By Eli Raskin
The first time I returned to the city from my cabin upstate I noticed my mindset shifting back into “city mode.” It was when a train I planned to take to Midtown was delayed. I saw that it was seven minutes away, and immediately my brain charted all the other possible routes I could take to my destination. Maybe I could transfer… Google Maps says if I do it will be four minutes shorter… Maybe I could shave off another two minutes if I ran to a different stop, but wait, I just checked the MTA Twitter feed and it says there is a slight delay on that train, but that was from 37 minutes ago…
NYC is the city of instant gratification: 4 am deli sandwiches, coffee from sidewalk carts, 24-hour trains, cheap off-Broadway musicals, way too many free comedy shows… There’s so much demand that a seemingly endless supply of products and services exists. I don’t have superpowers or willpower of iron — I succumb to the instant gratification being offered to me on a daily basis. If I know there is a train now I want to be on it now, not in seven minutes, goddamnit!
And it’s not just the subway. “If I go to this book launch on the Upper West Side, then head downtown to see that celebrity-studded improv show, and then pop into my friend’s birthday party, before Ubering to the Brooklyn for the free dance party…” is a classic mental rabbit hole I regularly found myself going down. NYC is a city of endless calculations, of doing everything possible to avoid a second of boredom, silence, stillness. How can I squeeze the most out of every moment that I spend here? Maybe that works for other people, I mean, it worked for me for a while, but on the day that my train was delayed, I was reminded why it wasn’t doing it for me anymore.
And that’s why living in a cabin in the woods, literally miles away from the hustle and bustle, and without endless choices and alternatives, can be the most freeing experience. I get to live the life I want, without the infinite distractions and bells and whistles that make living a simple life such a struggle. I can go to sleep at 10AM, safely assured that I’m an hour and 40 minutes and an overpriced train ride away from the closest comedy show and there’s no way I’ll be able to make it, or want to. Yup, my local Metro North train into the city runs every 2 hours, it’s the only train I can take, and I’m 100% okay with that knowledge.
NYC probably holds more dreamers than any other city: millions of people, artists and finance bros and ambitious lawyers and creators and innovators all converge on New York to make their mark on the world. Living in a city surrounded by hungry overachievers comes with a price; we’re surrounded by a culture of “do everything, now.”
For example, I love the fact that up here I can take a hike whenever I want. Yes, New York City has Central Park, but if the weather is a degree above freezing, it is so packed by New Yorkers sent by Time Out magazine “Top Ten Parks to Visit in NYC” article that you need elbow guards to get to the one available green patch of grass in a sea of people. The last time I drove to Bear Mountain (one of the closest hiking mountains to the city) it was closed to hikers because it was filled to capacity; let that sink in, a mountain had so many hikers they had to close it. Yep.
Two hours north of the bustling city, in the Catskills, you can’t take WiFi, hot water, or late-night shopping for granted. I love the fact that at night there are only 2 radio stations to choose from, that I can’t text and drive because instead of gridlock I have windy roads, that I don’t get service unless I stand in my front yard.
With all the noise, I had lost the ability to appreciate the Big Apple and only saw the crowds and whizzing subways and endless overstimulation that filled my head with a near-constant buzz and relentless anxiety. When I’m upstate, because of the simplicity and lack of infinite options — there are two bars and two cafes within walking distance of my cabin — I have no choice but to “take it or leave it,” and I love the freedom from FOMO that comes with that.
But that doesn’t mean I’ll never come back to the city that never sleeps. If I do, I’ll know how to navigate it this time; I’ll have the tools. If I do end up returning to the metropolis where I spent the last three years, I’ll know the secret is to stop and appreciate the little things (even if it means getting pushed by a luxury-sweatpants-wearing trust fund kid on his way to a drug-fueled dance party), and stop sweating the small stuff. Will I get to my destination a little later the next time my train is delayed? Yup! Will I not hear about a show that everyone will be raving about tomorrow? Sure! But hopefully, I’ll care less.
The irony of city life is that we do everything to make our lives as efficient as possible and then have to fill up the free time with shows and spectacles and star-studded improv shows and hot new products. People love asking me, “Won’t you get bored up there?” Yes, and that’s exactly why I’m moving there. To get bored enough to finally appreciate what matters.