The Cities We Leave

When I moved out of New York, I knew at the time that it was the best decision for my career and pocketbook. Only now have I come to realize how important leaving was for my sanity, as well. Not that I was afflicted with claustrophobia or exhaustion or any of the pseudo-ailments with which so many hypochondriac New Yorkers diagnose themselves. Rather, I’d deliberately forgotten that life outside New York is just as pure and valid as life inside New York, which is a hazard of the City just the same as street crime, and one that’s far more prevalent.

Over at Gawker this weekend, Cord Jefferson wrote a very good piece about moving out of New York City, and how different cities view each other. It’s a love letter to New York and Los Angeles (where Jefferson lives now), but also about how we feel when we leave a city we love. But: I’ve been in New York close to seven years now, and I have not forgotten about life outside of New York! In fact, now that I have the sort of job that allows me to work from virtually anywhere, I’m thinking about doing an apartment swap for a month. Maybe I’ll go to Asheville, N.C.! Who knows? I’ll close my eyes and point to a map.

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This is something that’s bothered me since I moved to DC — although I like the city a lot, it’s a little constraining that I basically have to live here forever if I want to stay in my current career.

I think a lot of people feel that way about New York, too, but it’s often not necessarily the case. I’d be interested to hear from Logan and Mike, actually, about the role that actually living in NYC has played in their writing/blogging careers — since as you write, Mike, you can now basically do your job from wherever.

Mike Dang (#2)

@stuffisthings Personally, living in New York has allowed me to build a solid writing career. I went to school here, and a lot of the connections I’ve built are with writers/bloggers/reporters/editors/producers who all work and live in New York. I’ve only recently become a full-time self-employed/freelancer who can work from just about anywhere, but I had to give up my salaried job with the big benefits to do it. Trade-offs!

MuffyStJohn (#280)

@stuffisthings I refuse to stay in DC forever just to work in public policy (which I guess might also be your field). I keep telling myself there are policy jobs everywhere – state and local governments, nonprofits, and good old fashioned campaigns to manage. While I have some issues with DC that are not financial (the people here can really be as terrible as you’ve been told!), the vast majority of my desire to move is knowing I won’t be able to afford 4-digit rent on top of my graduate student loan payments. Maybe if the whole “DC jobs pay more to account for the high cost of living!” thing was more than a myth, I’d be willing to stay, but so far I haven’t seen any positions that would offer me with the kind of (substantial) raise I would need to stay here post-grad. Hell, I had to fight to maintain the salary I was making as a secretary in Baltimore when I came to DC to get a lobbying job.

@MuffyStJohn Well that’s another problem. Unfortunately I work in international development so I can’t even go work in state/local government (well I could, I guess, but I don’t want to).

Thankfully my girlfriend is moving here soon, so we can split the 4-digit rent and I can move out of my $600 place in Maryland, which is actually rather nice aside from the completely insane landlady who lives with us.

MuffyStJohn (#280)

@stuffisthings Ah yes, international development. You are totally screwed. Unless you want to move abroad. Which, the direction we’re going, might be worth looking into.

ThatJenn (#916)

Oh, come to Gainesville when it’s cold up there. It’s surprisingly nice and basically nothing at all like New York.

TheDilettantista (#1,255)

@Jenn@twitter Go Gators! I spent four lovely years in Gainesville, love that town. If I still lived in Florida I’d go more often, now I’m lucky if I can make it back for a home game, sigh…

ThatJenn (#916)

@TheDilettantista And the town gets better by the year. :) It’s hard to live far away from a place you love – for me it’s Portland, OR, where I went to college. I spend nearly all my vacations there when I can, and I’ve thought about moving back so I can ever go anywhere else on vacation, but it’s just not practical for several reasons (plus, I mean, I like where I live now anyway).

@Jenn@twitter If I committed some horrible crime or something and was sentenced to live out my days in exile in Florida, I’d definitely spend them in Gainesville!

(Also, UF graduate here, but fuck the Gators — I went to a research university that does important scholarly work, not a football team.)

ThatJenn (#916)

@stuffisthings That is kind of how I feel about both living in Florida and the Gators vs. the rest of UF (go MS in Chemistry from one of the biggest chemistry graduate departments in the US, whee!). I am not sure what horrible crime I committed to be stuck in Florida, other than perhaps “having SAD that means I need to live where the sun shines” and “moving here to be with my now-ex-husband,” but I do like the town, and the state parks are admittedly fabulous all over the state.

TheDilettantista (#1,255)

@stuffisthings AHHH I DON’T UNDERSTAND YOU. The great part about UF was that you got the serious research and ALSO the AMAZING football. I am a third generation Gator (my mother and grandfather went there, as did my younger sister) who has some great family history there (my grandfather and his identical twin broke records on the swim team in the 40s, my mother founded a sorority–which is weird because that is so not her and I definitely did not go Greek, but still a fun fact!). My mother also went there for law school and is a very successful attorney. I was lucky enough to go to UF during the basketball-football-basketball championship run and I had a great time going to tons of sports and watching my teams win all sorts of things and still scoring a 4.0 GPA during my last semester at school while writing a thesis and applying for grad school, so don’t hate on the things that make UF so fun and different!

TheDilettantista (#1,255)

@Jenn@twitter I feel like you probably know a lot of people I know, as I know several people who got masters and/or PhDs from UF’s very excellent chemistry program. I was all fine arts and english, so the last place you’d ever see me was chemistry, ha…

ThatJenn (#916)

@TheDilettantista We might know some people in common! My ex-husband got his English PhD at UF, so I know a lot of people in the English programs, too (and am good friends with a music professor, though that doesn’t translate into knowing many in that department). If you care to look for mutual friends, I’m “thatjenn” on basically all platforms (Twitter, FB, etc.). I would be your friend elsewhere!

CubeRootOfPi (#1,098)

I’ve lived in various cities on the East Coast (currently NYC) and have fantasized about living abroad (specifically, western Europe). While living in other cities changed my perspective, NYC still suits me best out of all those places. But there are a lot of things that I had to trade off.

That being said, while Jefferson’s piece was extremely well-written, it seems like the issue wasn’t NYC but him. Sure, there are a lot of NYCers who talk down about other places (and the people who he’s hanging out with probably wouldn’t even consider going to *Queens*), but people from places outside of NYC do so as well (e.g. people who consider the coasts as not being “real Americans”). He’s also coming from the perspective of a transplant who comes to NYC to fulfill some fantasy – to “be somebody,” to live like the women in Sex and the City, etc. – and got disillusioned. A lot of people move to places to try to escape themselves, but sooner or later they have to realize that it’s them, not the place.

pretzels! (#853)

@CubeRootOfPi I think this is a great point and also why the opinions of NYC vary so much. A higher percentage of those moving to NYC are moving for this reason, to make a change that could probably have been made within themselves outside of the city. But of course, the great thing about NYC is that it challenges you and I think speeds up this process. I think a lot of the translplants that preach how NYC is the only place they could ever be are still in denial that maybe it wasn’t NYC but maybe what happened/is happening to them. Not that NYC isn’t great, unique, etc. but there’s a huge world out there!

City_Dater (#565)

@CubeRootOfPi

Yes, exactly. He came off as a pretentious fool who will no doubt be whining about Los Angeles holding him back in a few years.

New York City is my home because I love it above all other places I have ever lived, and I get to work at things I enjoy that are nearly impossible to do at a professional level elsewhere in the US. Maybe if I had moved here with a television-program-based fantasy of what life would be like, I too would be plotting to move somewhere that would appreciate me more.

@City_Dater HA. You just did what the article said you would do if you lived in New York. Good one.

MuffyStJohn (#280)

Asheville is so beautiful, but holy hell is it boring (unless you do a metric ton of drugs). Take a long vacation there, buy some hand-blown glass and eat at Tupelo Honey, then go back to New York where the sights and smells are more varied than “hippie.”

TheDilettantista (#1,255)

@MuffyStJohn Or come to the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area! Each town is extremely different and each town has amazing things. A great place to chill for a month, and you can see something different every day! Also, a three hour drive from the beach, a three hour drive from the mountains.

ThatJenn (#916)

@TheDilettantista Ha, you live where I’m most likely to move if I ever leave here. Maybe we should house-swap someday.

@MuffyStJohn I was just coming to say that Asheville is lovely, but I’ve never lived there. I actually was considering a college near there but worried about being in the middle of nowhere in North Carolina!

MuffyStJohn (#280)

@Koko Goldstein I went to college there (Warren Wilson waddup)! It was fun because, y’know, college.

But once you’re out of school . . . outside of the universities, the tourism, and Billy Graham’s Center for Christian Fundamentalism, I don’t really know what kind of economy the city has. I suppose someone very outdoorsy could be happy there, but I think someone like Mike Dang, who lives in NYC and presumably enjoys having access to things other than hiking trails and dreamcatchers, is probably not going to find it stimulating for very long.

TheDilettantista (#1,255)

@Jenn@twitter I mean, I moved from Gainesville (where I went to undergrad) to Chapel Hill (for graduate school) and now I work in Durham, so you’d basically be following my life path! There are a LOT of Gator transplants up here.

ThatJenn (#916)

@MuffyStJohn To be fair, Mike Dang did not say he was looking for stimulating, and he may not be, especially if he’s hoping to get work done while also exploring a new place.

Also, a friend and I recently discussed the merits of living in a place where there is Enough rather than an Abundance of stuff to do. It’s kind of awesome to be able to become very familiar with most of the cool places in town, and find that you need to go outside your bubble to find more stuff to do, like enjoying the outdoors or reading or getting to know places you’ve already visited a little better.

ThatJenn (#916)

@TheDilettantista Yes, part of why I think of moving up there is that I’d already know lots of people! I’ve been here six years, so most of my cohort from grad school has already moved away (I’m now more of a permanent resident, now that I’ve left the career I went to graduate school for and gotten a Real Job[TM] at UF).

MuffyStJohn (#280)

@Jenn@twitter Perhaps! I just can’t imagine a real city person being able to sit still there. Then again, I need a ton of options to stay happy, and even then one of the options has to be “move when I get bored in 3 years,” and I hate hippies.

TheDilettantista (#1,255)

@Jenn@twitter I’m really a big fan of the area–I always thought I’d move to NYC or some big city post grad school, but various circumstances (see: met a man, took a chance, ended up in a wonderful and committed relationship with said man, now said man is going back to school at UNC so we’ll definitely be here for a few more years!) have kept me here, and I really love it, especially Durham. Durham has a VERY can-do entrepreneurial spirit and is developing in amazing ways. The Atlantic yesterday released a list of the cities with the highest concentration of creative class workers, and Durham topped it, which is awesome! I’m also partial to the area because I work at a very community-focused arts non-profit, and so I am on the front lines of seeing what a community can be when people really care about it and want to work to make it better. It is a really wonderful area, cost of living is great, lots of amazing food options and tons of cultural options because of the wealth of universities in the area. Depending on what you do it can be easy to get a job here (tech and science is booming of course). I highly recommend it! The one major positive I see over Gainesville is a lack of isolation. I love Gainesville but it is sort of not surrounded by much (Stark doesn’t count) and there isn’t a good airport nearby. Anywhere in the Triangle is easily accessible, so if you live in Chapel Hill but want to go to the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, it is like a 20-25 minute ride. If you live in Raleigh and want to see Rufus Wainwright (for realsies!) play in downtown Durham it is like a 25ish minute ride. Etc. Also we have a great airport that is a 20 minute drive from my house; I can get a flight to NYC and be there in like an hour and a half, and they have cheap direct Southwest flights to Tampa, which works in terms of me going to visit the parents (I’m from Sarasota originally). Seriously, if you want to escape the isolation of Gainesville but still keep a college town-ish vibe, this area can’t be beat. Also if you like beer (I don’t but I had friends who did and so we spent a lot of time at Stubbies–is Stubbies still there?) this area was just voted one of the top brewing areas–lots of local beer, lots of local everything!

ThatJenn (#916)

@TheDilettantista Haha, your local tourism bureau should definitely pay you commissions! You’ve listed a lot of reasons I’ve thought about relocating, and a few I didn’t know that are enticing (beer and easy accessibility to other cities in the area!). I don’t find Gainesville highly isolating anymore, for a few reasons – my parents are thinking of moving to Florida for retirement (they’re currently in Maryland), I met an awesome guy here with whom I’m in a committed relationship whose entire family lives here, and it’s also getting a lot more connected – there’s more to do here than there used to be, and the airport has a lot better service since Silver Airlines moved in, so it’s finally not TOO much more expensive to fly out of GNV rather than Jacksonville or Orlando (and may be less expensive once you figure in gas, tolls, and parking). That last has made a big difference in my quality of life. But my partner used to be and would love to again be an outdoor educator, and there are a lot more opportunities for that in your area than in mine. But, again – family is here, I own a house here, and we have some pretty strong roots. I wouldn’t take bets in either direction for five years from now.

Charlsie (#442)

Ahh, ASHEVILLE! That would never be a mistake. Unless you hate hippies or have a problem with people not wearing shoes or brushing/washing their hair. Those things don’t bother me, so I think Asheville is heaven. But things are normal in Asheville that would be the weirdest thing around in other cities, so it’s something to be aware of. Lots of great bars, restaurants, outdoorsy things to do, awesome people, beautiful scenery. Sigh. Western North Carolina is the greatest.

Charlsie (#442)

You should also consider Charleston, for some reason New Yorkers seem to love Charleston. Probably because it is a fantastic city.

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