Refusing a bite of the apple

I might be one of a rare breed of female twentysomething journalists who consider themselves city mice: I have never made any serious, good-faith attempt to “make it” in New York, nor have I ever wanted to and honestly, unless an amazing opportunity arises or I move for a partner, I sincerely can see myself never wanting to.

A friend of mine shared this blog entry today, which I read and which maybe finally made me realize why I never sought that city the way so many women my age and in my profession do. New York City, the presumed epicenter of culture, literature and intellectual thought, is crowding out (and has been crowding out) the very people who contribute those things to the city. Creativity must be nurtured, and that requires basic security, energy and time, things that can be difficult if not impossible to attain in the city, especially if, like the blog author, you have to work a “real” job to make ends meet. The author decided to ultimately sacrifice location for that trifecta she needed to do something fulfilling, and left.

Which brings me back to myself; reading that, I have to wonder if I always knew, subconsciously, that I wouldn’t find in New York what I needed to fulfill me. Rather than needing to live there to realize that, maybe I always had a sense that it wasn’t really worth it. It wasn’t worth paying four figures to live with a bunch of other people in some outer borough, or doing a menial and unrewarding job, or going without food, just to be able to say, “I live in New York.” If “living in New York” doesn’t really come with the actual lifestyle implied by “living in New York” (creative freedom and intellectual growth), then what the bloody hell good is it? It’s an empty phrase, designed to impress outsiders or people from home; it would have no bearing on how I actually lived my life. That air of superiority, given the living circumstances of so many people like me in the city, just felt unearned, and I’d be damned if I moved there to perpetuate it.

And obviously it’s different for different people. I have friends there who love it, and I freely admit that I’d feel perfectly happy living in that other New York-esque metropolis with which I’m so familiar (London, I mean London). But after reading the blog entry and seeing a woman who might, in another life, have been me, it clicked. I had “gotten it” before I really even knew what I had “gotten.”

But then again, I never really knew or noticed how prevalent “Good-bye, New York” writings were. Time and again, young women aspire to go to New York, do so and then leave, for one reason or another. Maybe I just cut out the middleman.

In all fairness I do say this as a Washingtonian (via the Midwest and some stints in Britain), living in a place that isn’t exactly inexpensive. Many people in D.C. view it as a step on the way to New York, including at least a few of my friends. The District’s alleged inferiority complex is often remarked upon, and I’d be lying if I didn’t find the Times’s sometimes downright snotty coverage of the city (including, at times, bush-league geographic errors) to be grating. It seems like no matter what D.C. has, New York has more of it. Which is to be expected, as New York has more than 8 million people and D.C. only recently topped about 650,000, although it’s only getting bigger. But often, any criticism of New York by a D.C.-er brings allegations of jealousy or attempts at one-upping.

Which is why I found Andrew Sullivan’s own farewell to New York to be comforting; it’s rare (at least in my experience) to have someone that high-profile in the creative/journalistic community so publicly and forcefully side with D.C. over New York. For once, we’re not the ones being jilted. And Sullivan noticed that, too. It was “incomprehensible” to New Yorkers, he said, that a person might choose D.C. over their city.

And that’s at least partly why he left.

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I’m OK … I think?

About a week ago, I made the tough decision to move back home for a while, work and try to save up my money for a UK work permit further down the road. I realized that even if I could apply for one now, the time it would take to find a job would leave me financially crippled. As painful as my decision is, it’s for the best.

Fast forward to yesterday, when I read Noreen Malone’s New York magazine cover story about millennials and our struggles to get good jobs, pay off our student loans and start families. While some aspects of her story were grating — if you can’t get a job in Williamsburg … look elsewhere? — others made sense. Namely, our generation has trouble getting angry and channeling that anger into progress. She also notes the annoyance of parents who raised us to have high self-esteem and then go on to tell us we act “entitled.” Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we’re a generation who did everything “right,” in terms of going to university, only to discover that that won’t necessarily help us. If it’s our own fault for being unemployed, what did we do wrong and what can we do right?

It’s interesting though that, looking at my friends from university, I see mostly success stories. I know people working for law firms, engineers with good state DOT internships and even some marketing types who’ve started their own companies. Most of my friends majored in journalism, an industry that we’re constantly told is in the crapper. Yet just about every one of them has a good job in the industry, be they reporters, editors, photographers or designers. Even on my end, I came very close to getting a good media job in the UK (I like to think I’d’ve had it were it not for my permit quandary), and have found several excellent prospects at home.

Despite these successes, it still feels that something’s missing. I thought about it and realized that it feels like our generation has nothing left to really “fight for.” We don’t have Nazis or Communists or the worst effects of state-sanctioned racial discrimination. We tend to be progressive and champion LGBT rights (with a lot of success) and environmental responsibility. But in terms of having a grand good vs. evil plot, we’re lacking. I think that’s why the Occupy Wall Street movement is catching our intention — our defining struggle might be an economic one.

Of course this is just speculation. I’m “only” 24 (OK, closer to 25) and I’m optimistic despite my plan to live and work in the UK getting shelved for the moment. It doesn’t feel like a failure, more of a postponement.

And I’m OK with that.