Goodbye to All That
Last night, a friend and I headed to PowerHouse Arena for the book launch of Goodbye To All That, an essay collection by women writers on “loving and leaving” New York. Edited by Sari Botton, the collection includes some heavy hitters, like Meghan Daum, Roxane Gay, Emily Gould, Cheryl Strayed, and Emma Straub.
The collection takes its inspiration from the iconic 1967 essay of the same name by Joan Didion. That famous essay begins, “It is easy to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see the ends.” Perhaps this statement was once true, but now, I think the focus on endings, especially in New York, has become so pervasive as to be easier to pinpoint than beginnings.
Before I went to the event, I happened to read Judy Berman’s review of the collection on Flavorwire. Her essay begins, “Everyone I know has a fantasy escape plan.” She goes on to outline the cities her friends and acquaintances are absconding for–Portland, Seattle, LA, San Francisco, Austin, Nashville. It used to be that when a New Yorker was ready to leave the city, they simply relocated to Long Island or Westchester or New Jersey, to a house with a backyard and closets and a driveway and a neighborhood with good schools and a downtown with cute coffee shops and maybe an independent movie theater. On weekdays, they’d take the PATH train or Metro North or an express bus back to Manhattan, to their same jobs, their same lunch haunts, their same happy hour bars.
Montclair, New Jersey (via)
But now, the young denizens of the city are bidding farewell to New York entirely, off to search for another kind of life in smaller, less expensive, and less crowded cities. I am not immune to the siren call of these potential utopias–when we were in Frederick, Maryland this weekend, I admit to getting a little starry-eyed as we sat drinking beer and listening to local bands in the sun with our dog in a pleasant and friendly small group of locals, similarly happy. Comparing this to the hot, packed, and jostling Madison Square Eats, which Joe and I braved last week during lunch, it was difficult to see the advantages of living in New York.
Frederick, Maryland (via)
Of course, there are countless benefits to living in New York, and I count myself incredibly lucky to be able to enjoy these benefits. The downside to these benefits, of course, is also the near-constant guilt at not taking enough advantage of them. Do I attend enough readings, museums, film festivals, concerts, dance shows, plays, or dinners at world-class restaurants to justify the astronomical costs (both mental and monetary) of living here? No one can answer that question definitively, for everyone’s justification is different, but it’s exhausting, this constant questioning.
The Guggenheim Museum, New York City (via)
The book launch last night featured Sari Botton, Meghan Daum, Emily Gould, and Melissa Febos, reading excerpts from their essays in the collection. I enjoyed hearing all of these great writers read, but I found myself wondering, perhaps spurred in large part by Berman’s review, if we really needed all of these essays focused on New York. Central to any story about New York City seems to be that the city is larger than life, mythic and sprawling and wondrous and thrilling, like some kind of caped superhero, with an evil twin. And to anyone who has ever lived here, or visited, that is certainly true to a certain extent. The city is an entity unto itself. But is it any moreso than any other city (or town) people call home? Doesn’t every city/town/village/neighborhood contain a heart, a pulse, a personality all its own? I would argue yes. Even my hometown of Warwick, Rhode Island, a nondescript suburb of approximately 83,000 people, full of strip malls, chain restaurants, and an airport, contains pockets of individuality and charisma. There’s the abandoned amusement park and huge mansion and pretty shoreline and renowned clam shack. It’s also, for me, home to many memories and people I love. So, leaving that place, to me, contains just as much emotional weight as someday leaving New York will–probably more.
Warwick, Rhode Island (via)
One of the recurring themes in any “leaving New York” essay also seems to be that the city is no longer what it used to be. Of course, I know this to be true without ever actually having lived here when it was different. Most of what I know about the city is what it is now–relatively safe, full of creative types and small families, incredibly expensive, and increasingly gentrified. Many would argue that the personalities of many areas are being systematically stripped away, replaced by high rise condos, banks, and Duane Reades. I don’t argue with this, but since I didn’t personally experience the NYC of several decades ago, I don’t feel any special attachment to it. I can only feel what I feel for the city I live in now, not the city it was in the 80s or 90s, when such things as cheap rents and authenticity could still be found.
New York City (via)
Right now, I’m getting to a point in my life where I’m ready to start considering factors beyond where I can go to the best bars or have the most friends or can get the best job. I’ve only been in New York for a little over 3 years, which is nothing in the scheme of things, but I’d be lying if I said I haven’t indulged a few escape fantasies of my own. That’s all they are, right now, but someday, I will need to make a decision. And whatever love I have for this city will need to take a backseat to practical considerations (ugh, adulting). But, the thing is, there are millions of people like me, in cities and places all over the world, who are facing similar decisions. Where you choose to make your home is always emotionally fraught, New York City or otherwise. Maybe it’s time we stop mythologizing the city so much and start paying attention to the world at large, and where we truly want to be.