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🏙 Letter 126: Life from Coast to Coast: Honolulu vs. New York City

13 min

Everybody's free to wear sunscreen, Hoop-jumpers, Intrepid, Brooklyn rooftop salon, Shoutouts galore

Welcome to the 18 new readers! If you are new here or missed last week's edition, you can catch up on the past letters here. If you are reading this for the first time, I’d love you to sign up below to join the other 421 learn-it-alls:


Aloha fellow learn-it-all 👋

Greetings from Bryant Park on my walk to the New York Public Library

Ooo la la I have been loving the BIG APPLE.

I feel overwhelmingly stimulated in the best of ways. Bopping around catching up with folks I met three years ago in NY and friends from the Internet, college, and childhood. It’s so refreshing. Human connection truly is the essence of life. It almost feels like I have a newfound hobby of collecting perspectives from different walks of life. I have been absolutely loving life.

It’s also giving me peace of mind that I will be returning to my home in Honolulu in less than a week to recover.

Now, let’s dive into letter 126 from a learn-it-all. Heads up, it’s a lengthy one!


❓ Question I’ve been thinking about

What’s the difference between life in New York City vs. in Honolulu?

🖊 Writing

🌅 Morning in Honolulu

One year ago on  Sunday, September 26th, 2021, the sun woke me at 6:25 am.

I heard the dawn chorus chirping and could not wait to start living my day. I jumped out of bed, not because I had to, but because I wanted to.

I'd been living in Hawaii for about three months. I’d moved from the chaotic transient Polynesian hostel in Waikiki to an Airbnb in the hipster area of Kaimuki to an apartment off Craigslist closer to my favorite part of this island: the ocean. I moved with my roommate I met while surfing. She taught me how to “turtle roll” my 8-foot longboard in the whitewash of the waves, and I taught her how to sail a boat.

Usually, I dread moving, but this time I felt refreshed and wholeheartedly excited to move from one area to the next. I never had a dream of living in a place with a breezy palm tree walkway but this quickly became it.

My mornings were intentionally slow, diving deep into a state of introspection and dancing with ideas. I was starting my sabbatical of un-structuring my life and figuring out what intrinsically motivated me without my worth being tied to money.

I opened my black Moleskin journal, turned on my electronic Smartpen, and started scribbling about how I felt. A line that I ended up typing into my digital journal later: "This life I am living currently felt unbelievable a few months ago. My life has changed so much. It felt like it was a daydream, and it is actually my reality now."

After completing my morning pages, I’d brew a pot of coffee, froth some oat milk, and sip on my drink wrapped between my woven fingers as I sat on my breezy lanai porch. It felt like a chilly treehouse without the sun’s warmth, so I usually put on the only teal fleece I treasured from a thrift store.

I opened my library rental, Walking in this World by Julia Cameron– this book was my creative writing Bible that I read each morning for three months. The librarian acted horrified when I kept coming in to renew the book after seeing the accumulation of sticky notes bursting out of each page.

🌅 Morning in New York City

The date: Monday, September 26th, 2022.

Life is drastically different.

“Nee naw, nee naw, nee naw” is what I kept hearing.

My consciousness summoned me. Not by choice.

A car alarm going off down 93rd Street. The jackhammers below were pounding.

From under the slits of my eye mask, I could see the sun streaming into the room. I peeked one eye out from under. I wanted to know the time: 7:19 am. Sevenish hours of sleep. Pretty good. There's no way that snoozing the alarm at 7:25 am would actually allow me to fall back asleep.

I wasn't jumping to get up. Neither was my roommate Ben. We are out of bananas. I love starting my day with one of those. He headed out to grab some coffee. It doesn't wake him up. Though it does make him less tired. He drank seven cans of Kirkland cold brew yesterday.

It looked cloudy outside. I prolonged the time before going outside. I sensed hustle and bustle. Even through the flooring. The busyness. I didn’t shower. It was clogged and leaking. The neighbor from two floors down knocked and told me. Instead, I got ready quickly. I attempted to schedule in meditation as I huffed and puffed down five flights of stairs.

🌤 Afternoon in Honolulu

Hearing my red tea kettle squeal signaled it was time to move my body. I’d pour some boiling water into my travel mug. I’d squeeze some lemon, drizzle some honey and drop a few flakes of saffron into my mug, and stir.

My afternoon in Diamond Head continued with my "naked" walk, which meant leaving my phone at home. The discomfort of friend zoning my phone is to ensure I’m not 24/7 dependent. My relationship with time needs recalibration as I acknowledge its scarcity that makes me anxious, but that doesn't mean I need to structure my day like the Type-A person I was programmed. Every waking moment of my day does not need to be like a machine consuming audiobooks or listening to podcasts. I can enjoy the silence, finding brilliance in boredom, and magic in the mundane.

Before leaving, I change and get ready for the day. I throw on my locally made shorts from rice bags, a bathing suit, a tee, Birks, and my tye-dye bucket hat.

When I saw my reflection in the mirror, I didn’t recognize myself. My hair had never looked this light. It was half blonde for Pete’s sake! Casper the Ghost was gone too– my skin had never been this bronze. I’d never so religiously applied daily sunscreen to my face. I didn’t even own sunscreen in Chicago. My eyeglasses were collecting dust as I’d been wearing contacts more than ever because of active things like swimming, surfing, and sailing.

In an attempt to rid my watch tan, I removed it. The scariest thing I did that day.

After leaving, I’d mosey through the community garden, and greet neighbors like Pradeep, the ‘mint man'. I’d meditate and count my steps then sit and sip my tea. Roosters greeted me, and I’d imagine what life would look like if I had a gobbler of my own. Next, I’d meander around the park watching people, be awed by the vastness of the banyan trees, and scope out the waves to see how the swell looked. If I felt up to it, I’d take a dip in the ocean to float and take some big belly breaths. The previous day, I went on a long run, so I needed to recover for my next run. The half marathon was just over a month away.

🌤 Afternoon in New York City

I’d immediately find my phone and check if there are any fires burning in my inbox. The spiraling refresh button made me feel like a hamster on a wheel. I post some content to the online communities. I complete more project planning for an email course launch. I finished the tasks I set out for the morning. But, I feel like there is more for me to do.

While in Hawaii I usually feel intellectually starved. Instead, here, I go out to lunch with another bookworm writer. I take the 6 train for about 30 minutes to Hell’s Kitchen. We exchange curious ideas about everything under the sun like mortality, elderly technology, stoic philosophy, and traveling to Asia.

Next, I find my barrings for my next destination: the New York Public Library. Some peace and quiet. I'd love to work outside in Bryant Park. But, it's too chaotic.

🌜Evening in Honolulu

Monday nights meant “Yoga for the homies” under the palms. With my local friend Ray, we walk the coastal route to Leahi Park even though it’s missing its railing for part of the path. I didn’t mind getting sprayed by the waves, I actually looked forward to it. I’d see short boarders paddling in and showering from their surf session. Ray would give me a run-down on the forecast for the week and which breaks would be best for me.

Once at the park, my “slippers” automatically flew off my feet so that the fluffy grass could tickle my toes.

I ran into a friend from beach volleyball Jess who just started her yoga practice recently. She also happens to be in my surfing group chat, and I’ll see her that weekend at the same surf break and enjoy pancakes together after.

For dinner, it is a spontaneous decision of whatever the mood is. Regardless, I would love to go for a joy ride. I fill Xiao (pronounced 'chow') up with three-quarters of a gallon of gas for $4 at Aloha gas station and buzz around the volcano for a detour to make up my mind, which I decide is to buy some poké. When in doubt, that is always the move. At Foodland Farms, I'm tempted to buy quadruple the order of fish but raw food doesn't last that long, so I settle on an order for two. When I get home, the cup of rice has been timed perfectly to be eaten with the fish between me and my roommate. I sprinkle the furikake seasoning on top, and what a delicious dish that is.

Since we don’t own a TV, I light a candle and play a round of Kings in the Corner for some entertainment. The tea kettle goes back on the stove and the evening routine begins around 8 pm. My phone gets plugged into the outlet in the kitchen and since the sun wakes me, I do not need an alarm. I consider taking a shower to rinse off the salty brine but I actually find joy in feeling like I am part fish. I slip under the covers, start journaling, and read some Yung Pueblo poetry on going Inward before my eyes get heavy.  Sleep supports health and my health is my wealth.

🌜Evening in New York City

I get invited to my previous roommate’s new apartment in East Village. I walk 45 minutes there from 54th street to 14th. So many things to hear.

Cars honking. Children screaming. Humming buses. Airpods and phone calls  everywhere. F-bombs. Hipster music from restaurants. The air of the subway breezing through the grates below my feet. Foreign phrases like “grazie” in a suave Italian accent and “pardon” in a romantic french accent. Coughs of chain smokers.

So many sights to see.

A mosaic of life from newborns to the elderly with canes. Jogging men in blazers. Jumping jacks exercise classes. A plant man dressed up to scare the heck out of me. Cups of coffee sloshing over the side of over-caffeinated speed walkers. Tourists snapping selfies.  Swinging arms across one’s chest to walk faster. Terraces that felt like I was in the Netherlands with a euro vibe. Dogs. Big and small. A nurse costume. Rats and raccoons.

So many scents to smell.

Mysterious hot air from a vent. Smoke from a joint. Lamb gyro from a Hilal truck. Cologne from a suited man. Urine from a homeless man. The stench of garbage. Heapings of garbage, like from the Grinch. The subway scent of underground artificial air hinted with human sweat and hysteria.

Despite being numbered streets, I detoured. I walked six blocks past. I was caught up with where everyone else was going. I eavesdropped on NYU students talking about their exam on Hemingway tomorrow.  I forgot to pay attention to where I was going. Embarrassed by my tardiness, my walk turned into a brisk one. A determined one. I felt peer pressured. It’s a red hand, but I J-walked anyways. I got in a zone. Speedwalking.

Eating in for dinner was such a treat. On my way home, I hit up Trader Joe’s and carried as much as I could. I missed cooking. The mini-fridge won’t do. The freezer barely fit my pumpkin ice cream. I tried to find any way that I could to get my energy back. Watching Devil Wears Prada didn’t help.

It's hard to fall asleep when I know that the rest of those around me are still zooming around.

The hustlers never hang it up here.

This city never sleeps.


Across my Monday in Manhattan, I remember walking home to the Upper East Side captivated by the smiles of retirees handholding and walking at their own pace of life. Chillaxed unaffected by the high-paced environment.

In contrast to this couple, I feel like a chameleon. I let it get to me. I’m someone who learned Type-A tendencies. I chose to sit in discomfort on a Type-B island to see what life looked like without the rigidity of a plan. I’ve quickly found I can re-adopt the Type-A tendency much quicker to mirror that of a thriving person in New York City.

I do not know which box I fit in.

I propose that I am Type-C. Someone who would rather define their own box than feel the need to shrink herself into an all-defining tendency.

TL;DR

Three lessons here:

  1. I’ve learned to appreciate slowing down in Honolulu. How busyness is not the essence of my life. I don’t want to rush to my death.
  2. Be careful with the environment you choose to live in. It shapes you into the person you are.
  3. Life cannot always be clearly defined as this or that. We live in the grey. Challenge yourself to be okay with that. Be Type-C.

📖 Reading

I've been reading the Pathless Path by Paul Millerd. Since reading, the phrase "world- class hoop jumper" has been put on my radar from a famous commencement speech, Yale English Professor William Deresiewicz .

These are people who have been trained to achieve any goal they set out on. They could memorize any formula, ace any test, and “climb the greasy pole of whatever hierarchy they decide to attach themselves to.” As one of Deresiewicz’s students put it, Yale students were “excellent sheep.”

This makes me reflect on my own life. So many of the goals in my life previously were not actually my own. They are hypotheses of things that I think will make my life more meaningful.

I don't want to just be living out without intention. Sometimes that intention is to explore and that is okay.

I am the shepherd of my life, not a sheep.

🎧 Listening

I’ve been listening to New York, New York by Frank Sinatra.  I can’t help but hum to it every day that I wake up here. What a classic!

Start spreadin' the news, I'm leavin' today
I want to be a part of it
New York, New York
These vagabond shoes, are longing to stray
Right through the very heart of it
New York, New York

To see me singing this song down Lexington Ave, here.

🎬 Watching

The silliest piece of inspiration. It's a commencement speech written by Baz Luhrmann in the late 90s that was turned into this YouTube video and song. It became a low-key viral video in the 2000s. It's a bit cheesy in moments but profound in others. This makes it provoking to periodically return to overtime to derive potential insight. It does a great job of reiterating the two worlds mentioned above: Type A and Type B.

Finding that balance is seemingly a perpetual work in progress. (hence, my invention of Type C)

Four of my favorite lines of advice:

  1. “Do one thing every day that scares you.”
  2. “Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults.”
  3. “Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.”
  4. “Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I knew at 22 didn’t know what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds still don’t.”

🔎 Word to define

Intrepid: Not trembling or shaking with fear

Bold, brave, undaunted, courageous

Etymology: "unmoved by danger, undaunted," 1690s, from French intrépide (16c.) and directly from Latin intrepidus "unshaken, undaunted, not alarmed,"

Example: The intrepid shuffle dancers in Prospect Park moved with confidence especially when their song came on.

🌟 Quote to inspire

“Care about what other people think and you will always be a prisoner.” -Lao Tzu

📷 Photo of the Week

I spent my Saturday at a salon on a friend of a friend’s sunny rooftop in Williamsburg (now IRL friend). We talked about all topics from dumpster diving to self-defense and online courses on boundary setting. I felt so inspired and totally understand why people love living here. It’s such expansive energy with all the possibilities. All these varied interests make my mind fire at 3X speed with ideas.

🙏 Shoutouts

I appreciate you reading this!

If ideas resonated, I’d love you to leave a comment, reply to this email, or send me a message on Twitter @JenVermet. If you forgot who I am, I welcome you to my online home.

Never stop learning 😁

Mahalo 🌺

Jen

PS - if you want to reach out to any of the folks in the shoutouts, I’d be happy to make an intro. They’re definitely leaving me feeling inspired.

If you’re reading this because someone shared this newsletter with you, welcome! I’d love it if you subscribed:


👣 Footnotes

On the creative writing prompt I’ve been experimenting with letters:

On different less typical ways to ask to connect with someone (see thread):

On other inspiring Substack writers worth following:

On reaching 1K followers on Twitter:

On how journaling transformed my life:

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