Goodbye To All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York

goodbye-to-all-thatStart spreading the news, I’m leaving today, and unlike the song New York, New York, I don’t mean leaving for the city, but leaving the city! Goodbye to All That is a rare treat; writers who pull up the stakes and leave New York. We all love the “bright lights, big city” theme of The Devil Wears Prada, where a starry-eyed yokel gets swamped by the arts-food-fashion culture of the place. But here it’s the other way around; the hip New York writers get sick of the city, pack their bags, and leave. They abandon the Big Apple for cute small towns, hip college towns, New England fishing towns, and sad to say, some boring subdivisions too. But all is not lost. A lot of them move back.

Mira Ptacin is one example; she and her husband leave because it’s too expensive and they can’t stand the crowds, or the noise, or bureaucracy, or the high rents, or the rudeness, or the distractions. If your list of gripes is that big, well then you’re not cut out to live here. The part where she says “you shouldn’t interpret direct and efficient communication as rudeness,” reminds me of the last time I was in Vermont. I got weird looks from everyone, but hey, New Yorkers talk fast, what can I do? If you think my speech sounds terse, you should see the Italians in the East Bronx.

But seriously, folks, this woman’s from Maine, which isn’t known for lightning-fast speech and the “come on, move” attitude of the New York sidewalk.  It’s no surprise that after five years she calls it quits, moves back to Maine, and loves it there.  But that doesn’t mean they all leave permanently. Melissa Febos (author of Whip Smart) moves to a college town for her job, but it doesn’t have all the excitement of the city. In her case, breaking up with her girlfriend is the spur to move back, because she has no other connection to the town. Living in the city can also distract you from personal troubles; you don’t think about your problems as much while walking down a noisy street. Since most New Yorkers have tiny apartments, we’re less likely to stay indoors much, and without cars, we have no choice but to walk.

There’s always been this feeling in the USA, that to be a writer you have to move to New York, and only New York, not Boston, Philadelphia, or San Francisco, they just don’t seem to have the writer’s reputation (though Chicago does, sort of.)  Then again, maybe that’s not true; Stephen King didn’t write in New York, neither did Hunter Thompson, Robert. E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft (except a stint in Brooklyn which he didn’t like), Pat Conroy, William Falkner or John Grisham (hey, this list is getting long) and none of their works have anything to do with New York (with the exception of Lovecraft’s Red Hook Horror.) Oh, and don’t forget M.R. Kingston, author of The Yearling, because somehow I don’t think she could’ve written about the Florida swamps if she lived in Greenwich Village!  Maybe leaving the city isn’t so bad for a writer?

But this collection of essays, it’s something that we don’t see often. Few would write about leaving the city, because it doesn’t happen much. Traditionally, New Yorkers left the city if they felt they couldn’t raise kids here, which is exactly what happened to my parents in the late 1970’s. But the writers who contributed to this book don’t all have kids, so there are other reasons for the moves. Like I mentioned before, some left because of high rents, others left because they just weren’t meant for city life.

Maybe this book is indicative of the average American. Unlike the English nobility, with their “family estates,” Americans change addresses all the time, therefore leaving the city may not be such a radical step. So have a go at this hip collection of essays from Seal Press, and watch these women writers bid a tearful farewell to the city that never sleeps.

Like the song goes, if you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere.


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