A Former ‘Eater in NYC

Courtesy of Michael Chin

Life is full of adventures. As we often become consumed with tests, papers and our monotonous daily routines, we forget what it’s like to take a leap of faith and run with our dreams, thoughts or anything, for that matter.  I have a good friend, Michael Chin, a UC Irvine literary journalism alumnus who reminds me to live, breathe and see the beauty that life has in store for us if we just get up and go.

Annie Kim: What motivated you to leave everything behind, grab your stuff and head to New York?

Michael Chin: Approaching graduation, I figured I had two options – the normal, smart route, which is to say, staying home and getting a job – or the stupid thing: taking off, heading somewhere crazy. Like New York. I’ve never been one to make smart decisions (see: my 21st birthday party), so for me the choice was obvious; I was going to go on an adventure.

AK: What do you love and hate most about New York?

MC: I absolutely love the culture here. It’s so present that it’s overwhelming, which is a stark and welcome change from the lesser cultural abundance of Irvine. Orange County is an amazing place if you really dig for it, but here the culture is thrown in your face constantly. This city really is electric, and I mean that not only in a literal neon sign kind of way, but also in a fiercely metaphoric intensity. Energy floats in the air here. Everyone walks faster, everything blurs together and if you don’t watch out you’ll get trampled (figuratively and literally). I guess this is also what I hate the most, too – New York City is, in the words of Kanye West, a motherfuckin’ monster. You just get used to the fact that you aren’t the master of your own fate here – the city is alive and it will delay the subway, reroute your day and kill your plans. You just have to accept it.

AK: What struggles have you been faced with? What life lessons has the grueling city of New York taught you so far?

MC: It’s actually pretty difficult. I’m not going to hide the fact that what I did, the whole move to New York without a job or a place to live, was pretty stupid. I’m only now getting my feet on the ground, but I’ve had to work through almost constant sickness, a parking ticket when I don’t even own a car (it’s a long story), and a stolen cell phone … All on top of the fact that including the apartment I’m about to start leasing, I’ve been through six apartments in the past month and a half. I’ve had to deal with mice, I lived with a psychotic paranoid asshole and a pretty severe bed bug infestation, have found out twice that a living arrangement was illegal, and been overall exhausted by the pressures of living in New York. Like I said, it’s a monster. But I’m still breathing, and I won’t give up now.

AK: What do you want to be “when you grow up?”

MC: A few times since I got here, I’ve passed the Condé Nast building in Times Square and thought, almost aloud, that someday I’m going to work for them. It might not be any time soon, but that’s the dream: to follow the likes of Joseph Mitchell, Gay Talese, Susan Orlean, Sasha Frere-Jones … Not to mention UCI professor Amy Wilentz. I want to write for The New Yorker.

AK: What is your favorite thing to write about?

MC: Culture. No matter what socio-economic divide is widening, no matter what’s going on in politics or the presidential race, what brings human beings together is culture. And in New York, the culture of living is apparent every day. I keep saying New York is a monster, but it’s not all that bad because in the end, people come together to support this insane ecosystem. The subway culture, specifically, really intrigues me as a relative outsider. From subway performances, to graffiti, to the view of the Brooklyn Bridge in my morning commute, the subway sparks inspiration almost constantly for me.

AK: Three words to describe your character.

MC: Stubborn. Intrepid. Guffaw.

AK: What is your favorite quote? Why?

MC: “No man who achieved greatness in the arts operated by himself.” – James Slotkin. I found this quote in a letter included in a set of short stories by Kurt Vonnegut, who quotes Slotkin in the letter; the argument is that even though writing is by nature a closed-door, solitary act, it by no means precludes writers from being social beings. We talk to survive. If we choose not to be social, our inspiration dies because we can never find anything besides what is already inside us, and that runs out quickly. If people do not take stock in their friends, as Vonnegut continues, “maybe the death of the institution of friendship is the death of innovation in the arts.”

AK: What is your life advice for the graduating class of 2013?

MC: Live with all your blood out. Approach the world with all your weaknesses exposed. Show your wrists. Let those who would cut you down do their worst. Live through it and be stronger for surviving the terrible beauty of the world. Enjoy college as a bastion from the storm waiting outside it, but don’t hesitate in walking into the gale and sleet. Learn what it means to truly exist in the world around you. Close your eyes every once in a while. Take comfort in knowing you breathe without meaning to.