I spent 10 years doing New York all wrong
October 13, 2014 7:35 PM   Subscribe

Adelle Waldman, author of The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., was a lonely aspiring writer in New York, generally unhappy. Then she moved to Brooklyn and found that community made all the difference.
posted by shivohum (16 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
A bit overwritten but there's a true bit at the heart of it. After a few lonely years after college, I 'moved west to join my people' as my mother phrased it, courtesy of a online friend. I quickly met a bunch more friends and have been quite happy in the SF Bay area for 15 years.
posted by tavella at 7:53 PM on October 13, 2014

I am constantly amazed by the ability of New Yorkers to find enough time to hold down jobs, feed, and bathe yourselves - are there really that many hours in the day where you aren't all writing web articles about the experience of being a New Yorker?
posted by strangely stunted trees at 8:38 PM on October 13, 2014 [27 favorites]

no theres no time to write about being a new yorker i'm drinking kombucha and raising my middle finger at people that ask that kind of que
posted by lalochezia at 8:40 PM on October 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

So she did become a fabulously successful author after all!
posted by batfish at 8:43 PM on October 13, 2014

When you are growing up you are always around other people whether or not you want to be, in high school and in college and after college with roommates and parties and everybody dropping in on each other. If you are introverted, you can draw conclusions about yourself like "I just want to live in a house in the woods by myself and read all day," because you enjoy books and don't get antsy when you have a lot of alone time. And then you get older and all that default group socializing drops away, and you realize: I'm spending all my time by myself, and it's driving me bonkers! But there's no clear way to solve it, because the options available by that point seem to require major changes to the comfortable solitary parts of your life.

(This is the message of the film Ghost World: if you keep demanding that the world leave you alone [= Enid], it will eventually oblige [= Seymour].)

I found this starting to happen when I went to graduate school in a new city. Suddenly "friends" stopped meaning "all those buddies I can hang out with whenever" and started referring to individuals I had to make arrangements to have lunch with. One such woman was complaining to me about a mutual friend who came over to her house one evening for dinner. "She wouldn't leave, she just kept hanging around till late at night!" And I thought: well, of course she did. That was perfectly natural & expected when we were all undergraduates -- why the hell does everyone else want to change?

All that is to say: I totally get you, Adelle Waldman, and I'm looking for my Brooklyn too.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 9:34 PM on October 13, 2014 [25 favorites]

I've just moved straight to Brooklyn without a twinkle in my eye, shoved forward by a glut of lucky circumstances and the stuttering, fervent urgency of young-minded ambition. It horrifies me on the one hand that life transpires at such a carelessly rapid pace, and on the other hand that it could be spent in such a total and unrelenting introspection. No -- I am knee-jerking at the moment -- globbing hundreds of pages of words together is not the point of any of this. Success isn't the rub, it's a fool's game no matter how ardently we are implored to it by every glib publisher, politician and parent who's ever walked God's Red, White and Blue earth. It helps nothing that we idolize every vaguely talented or coincidentally verve-stricken person we can find to parrot the same old script: work hard --> be successful --> be happy. We come to this again and again but that's rubbish. Poetic and heartfelt maybe -- but ultimately rote philosophical negligence.

Our preoccupations, I am intuiting from so very little life experience of my own, must foremost compel us not to try to make a name for ourselves but to show up somewhere, anywhere, to be with others, to do with others, to know according to others. It is the Directive. We must not lose ourselves in the rabbit hole of our own needs, our own private lives, our private families, our private homes. A neighborless society is NOT A SOCIETY. It is mere infrastructure, skeletal and vapid and in my opinion anti-human.

Individualism is a ruse. No one is an island and no one should be. It isn't New York's fault that no one knows how to be neighbors; our entire culture has been struggling to get past this idea, to reconcile races, genders, creeds, ideologies and even politics according to shared experience. The identity of disagreement has subsumed the identity of friendship. That anyone -- freelance writer or not -- could make themselves unwillingly alone in this (hyper-connected) world full of people is a failure, a tragedy even, evidencing widespread social disorder well beyond the scope of Morningside Heights. I have done it myself; I have long and often been lonely but I am learning new habits and they are filling my life with a new richness.

Growing up in Middle America, I know how easy it was to be neighborly, and I know by contrast how trite that ease really was. "Back home" everyone I knew was affluent enough to get by, everyone was white, no one seemed to need much more than they had, and if you worked hard, you could support yourself. While you were young maybe you moved to a city nearby, learned a craft from your parents, studied abroad. When you were not, you settled down in a small but very affordable home surrounded by people like you who would all bring baked goods to your door and invite you to church. In a place like that, who's not a neighbor? But then what does it even matter? Without tension there is no gravity.

New York is not the problem. That 20 & 30 somethings in New York tend to seem a little clueless and self absorbed should serve to indict an entire culture of malaise, collectively unwilling to bend over and help the really crazy, dirty, lazy ones on the premise that they have not worked hard enough to deserve it, inexplicably oblivious to the actual tenants of its mainstream religion(s), exactly what you get when politics and economics elope and everybody writes essays about cynicism that conclude with their premise.

I -- instead, stubbornly -- am brimming with optimism. That onus is mine, not because I am young but because I am beautiful, not because I am young but because I am human. I hope that I will always be more willing to talk to strangers. I hope that I will not stay home, and that I will always, whenever I can, show up. I know how much it has mattered before -- it can only now matter but more.
posted by an animate objects at 9:48 PM on October 13, 2014 [4 favorites]

Yes to this. Not to Brooklyn or New York, which I know little of, but of moving to someplace that has a sense of community. I've lived in the burbs proper for the past 15 years and there is very little community. You might know the neighbors on either side and across the street, but that's it. At first I liked it, when I could get out drive to see friends or into the city. But I've grown to hate the isolation. I'm desperate to move into the city in areas where there are real communities with real people happening. I look on my friends that have this with envy. In in a few clubs that are centered more city ward, and the local members all have such a nice community vibe. I'm stuck at the moment due to financial troubles, which makes the sense of stuckness that much worse. I've got a house, but can't afford to move without renting, and that does mean loosing a number if tangible and intangle things. But if it doesn't change soon, I might have to. I need to find some place with a neighborhood and community. (Sorry for the GYOFB nature of this comment, but her revelations really struck a cord.)
posted by [insert clever name here] at 10:28 PM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Then I discovered that being alone for the whole workday made feel a little sad and a little crazy—a realization that poked a little hole in my proud self-conception.

Oh my, yes. Don't underestimate the power of this. I'm not alone during my workday, but I'm currently single and working in a fairly dicey city in the developing world, which means it's not uncommon for me to spend off days cocooned in my (comfortable, air-conditioned) house with my TV and books and dog. Sounds like a dream, right? Except that by the end of a weekend spent like this I'm walking around in a haze of low-level depression, unable to focus on anything -- not even Game of Thrones -- and overcome by various weird and incoherent insecurities. When I moved here, I thought it would be super-rewarding to spend a couple of years in a faraway place with a bunch of downtime to read, catch up on the classics, maybe do some writing. And maybe for some people it would be. But man, that was a loooong 3-day weekend I just had.
posted by eugenen at 12:26 AM on October 14, 2014 [5 favorites]

I went into the article hoping to read about the deep, neighborhood-specific ties the writer had found, and felt let down by the fact that the community that "made all the difference" for her consisted of a group of "not-quite-struggling" writers who were around her age and doing pretty much the same thing with their lives.

It might be hard to tell as a young, untethered transplant, but New Yorkers make pretty fantastic neighbors—something that you may only learn when you need a last-minute babysitter, or drinking water during a blackout, or someone to wait with you until the EMTs arrive. It doesn't always work out, but having a family and growing old often end up tying people into the neighborhood networks that have always been there, lingering, waiting for people to move beyond self-conscious conversations about Eliot in Tompkins Square Park.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 1:12 AM on October 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

strangely stunted trees: I am constantly amazed by the ability of New Yorkers to find enough time to hold down jobs, feed, and bathe yourselves - are there really that many hours in the day where you aren't all writing web articles about the experience of being a New Yorker?

Yea, it starts to just turn in to this video(from a hilarious recent fpp) in my head a lot of the time.
posted by emptythought at 4:16 AM on October 14, 2014

I will never ever be a New Yorker, but I totally get the sentiment.

During my last few months in DC I dated a guy who said he hated the city but stayed around for the community. We couldn't leave his house without running into someone he knew around the neighborhood, and I was simultaneously in awe and resentful. (Painfully obvious note in retrospect; resenting your SO for having friends is never a good sign.) I lived all the way across town, in an area where many people were flat-out scared to venture, in a tight-knit house where my roommates were most of my world. I considered the fact that I'd even found those roommates to be a triumph of post-college friend making, even though I spent so much time holed up in their house and miserable.

Losing my job and my SO in quick succession brought things into sharp relief. I literally couldn't afford to live anywhere in DC but the house where I was, the one I desperately needed a life beyond. I didn't have the opportunity to tap into SO's friend network anymore. What was left for me anyway? Philadelphia was nearby, cheap, had a few friends I could lean on initially. Sure, why not?

Just a few weeks after my move, I was at the park on a Saturday morning when I heard "ActionPopulated!" It was a guy my friend had introduced me to a few weeks ago. People outside my house knew me already! What was this?

Fast forward two and a half years. I've bounced around a lot within Philly, different jobs and different neighborhoods, but the city still feels small and friendly. I'm on a first date with a guy who's new to the city, getting burritos in the neighborhood I lived in when I first moved here. "I wonder who we're going to run into who I know here," I say, half-joking. '

Then we head outside with our food. " Hey, ActionPopulated!" It's AS and TI! I haven't seen them regularly since the reading group we were all in together disbanded last summer . They welcome us over to their table and we catch up for a while. My date is duly impressed.

Last Friday, walking around my current neighborhood in a lousy mood. "Hi ActionPopulated!" I look up and see MT, my softball teammate, having a cigarette on his fire escape. After a day spent in job hunting and homework hell, hearing a familiar voice is so lovely. We chat for a few minutes before he leaves me to my errands

I used to think that being introverted and anxious kept me from having communities like my ex in DC, that I was just wasn't cut out for interacting with people without the structured environment of college. Turns out I just had the wrong city. Given the right community, I don't have to waste so much energy resenting other people anymore. That will never stop feeling awesome.
posted by ActionPopulated at 5:55 AM on October 14, 2014 [5 favorites]

I grew up in NYC, and I live here now, and I'm so sick of overwrought articles about what The City means to some writerly type. I Love New York, I Hate New York, it's all equally frustrating because New York is just a place where people live and try to get by just like any other.

I'm seriously considering writing an article called New York Doesn't Owe You Shit.
posted by Itaxpica at 6:08 AM on October 14, 2014 [8 favorites]

NYC is a thing all on its own, I know. But much of this can be applied to any largish city experience by any youngish, slightly over educated population. This article could be the same for Toronto in the mid 90s, for example, with a few place name substitutions.
posted by clvrmnky at 6:33 AM on October 14, 2014

Hmm, she seems a little... well... slow.

Once you move to New York City, you quickly realize that parts of Brooklyn are much closer to the parts of Manhattan you wish to be in than most of Manhattan is. I'm sitting in Brooklyn as I type this - I could take a subway one stop and be in the East Village in 15 minutes, it'd take me almost an hour from uptown.

While my neighborhood is (sob) more expensive than the East Village now, at the time she showed up you'd be paying half as much in Brooklyn as Manhattan, and get a bigger and better place too. Early on in most people's NYC experience was that point where you're standing in someone's sumptuous Brooklyn apartment and realize that they're paying the same as you're paying for your noisy hovel. (I actually zeroed in on Brooklyn in the first year I was here, but mainly because I had a friend find a place for us there, no smarts from me!)

Taking a couple of years to figure this out, fine. Ten years? A little... slow...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:10 AM on October 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

> I'm seriously considering writing an article called New York Doesn't Owe You Shit.

No one's done it yet (seriously, I googled)! Go for it!!!
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:12 AM on October 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

"...New York is just a place where people live and try to get by just like any other."

I don't know, I am descended from generations of New Yorkers, and no matter what their feelings about the city, not one of them seems to view NYC as 'just another place.' In fact, they feel that this wild city continues to define them, both those who have lived elsewhere for decades, and those who have never left. So while I can get on board with the desire to bring some of these presumptuous/entitled/oblivious young upstarts down a peg, I can't get on board with minimizing the city's very real magic! Nevertheless: please write that article.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 10:07 AM on October 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

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