In the past TWO
year years, I’ve drafted a lot of blog posts about our moves and lifestyle changes. Before we even left Brooklyn, I had the seed of an idea to pitch a “post-NYC” column to various publications, a bit of a follow-up to the many “why I’m leaving New York” essays and books. I wanted to write about the logistics and reality of being a “recovering” New Yorker, beyond the dearth of good bagels or the awe at how much further your rent payments can go. Several friends read and critiqued my ideas, pointing out the fine line of being relevant to New Yorkers (who believe theirs is the only city that matters) and interesting to non-New Yorkers (who don’t suffer fools and their big-city arrogance well). My former Conde Nast colleague Merv put it best: “You know why I love New York? It’s the only city in which those who leave think anyone gives a crap about why they left.”
Now that I’ve been away from the city for two years, I realize how pointless it is to really compare a life in New York vs. elsewhere, as the life you create anywhere is specific to that place. You don’t look to replace every aspect of your New York life because it quickly fills up with other stuff you never had the time or the space or the budget for.
New York life can make you captive of your neighborhood/borough/subway line and ingrained in your routine. Although there are a million book readings and cooking classes and concerts going on at any moment, you miss them because you a) had only enough energy after working until 7pm (the New York 5pm) to get to the gym and carry groceries on the subway after standing in line at Trader Joe’s for a half hour (true story, they laugh about that down here), b) can’t be bothered to deal with taking a shuttle bus (the worst!) into Manhattan because the Q train is doing construction on the weekend again, or c) actually made it to the reading, but it was so crowded that you had to stand in the back, boiling hot in your coat because there’s not even enough room to take it off. There might be fewer cultural activities going on in your new town, but you might actually make it to one of them *and* enjoy it.
Freed from the “I live in the greatest city in the world” mentality, you find that no city has the monopoly on culture or authenticity. New York might have the “world’s best” everything, but outside of it you discover the beauty of the locally grown, the home-brewed, the hand-pickled. Without the confines of high rents and fickle trends, there is a lot of room for ingenuity as well as honoring history. To make an Archie comic reference, if New York is the Veronica–rich, beautiful, and demanding, then Elsewhere is the Betty–the comforting, naturally pretty, and easygoing.
And what about that much-pined-for bagel? You don’t actually miss them, because you’ve immediately done your research to suss out the best place to find them locally—possibly made by an ex-New Yorker—or at worst, found a way to have the ones from your old neighborhood shipped to your door, packaged like a donor organ. (Or, discovered the joys of biscuits.) If New York gave you a taste for authentic arepas, and it also gave you the resourcefulness to find a Venezuelan restaurant in a strip mall (where many awesome eats are to be found in ‘Merica) in your new town.
Now I see myself as a non-practicing New Yorker, less of an angry ex than a “we’re better as friends” former flame who you still keep in touch with on Facebook. My old skill set of knowing the exact closest subway car and door to the station exit, the pleasant but willfully ignorant eye glaze to give to charity donation/sightseeing bus/political petition people who try to stop you on the sidewalk, and how to use a stroller in a narrow supermarket without bumping into anything, are not useless in the country, just evolved. Now I can drive from my mother’s house in Raleigh to my home 40 minutes away without changing lanes, can make pleasant talk with people whose political/social/religious views I might actively petition against*, and I know exactly how much wine can fit into a supermarket “car” cart (approximately two cases). Instead of reading books on the train each day, I listen to NPR or audiobooks (mostly funny essays, particularly David Sedaris) while I drive down country roads. While I can no longer go to weekend brunch with unlimited Mimosas and then get home on public transportation, now I can go to Trader Joe’s (where they sell wine in the same store as food!), buy as much as can fit in my car (no subway schlepping for me!), and go home to chill it in my wine fridge (yup.) and drink on my porch while looking at my pond. Yup:
So this is where I am now, but far from caught up from the Internet Me who mused about where to move based on Zillow searches and the availability of artisanal, micro-roastery coffee shops (which are everywhere now, from Abut Dhabi to Virginia). No sooner did we start to settle into country life, we were moved to New Zealand and back again for another work project, and a totally different experience than our life in Brooklyn, Istanbul, or Hillsborough. But that’ll have to be another blog post, look for it in 2017.
*I should note that I live in one of the most liberal counties and regions in the south, if not the country, where “I still love Obama” stickers are as common as pick-up trucks, and Confederate flags are about as rare and shocking as snowstorms.