Every New York-based publication I’ve picked up lately has had an article about young people, mostly writers or artists or other privileged creative types, packing up their bags and saying “Good riddance” to New York City. Many of them are inspired by the new anthology edited by Sari Barton, Goodbye to All That: On Loving and Leaving New York. The publisher must have had some great PR work because big articles about this “trend” heavily reference the book and have appeared quite notably in New York Magazine and the New York Times. The articles all mention that Joan Didion’s iconic essay “Goodbye to All That” inspired much of the writing (as well as the title) and Didion’s essay is certainly among my favorites ever written about being young and creative in New York City. However, reading all of these articles I felt a kernel of annoyance welling up in me. Of course I don’t begrudge anyone’s decision to leave the city, but I realized that I’ve been through an opposite thought process this past year, and wanted to give the city a little writerly love.
This time last year I was convinced I needed to get out of New York City. I felt done with it and, further more, done with the high cost of living, terrible weather, and the fact that it smells like garbage most of the time. A year ago I was convinced that at present I would be packing my bags and my cat and heading out to sunny Los Angeles.
Before I tell you about my change of heart about New York, let’s review the facts: The New York City is expensive and only seems to be getting more so. Rents are insane, it’s difficult to find a decent place to live, and daily life often feels like one hassle after another. Everything feels intensely competitive, it really does smell like garbage most of the time, extreme injustice and inequality gets thrown in your face almost every second, and commuting on the over burdened subway system sucks.
When I moved here to go to college I told myself I would leave soon after. I kept giving myself “one more year in New York” until I decamped to Portland, Oregon or Paris. That “one more year” became “three more years” became “I’m not going to leave.” I realized that the community I’d cultivated here couldn’t be picked up and moved to another place and that New York offered the kind of opportunities I wanted to find.
This year I felt like I spent almost as much time out of New York as in it. I traveled all around the Midwest, Texas and the West and East Coasts. I made multiple trip to Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit and Portland, Oregon. I was charmed by places I’d never been to before, like Omaha, Cincinnati, and Tulsa. I found that with the growth in appreciation for things that are handmade and locally produced wherever I went to I was never too far from cold brew iced coffee, artisanal cocktails, and farm-to-table meals. I met inspiring people who are pursuing creative and entrepreneurial projects and working to help others in their towns and cities do the same. I think on the Grow book tours alone I visited 24 different cities, and visited even more when I factor in other work and family travel. So I feel like I got a pretty good sense of the country in a pretty short period of time. And what all that travel showed me is that while I think it’s crucial to get out of the city and that so many places have wonderful things to offer, New York is the only place I want to come back to. It’s the place I want to call home.
There’s a huge number of smart, talented, driven and creative people living here and those are the types of people who I want to be around. Those are the people I want to meet and learn from and have as my friends. As I work to transition my career from arts nonprofits to creative startups I realized that it’s much easier to do this in a city that is a center of both cultural organizations and a huge, quickly growing number of startup businesses. I also realized that, as much as I complain about it, New York has a great infrastructure in terms of public transportation and is getting progressively more and more bikeable.
Is it hard to “make it” as a writer and creative here? Sure it is, but where is it not? Does one need to live in NYC to write, play music, make art or launch the next cool start up? No, of course not, but I find that is I want to find people who are doing these things, there’s a great concentration of them in NYC. On a typical day here I can write in a bustling coffee shop, ride my bike across a bridge that is an architectural icon, visit a world class museum, browse a farmers market, learn to code, go to a punk rock exercise class, head to band practice and then a dance party that puts an emphasis on fake blood and homemade costumes. This is the way I want to live my life.
Beyond all of this is the feeling that I can be exactly who I am in New York City. The city is vast and diverse and as such, there’s far less pressure to cave into social norms, or to live life according on anyone’s schedule except my own.
I also know that New York City owes me nothing. What I’m able to do here is directly related to what I’m willing to put in. The city does not owe me a living and I fear that those who quit the city with a feeling of “Good riddance!” deep down felt like somehow they were owed something simply because they were young, smart, privileged and wanted to make their way here.
Of course, leaving a city is a highly personal decision. I think New York has something for everyone if you are willing to look for it, but it won’t offer it up without a fight. Whether you stay somewhere depends on your personal goals. For example, I know a suburban or rural lifestyle with a car, dog, yard, house and children is absolutely not for me.
Of course, New York is changing and not always for the better. Is the city better off because of the plethora of glassy luxury condos and Duane Reades that have sprouted up over the past few years? I’d say not really, but I also think that New York has a grittiness that difficult to tame. Does the level of inequality here drive me crazy? Absolutely. But living in New York is messy, complicated, intense and frustrating. It’s also exhilarating, rewarding and completely absorbing. I’m a high energy intense person who loves a good challenge and need a city that matches these qualities in me. So hello to all of this. This is one writer who is happy she’s stayed.