warning: lots of self-reassurance and unfounded negativity throughout
There have probably been many hundreds of thousands of “Why I’m Leaving New York City” blog posts, letters, essays, suicide notes, tweets written in the past however many decades. If I had to guess, based purely on subjective feeling, I’d say it would likely be the top place on the planet for which people write this sort of thing. The reason for that is self-evident, and it’s also one of the reasons I want to leave in the first place. That is: New York wields a vortex deathgrip comprised of a weird combination of comfort, guilt, nostalgia, FOMO, snobbery, pride and a snarl of other tethers.
At the thought of moving, residents do their best to counter these timeless forces. They do this to justify their decision to themselves, to their former neighbors (and their new ones) and to New York itself - the latter of which is a kind of melancholy apology to an anthropomorphized city that they love so deeply. I can’t help but feel like the desperate striving for justification is a version of Stockholm Syndrome and that worries me deeply. Nonetheless, I will set out to do what countless others have done before me. Justify.
Like a hostage who begins to side with his captors, I think living here makes a lot of its residents bad people for a few of reasons:
- There is a tendency to wear the drawbacks of New York (list of these below. hang tight) as a badge of honor. I’m guilty of this myself. Any objectively shitty aspect of the city is construed as a kind of personality test or spiritual trial. Ah look at my new neighbor from [rural small town], she misses her wide open spaces - what a rube. The fact that I’m dead inside and forgot that trees are important makes me so much cooler. I’m a New Yorker, damnit! This is sick and abnormal behavior.
We should not be proud of the things we merely endure, but the things that we earn through hard work.
- Some use the invasiveness of the city in one’s baseline existence as an excuse for other failings in their lives. Just living here is oppressive in small ways that some sometimes use to justify shitty, self-defeating behavior. My train got stuck underground on the way home and it was stressful so I’m just gonna watch TV all night now instead of read a book. Or I would work on that art project, but this surface in front of me is my dining room table, office desk, easel stand, mail drop, waterbirthing table and ironing board. I can’t leave my paints out on it tonight. Or I would like to save money and buy a house one day - but work was tiring today and I don’t feel like cooking; I deserve to go to a restaurant again! This might not apply to everyone, but if you have a tendency towards this, then New York living can exacerbate it. It allows you to avoid owning up to and fixing your own personality flaws by blaming them on your environment. And it’s not that it’s necessarily an unjustified blame, but if you’re this type of person to begin with then is it really a good idea to live here and sentence yourself to this? Is the zip code really worth the long-term destruction of your future by 1,000 paper cuts?
- We get mean. Again, this is oftentimes unconsciously flaunted as a point of pride. When I go to other cities or towns and see how people are walking slowly and smiling and appreciating the things around them my first instinct is to think they’re morons and that my cynicism is realer than their contentedness. For some reason it feels good - but I think it feels good the same way it probably feels good to sacrifice your first born to a demon lord to gain some kind of secretly-caveated malevolent super power. Which is to say it doesn’t feel good once the spell breaks.
specific and unique shittinesses
As everyone writing these things always reassures their reader, I love New York more than any place I would consider living (in the USA and for its weight-class I mean. Clearly it doesn’t do mountains better than the Grand Tetons or holes better than the Grand Canyon). But I think maybe I love it in an interpersonal, nostalgic way; the way a mother loves her fucked-up kid not for any of his actual traits, but just because he’s her kid.
Don’t get me wrong, for all the above and below flaws I do feel like it’s the greatest place of its kind, once you accept that these flaws are part-and-parcel with it and you’re willing to absorb the scars it leaves on your person. But, again like everyone else who does exactly what I’m doing right now, there are specific things I can’t stand about it. Here’s a partial list!
- Cramped living spaces.
- Zero privacy.
- It’s expensive as fuck.
- Lack of peacefulness (Central Park or some remote part of Brooklyn doesn’t count. I’m talking about real peace).
- It’s unrealistic to have your own outdoor space and if you do get it, it’s pretty shitty compared to the rest of the world.
- Access to outdoors activities is atrocious.
- Getting away is stressful, long, difficult, costly, etc. (see above point)
- Essentially zero potential to own your home.
- Cannot garden.
- No readily-accessible space to build things, start projects and leave them half-done, make messes.
- Hard to play the drums.
- Nearly impossible to have extra rooms - like an office.
- You sorta can’t open your windows (I’ve had soot and bugs invade).
- You’re oftentimes surrounded by utter douchebags..
- …or tourists.
- Low-level fear of being a target for terrorism.
- Giant fucking roaches.
specific and non-unique wonderfulnesses
The things I want that this city does provide aren’t all unique to New York. By way of partial lists again, here’s a partial list again (very partial. there’s so much more - but this is supposed to be an angry post!):
- Culture, art, music.
- Fantastic walking. Like, just walking around.
- A sense of discovery.
- Great restaurants.
- Diversity of population.
Typically, when a New Yorker encounters another place that has all the things they love about New York, the new place has this one fatal lack: It’s not New York. My suspicion though is that this intangible lack is really the initially-mentioned layers of guilt and fear in disguise:
It’s that unspoken desire to re-purpose hard city life as a badge of honor: a lame way of having any badge at all to wear.
It’s replacing true growth and strength of character with excuses baked into your environment.
It’s the failure to admit that maybe you’re afraid to leave the city because you’ll know you’ll need to define yourself as a self-made individual and not hide any part of yourself behind “New Yorker” pride.
It’s being ashamed of smiling at strangers for fear of seeming weak or receiving a dirty look in return.
Above all, it’s the absolute terror that the other “True New Yorkers” will look at you differently; see you as “not being able to cut it”. They’ll kick you out of the club that you tricked yourself into believing was worth devoting (sacrificing?) summers of youth to get into. The best thing you can do is say “Fuck it” and do it anyway, in spite of that - because of that. Because knowing when to say “Fuck it. Fuck you! Fuck this!” is the greatest New Yorker trait of all.
…or maybe it’s just me
I know full well that I may just be speaking for myself and accidentally laying bare here all of my glaring personality flaws and weaknesses while clumsily attempting to diagnose the very same in every other resident of this city. But maybe if you read this with an open mind and a modicum of teenagery rage (sort of how I wrote it) you’ll identify some of this in yourself, too.
All that said, if I could afford to own both a country house upstate on 10 acres and a 2 bedroom loft in Chinatown I wouldn’t even consider moving.
But until then, I’ll see you in Providence, Rhode Island*.
*Come on by and sit on my porch with a beer and envy my fucking tomato plants and air-dried laundry and bird-filled trees swaying in the wind. When it gets dark, come in and warm up by the fireplace and listen to some music (as loud as you want, there’s no stranger living behind that wall) and then hit the hay in my guest bedroom - or sleep in the library, or the attic like a freak. When you wake up we can have breakfast in the sunny kitchen (whoa there are windows in every room?!) before I show you the bookcases I’m building in the basement. We’ll walk out the side door and get in my car that I parked in my own driveway last night without circling the block twelve times and we’ll be at the beach in 20 minutes with zero traffic. On the way home we can drive through downtown and pick up a coffee and maybe a used paperback, then stop at a fantastic metal record shop and nearby comic book store - In fact I could take you to another 3 or 4 coffee shops, book stores and record shops. we’ve got tons of them! Before I tuck you in, I’ll whisper into your ear how much my mortgage is so you can cry yourself to sleep over the tens of thousands of dollars you immolate on rent. But don’t worry, as soon as you step foot back in that concrete jungle the brainwash will take hold in that cozy, smug, comforting way that it does. And a little part of me will be jealous about it, oddly.