By Amy Pace
Some people hope their whole lives to follow their dreams to a place like New York City; but in my dreams I live in the woods, not far away from a good-sized city, but not in the middle of it either.
Life never makes things easy.
I fell in love with a man whose entire world is inextricably bound to one of the biggest cities in the country. So here I am, a dyed-in-the-wool Southern girl in New York City, following the love of my life, who is, in a sense, himself a dream, so at least I got that part right. He’s been here for 14 years now, so this rodeo is all he’s ever really known. But I was completely unprepared for the daily assault of life in the Big Apple.
Every day here is cutthroat, because every day a million people wake up to audition for 10 parts in the same play. Nobody came here to make friends; if you’re in the way, they’re going to step over you.
So, it’s been hard for me to compete in a world where I didn’t want to be a part of the competition in the first place. Most of the time my most lofty ambition is to keep my head above water and ride out the incoming tide of waves that keep coming harder and faster while I find a way to contribute something meaningful to life before I’m too tired to care anymore.
But, whatever the path that led me to New York, I am here now. And I’m conscious of the fact that I’m doing something a lot of people wish they could do. So even though my intentions and desires—if left to their own devices—would have led me elsewhere, I am quietly resolved to not waste this opportunity, if I can help it. And therefore I, too, fall into the ranks of writers, scribbling in notebooks too late into the evening, inking ideas and hoping to one day pen gold.
This means, of course, that I am also among the ranks of people doing whatever they can to make rent in a place where the price of a glorified closet is more than the mortgage on a four-bedroom house anywhere else.
One commonly accepted fact of life in a town full of struggling creative types is that there is no shame in doing what you have to do to survive until you make it, however long that takes. In the city, artists and musicians and actors proudly serve coffee and food, work in warehouses and at temp agencies. They pay the bills however they can in order to bankroll the precious few hours of time they can devote to developing their craft. And even though I didn’t come here intentionally to make a grand go of fame and fortune, I am trying to steadfastly flesh out my own ambitions while I am here and to not waste the opportunity of all the city might provide.
And so, in order to bankroll my own precious few hours of creative time, I, well, I am the help.
I work as a housekeeper in some of the most decadent uptown lofts and the coolest Brooklyn brownstones. I see firsthand every day the kind of privilege and wealth most people just read about in magazines while they’re waiting in line at the grocery store. It is, to put it mildly, a striking contrast to my own micro-lifestyle.
I call this phase of my life “my cocoon phase.” I am incubating my destiny, letting it mature in its own time, trying not to guilt myself into rushing progress only to end up in a mediocre mess on the floor. Only my cocoon’s casing isn’t made up of delicately spun silk threads. No, the tangled embrace of cocoon around my slowly forming life’s purpose is dust bunnies. More specifically, the dust bunnies under a socialite’s Louis XVI chaise on the Upper East Side.
In my time with the company I work for, I’ve seen plenty of struggling artists and musicians come and go. Some stick around for a long while, graciously incorporating their experiences into their own stories and letting their time here change them for the better. But some people have a noticeably difficult time being face to face every day with the “haves” in our society. And I can understand that.
There is something uniquely humbling about bearing witness to the reality of extreme privilege, and even my own gut reaction to it sometimes is anger and resentment.
But I’ve learned some important lessons from the time I’ve spent on my knees scrubbing toilets and baseboards. It doesn’t matter how much material comfort you do or don’t have, it’s just as easy to lose sight of your own truth amidst opulence as it is to be distracted from it by poverty. And that’s important to remember. Keep your true self in sight and, wherever the chips of fortune fall—whether in a pile of gold coins or in a meager apartment—you’ll always feel at peace and at home with yourself.
I was cleaning a white marble countertop in the kitchen of a $6 million brownstone in Chelsea recently when my client looked at me over a cup of herbal tea and said distractedly, “You know, I hate living here. In a lot of ways, I still don’t think I know what I want to be when I grow up, and I feel trapped by the lifestyle that I’ve created. But I don’t know how to walk away from this.”
In that moment I was so struck by something I think I’ve known all along.
Nobody’s perfection is perfect. And just as there are a thousand cracks in the facades of the affluent, there are threads of gold in the fabric of even the most modest life.
At the end of the day, every single person is shooting arrows at the same target. We, each one of us, are trying to find happiness and peace in this life, some of us are just finding out the hard way that money can’t buy it.