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After long days, I recommend long walks.

At night, darkness blurs the boundaries between inside and outside, and buildings dissolve into windows. Panes frame other lives along narrow downtown streets, throughout the Upper East Side, brownstones, studios, classrooms, and kitchens. It’s the gentlest kind of voyeurism: observing as you amble past, Harriet the Spy meets HGTV. Imagine pushing into this lobby, pulling books down from that shelf, living this close to the Met. Look at those flowers on the sill—how do I become the kind of person who has flowers of my own?

I don’t think much while walking. It’s easier, and more fun, to watch the old man shepherd his small dogs back into his building’s lobby after their evening walk, to catch two seconds of a game playing on a television through a restaurant window, than it is to turn over the day’s news or homework assignments.

I thought living in New York would change me; upon graduating high school, I expected to become someone smarter and more interesting, more beautiful, more real than the person I had been. Instead, I found that the city offered opportunities to become someone else by feeling like no one in particular, walking alone down streets at night with the very small thrill of anonymity. My presence is incidental to the woman cooking in her ground-floor rooms. But I glimpse her in the soft glow of her home. Her image stays with me. As I walk on, I can feel the loose grip of the thread of her life on my own. More rooms line the street, and more threads, more lives, interweave.

I am not the first person to fall in love with walking alone or to think that New York feels especially brilliant when it is pared down to quiet streets lit by the soft glow of windows at night. But there was a first time that I realized these things. And if my essential person didn’t change, my habits did. I walk to the third-nearest subway station, skipping 116th street to tack on the extra blocks that lead to 103rd. I prefer Morningside and Riverside to Broadway and Amsterdam.

The buildings that I walk past feel substantial. They radiate permanence where I feel transient. Like a wall hung with paintings, each face of an apartment building offers tableaus of the rooms framed by parted curtains. Every window is a point of entry to the way someone else lives. As an outsider strolling through a city that still doesn’t quite feel like my own, these scenes pull me into communion with the landscape and its people. I borrow details from the lives I observe and try them on for size, imagining who I could be, or who I might be, if I belonged to this place.

My prescription—after the sun has set, loop around Riverside Church and pass Grant’s tomb to admire their ghostly walls in the dark. Walk down Riverside Drive, writing mental stories about what unfolds behind apartment window panes. Imagine every room draped with archetypically academic elegance: leather chairs and walls lined with books. There are small moral prickles about looking in, about narrativizing another’s life, blurring the line between one public space and a private one, about objectifying and romanticizing real people. For now, however, walk on. Criticism is for the harsher light of day.

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