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Dystopian graffiti in New York City. October 2020 by Carly Fisher.

The Birth of a New York City Weed Witch and Embracing the Painfully Beautiful Act of Letting Go

As journalism bled out this year, so many people felt untethered by their sense of selves to their former lives. So many of my former idols seemed to bear such minor significance as the internet commodified everyone into a number so that our skillsets, contributions and expertise seemed so dispensable. It seemed like everyone was just chasing a number, following everyone else, looking for some clarity in a world that no longer made sense. Technology was moving faster than the real world, where my day-to-day in the city I had spent the past six years just didn’t have the same energy and I desperately wanted it to return.

When I finally found centeredness and looked around, it seemed as though the impact of what happened here barely resonated elsewhere. The cautionary tales of over 32,000 lives lost in a matter of a couple months in a city of 8.3 million seemed to go by as a blip in places that may not have felt the weight of that impact. Or who felt things so personally that all they could do was scream. Everyone was just absorbing the collective sense of fear, uncertainty, and trying to cling to these old ways of operating. Where you have to eventually let go of these things in order to make space for something new to emerge.

Are you the same person you were in February of this year? Change is often uncomfortable, but I welcome this transformation and savor the vulnerability of being human. I think that’s just the mark of growing up and being a human being, dealing with adversity, learning from the past, and trying to forge a more beautiful future. Holding onto grudges only serves to hurt yourself and others. Letting go of that is painful, because you can’t change the past, you can only acknowledge it and learn from it.

Those of us who stayed in New York City struggle to recognize the way our world was documented over the last eight months in a world marred by grief, as we collectively work to rebuild—but I know that’s the same in a lot places. Many fled the coasts to create new lives elsewhere, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It encourages the spread of ideas and populations with that grand reshuffling of the deck. Seeds dispersing into the wind to hopes of grow new again, like wildflowers dusting the perfectly manicured lawns. Where talented and forward-thinking individuals can breathe new life into places that struggle with change because they fear what they don’t know or think they know best.

New York City remains a place always in rapid flux of the old vs. new, nature vs. brutalism, joy vs. pain, sterile vs. grit. Where you have to have to have a sense of humor because it’s the healthiest way to stay focused on what you can control. Where weeds and witches are both a literal and a figurative of plants and people. We’re all just planting our roots somewhere to see if we can grow. It’s not always going to make sense, you just have to be optimistic that humanity is willing to try.

All of these things co-exist here, somehow, harmoniously. This is a city where the energy changed from “The City That Never Sleeps” into a quiet and empty hold out filled with so many individuals yearning to reconnect. Where we collectively maintain an optimistic outlook, where the projection of our world here and this image of the aspiration has produced a skewed psychological impact of the online and offline worlds, a damaging rift to some that completely bypassed so many others.

Collective grief as a result of global trauma impacted by the effects of COVID-19 has continued to serve as a hot topic. Where many have chosen not to believe something they have not experienced, as the rest of us attempt to build a better future in the best way we know how. To recognize that the lives of a town of a 50,000 will be so much different than one populated by 8.3 million, but that each of our respective lives are a collection of people and communities. To see our differences and work to find common ground, with a welcoming attitude so that all can benefit from the collective talents and unique perspectives can spread the seeds of good ideas that diversify a population.

There is value in loss. Where weeds can grow in the wild and the inherent good of nature will always fight against the forces of brutalism. You plant a seed and watch a plant grow, to find the sunlight and water. That plant may grow into a flower, whose seeds spread in the wind, or a tree that will grow tall and strong until lightening strikes it down for another tree to grow in its place. People often fear what they do not know, even though nature has proven time and again that monoculture has harmful effects—so why would this be any different in humanity?

When you consider the forces of nature, it allows you to rethink your place in the world. Where the finest grain of sand holds value within an enormous beach where it seems so insignificant, and yet every grain is needed to create a strong base for a beach where animals walk along and water will always wash over. Where even that small piece of sand eroded by the forces of nature is made up of even smaller particles to remind us that our place and time in this universe are so fragile and yet interconnected.

I don’t live along a beach; I live within a concrete jungle. And living in the West Village is so strange right now at a time when we have persevered through. Some days, I can’t tell if it’s a blessing or a curse, but I choose to see this as a gift. A painful one that is so beautiful that I have to train myself to allow nice things into my life again after witnessing so much greed, ambivalence and ignorance.

It’s an interesting time to see so much beauty and history struggling amid so much change. The view someone else might see from the outside may differ from the lens of any human who lives here, aspired to experience it, or make it a home.

Pictured: Casa Magazines in the West Village in October 2020, as print journalism falls into disrepair
Pictured: Casa Magazines in the West Village in October 2020, as print journalism falls into disrepair
Pictured: Casa Magazines in the West Village in October 2020, as print journalism falls into disrepair by Carly Fisher

Among New York’s most iconic and beautiful neighborhoods within one of the greatest cultural epicenters of the world, it’s been tough watching this city relentlessly battered by virus that robbed it of its heart and soul. Its restaurants, theaters, music halls, street buskers, galleries, museums—all staffed by countless individuals who were also impacted and forced to adapt while some people never noticed.

The West Village was not even hit has hard as our most vulnerable neighborhoods in other boroughs, but there is a quietness that feels palpably eerie. I think there’s value in preserving the past rather than burning it down, to recognize that change is inevitable even with these historical facades. Honoring the past, even if the storefronts are populated by new faces. You hope that some of the good ones will continue to thrive, requiring water, sunlight and love from its community.

New York is recovering slowly, but there are no more cappuccinos and slices of pizza after movies at IFC. Maybe that theater will bounce back, but with new neighbors and friends. Preferably the ones who were here, who will embrace each other with love, so that we never have to speak of this year again. A knowing look among those who stayed and know, what it was like when everyone told us the world was going to end and there was no other place we would rather be.

We see images of success on TV and the internet, but that is such a relative thing. Some people move here because they wanted to live a certain life that they dreamed of, to make something of themselves, to make more money, or because they didn’t fit in elsewhere. Some people move here for jobs. Some people are born here, struggling to make it out of tough circumstances, others are born into extreme wealth and need to make sense of that responsibility. I don’t judge how people are born, but there is always opportunity here to meet every walk of life, and that is why this such a beautiful and special place that lures so many from around the world.

You’re drawn here to meet people who are not like you, to learn from one another and co-exist among our respective differences. That isn’t an “easy” way to live, but it is one that could exist elsewhere to those who are open-minded enough to embrace their wandering weeds and witches.

I’ve been thinking a lot about The Beastie Boys’ “Open Letter To NYC” —in addition to their entire catalog. That song came out in 2004 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on New York City, when the city and country were engaged in a lot of civil unrest before war and ethno-centrizing.

I would say that this year might be among New York’s most historic tragedies since 9/11. The pandemic rages on, full of so much tension over the election and building resentment from such a painful year. Endless lines of New Yorkers collectively waiting for COVID testing full of exhaustion in their eyes and weighted bodies. We are collectively approaching the one-year mark since this horrible pandemic began. We really are “all in this together”—the statement that was supposed to unite us before we were divided.

Everyone I know is really managing their best every day, having suffered in some way. It’s OK if you’re not OK. You can be in New York City, which looks glamorous on TV, and know that this year mattered. Every story here is different. There are over 8.3 million stories to tell. Just in New York City. And 32,000 of those were erased so quickly. Some of those stories will never be told.

The Beastie Boys never feigned being “hard” as it is important to the history and storytelling of hip hop and rap, because that wasn’t their history. But they appreciated the art form and understood the shared culture with their black and Latinx neighbors. It was a different type of irreverent spoken history through the lens of three outsider New York Jews from three different boroughs, who came from a different time, as well as everyone else that makes up these five boroughs. “Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens and Staten, from the Battery to the top of Manhattan. Asian, Middle Eastern, and Latin. Black, white, New York, you make it happen.”

It’s a pretty inclusive message about the different walks of life that bring us all together. Some people think that’s corny, but I’m a lover, not a fighter. If I fight, it is for love and peace. But life is a difficult process and it is never easy. Pain is inevitable, but suffering is a choice. We have options to help people every day, to rebuild as this place has been rebuilt time and again.

That’s thing about New York. No one owns it. It’s an amalgamation of people who all come here from all over the world to make something of themselves and leave their mark behind. You co-exist with cultures, share ideas, and work towards unifying community. You can live here your whole life and not see everything, and there are so many images and stories about New York. The Beastie Boys didn’t create rap, but they were inspired by the black communities here that they mingled with and provided mutual support, just like KPop and everyone else. The East and West Villages, in particular, are among the oldest neighborhoods

When they lost Adam Yauch to cancer, the whole group disbanded because it wasn’t The Beastie Boys anymore. Mike D and Ad-Rock doesn’t even live here anymore—they’re out West. But their legacy cements as certain vibe and sense of unity that I always valued here and was reflected in this multi-ethnic city that is always flux with change.

One of things I love about New York City is that you can live here your whole life and not see everything. You make your place, leave your mark, stay to keep it going, or bring your ideas elsewhere. The Beastie Boys didn’t create rap, but they were inspired by it, just like KPop and everyone else that draws influence from the people who were here before and the future generations. Public Enemy, The Beastie Boys and Run DMC have as much importance as The Game, Jay Z, Lil’ Kim, Notorious B.I.G., Fab 5 Freddy—rap is just one of the many enclaves that make up this city. Just like Stonewall down the block, which has its place in LGBTQIA history. Just like Kathleen Hanna and the riot grrrls carved their space. Just like St. Marks will be known for punks and poets. Five different boroughs and millions of voices and talents. Not one place, we’re just inspired by each other.

They say that you need 10 years to become a “true New Yorker.” The Beastie Boys represent New York City to me—but also, they are a group that no longer exists with members who don’t even live here anymore. Still, when I listen to their music from the past, it still resonates. Because New York is always in a state of transition,

But even with six, I can tell you that this has been a pretty unusual situation that has brought a lot of people together. You can tell who was here before and who will be here after. Sometimes it’s best to stick things out when the challenges seem insurmountable.

This has been kind of a lonely period for that reason, particularly in a city where the charm is to mingle with the masses because you are never truly alone unless you want to be. Being restricted in movement by a virus that has ravaged so many, forced everyone online where everyone just sought out whatever reinforced their opinions instead of taking the time to interact with people who are different — or challenge ourselves to confront our own flaws and biases. Away from the connective spirit of a community where anyone can find friends.

This is the city that is not supposed to sleep, and yet no one is out on a school night anymore—even when mom isn’t around. “The City That Never Sleeps” preparing for a long hibernation. Where it is easy to become heartless, normalized to delete a lover because it’s easier than having a conversation. After all, there are 8 million other fish in the sea here alone. Where you’re encouraged to feel nothing or to ascribe a timeframe for holding onto emotions, and yet this is precisely why establishing a true connection is such a rare and precious thing. Superficial and friendly connections are everywhere, which means when you’re tasked to let go and find closure, it is with the understanding that no one can provide happiness except yourself.

For that reason, I can sense the palpable optimism of a city that wants to let go. Of individuals still bright and optimistic, forging community groups on the internet and committing endless volunteering. Where new people are still showing up every day, greeted with the warm welcome to say, “I’ve got a guy or a gal that you should know. Visit this shop. Make yourself at home. Pay it forward into our community, because our community supports a neighborhood, a nation, and the world.”

As a transplant from the Midwest and a seasoned traveler, I understand ways of life elsewhere that are not “less than,” but simply different. There is comfort in that familiarity and predictability for some, but my comfort as a tumbleweed is to be in a place where you could live your whole life and never quite know it. To plant your roots, recognizing that even after six years, to move from one borough to the next feels like another planet. Where you can take a train to Hudson, a place cementing two unique regions that I wrote a book about that came out during lockdown when I could not leave and yet lured hoards who left to go start a better life. I thought about moving there, and maybe some day in my perfect future, I’ll be there again for a writer’s hideaway in Rhinebeck in a cozy cabin with my love.

When I think about letting go, it is of all of the things I saw before this year, during this year, and knowing that this is a city that will always embrace change and one you can cannot control. It serves a metaphor for the ways I had to address changing myself. To embrace the messy parts, because the image of young girls moving here to emulate their fantasy of making “Emily in Paris in New York" videos on TikTok, dreaming of their generation’s “Sex and The City” or being the new “Girls” will always result in a variety of unexpected challenges that determine if you weather the storm of when the painful struggles of real life creep up while playing dress up.

Am I the dystopian Carrie Bradshaw of weed, or just another pizza rat chasing that New York City dream? That was a joke, by the way. Though I recognize the art of nuance is lost these day. There wasn’t a lot to laugh about, though I have started to again and that confuses people. You give an eyebrow raise, hoping you’re an in on the same joke.

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Pictured: Carly’s Paris in New York, weeks before Emily

Living in the West Village is interesting during this time because it’s so old while new technologies insist on erasing and devaluing everything. Where you’re not sure if it’s better to be in print or online because we’re constantly engaged in writing day and night. Where the written word that once served as documentation, expression and questioning the unknown turned everyone into walking Bartlebys, and the story is still the same: people feeling the need to compare themselves unfairly to others.

I am tired of keeping up with pop culture, and am comfortable with the confusing world and perspective that only makes sense to someone who has spent so many years untethered. It would be so much better if there was some reassurance that there are competent people just doing this work so I could have the luxury of tuning out, too.

My empathy makes me abnormal, not what’s causing the grief that everyone collectively shares. While we try to stop being addicted to our anxiety and depression, without forgetting why it exists in the first place. To hold onto it so very tightly, before letting it go.

I see so many guys at my grocery store wearing backwards baseball caps with beers for the game and their perfectly coiffed Bachelorettes, but also all kinds of people. The Black Trans Lives Matters protesters and allies. The lingering old New Yorkers and GAAYRP at Stonewall. The fresh faced college kids gathering at Washington Square.

Freaks and normies, all coexisting. I have never felt so simultaneously connected to my sense of self and the rest of the world as I do in this 9x12 space where I don’t watch TV and have so many books to read, but wanted to document how life really is in New York City. Where I can use a filter to be a model on the cover of Vogue and break my own internet as my own modern Burn Out Generation. The good and the bad, instead of having to choose just one.

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Everyone I know has moved away or doesn’t want to go out, and the things that brought me here that required no one else at all are now making me feel like the only place I can express these ideas is online, where I don’t want to be. Knowing full well that we have to accept these uncomfortable truths and document them as they are so that we understand that it is human to smile, cry, feel anger, and take time before letting go. That to heal sometimes means remembering how to do your hair, your freshest outfit and face the world again with croissant and coffee, or whatever makes you feel like yourself again and the person you aspired to be.

I want the Village Voice to exist because it actually discussed this city for what it is: a meeting place for different ideas from all walks of life and the collective stories of that experience.

I guess in that respect, I started documenting myself because I wanted a record that when people look back at me that my life wasn’t an advertisement. That I had a sense of humor and was weird because so much of my work kept getting deleted.

When that list came out on the New York Times with so many peoples names who died from the first wave of the pandemic, just summed up by their shitty jobs, it really hit me to my core more than anything else.

Everyone says go discuss this in therapy, and my therapist says to write. But writing is my job and my voice never felt like it was its own because too many people were trying to use me as a microphone and I got sick of it. That’s my daily interaction is emails being solicited on selling things. After awhile you have enough stuff because you have nowhere to put it.

But you love your life. You are so grateful for it. You are so grateful for everything that you have. You are so grateful to be here.

This past year, most of my friends went offline. They stopped returning or sending texts. They stopped wanting to go out. They were only reading books about machine learning or business. The solution, therein, was to find new friends or hobbies, while discussing this completely unnatural way of living and turn it into a lifestyle. I started a newsletter called The Weed Witch, because that’s who I knew I was.

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I started reaching out to other women in cannabis because other women in food didn’t seem to understand why I was trying to bridge these communities. Even though every chef I’ve ever known is the biggest stoner on the planet, which would be a marked improvement over the countless articles and case studies of rampant anxiety, depression, alcoholism, suicide, abuse of power, other substance abuse. Somehow, everyone else seems to think these are more normal and acceptable topics than *gasp!* marijuana.

I just wanted to document culture, share ideas, live, laugh and love without it being on a coffee mug in the sale section of TJ Maxx. Where it wasn’t about weed or cannabis, but about people and shared experiences. The things we only share in private, but collectively feel and can’t always say. That’s the part that can’t be commodified.

I guess I’m the only person who laughed at Nancy Reagan’s D.A.R.E. program because I started learning about this in second grade when I lived in South Florida until 1994, where drug trafficking and abduction rates were so unbelievably high that there you had no choice but to be honest with your kids. “Stranger danger" was a very real thing, and still continues to this day.

I ended up moving so much and realizing every other year that I’d get sex and drug education that inevitably this would be brand new information to someone because their parents protected them so hard. Or sometimes they’d never learn about it at all, even in college.

It didn’t take much to convince me to be responsible because living with a single mother as a latchkey kid should be a pretty simple daily understanding of how hard life is when you’re no longer responsible for your own life and choices, and judged by a society that wants to protect life in the womb but not in the real world. Where you live in nice suburbs and go to the “good” schools, while recognizing that there are just as many problems as in the “bad" places. Who want the same resources and right to live.

I reached out to women, specifically, because it was a space that I knew was evolving. I wanted to prioritize women (including BIPOC) and a space to help create a sense of community, which I would have never had to do if I hadn’t been forced to figure out how to become "a brand" and publisher because the internet essentially killed every revenue stream I used to have as a journalist trying to operate ethically. Additionally, I was tired of being sexually harassed where there was no separation between my sense of individual creative expression and the professional work space because of the internet and these obtuse, antiquated ways of thinking.

None of my ideas are new. I am just inspired by a lot of things because I read, which I worry whether or not people are, or what they have read before. When a six-year-old with a social media following creating untethered content from her princess bedroom because she was handed a phone starts follows my account trying to make sense of TikTok as an experiment, I realize I am of a different time. Where my life didn’t exist as a screen.

Instead, we just shut each other down because of these perceived and very real ways we had all been damaged by the world. I now understand why people operate without emotion: it’s so much easier to do business that way rather than deal with gossipy bullshit.

Everything is now custom content, which I am solicited to write for “exposure" and my “platform" because 15 years of journalism, a book, a James Beard nomination and four custom content awards are not enough.

Recently, I had some guy at Forbes offer his business council space for me to write articles in exchange for him “feeding me information” from time to time. When I asked him what he meant by this, he went silent. I realized being a journalist needs a profit center of entrepreneurship as “content creators,” which is something I was trained specifically not to do. The fact no one cares this happening is wild to me. This impacts everything you read and how it is documented in history.

When I did custom content, I specifically tried to ensure it was different and advertorial in nature because I am a citizen and care where my information comes from. Because I recognize how ignorant people are. And now everyone just wants to pay me garbage for my ethical compass, mistaking my sense of optimism and joy as a longtime food and traveler writer for being casual in nature or not experiencing a range of human emotions. As if I am an actor and it is abnormal to think and feel things. I think: “Please just give me a job I don’t care about anymore that has a reasonable expected pay for services rendered with benefits and a 40-hour work week without abusive after hours emails. Is that too much to ask?”

Most creatives are never prepared for the real world. I had to learn everything though marketing, which is the worst industry ever. Where I was tapped to "dream big" for these larger than life multi million dollar ideas to sell mediocrity and then told that I am "just a food blogger." Then dismissed, only to be replaced by someone more agreeable, younger and less expensive. Who will probably become me someday, just like all of the women before me so had similar stories.

I used to be offended by this, but I realized this year I know who I am. In the ways I see myself that others might not. In the ways that I have challenged myself to be real, honest, vulnerable and flawed. To love myself in the ways that I felt judged, neglected or commodified. To feel strong enough to trust in myself again because I only had myself to rely on.

I don’t know what New York City has been like for a lot of people, but this is a slice of what it has been like for me. During this month of this painful year that impacted so many, and some not at all. I’m glad I’m in the West Village, among the ghosts of women and writers before me. It gives me the courage to keep writing again from the world I see, not the one that makes sense to everyone else.

Carly Fisher is a James Beard nominated journalist and author of “Easy Weekend Getaways in the Hudson Valley & Catskills.” She is the founder of The Weed Witch, an experimental newsletter and literary journal covering the convergence of cannabis culture and lifestyle for outliers.

Taking the time to smell the roses and eat the bread. Author of "Easy Weekend Getaways in the Hudson Valley and Catskills" James Beard nom.

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