In the graduating year of my Creative Arts degree at the junior college crossroads between high school and university, one of the final mandatory courses required that students create their own final project in the medium of their choosing. It could cover any topic so long as it would demonstrate skills and knowledge acquired from the program. A teacher would supervise and be available for consultation, approving our proposals at the start of the semester and guiding us along the way.
For most it was easy and fun to select the direction for their project, but not for me. I hate making decisions and love it when I have clear direction and boundaries. It took quite some time to settle on what exactly my project would be about – but I ultimately decided one thing. It had to be about New York City. At the time, I had never seen the big city but felt that I knew it as well as any other because of the countless representations of New York in film that I had collected in my mind throughout my lifetime, and more recently in some of my classes at school. (And I suppose it should be obvious that since I was a female living in the early 2000’s, Sex and the City might have had an impression on me.)
Because I had learned how to make videos in my filmmaking class, the project evolved into what I thought would be an amazing documentary about NYC on film. It would feature clips from the classic movies I had seen in classes at school where the city was inherently a character in the film, and I would have an entire section dedicated to exploring why romantic comedies work so well in New York. The video would mirror the “talking head” documentary style by interviewing some of my favourite teachers at school who were knowledgeable about cultural studies and film. It was going to be fun and interesting and complemented by a soundtrack of songs about New York, personally selected by me.
It was ambitious. Overly ambitious. As the semester wore on, I realized that I was running out of time. I had conducted the interviews, done my research, and selected the clips I wanted to include. I had started editing and putting everything together, but the amount of material I was working with was overwhelming. As my presentation date loomed closer and closer, it became apparent that I was not going to finish my project on time. (For some, this may sound like any other day at school, but the studious perfectionist in me considered an incomplete project to be an abomination.) I emailed my teacher in a panic and she responded that I should at least present what I had completed.
When I stood up in front of my classmates for the final showcase, I was embarrassed and nervous but in the moment, a brilliant thought came to me: Of course I didn’t finish this project on time, because New York City is huge! How could I possibly capture everything there was to say about New York in film when the city itself is so endless? My endless video was a metaphor for the city, I stated proudly. I got a lot of blank stares from my classmates, but my teacher smiled knowingly and I ended up with a pretty good grade on my project.
Now, a decade later, it has been one full week and two days since I returned from my second trip EVER to New York City, and I can’t stop yearning for the city. (What was I thinking? Why didn’t I just drive there the day I got my final grade so I could see for myself if my perceptions about the city were true? I will have to make up for it over the next decade of my life by visiting as much as possible.) And, just as I inferred ten years ago, the city feels endless. I am certain that I only saw a tiny percentage of everything there is to see. The places I’ve idolized on film were just as magical as I imagined, although much more crowded with people.
Every neighbourhood feels distinctly different from the next and Central Park is beautiful, enormous, feeling endless and uncanny considering its location in the middle of the thriving city. There are people everywhere and a constant flow of lively energy that gives one the impression that anything can happen at any moment. It is thrilling, and makes me makes me wonder, does this feeling about the city eventually wear off? Do people living there know that they live in a vibrant and gorgeous city? I don’t think it will ever get old for me, and I cannot wait to go back.
Fortunately, one of my best friends is now living in the Upper West Side (or UWS, if you’re in the know) and I am already plotting my next trip(s) to visit her and magical NYC. I look forward to exploring new areas in the never-ending city, and for once I am happy to have no boundaries or set plan. I am happy to wander aimlessly from one neighbourhood to the next, taking in the sights and discovering hidden treasures. Somehow I got it right ten years ago; New York can’t be treated like a project – this is a place for adventure.