I love New York City. And I am so, so happy that I left. I moved out on Monday, May 7th, leaving behind my dignity after a sendoff party. I’m currently posted up in Dallas for a month before I travel for June and July. Then, I’ll be in Charlottesville, Virginia for two years while my boyfriend attends Darden business school (swag swag swag).
As I packed my belongings, debating whether I should take the blender but not hesitating to pack my giant taco costume, I had Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York* as my companion. A Joan Didion essay inspired the compilation, which consists of stories by 28 female writers, detailing their own love affairs with New York that ran their course.
Each piece helped articulate my own feelings about leaving a city that once enamored me. I lived in NYC for four and a half years. I categorize my time there as “before” and “after”.
In the *before time*, I worked as a cancer research assistant at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. I was poor and had to make numerous sacrifices. For the most part, I didn’t mind, because I lived in New York! It was exciting! I stretched my pasta servings so that I could afford red bull vodkas at Output. I was slumming it in the most riveting way. I thought Why would anyone ever live anywhere else? As one writer said, “It didn’t seem possible for me to ever break free from New York’s gravitational pull” (Botton, 10). I never entertained the notion of leaving.
Three years and two horrible housing situations later, I decided to quit my job and pursue creative outlets. I didn’t know exactly what that meant, so to support myself, I got a job at a sports bar and as a nanny/tutor for a family. I was much more financially sound, but still not artistically satisfied. I became involved in the improv community. I dabbled in standup open mics. I started writing sketch comedy in addition to fictional short stories. Yet, I prioritized my means of income over everything. Since I wasn’t salaried, the more I worked, the more money I made. I knew what it was like to be financially unstable in a city that favors fortune and I refused to return to that life. In the words of Chloe Caldwell, “I’ve found that I am not as interested in struggling or suffering as I once was…I realized I need at least one part of my life to be easy” (Botton, 63). No more goddamn pasta.
Liza Monroy said, “A friend complained that she was tired of high rent and a job that left her with no writing time. Many friends were writers without time to write; in New York, being there sometimes defeated the purpose of being there” (Botton, 148). I was that friend. Not really, but you know what I mean.
Sure, if I had set my mind to it, I could have improved the situation. And I did, in some ways, toward the end. Ultimately, I concluded I was trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. New York will always be there for me, but it’s not what I need right now. I sympathize with Rayhané Sanders when she says, “Itches get scratched, and you find yourself wanting new things, new environments, better suited to who you are now, to who you hope to be” (Botton, 225). I’m not the same person I was when I originally moved to the city that never sleeps. I think I need some rest.
When I started entertaining the notion of leaving, I worried that I would feel like a failure. The thing is, I conquered this place. LFG. I started by living in a shoebox, with cats I was seriously allergic to and roommates that made me fear for my life. Every year, I moved into a progressively better living arrangement. Every year, I made a little more money and indulged in a little more creative exploration. Every year, I made choices that made me a happier, more balanced person. “I had come here so many moons ago to find out who I was, to qualify, to prove things to myself I didn’t even have names for yet, to test my worth. And it occurred to me that I had gotten what I came for—I had it, like a quarter in my palm….[it] had served its purpose; I knew exactly who I was, precisely what I was worth, and it was now time to find a more conducive place to enjoy her” (Botton, 228).
I couldn’t have said it better myself. Except…I will…because I intend to write my own Goodbye to All That essay. I’m leaving NYC on my own terms, seeking the unknown with more of a backbone. I will miss the New York subway system every single time I step into that terrifying metal box that we call “car”. I will miss the city slicker indifference to the weird shit that happens every day without fail. I will miss the obscenely late nights filled with endless possibilities. I will miss the Thai place on Broadway in Astoria.
Oh, you guys came here for a book review? Whoops. Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York was timely for my needs, but it’s also full of good stories and good writing. It has significant range. Some writers are well established, like Cheryl Strayed, Emma Straub, and Roxane Gay. Some writers I had never heard of, and now they’ll be on my radar. If you have any connection to the city whatsoever, I recommend reading it; if you don’t, it’s probably not the best use of your time, but the book can still be an inspiring source of comfort and validation if you’re going through a move or a significant life change. Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York receives 5 out of 5 camel humps.