yorkers are often united in their opinions on certain things. They tend to be a fairly open minded bunch and often lean towards the liberal side of life, and those are my kind of peeps.

I love that I can do or get almost anything at any time of day. Want cookies at 2am? They can be delivered. Want to learn lightsaber fighting? There’s a class for that on Thursdays at 7 (I’m not kidding: check it out). This can be simultaneously wonderful and stressful. Perhaps this is more a product of the era I am living in, but the fact that so much is available to me at any given moment has given me slight commitment phobia. NOT in my relationships (heyyyy R0) but in terms of choosing restaurants, coffee shops or even careers. Despite my slight commitment phobia, I’m sticking with all of this being one of my many favorite things about New York.

I love the family I have created here. True, this isn’t specific to New York because I would have created one had I grown up elsewhere, but I love the qualities they have BECAUSE they are New Yorkers.

I love the daily New York-y vignettes. Let me explain. My mom is one of the most cheerful people you’ll ever meet. If you were stuck on the subway with her for five hours underground, she would make it feel like it was your birthday party. When I was younger we would walk around the city and she would point out the most mundane things and exclaim “look at that! Isn’t it beautiful! I love this city.” At the time I rolled my eyes as most too-cool-for-school adolescents like to do. In retrospect, I’m so glad she did that. Now I walk around and look down grungy New York alleys with garbage bins and fire escapes and think, what a beautiful site. It’s so “New York!”

Growing up, if we didn’t eat at the diner on the corner of our block, my step-dad would go to the corner coffee stand. He would get us a classic New York coffee in the classic blue paper coffee cup and a crappy un-toasted bagel with a square of butter that they were too lazy to actually spread. I LOVE this. I would not trade this experience for anything. My mom didn’t wake me up with a gourmet meal on the dining room table in our cute suburban house on our cute suburban street. She DID wake me up with James Taylor on the cd player and views of this beautiful city in every visible direction. I couldn’t be happier to have had that experience.

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“HOT CHILD IN THE CITY…”

Hi again! I know you’ve all been waiting with bated breath for the next post so here it goes! A brief history of this twenty-something’s early life in NYC.

I was born in New York Hospital on the Upper East side of Manhattan.

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It’s funny that I entered the world on the East Side as my mom couldn’t be less of an east sider. I’ll touch on what that means later. Let me back up a bit further.

My mom was born in Cleveland, Ohio. At the age of five she knew she wanted to work on Broadway. She watched the “Roadway” trucks pass by her quaint mid-western house (is Ohio in the Midwest? You’ll learn I’m terrible at geography…a  byproduct of living in NYC?) anyway… As she saw these trucks pass by she pretended they said “Broadway” and that they were headed to The Great White Way.

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When she was 25 she moved to New York with $500 in her pocket. She told herself she had one month to book a show. When she accomplished that, she told herself she had one month to book a Broadway show. She’s been here ever since. I’ll probably have to dedicate an entire entry to her, as she’s the coolest person I’ve ever met. But until then, back to me, me, me.

On the day I was born, my mom had a doctor’s appointment before a mid-day rehearsal for The Phantom of the Opera. When the doctor told her she was going to have to have me that day, she said “but I have a ‘Masquerade’ rehearsal.” The doctor didn’t seem to care that Broadway was calling, and neither did I. So out I came in June of 1989. I’m told my dad came to the hospital with pink peonies in hand. No wonder I love them so!

I grew up at Columbus Circle, two blocks from Central Park and a half-mile from Times Square. I lived on the 10th floor of a 15 story postwar apartment building, with a man- made garden where you weren’t allowed to play on the grass. I went to public school from 1st through 7th grade on the Upper West Side (shout out to my PS 87 and Delta crews) before transferring to an all girls Catholic school on the Upper East Side.

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When I was five my dad moved to Toronto to be in yet another company of The Phantom of the Opera. Over time this led to a not so pretty divorce. When my dad left, my mom and I only grew closer. I slept in her bed most nights (Gray Gardens? Eek!) and often played “hooky” from school to go to auditions/rehearsals with her or accompany her on work related trips to Europe. This didn’t make my teachers happy and they threatened to hold me back a few times. My mom always managed to talk them out of it, arguing that traveling in Europe was just as educational if not more so than sitting in a room learning my times tables. I often question this decision when I’m calculating how much to tip, and also that whole geography thing.

Though my dad had and has a big presence in my life, I had a whole troop of theatre crew (primarily gay men) that acted as my father figures until my mother met her wonderful husband Larry on the interwebs. He has been a part of the crew since 1998 and we are so incredibly grateful that he came along and somehow managed to fit in with the two of us crazy people.

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In addition to these amazing men, I had a babysitter named Indra. She babysat me for 10 years and became like a second mother to me. When I wasn’t able to go on said Europe trips, she stayed with me in midtown or took me to her apartment in the Bronx. When I was a bit older she took me to meet her family in Guyana. I came back covered in bug bites but it was a life changing experience and I’ve loved gnips ever since.

People often joke that New Yorkers only order take-out or eat at restaurants. That’s not a joke folks, that’s real life. As a kid I had a binder full of menus and when my mom asked what I wanted for dinner, we would get the binder. For breakfast we went across the street to The Flame diner and sat at the counter. I always got one of two things: fruit loops or “eggies in a bowl” (poached eggs).

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When my mom did cook it was usually rice, beans and pickles (a family fav), or tomato soup with cheddar cheese and pretzels. If my mom was away, Indra cooked. She would make roti and butter for breakfast and lamb curry for dinner (funny because I’m now a mostly vegetarian).

Anyway, I think that’s enough about me for now. I promise, next time will be about the subject at hand, NYC!

 

FIRST BLOG POST EVER

Hi! My name’s Emma.   ↓ (That’s me)

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I was born and raised in New York City. I’ve lived here (basically) all my life. I get various reactions when people hear that I grew up in the heart of Manhattan, so it seems like something that would be interesting to write about.

This blog won’t actually be entirely about me. I’ll have to give you some background on my life as that certainly informs my experience of this great city, but the primary subject of this blog will be NYC.

Let me tell you a little bit about what this blog WILL contain:

A truthful account of my experiences living in New York City, including things I love about it, hate about it, and things I suggest others should try while they’re in it.

Let me tell you what this blog won’t contain:
  • A perfectly unbiased view of NYC and all it has to offer
  • A perfectly well-rounded view of NYC and all it has to offer

All that to say, I’m not an expert on the topic of the Big Apple. Often times tourists know more about the history of New York than I do. But I have experienced this city in a way many have not. I grew up with Central Park as my literal backyard, a diner as my mom’s go-to breakfast, lunch and dinner spot, and the Broadway theater community as my “village that raised me”. So, if that interests you, keep reading!

I’ll have to start with a (hopefully) brief history of the New Yorker in question. Stay tuned!