Bright lights, small city
January 11, 2019 4:25 AM   Subscribe

This was like an answer to a train of thought I had in my head, some existential dread I awoke with this morning. Thank you!
posted by limeonaire at 5:25 AM on January 11, 2019 [3 favorites]

I love that this is an article about not moving to another place, but to another stage in your life. Nourishing. Thank you!

Also this:

This was five years ago, when there was another president in the White House, and many of us felt at least a little bit differently about life in America. It did not seem as indulgent as it might now to want to be happy.

Made me inhale sharply and then sigh with relief.
posted by pazazygeek at 5:44 AM on January 11, 2019 [9 favorites]

If I have said so once I have said it a dozen times, but Jami Attenberg is the absolute best and I would recommend her novels wholeheartedly. The Middlesteins is a heartbreaking multigenerational story about a Midwestern family dealing with a woman's morbid obesity that is darkly funnier and more compassionate than you could expect. Saint Mazie is a fictionalized biography of Mazie Phillips, a NYC eccentric who ran a movie theater during the Depression and was known for her kindness to the homeless. All Grown Up came out in 2017 and would be a fine follow-up if you're a fan of Fleabag. Her next book, All This Could Be Yours comes out later this year.

She is funny, feminist, and fiercely compassionate.

Honestly, I like her books so much, I can hardly figure out what to say. I feel like her worldview is so remarkably harmonious with the vibe here on the blue that she seems like the surest thing I could possibly recommend to you all.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:13 AM on January 11, 2019 [14 favorites]

Every so often I consider moving out of New York City. And New Orleans has been one possible place I've considered.

But when she said New Orleans had elements of a small town, I admit that gave me pause. Yes, everyone knowing about everybody is all well and good if you get along with your neighbors in all respects; but the years I spent growing up in a small town, where I thought in a markedly different way from everyone else, felt even more isolating. Not that anyone was cruel to me - but they held me at arms' length, like I was a stranger who'd just moved there, even though these were people who had seen me growing up and known me for 18 years.

Finding home is a gut-level thing; her gut told her "no more" when she moved out of New York, and that's fine. For me, my gut told me "yes" when I first saw New York at the age of ten, and my gut still says "yes" when I go about my business here, and that's why I stay.

Making a move is still a brave thing, and I salute her.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:28 AM on January 11, 2019 [9 favorites]

I think the real key is that she didn't pick a place based on a whim or even a vacation or two that went well. She spent several months in New Orleans two years in a row before deciding that worked for her.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:36 AM on January 11, 2019 [7 favorites]

I envy the author’s ability to make friends and her seemingly extremely friendly neighbors.

A few years ago I moved away from the group of friends I had made in Portland to be somewhat closer to family. When I say closer I really mean “drivable in a day” rather than “down the street”. We didn’t pick this place because we loved it, we picked it because it was the only city within four states that met that driving criteria and still felt a little like Portland.

Our neighbors are friendly in that I know their kids names and they know ours, but I’ve only stepped foot into one other house on our block one time.
posted by zrail at 6:43 AM on January 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

This piece resonated with me; we have been talking more and more about where we might move next, with the intention of actually settling down. I've always been moving (three long moves already just in my 40's), but it's always been following school and work, going where there was an offer. I've never picked a place deliberately on its own merits; it feels risky and strange to me (like, you pick a place and then look for work?) but I think it is what we will do within the next couple of years, hoping to be done with moving for a while.

I would recommend her novels wholeheartedly

Based on this essay and your recommendation, I'll be looking for her books. Thank you.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:53 AM on January 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

Funny, I would have never thought of New Orleans as a small city but I guess everything is relative.
posted by octothorpe at 7:05 AM on January 11, 2019 [4 favorites]

Funny, I would have never thought of New Orleans as a small city but I guess everything is relative.

I mean, compared to New York, every other American city is some degree of small. Probably only Philadelphia and Chicago can bring that "big city" feeling to a New Yorker.
posted by Automocar at 7:32 AM on January 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

I moved to a new city in my 40s to take a job. It's a city I'd been in for a work a lot of times, but not a place I ever thought I'd live. I've been here almost four years, and while there are so many things I like about this place (and people here keep telling me how lucky I am to live here), for me, it's been four years of feeling out of place. I don't regret it -- I've learned a lot and got a lot of opportunities I wouldn't have otherwise -- but I just want to be home now, where life does seem easier (although the cost of living is lower here), where I understand how things work and the rhythms of life. I really envy the author the ability to successfully move somewhere new in her 40s.
posted by heurtebise at 7:52 AM on January 11, 2019

Funny, I would have never thought of New Orleans as a small city but I guess everything is relative.
New Orleans is surprisingly small, sort of decimated by Hurricane Katrina. Tulsa (we had a thread about there a week or so ago) actually has a larger population. #49th largest population in the US now.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:07 AM on January 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

I was just commenting to my husband on the number of New York license plates we see on a daily basis in New Orleans. It's such a long drive, but there are more orange New York plates here than there are plates from neighboring states, it seems. Or maybe they're just eye-catching, I don't know.

The thing about New Orleans is, yes you will keep running into the same people all the time, but you are never the weirdest person on the street. We are a very accepting city.

Orleans Parish is a judgment-free zone.
posted by domo at 8:08 AM on January 11, 2019 [7 favorites]

EmpressCallipygos, I definitely understand your worries about the small town aspect.

I moved to New Orleans myself from NYC just under 4 years ago, and I've definitely felt welcome. (For what it's worth, I'm a 33-year-old straight, single white man.) There are definitely people who established their close social circles decades ago and aren't looking to branch out, but that's extremely rare compared to other cities of the same size. It's also an extremely nonjudgmental city, as domo wrote while I was writing out this comment. Honestly, many people born and raised in the area can be more welcoming than us transplants.

The essay mentions how the author used to go to bars and clubs when she was younger in New York and could make new "best friends" in a night and now felt like she was aging out of some aspects of the scene. That is a big difference here. In NY and some other big cities, even mid-sized cities with a big upwardly mobile youth population like Boston, socializing is often a filtering process, where you meet lots of people and build various relationships with the ones similar to you.

Here it's more democratic in a way: you might go to the bar or a parade with a friend, or just sit on the stoop as the author mentions, and end up having friendly interactions and conversations with a more diverse group of people, and there's less of an urgent pull to either find extreme levels of kinship or attraction or move on. Savannah I've found has a similar vibe.
posted by smelendez at 8:22 AM on January 11, 2019 [4 favorites]

Haven’t had a chance to read the article, but the highlighted link describes me to a T. In a way I moved to San Francisco to find myself in 1992. After a glorious return to see Europe once more, I decided that I have to live in a city, a real city, so I finally pulled up stakes and moved. I’m still there. Time to read the article.
posted by njohnson23 at 8:58 AM on January 11, 2019

I too moved to a bigger city as a young adult, and then to a smaller one in my 40s. Only for me the small town I came from was 1100 people, the big city was 100K people, and the small one is 5K.

I found my original hometown stifling. I was so unhappy there. I loved my big city life because of the freedom and variety. I love my current small town because it is comfortably scaled, which makes it walkable, and I can get deeply involved with it. But the big difference between my first small town life and my second, is within me. I am no longer easily stifled. As a 40-something I have less at stake in terms of fitting in, and more strength to influence my town for good.
posted by elizilla at 9:43 AM on January 11, 2019 [10 favorites]

I wish I believed in something.
posted by symbioid at 10:42 AM on January 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

Well, this almost has me crying a bit. I'm an almost-38-year-old woman, and am in the process of exploding my life again. That sounds like... a bad thing, but I'm really chasing (what I hope will be) happiness. I'm chasing the "what do I want the rest of my life to look like."

I've left NYC, at least part-time for now, for the Hudson Valley. I bought a 14-year-old Jeep with 380,000 miles on it and a Madonna CD stuck in the player, for a grand. I've signed a month-to-month lease on a studio apartment in a farmhouse, in the middle of nowhere. I've been working part-time on my city career, and part-time with a small herd of Scottish Highland cattle, a few Belgian horses, some ponies, and a bunch of chickens. I've started learning to use a hay bailer, and rebuild a V8 engine. Re-spooling electric fence wire correctly has unexpectedly gotten the best of me. I have so much to learn, relearn, and unlearn—about not being an asshole city person, about saying "yes" rather than "no," about farms, about having people up in my business, about which farmer drives what kind of truck so I can wave, and... damn. A lot.

It's been three months-ish, and yeah, I'm lonely. I know a total of one person in this whole county. Well, that's a lie—the gas station guy trades opinions on IPAs with me. But when I'm not on the farm or on my laptop in a coffee shop, I have no idea how to spend my time. But somehow... I don't mind?

Because when I'm driving through the mountain roads, wondering when the corn farmer is finally going to get that very expensive combine out of the field, watching that HV light play on the bare trees... I'm calm. Happy. I'm alive and myself again.

A friend gave me a necklace with a "fingers crossed" pendant on it. I catch myself holding it all the time.

Jesus, this is sentimental drivel. I'll be fine, I'll be FINE, because I'm stubborn as shit. Thanks for the post!
posted by functionequalsform at 11:32 AM on January 11, 2019 [20 favorites]

a long table of boisterous, fast-talking, witty, brainy, big-hearted people

what she moved away from sounds lovely! what she moved to sounds lovely too, in a different fashion. it sounds like a win/win either way.

i agree with her, the anonymous life can be rewarding and productive and risky at the same time. but i dunno, her tone kinda hit a weird note for me. living anonymously in a megacity to me isnt about boozy brunches with smart, beautiful, loving people. it's about not finding smart, amazing people to share your life with, and getting down with your own self, for (what seems like) forever.

i think i am too sour to appreciate this, but, to be honest, it all sounds pretty awesome!
posted by wibari at 11:22 PM on January 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

Thank you for the post. I needed this bit of respite.
posted by Nancy_LockIsLit_Palmer at 5:14 AM on January 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

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