I oscillate between being cowardly and courageous. It’s the reason why I can strike up a conversation with stranger, speak my mind in situations most would find daunting, but have an irrational fear of enclosed spaces and don’t know how to say “no” to those I care about. Being simultaneously bold and timid, has come to characterise my existence, and the incongruence has bled into every sphere.

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My roommate took this picture of me and I hid my arms because I’m an awkward Brit.

Have you ever felt as if your life was more characterised by inertia than progress? Like everything was stalling and nothing was propelling itself in the direction you’d like to go in? Welcome to my 2012. It was an odd year. It seemed as if my highs married my woes, and were refusing to grant each other a divorce. As the year drew to a close, I began to take inventory of my life and felt disappointment.

I remember sitting at the dinner table on Christmas Day with my family, and I experienced a moment of satori. On the verge of tears, I shared with them how I’d enabled patterns to emerge in my life that were weighing me down. My family was supportive, and reminded me that in them I have a bottomless well of love and encouragement to pull from.

However, I knew that no matter what they said, I would have to create my change, rather than wait for it.

The problem is my cowardly streak. A streak so potent it can be crippling.

It took me a while to muster up the courage. A month ago I booked a ticket to place I’d never been before, two weeks later I put a security deposit on an apartment I’d never seen and today I type these words from a place very unfamiliar yet somehow already feels like home.

I’m in Brooklyn, New York to be precise. The energy is electric, the people are eccentric in the best way possible and it reminds me of the hipster districts of London — if they got a boob job and married up a social tier, yet were stubbornly resisting assimilation.

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The Jimi Hendrix statement wall in my apartment.

Considering that hitherto I’ve avoided uncertainty and discomfort, in the last few days I’ve faced a massive learning curve and I’ve learnt the following:

1. Americans really like British accents.

My voice is grating. I sound like sonic piss frozen and then encased in hideous wrapping paper. However, for some reason, it seems that everyone thinks that everything I say is intelligent and funny. I’ve discovered that people in shops will also give you free stuff if you have a British accent. Thus far I’ve got free hair straighteners, metro cards, chicken and Hennessey. I fear this list says more about me than I want to admit. The great news is I didn’t have to flash a boob to get any of it, not that I’ve considered that or anything.

2. The subway makes no sense.

If the intentions of the architects of the New York subway were to confuse people until they contemplate throat punching themselves — they’ve far surpassed their hopes. Everyone tells me I’ll figure the subway out eventually, but I know I won’t. I’m so forgetful, I’d forget my weave if it wasn’t sewn to my head. I’ll forever get lost on the New York subway. I’m not OK with this fact.

3. I have absolutely no sense of direction.

In England the roads are narrow and short. In New York they’re fat and long (I can assure you this isn’t a filthy pun, I haven’t been that adventurous). In England all you need to give is the street address and door number, and the cab driver will know precisely where you’re going.

In New York, you also need a cross street. Much to my disappointment a cross street isn’t a place filled with glamorous cross dressers. Also, in America they drive on the other side of the road. Ergo I’m perpetually marvelling at the sheer enormity of the roads, lost and about to get knocked down by a truck.

4. If this writing thing doesn’t work out I can fake a talent on the subway.

In the past few days it feels like I’ve observed people on every possible point of the talent spectrum perform. I’ve witnessed the insanely talented and been captivated by the enormity of their gift. Then I’ve watched people perform who I sincerely hope choose not to procreate, because they clearly live on an island called delusion. Pretty weird, because in England we tend to be quiet on the tube, unless we all take a moment to collectively grumble about delays.

5. Times Square is what happens when bright lights and tall buildings are given performance enhancing drugs and viagra.

No further explanation needed.

6. Old women will dodge fares with you.

Turns out if you use your metro card incorrectly, you’re not allowed back on the train for 18 minutes. How do I know? It happened to me last night. I was stranded and about to have an anxiety attack. I spotted an old lady and asked her what I should do. She gave me such wise advice.

“Fuck this, let’s both go under, nobody is here. And I don’t wanna pay for this shit anyway, the city owes us!”

I found myself at Marcy Avenue station, crawling under the barriers with a woman who could be my grandmother. It hasn’t even been a week and I’m already engaging in illegal activity. #thuglife

7. People are kind.

New York has rid me of any residual cynicism I may have had left. I have experienced immense kindness from strangers, old friends and new friends.

It turns out that despite what we see on the news, people are kind. They’ll help you with your bags as you struggle around Target. Pick you up the from the airport and let you crash on their couch because the prospect of spending the first night in your new apartment was too daunting. Teach you what apps to download to navigate the city. Take time out of their schedules to walk you around the city. Give you hugs you didn’t realise you needed.

People are so kind, you can feel like you belong in a foreign place and remind you that taking a risk into the unknown — and trying out the change you knew you needed — is always worth it.

XOJane

This post originally appeared on XOJane. Republished with permission. Click here for more on XOJane!

  • Wong Chia Chi

    Turns out if you use your metro card incorrectly, you’re not allowed back on the train for 18 minutes. How do I know? It happened to me last night. I was stranded and about to have an anxiety attack. I spotted an old lady and asked her what I should do. She gave me such wise advice.

    “Fuck this, let’s both go under, nobody is here. And I don’t wanna pay for this shit anyway, the city owes us!”

    I found myself at Marcy Avenue station, crawling under the barriers with a woman who could be my grandmother. It hasn’t even been a week and I’m already engaging in illegal activity. #thuglife

    I used to HATE this. I know it’s to keep people from selling their metro pass but, UGH! Once I was running errands and I entered the same station I came out of earlier. I was in a really big HURRY. I ran my metrocard through and it didn’t let me in.

    The train operator was like, ” You have to wait 18 minutes.” And he had a really nasty attitude about. Like he hadn’t just seen me ten minutes earlier and every day since I lived by the train station.Thankfully a nearby transit cop opened the gate for me to get on.

    ID train passes would solve SO many problems.

  • http://parentingbytheseatofmypants.wordpress.com greendoondoon

    @Princess– people say that to me. I was out at a bar and this guy heard me chatting to my friend. He said that I sounded like something from a film and then asked me to record his voicemail message. Of course I did it– I was drunk!

  • Danika

    Haha, a lot of people have realized that we Americans are actually really nice! My school got an exchange student, and she says we are all so nice it’s almost weird. Yet, thanks to media, I feel as though we’re just pictured as fat jerks that like to say OHMYGOD, SO TOTALLY HOT! it’s a little depressing.

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