New York state of mind
Lean Out returns from hiatus (and Manhattan!), for an action-packed fall ahead
Just before the pandemic hit, I took a trip to New York City. A friend and I flew from opposite ends of Canada and met at Chelsea Market. Over the course of several days, we crammed ourselves on subways, shopped at the busy Strand bookstore, took in a show at the crowded Comedy Cellar, perched at a packed bar at Prune, and returned exhausted every night to share a tiny, airless hotel room in midtown.
Within two weeks, that Manhattan was gone. Times Square emptied out and the city shut down, plunged into a state of shock and despair.
Back in Toronto, I covered the crisis for my newsroom. And mourned the New York I’d long loved.
As the months went on, I watched as New York took an ever-more extreme approach to Covid, and tried to reconcile this fearful city with the scrappy, no-nonsense metropolis I had once revered.
Last month, I finally returned to see it for myself.
Though some neighbourhoods were quieter than usual, I was heartened by the many street side patios that had sprung up. Walking back to our hotel from Jacob’s Pickles, Amsterdam Avenue was bustling. People sat at tables in the warm August evening, lights twinkling above them, the din of boisterous conversation filling the air. They ate and drank and threw their heads back in laughter. It was very life-affirming.
The long days of summer were just giving way to autumn, both my favourite time to be in New York and my favourite season, period.
Probably because of all the years that I spent in school, fall always feels like a time for beginnings, for renewal. As an adult, this has meant returning from the sluggish humidity of late summer, celebrating the morning chill and the explosion of coloured leaves, and hurling oneself headlong into the excitement of the city. Losing oneself in its streets and parties and literary culture.
Fall always reminds me, too, of resilience. September 11th was my first news event as a student journalist, and I remember being awed by the stories I heard of New Yorkers transcending their trauma and coming together to support one another, and to rebuild the city’s psyche. In the years that followed, I visited the city again and again, and found the fighting spirit stronger every time.
The New York that I experienced in the early 2000s — mainly through hip-hop, then my beat — was fierce and funny, creative and combative. Proudly anti-authority.
This was the Brooklyn I was introduced to by rappers. Before the strollers and the hipster coffee bars and the West Elm everything. Before Twitter. Before Brooklyn became Ground Zero for North America’s elitist, conformist mainstream media.
A hope formed, as I walked New York’s streets last month, mulling this over.
The hope is that we are all able to return to the tenacious spirit of old New York. And the sense of solidarity that flowed from it.
The mental and spiritual toughness derived from surviving calamity once brought people together. It can again.
Thank you to all of the wonderful readers who reached out while Lean Out was on hiatus — and to the wave of new readers who’ve subscribed during my absence.
If you are new to this Substack, I post a podcast interview with a heterodox author every Wednesday for all subscribers, and a full transcript of that conversation every Thursday for paid subscribers.
On the weekend, I post a meditative essay/roundup of reading recommendations covering the news of the week.
I’ve also been doing a bonus podcast every week, interviewing a journalist or academic who has published a timely, thought-provoking piece.
Readers have been asking me for more essays, so this fall I’ll be experimenting with that balance — some weeks posting a bonus podcast and other weeks an extra essay. Either way, you’ll be getting four posts a week.
If you’re new here, please feel free to reach out and introduce yourself. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or just hit reply on this newsletter.
If you’ve been reading for a while and have feedback, I’m always happy to hear from you. I have received a number of recommendations for podcast guests that I am chasing down for the fall. As well as topics you’d like to see covered here, which I’m following up on.
On the list: The aftermath of lockdowns; the fallout from school closures; the ongoing debate in Canada over vaccine mandates; the upcoming hearings over the use of the Emergencies Act. Plus, the ongoing critique of liberal feminism.
Also on the agenda: A discussion with Andrew Doyle, author of The New Puritans: How the Religion of Social Justice Captured the Western World, and a chat with Noah Rothman, author of The Rise of the New Puritans: Fighting Back Against Progressives’ War on Fun.
During my time away, I felt much gratitude for the community here at Substack. It is incredibly satisfying to be able to follow my curiosity, honour my journalistic instincts, and ask the questions that I think most need to be asked — and are often not asked elsewhere in the legacy press. It’s a dream gig, and I thank you all for supporting me. (And writing me letters with your thoughts!)
I’ll be back tomorrow with an interview with Konstantin Kisin, comic, co-host of the Triggernometry podcast, and author of An Immigrant’s Love Letter to the West. I’m looking forward to sharing the fall with you all.
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