To Live, Or Not to Live, in NY

I tend to get contemplative when I travel. Sometimes, I make rash life decisions. Especially when I travel to London. Or: once, when I was in London, I made a rash life decision.

It was the last time I was there, four and a half years ago. At the time I was living with my long-term ex in Minnesota, but about to head off for a two-month internship in DC–after which I planned on returning to St. Paul. A few days spent on my own in London left me intoxicated with independence: I decided to leave MN, and my then-boyfriend, permanently. I returned there for just a week, during which I packed up all my things and shipped them off for indefinite residence in my parents’ Brooklyn basement.

Before this trip I half-jokingly warned friends that I might return with some other idea for dramatic life revision–but I wasn’t sure what it would be. “Maybe I’ll become a lesbian!” I joked.

I haven’t. And I’m not altering my living or life situation grandly either. (Though I am, oddly, going back to Minnesota on Wednesday for my five-year college reunion–an event that promises to be loads of fun and, one might imagine, a good source of blog material.)

But I did have something of something of an epiphanic moment on the subject of where I want to live.

It may be premature, or just plain neurotic–after all, I am committed to at least two more years in Albuquerque–but the question of where I want to settle has been the source of much angst to me lately. This mainly stems from the recent realization that I do not, in fact, have to wind up in New York.

That may sound obvious, but trust me: when you grow up here, it’s not. As a kid I was always fascinated by people from the city–relatives, friends of my parents–who didn’t live here as adults. How could anyone raised here possibly consider themselves a success–or even be happy–living anywhere else?

Sometimes, it still puzzles me. Perhaps especially because my parents are third-generation New Yorkers, I’ve always felt a sense of inevitability that I would settle here. And that a complex of inadequacy would accompany the choice not to.

But lately,  the idea of not going back has grown more appealing. I am very close to my family, but wonder whether that relationship is enhanced by being far away. I do have a New Yorker’s sensibility when it comes to impatience and anonymity, but wonder if being someplace slower and smaller might actually make me happier. As any one who has lived in New York and then left will tell you, the realization that things are easier elsewhere is pretty powerful.

And then, after my coffee and danish at the Tate Modern, I set out to actually look at some art. On the 5th floor I wandered into a room of Bruce Davidson photographs taken in the 1980s on the New York subway. I teared up as I looked at the dark, haunting shots of trannies and cops and hip hop kids. And I thought: that is home.

The thing is that I know I’ll always have nostalgia for New York. But for whatever reason being in that room, in that moment, in that city, made me recognize the fact that many of the things I love about London are also true of New York: the size, the diversity, the saturation of social and cultural goings-on, the constant chance of stumbling upon some new, esoteric place, person or object.

With London, of course, I don’t have the baggage that I have with New York. Nor do I have the expectation that things will or ought to be familiar:  I feel a constant tension between being a “native New Yorker” and the fact that I’ve spent hardly any time in New York as an adult. As though it ought to be more of a home than it is.

The truth is that I could be happy living any number of places. And, as S and I bemoaned this week, it is somewhat misguided for us–me as a writer and her pursuing art conservation–to contemplate living in the city as though, financially or professionally, it is a realistic choice. It may be, but it also may not.

Regardless, it feels important for me to get past the stubborn idea that, in order to be happy, I have to live here. But it also feels nice to recognize, for the first time in a while, that I might, legitimately, want to.



Filed under Love Life

5 responses to “To Live, Or Not to Live, in NY

  1. As a New Yorker currently studying in England, I couldn’t agree more.

  2. This has been something on my mind as well. It is just so hard to separate the New Yorker in me from the rest of me. Just this weekend, I went upstate and thought that maybe one day I could live a life like that. I feel like when you are young, you want to be where the action is, and when you’ve been privileged enough to grow up in NY, it’s hard to picture living anywhere else. I wonder how I’ll feel about it in ten years.

  3. davkow

    Good to hear you sound very open minded about living in places other than NY after you are done in Alb. And (what a relief!) you don’t have that snobby “NY is the center of the universe – I can’t live anywhere else” attitude.

    As for the cities here in the Pacific Northwest, the “hot” place to live (and the one the most people talk about moving to) changes over time. It was Seattle way back when (remember when Michael Kinsley was on the cover of Newsweek – what year was that!?), then Vancouver, B.C, and more recently it is definitely Portland.

  4. Rob Tannen

    …doesn’t bother me, but I guess I never really was a true New Yorker even though I lived there longer than you did. I won’t use the excuse that Philadelphia is cheaper (by that argument I should live in Topeka).

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