In May I went to New York hoping to learn some things: about the world, about myself, about life in general. Lofty goals, probably, but in fact I did learn things. They may be self-evident to some (in which case, lucky you), but I am a delicate soul, and writing these lessons down helps to cement them into my brain.
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You Will Never Find Anything New Sitting in Your Flat (no matter how international your internet usage)
On my last full day in New York, I had some time to kill on the Lower East Side and I wandered into McNally Jackson, the bookshop on Prince Street. Bookshops always get me excited – I feel like a whole world opens up every time I go into one. Downstairs, a crowd of people were gathering (people who gather in bookshops are usually people I want to gather alongside) for a panel titled How to be Creative Online.

The panel featured a selection of bloggers I had never heard of, but the premise sounded interesting and I had time, so I sat down. All of a sudden I was introduced to Brain Pickings (the inspiringly curated site by Maria Popova), Maris Kreizman's Slaughterhouse 90210, and a group of people who consistently mentioned my favourite writers (Muriel Spark, E.B. White etc.) as their favourite influences. It was a random encounter, but it opened up a world I would probably never have tapped into from my desk in my flat, and it taught me a lesson: the internet can only take you so far.
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Being a Tourist is Just Showing Appreciation (and is nothing to be ashamed of)
When I travel, I want to see what the locals see, and learn the 'rules' of a place as quickly as possible so as not to stand out or (worse) be an irritation. Being a photo-taking, middle-of-the-sidewalk-stopping tourist is the direct opposite of that. I started off feeling incredibly frustrated at my lack of knowledge, and tried to hide it. Other tourists would approach me and ask for directions – despite knowing as little as they did, I would hilariously try to direct them, then spend all afternoon feeling awful about probably giving them terrible advice. I should have owned up, but I was kind of ashamed to.

But after more than one afternoon spent castigating myself for my bad direction giving and writing about my feelings on tourism here, I've come to realise that tourists have a value all of their own. As Dottie put it in her perfectly insightful comment on my post: "Their energy is contagious ... now I embrace my role as a traveller and focus on being an enthusiastic one." I can't think of a better attitude to have.
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Everyone has a Story (and they want to tell it, too)
Despite the fact that I have a blog, I am a confirmed under-sharer: if ever I get into the position of telling someone a story, I get about halfway through it before I start to panic that I'm wasting their time. Similarly, when people hint about their own fascinating stories and experiences, I rarely pluck up the courage to ask about them.

In New York though, I noticed that people really do love to tell their own tales (especially if they are tales of woe). In a diner, I overheard a guy saying to his friend: "Everyone has a New York apartment story, so here's mine" as if having a story like that, the more gruesome the better, was a real step on the ladder to becoming a fully-fledged New Yorker – if you didn't tell it, no one would know!

At the Moth Story Slam (the open mic story-telling nights), people were desperate to tell their stories, and people (like me) paid to listen to them. It was like therapy for everyone. At one Story Slam, I sat next to a guy who had been practicing his story for weeks. He had tried it out on his friends, worked on the feedback, and then he had come to The Moth and put his name in the hat. But his name didn't get called. He was incredibly disappointed – he wanted to tell his story; I was too – I wanted to hear it.

The lesson it taught me was not to be afraid to ask people about their lives – by and large, people love to tell their stories to people who are interested, and if you don't ask, you might miss out on something incredible. More importantly though, it taught me not to panic when telling my own stories (like this one, for example). By and large, people do actually want to hear them.


  1. Such important lessons. Thanks for sharing. I too am an under-sharer of my own stories and reluctant inquirer of others' - even as a journalist! I can't figure out what's so scary about it; perhaps just that my story will not be well received or that I won't be a good enough audience. But the risk is always so worth it.

    By the way, the redesign is phenom!

  2. I loooove to listen to stories! I really do. You just told a very nice one. Thank you. Keep it up!

  3. I'm so glad you told this story. I can relate in a big way, especially not wanting to waste people's time with stories. Nice post

  4. It's funny how you can learn these little life lessons anywhere, but New York seems to be a catalyst for...well, for everything. I'm glad you were there. I think everyone in the world needs to experience THE city. :)


  5. great observations! and I'd LOVE to meet with Maria Popova! wow!
    and yeah, everybody wants to tell their own story, and there are good listeners around there:)

  6. some great lessons, but now I really want to know the guy's story too...

  7. Your write so eloquently about these things. I can understand your hesitation with story telling but I think you are right - everyone want to be heard and most people want to listen.

  8. i too can relate, when you realize that there's "a world of an audience", you try to present an edited version of your life and then you feel like you're kinda loosing the spontaneity of the things that's really happening around you...

  9. if i'm ever telling a story, about halfway through i realise that all eyes are on me and this really might not be worth their time so the momentum just slowly fizzles away and i wind up mumbling 'oh never mind' into my hand...i'm glad i'm not the only one! i've just discovered your blog this morning and, as a fellow village girl with an apparently un-pronounceable celtic name, i'm absolutely in love with it already ♥ www.ffionmckeown.blogspot.com


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