The New York City personal essay, you don’t have to look far to find it. I read plenty of them long before I even considered moving to the city and I took entertainment in laughing about the sheer number of them while I was living in New York.
“If you don’t write a leaving NYC essay, did you even live in NYC?”
I get it. Leaving New York City is like digesting that meal where you ate far too much: it’s kind of uncomfortable and you really just have to sit and stew in all of it before you can even think about anything else (like your next meal).
Following my own departure of New York City, I stumbled upon the book Goodbye To All That: Writers on Loving & Leaving New York. It was my airplane book, finding comfort in all the other people who loved New York and left it, as I myself was panicked about why I was leaving a life of unstable freelance for a stable job AND stable freelance (that makes no sense, I know).
Here’s the thing about my transition: I don’t for one second regret leaving NYC because the life and work I now have is substantially better than the life I had in NYC. But I miss it every. single. day. Not at every moment and not enough to get me back on a plane immediately. But enough to have a moment of ache, that moment when you recall someone that used to take up such a large part of your heart, and if you are really lucky, didn’t take it all with them when it went sour. While it was all-consuming, uncertain, and stressful it was equally rewarding and fulfilling. I am sure I will touch more on that later, but maybe not exactly in a personal essay. (or maybe so!)
The book, which is a collection of essays by incredible writers such as Roxanne Gay and Cheryl Strayed, captures so many of my thoughts and emotions perfectly. Sari Botton said it best, I think.
‘The city had seemed like a great place to discover who you are. It just seemed that there was a lot to experience here, as if all you had to do was show up and the city would take care of the rest, making sure you got the education, the maturing, the wising-up you needed. Its crowds, the noise, the endlessness of it all, the perpetual motion, felt exciting then—revealing—just the deep end I needed to jump into. There is something unique about New York, some quality, some matchless, pertinent combination of promise and despair, wizardry and counterfeit, abundance and depletion, that stimulates and allows for a reckoning to occur—maybe even forces it. The city pulls back the curtain on who you are; it tests you and shows you what you are made of in a way that has become iconic in our popular culture, and with good reason.”
Will I end up back in New York? There is a high possibility. Maybe I haven’t quite had my goodbye to all that, but a simple see you sometime.My big cities days are certainly not over and I’m far from ready to plant roots in one place.
Whether you currently live in NYC, left NYC, want to move there, or are just going through a weird transition of your own, I think this book is great. It’s an easy read; most of the essays are only a couple of pages but they are each raw, emotional, and completely relatable. The themes of belonging, possibility, and the idea of “home” are things anyone can feel and find themselves in.
The book, foolishly, does not include the essay which inspired it. If you are going to read the book, you have to read Joan Didion’s essay. Find it here
In contrast, there is also this wonderful-somewhat controversial piece titled, “Hello to All That: Why I’m Staying in New York Until I die.”
I’m the type of person who buys six books at a time, tries to read three at a time, and buys another one because it’s on sale. Just Book It is a review of the books I’ve recently enjoyed or even a past favorite. Currently Reading: Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick.