Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn recently hosted an event for Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York, an anthology of essays edited by Sari Botton. The collection is a nod to Joan Didion’s 1967 essay and includes, amongst others, Emma Straub, Roxane Gay, Cheryl Strayed, Dani Shapiro and Emily Carter Roiphe — the last of which spoke at the Greenlight event alongside a guest reader, Nick Flynn.
Similar to Didion’s Goodbye to All That, many of the stories in Sari Botton’s anthology speak to anyone who has ever loved and fallen out of love with a city. For Sari Botton, leaving New York City seemed like the move to make after she was kicked out of her $1,350 apartment, which left her feeling as though she was giving more to New York than she was getting back. Yet despite having left the city eight years ago for Upstate New York, Sari told the audience, “I am going to buy a lottery ticket after this and if I win ... I’ll come back.” Thus the cycle of loving, leaving and falling in love again with New York continues.
Nick Flynn, author of The Reenactments, similarly loved and left New York. He lived in the city on and off for 20 years, but only wrote one poem about it during that time. It’s titled “Elsewhere, Mon Amour,” and he read if at the Greenlight event, but prefaced it with a story about what he misses most about New York:
When I was living in the city, we moved to a neighborhood called Cobble Hill — the mean streets of Cobble Hill. [Laughter.] There was supposedly a very good public school there — which seemed insane to me. The baby was still in my wife’s belly, and she thought ahead to this moment when our daughter would be going to kindergarten at this public school. And immediately before she was to enter this public school, we moved to Vancouver. So that says something about planning ahead.
So now we live in Vancouver, which is — I knew before I left, I had this awful feeling about what would be rough about Vancouver, even though everyone would always say the same thing to me: “I hear it’s beautiful there.” That’s what everyone says to me, and none of them have ever been there. [Laughter.] And it is very beautiful there, but the one thing that isn’t there is that I’ll never have that thing that happens in New York every time I come here, which is, anytime I ride my bicycle or just walk down the street, I’ll run into someone from my life, someone from some part of my life. And it’s random, and it’s such a deep pleasure of mine. Someone will just appear and I’ll be like, “Oh, it’s you today. [Laughter.] Isn’t this amazing?” And I knew [I would miss that] when I got to Vancouver, because I knew no one in Vancouver, and it’s never happened since I’ve been there. It’s already happened like five times since I’ve been back since 2 this afternoon. [Laughs.] I’m very glad to be back in New York.
Emily Carter Roiphe contributed a story called “Transport” to Goodbye to All That. At Greenlight, she discussed growing up in Manhattan and moving to Williamsburg “back when there were tumbleweeds blowing down Metropolitan Ave”:
I grew up in an incredibly small town where everybody knows your business. Same, same, same thing every day, completely incestuous. It’s called the Upper West Side of Manhattan. And I didn’t hate it there, but I think it’s a very human thing to want to leave, and I did leave New York eventually.
When people romanticize about the ‘80s and being young [in New York], I remember … like, Wednesday nights. You know, having to go get some clothes on, walk down the cold, empty Bedford Avenue and having to dodge this very scary woman, Connie, an ex-groupie for the Ramones, who was famous for stabbing a fork in her boyfriend’s ass — she chased me out of the house with a knife once. Anyway, now she was turning tricks on Driggs, so who says there’s no second act in American lives?
But I would get on the bus or I’d get on the L train, and I’d be like, Well, it’s Wednesday night, I have to do what Elisa [Albert] was talking about [in her story]: I have to trade oral sex for alcohol. [Laughs.] I mean, I have to tell you, that image comes up in every New York story I ever hear. Any girl — I’m not just talking about during 12-step meetings. I’m talking college reunions and shit that I’ve been to. [Laughs.]
One thing that I love, and that I still love more than anything else is the New York City Subway system. I started writing about it back when I was still in my 20s. I was really fascinated by it because I thought then, and I still think, that the city is really like a brain and we’re just neurons zipping around through it, connecting, and these subway systems are like the dendrites and the axons of the brain of the city. I have been all over the world, and I have never seen anything as miraculously efficient. I know, I know that it has its problems during times of construction, it’s miserable, and yada, yada, yada, but there’s nothing like it anywhere else in the world. There just isn’t. I don’t care about Moscow, you know? I don’t care if they have chandeliers. They close at night, right? And I also knew when I was a kid that the safest place for me to be at 3 in the morning was in the subway because if you were trying to rob somebody, you would never go down to the subway at 3 in the morning to look for somebody to rob. So I spent a lot of time in there. Long before the urban exploring stuff, I was just sort of trampsing around in there. I didn’t know about this whole subterranean life that [the subway] had, but it was my — they were the vessels, the blood vessels I formed leading from my heart, and they’re still there.
As Goodbye to All That makes clear, every person’s New York story is different. How did you fall in love with the city? Why did you leave? What are your favorite things about New York? Share your stories in the comments below!
Freddie Moore is a Brooklyn-based writer. Her full name is Winifred, and her writing has appeared in unFold, The Leaf Unturned and Italics Mine. As a former co-president of SUNY Purchase’s Cheese Club, she’s a big-time foodie who knows her cheese.
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