In the new anthology Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York, contributors share the experience of moving to New York in pursuit of the writing life. In essay after essay, writers describe their experiences moving to New York from Long Island, New Jersey, California, and overseas. Anyone from anywhere can come to New York City in pursuit of fame, riches, and romance, and as a result, Goodbye to All That captures New York’s uniquely nuanced, overlapping landscape of cultures and geographies that for millions feels at once deeply personal and communal.
But while something deeper also reveals itself in the pages, some thread of pure accident runs through the story of each writer’s dream of making it in the big city.
Goodbye to All That features several familiar names from the Manhattan and (mostly) Brooklyn literary community, including editor Sari Botton and several other 20- and 30-something women writers. Through a series of emails, I asked Sari and contributors Cheryl Strayed, Melissa Febos, and Mira Ptacin about the differences and similarities between their experiences in the city of so many of our dreams.
In Cheryl Strayed’s essay for this anthology, “Minnesota Nice,” she writes,
I’d entered the city the way one enters any grand love affair: with no exit plan. I went willing to live there forever, to become one of the women clad in slim pants and killer shoes and interesting coats. I was ready for the city to sweep me into its arms, but instead it held me at a cool distance. And so I left New York the way one leaves a love affair too: because, much as I loved it, I wasn’t truly in love. I had no compelling reason to stay.
This is a phenomenon many of us seem to get swept up in: feeling that our relationship to the city is as alive and intimate as that of fiery, fateful lovers. What is it about New York that compels us to believe the city is a human entity unto itself: one capable of offering earth-shattering sex, endlessly stimulating conversation, and eventual transcendence, too?