The social media content machine holds some characteristics especially dear: authenticity, relatabiltiy, and almost paradoxically exclusivity. You see, if everyone can relate to a certain type of content that’s good, but it probably won’t inspire as much engagement as something that people really feel is unique to them. The in-group needs to be wide, but not so wide that it includes everyone. Buzzfeed has refined this to an art, with a plethora of posts that ‘Only real 90s kids will get’ or that ‘Only people with a tight friend group will understand’ and recently I’ve been seeing across social media examples of this style of post that make me question whether I’m the in-group or the out-group, and where I want to be, and they’re all about my ‘hometown’: Long Island.
I always had a weird relationship with Long Island growing up. I loved being able to ride my bike around the neighborhood, being so close to beaches, and able to explore the woods/wetlands with my friends (which was technically trespassing). But I’d always gone into the city i.e. Manhattan a lot with my family, and while taking the train I’d sometimes ask why we couldn’t live in the city, and always imagine which Brownstone would be mine one day. And then, once you get past the phase where hanging out with your friends is a play date, Long Island rapidly became too small.
As you probably know from reading this blog or having ever spoken to me irl, I’ve wanted to live abroad for a very long time. And in the beginning a lot of that had to do with feeling like I didn’t fit in on Long Island and wouldn’t fit in as an adult, so I started looking elsewhere, and I did find places that make me feel like I fit in: the Smith Bubble, Paris, Berlin, Copenhagen, Stockholm. I have either felt at home or like I could make this a home in all of these places, but when I’m back on Long Island I feel like an outsider and a visitor and I don’t know exactly why.
Part of it I’m sure is that for the last few years I have been a visitor. When I was thinking about doing this post I tried to remember when the last time I was on Long Island for more than two consecutive weeks. As far as I can remember it was the summer before my sophomore year. Since then I’ve just had quick breaks at home before traveling somewhere else or going back to school. But on top of that I wonder if part of it is me rejecting Long Island, not to psychoanalyze too much but theoretically if I’ve subconsciously disavowed myself of Long Island, that makes it much easier to leave for good later on. But I think for me the biggest factor is that you need a certain amount of pride in where you come from to continue that connection into adulthood and I’ve never had that even though Long Island really thrives on that pride, hence the aforementioned Buzzfeed type posts. Like this one, where I got pretty intensely Long Island and which also conflates being from Long Island with loving Long Island. And this pride of place is I think the biggest thing that makes me feel like an outsider, I have friends who post statuses like ‘I can’t wait to get home to the best island on Earth’ or who have 631 or 516 (the area codes for Nassau and Suffolk counties aka Long Island) prominently displayed in their social media profiles, and I even know someone with a tattoo of the island (incidentally one of my favorite games to play is does the drunk guy on the train have a Long Island tattoo? The answer is yes about 30% of the time). And whenever I see any of this stuff I feel like I’m just not seeing the puppy inside the magic eye.
This summer is going to be my first summer spent entirely on Long Island since High School. I’m going to be living at home and working to save up money for Graduate school and honestly even though I have all these feelings about alienation and so forth I am happy about it. I’m going to be able to actually see friends from High School and I have been keeping a sort of last hurrah list of outings like Montauk Point, and a wine tasting out east, and a day on Fire Island, that I haven’t had an opportunity to do for years and that I have no idea when I’ll be able to do again. I’m also hoping that this summer will help med my relationship with the Island, I will never want to live there again but I would like to not feel like an outsider when I visit anymore.