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Dear city I live in

I woke the other day and made miso oatmeal, stirred through with honey and roasted pistachios. Correction: I finished making miso oatmeal–most of the labor had been done the night before and I had slapped a “Julia’s Oatmeal, please leave here :)’ post-it on the pot lid before I turned in for the night. Three months ago I wouldn’t have thought to claim my various food experiments (my most recent ‘meh’ horchata attempt could have sat on that refrigerator shelf for months if I didn’t finish drinking it first, my family is that hands off about things).

But that was three months ago.

Last time I circled vaguely around a Big Scary Thing that I’d resolved to do this year and… well, I did it. I moved at the beginning of February! to New York City (center of the universe, times are sh-tty, but I’m pretty sure they can’t get worse; let’s… not tempt the Evil Eye with that)! Or at least I think I did–my body and my little cookbook collection and my clothes are here, but I still largely feel like I’m on an extended vacation, somewhere between limbo and the present tense.

I met up with some college friends here in the city around two weeks into my move and forgot to account for the ‘Oh, how long are you visiting for?’ conversation (Welllllll actually…), which was bound to come up, seeing as I didn’t exactly make a hoopla over all of this. No lengthy Chicken Soup for the Soul social media announcements, no going away parties–in the next leg of my life’s journey, as at my old university parties, I slipped quietly out the door with a wave before the sloppy “Don’t Stop Believing” sing-alongs started. I told some people, but largely kept the details to myself. There’s a small joy to keeping things hush-hush until they actually happen and even then, the thought of people getting hung up on their expectations of what you will or will not achieve in x amount of time gives me existential queasiness. I’m panicked enough for all of us, thank you very much!

We had our laugh about it there in Dominque Ansel’s cookie shot line before meandering through Nolita to Tacombi, where, with completely straight faces, they asked if I had “strong taco opinions, being from California”.

[Takes a long sip from her horchata. A beat.] Not really–

[Her friends blink, satisfied, and start to turn back to their tacos]

–AVOCADOS, however

“Funemployment” came up that night and in a few conversations since, always said with a shrug and That Smile on my end that’s less of a smile and more of a 😬. Take out the “f” and we have the picture of my days at the moment: largely spent in and around the house, with a few trips into Manhattan for the odd interview or networking meeting (talk about something else that’s new to me: networking, the dreaded thing you have to do but it makes me feel like a sentient blob of quivering pudding every time; I’m getting better at it though!). I’m in a slightly out-of-the-way part of Queens, so it’s probably for the best that it’s not so easy for me to hop on a train and go spend my savings buying out, oh, all the cherry cream scones at Amy’s Bread. I know that little chunk of Midtown in and around Times Square very well, but everything beyond that (and not to mention all the boroughs!) is up for exploration–big swaths of unlit map and hopefully now I have the time to discover it at my own pace… assuming that this doesn’t all blow up in my face!!! which is my perpetual mental yell’s Flavor of the Last-Two-Months-and-Counting. I’m a collection of frayed nerves, but I don’t feel rushed about this one thing… that there is a heart in me underneath all the fretting and wondering whether I’ve already horrendously fumbled that believes I can make it*. I know how to be patient (that’s what got me here); I can be patient a little longer.

(* To start a career in this world I’ve loved longer than I haven’t [theatre]; to know that I wouldn’t have come to this confounding, grimy, and beautiful place if there weren’t something vital in it; to inhale in the mornings and feel, at the root of it all, okay)

My figurative edges are being picked at by the nagging sensation that a Big Move necessitates a Big Post, something sweeping and searing, where you all get to witness an epiphany shaping itself in real time; this is rumpled and careening, a molting pigeon of a thing.

(But I am currently more rumpled, careening, molting pigeon than person, so we’re going with this. I’m also without photo editing software at the moment, so you’ll have to forgive me if the quality/quantity of my shots take a hit until I get myself sorted out on that front. I also need to take more photos! But as I’ve said, I’m living a temporarily hermit-esque existence, so unless you’re that curious about my weekly clay mask sessions, the photos will come as all of my wildly scattered pieces shuffle themselves into a life.)

The past two months haven’t been without their Moments though! Those wildly, happenstance-ical and surreal #OnlyInNewYork episodes that came tumbling through the blue and/or were additional kindnesses built on relationships I’d already formed from the sheer force of my… enthusiasm? in the past. I’ve had some “bit of a day” days:

[     A debut     ]

Not even two weeks into my New York move and I was making my first (and likely, onlyofficial Broadway cast album debut!!! I’ve hardly won a thing in my life, but I (and nearly 500 other fans) answered the call put out by the Great Comet team to help lay down some ensemble vocals/percussion lines for their recording. They wrangled the lot of us into a beautiful space on the Upper West Side which had been mic’d up, and where the show’s creator/once Pierre and soon-to-be Pierre again/genius Dave Malloy regaled us with tales of a time he woke up with a raccoon on his face. Oh right! And he, Josh Groban, and ensemble members Alex Gibson and Katrina Yaukey also taught us the music we’d be singing. We sounded beautiful; I can’t wait to share it with you!

[     August Wilson’s Jitney // 2.28 & 3.7     ]

A revelation. I’m not as well read on my Wilson as I’m working on being and this was the first of his works that I’ve ever seen staged. The ensemble director Ruben Santiago-Hudson put together was astounding, each one a lion and a light on their own and together? A I’m-still-reeling marvel. Having André Holland in the company–I’m most familiar with his work (and ummm, Moonlight, come. on)–playing Youngblood, a masterclass in yearning and an impeccably-timed “mmhmm”, was the “This is INCREDIBLE” bunting on top of an already beautiful cake. It’s such a joyful production, even though there is so much in the story that’s anything but [joyful]? And to be with that audience, with that palpable thrum in the air as we were collectively taken to church…

… I had to see it again. I had a few days of striking out on the rush tickets, but exactly a week after I first saw the show my finger moved fast enough and I was in the Friedman again. Me being, well, me, and the kind of person who goes full limpet with the shows/people/every little thing she cares about, I had an emotional, blubbery letter I’d written that morning for André burning a hole in my bag. And every time I thought about its wildly insufficient words, it seemed to broadcast its bat signal of embarrassment into the world for everyone to see. They’re my best bet though: letters!

  • I love stationery. And using the washi tape I bought in Osaka. Seeing that little smudge of ink that builds up on the side of your hand.
  • Who doesn’t love receiving letters?? I can only hope to share a smidgen of that joy with others.
  • I’m so, so, SO much better on paper, friends! I mean… yeah, I’m still probably going to be grossly emotional, but I’ll be grossly emotional in an eloquent (most of time) way, as opposed to meeting [insert human being I admire here] and then promptly forgetting all the pithy, poignant speeches I spin in my head beforehand (my thoughts go poof! and are replaced with something painfully generic like “you were great!”–it hurts my soul). With letters I have the breathing room and time to say everything that needs to be said. And I always have too many things to say.

André Holland greeting me with an ‘I remember you!’ (I said hello and got tres weepy about Moonlight after the show the first time) would have kept me on a cloud for the entirety of March, but to have him follow with the ‘I’m going to keep it here, next to my heart’ when I handed him that Wildly Insufficient letter? My ghost, you’re reading my ghost words. What a lovely and kind human (whose skills as an artist are a rare, riveting thing and more people need to get wise)!! I really do hope they find another theatre–that production and that company deserves so many more eyes and hearts in the room.

[     The Great Comet of 1812 // 3.2     ]

After following its various incarnations for some time–and two days after seeing Jitney Round #2!–I finally got myself over to the gutted and completely transformed Imperial Theatre for Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 (I put the comma there when I first typed it and then remembered that the comma isn’t there and it should be). And not to get too deep into my origin story here, but listen: Grobes–Josh Groban–was the first person I honest-to-goodness became a fan of. I’m talking circa his Closer album, so however many years that’s been Grobes has been there in my fundamental makeup; he’s like a not-so-distant cousin (my mum periodically asks me what he’s up to) and to have him finally make it to Broadway, to have the opportunity to see him in this world… it’s a mutual dream come true.

As for the Great Comet? I wish I had 10 heads and a gajillion eyes on each one because it’s a raucous, fantastical feast and if I could barely process the level of detail and ingenuity in the set design without getting all verklempt I don’t know how I made it through the actual show, not with ensemble members shredding violas in my face, prowling by at one point in epaulettes and bear masks, and singing right by my ear ([praise hands emoji] for my aisle seat). There’s so much to unpack–technically, musically, character-wise, etc.–that one visit, the majority of which I spent ogling everything and everyone with my gob hanging open (there’s multitalented and then there’s what that company is doing on their never-ending Stairmaster of a set), is hardly enough to string together intelligent thoughts. It’s a strange and magnificent production, at once tender and abrasive–my bloodstream still feels like it’s been jumpstarted in the best possible way.

[     Hamilton // 3.11     ]

I know. Again! I assure you: it’s no less surreal and I feel no less ridiculously fortunate. Things just keep… turning out? even as I’m constantly warring against disbelief and doubt that I’m–me–actually living these experiences. I brought a friend this time, though (two days after In the Heights’ opening anniversary to boot)! I usually watch shows on my lonesome because no one needs to see me in my essential state*, but I got said friend into the show in the first place (and this was his first Broadway show! ridiculous!) and he was in the right place at the right time to enable my poor financial decisions. So we did that. And my heart did its thing (wrapped its figurative heart hands around my larynx the entire night while I sunk further and further into my seat). We went onstage after the show (I left that little detail out for my friend because I’ve always wanted to shout “You’ve been PUNK’D” at someone and it was as fulfilling a moment as I imagined it’d be). That all happened! You read it here, so cool cool cool remind me on days where I feel like that breathtaking elation belongs to someone else.

* ugly sobbing. I have a reputation to maintain–only a choice few get to see me all shaky and vulnerable like that!

The temperature climbed up into the high 70s on Monday, which is no good because the warming weather means summer is coming and NYC summers are a hell season of fermenting garbage and humidity that coats every millimeter of my literal and metaphorical self in a sheen of anger and despair; I won’t hear anyone argue otherwise.

(And for someone who spent most of her life in California, I have a pitiful summer wardrobe.)

I love walking, though, and balmier days have something to say when it comes to that. So I walked–to Astoria–and almost enjoyed the feeling of the sun on my bare arms. I passed the al fresco diners, the produce stands with their pears and fresh herb bundles, the flat capped older gentlemen at the corner park. Eventually I made it to S & J, an unassuming Moroccan eatery steps from the activity of 30th Ave. The grate was still down when I poked my head in, but the owner, Rita, and her equally welcoming cat swept me in and sat me down like I’d been in the neighborhood my entire life. She apologized for opening a little later than usual and in minutes had raised the grate and was ferrying her homemade dishes to their warming trays by the window. A heaping plateful of fall-off-the-bone chicken, couscous, and stewed vegetables later I was flipping through the photos on my phone, doing an animated show-and-tell of that summer in Morocco. Rita’s is a pocket universe–I’ve rarely felt like I had so much time. A few regulars trickled in during the hour and a half I was there, filling their foil takeout trays and clicking their tongues for the cat (she’d gotten shy and wedged herself alongside the drinks fridge). I was content there in the sunshine slanting through the door, but then Rita asked if I’d tried the harira, so I had to try the harira while she brewed mint tea in the back room.

(Oh, that mint tea! I haven’t had any like it in years and that first sip = happiness)

We talked msemen and how much I love gazelle horn cookies, wedding ceremonies and henna, her [and my, rapidly growing] love of Astoria–of Queens–and all the stories people are so willing to share. She’s considering serving breakfast in the future and if that’s the case, there’s no distance I won’t be willing to hoof. When I asked how much I owed, she barely hesitated when replying: ‘Until you’re working, five dollars.’

My entire upbringing blanched; I mentally screeched UNACCEPTABLE!!! while actually trying to fish out more dollars, but Rita wouldn’t have it.

(This is the New York my sentimental heart launched itself into the ether to find, hung itself on hope in this collision of time and space and the astounding kindness of strangers. And there it was found.)

I’ll be back, Rita, and next time I’m bringing friends.


Title track: the all-too-appropriate “Silver Streets” by BOY
Further listening: “New York” (that felt a little too on the nose) and my favourite Oscar Isaac song, “Switchable City”. How’s this for a mini-NYC playlist 🙂

S & J
23-20 Crescent St.
Astoria, NY 11102

Speaking of Oscar: that in-limbo-for-long-enough Sam Gold-directed production of Hamlet is FINALLY happening and I’m [throws hands in air where they stay, flapping wildly]!!! My favourite actor! Taking on good ol’ Shakes as he ought to again! (Or one of my favourites–I’m someone who has multiple favourites of everything and I don’t like rating people , so let’s drop this thread while I’m ahead of it.) That said, he’s a favourite-favourite of mine and seeing him on stage has always been a dream. I missed his Shakespeare in the Park performances from way back when, so assuming that I can even nab a ticket to this, I may go the way of Yorick (and happily!)



  1. Pingback: A love letter | Skilly 'n' Duff

  2. I love this title. I really, really do. It makes me think about the idea of writing blogs to something or someone specific, and there’s something inherently romantic in that. Which I know isn’t an ideal thing, romanticizing, but, well, people are romantic, you know.

    Not that you haven’t heard it before and not that you probably won’t hear it again (and not that I even came up with the words) but, honestly, if you were any braver, you’d be a lioness, little Leo.

    I, obviously, relate a lot to your keeping things hush-hush until they actually happen. There’s something quite satisfying in having something done before you show it off, for example. I also have an unhealthy degree of superstition and often think if I share, things just won’t turn out. So there’s that, too. But, anyway, the important thing is you did it and you’re on your way!

    I hope you discover more people like Rita, more places like the stage of the Rodgers, more metaphorical paper to let loose your words directly and physical paper to make sure you don’t lose the especially good ones. I also hope hell season is at least a degree or two better than the name implies.

    The Great Comet needs like 12 viewings, I’m convinced. One from every general angle. One, particularly, in the middle. I pretend I’ll be contented to have the album, but who am I really kidding? Seriously, though, I can’t wait to get that sound in my ears, especially because I want to hear that beautiful sound you made.

    In the mean time, I promise this post was wonderfully Big enough.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Caroline

    Oh Julia ❤
    this entry was a joy to read, although it also filled me with a hopeless sense of fernweh. I'm glad you are finding your feet. I'm going to brew some peppermint tea of my own now, and dwell in travel nostalgia for a bit.


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