If you haven’t read Zadie Smith’s recent essay for the New York Review of Books, ‘Find Your Beach’, I think you should give it a look:
In it, Smith captures the lonely, Janus-like nature of the American self-creation myth – and that it’s often both false and effective. She focuses in particular upon the hyper-distilled version found in daily Manhattan life:
Here the focus is narrow, almost obsessive. Everything that is not absolutely necessary to your happiness has been removed from the visual horizon. The dream is not only of happiness, but of happiness conceived in perfect isolation. Find your beach in the middle of the city. Find your beach no matter what else is happening. Do not be distracted from finding your beach. Find your beach even if—as in the case of this wall painting—it is not actually there. Create this beach inside yourself. Carry it with you wherever you go. The pursuit of happiness has always seemed to me a somewhat heavy American burden, but in Manhattan it is conceived as a peculiar form of duty.
As a former New Yorker, so much of this essay feels real and spot-on to me… and it has an additional virtue: It’s funny.