Things I dislike about New York

1. The subway. Public transit is great in theory but in practice, in a city this big it’s disgusting. In the winter it’s a disease factory, where sick people spread germs to healthy people and the stress of everyday life in New York makes everyone vulnerable to contagious diseases. I’ve heard about how gross it is in the summer, with the smell of bodies and sewage, but I plan to be in Buffalo before it gets too hot. Along with the people who are actually on the subway, there are the people who use the subway as a bathroom and all the other shit that drips down into the subway from above. Then, there is the slowness of the thing. It is not always slow. Sometimes it’s great. But to make up for the times it’s great, there are the times you get to the subway station and instead of having to wait the usual 5-7 minutes you have to wait 15-20 for no apparent reason. And the constant repairs that reroute and delay.

2. The people. You hear about how interesting and quirky they are, to put it nicely. But they’re not interesting and quirky, they’re rude. Some of them are violent and untrustworthy. I suppose it’s natural given the circumstances. Although there are many very smart people living here, the general education level of the city is quite low due to impoverished school systems and other factors (like immigration). There are a lot of poor, undereducated, overburdened people here, and the “pace” (because we always call it that– the circumstances, the long subway rides and low pay) doesn’t make their lives any easier. But then you have the comparatively upper-class, that is, the middle- and upper-middle class, with white-collar jobs, the people who’ve graduated high school and college and are making enough money to scrape by and who generally have their thumbs pretty high up their asses. Pretty much the only people who seem to be living well in New York are millionaires who can avoid things like public transit, teen pregnancy, office politics, and the other things that make people miserable in their everyday lives. These things are probably true in all cities, but here you see it all played out in the streets and on the subways, the wealth gap is so very apparent and peoples’ frustrations are out there for everyone to see. I really don’t know how people make it every day. I’m not saying that rhetorically. I really don’t know how.

3. The expense. I hear it’s going up– the everyday expenses like milk going up because of the price of oil. I also hear unemployment’s going up. So everything that’s miserable in 2. is only going to increase.

4. The poetry. You know, the poetry scene is huge. And interesting. And there’s always something going on. And I’m not bothered by the frequently complained-about “cliquishness” since if I really wanted to explore all the poetic possibilities there would be dozens of things to go to on any given night– cliquishness is easily overcome by one’s own efforts to go to poetry readings outside one’s own comfort zone. But it’s expensive (the venues that charge non-negotiable entry fees), it’s hard to get to things (commuting 45 min. each way for a reading is a lot!), the traditions and interests of non-NY poetry communities seem pretty much off the radar, and the pressure of being a poet in the New York School traditions seems to make people myopic and lame. There’s a certain self-satisfaction, an unwillingness to think or learn about poetry that’s not from a small set of traditions. I think this is something I like about smaller poetry scenes– Buffalo specifically– that because there’s not a handful of strong traditions, you still have to reinvent Poetry each time you write a poem, and you can’t relax into certain socially approved modes of writing. There is much more to say about the New York poetry scene, and of course I’ve only seen one small facet of it (the “post-avant” thread)– there are venues and scenes I haven’t stepped foot into. But I think even living in Charlottesville where there was no poetry scene was better for my understanding of contemporary poetry than living here is, because I was forced to find poetry all over the place, where here there is so much going on here that it’s easy to become insular. I think smaller poetry scenes– Philly, Buffalo, Boston, DC– are probably better socially and creatively.

Some of the people I know who live here do so because they have family here, or because they think they need to live here for their job. I don’t have family here, and if there’s anything that living here’s taught me, it’s the limits of my careerism. I don’t really have high standards about what kind of job I want outside of Academia. I certainly don’t want to climb ladders, claw anyone, network, work long hours, suck up to bosses, have three or four jobs going at once in order to pay bills and try to further my ambitions. I say this with publishing in mind because it’s where I see so much of this going on– so much so that from stories I hear from people in that industry it sounds like a very unremarkable career choice. I know people who, after years of working in such conditions, have come out on top with the kinds of writing and editing assignments they want. Who are finally in charge of their lives. Maybe if I liked New York on the daily level I could stand such short-term unpleasantries for long-term freedom, but I see my freedom coming from different quarters. My freedom comes from having a life outside my work environment. When I’m broke and borrowing money from my parents, which I hate doing with increasing fervor every time I do it, so that it literally makes me sick, then I am not free; if I had a job that took up more than 10 hours of my day and involved office politics so that it became my whole life, I would not be free; I want to feel less burdened so that I can write again, which I haven’t done since I was living in Sweden in 2005.

I really am moving back to Buffalo at the end of the month. This has inspired many reactions. Some people are excited that I’m moving back to Buffalo because they’re in Buffalo and Buffalo will seem more fun or interesting with more poets there. Some people are excited because they think this means that in some way (I am not sure which one) I have failed and there’s a certain population who really like it whenever I fail at something (fail to get 4SQ out on time, fail to do the anthology, fail out of grad school, fail to get a job, fail to “make it” in New York, fail to be married– basically anything they think they could “succeed” at that I haven’t is recorded in their lists of my failures, which they seem to keep in an up-to-date ledger). Some people are happy because they like me and want me to leave New York for my sake; some are happy because they dislike me and want me to leave New York for their sake. Some people are upset because I’m leaving New York: because they don’t get to, because they think New York’s more interesting with me here, because they don’t think I’ve given New York enough of a chance.

But, you know, I knew very early– certainly within the first six months of living there– that I disliked Charlottesville and UVA. People told me that Charlottesville was beautiful, that UVA was a great school, that I’d gotten a good scholarship, etc. and I felt that something must be wrong with me if I didn’t like it there. I tried to like it. I kept changing my meds in search of a way of drugging myself into liking it. I ate loads of sugar, gaining weight that I’m now having trouble taking off; I slept with people I otherwise wouldn’t have, in an effort to find something worth doing in Charlottesville; I drank a lot. And at the end of the day I still hated it there! That experience was basically a waste of two years of my life. I’m not going to let that happen again. I’m clear on the fact that I dislike living in New York. I think six months is long enough to give it.

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29 Responses to Things I dislike about New York

  1. Amelia says:

    Well,*I* am glad you are leaving New York because hearing another educated, creative young woman come to the same conclusions after the same period of living in the City makes me feel like I am not a total moron for having left. It wasn’t any failure to adapt to or appreciate on my behalf.

    In addition to items 1, 2, and 3 (to which I would add Pollution And General Filth–I have never lived anywhere that people throw garbage in the streets with such wanton disregard), it seemed to me that the NY art world was principally concerned with living up to the standard of being the NY art world. Anyone producing any genuinely interesting material lived and worked elsewhere, and simply came to NY to show.

  2. Mark L. says:

    I’d be right behind you if I could. Rachel wants to move upstate also, but we can’t until she finishes her indentured servitude.

  3. Mark L. says:

    BTW, 3 years and counting, and still waiting to like it better, still trying to “give it a chance”…

  4. Gillian says:

    You know I’m big into older movies (older in the pre-code (pre-censorship) Hollywood sense). Well, there’s this Joan Crawford film from the early 30s where she’s decided to do something that a lot of other people seem to think she should not do. And at one point, someone confronts her directly and says something along the lines of I can’t believe you think you can do this, and she replies “I’m free, white, and 21. I’ll do what I please.”

    I say that all the time when people question my decisions. Of course, it makes less sense out of context. Still, I often feel explaining why I said it defeats the purpose of saying it.

  5. Matt says:

    For people like us, who aren’t from here originally, it seems that New York turns out to be either an allergen or an addiction. I’ve been here nearly two years, and even though my job prospects are about as bleak as they could be (I’ve been at my “temp” job for 14 months), and even though I got mugged in the lobby of my own building, losing my laptop, phone, iPod, the contents of my wallet, and several hard-to-find books in the process (not to mention feeling that my life might be in danger), for some reason there’s still no place I’d rather be. It’s clearly illogical. It must be because I’m very gullible and buy into myths easily. New York and literature are my religions, I guess to make up for the regular kind.

    Seriously though, best of luck with everything:)

  6. abe says:

    late 20’s existential crisis drives narcissist out of nyc! no more skulking around the back of poetry readings masking insecurity by feigning a look of intensity? no more reading conventional poems about grandma dressed up in post-olsonian breath-scattered psuedo-intensity? you can re-write robert frost in a triangle and scramble all the words but once you rearrange it, it’s still robert frost. you can’t call any place home when you’re convinced you’re brilliant. brilliance doesn’t aspire to be middle-class or any class. you don’t “make it,” you don’t “aspire,” you live. think of everything your arrogance has turned away.

  7. @amelia, you were right. again. … the poetry scene may have different problems than the art scene. i’m not a poetry-scene consultant. i just know what i like.

    @gillian, is that Mildred Pierce?

    @matt thanks– the things you mention definitely would have turned me away by now, but as the allergen/addiction thing goes, yes, i think i’m allergic.

    @abe, I don’t really understand the logic in your ramblings, but i get that you don’t like me, and i also get that you’re too much of a coward to leave your (whole/real) name when saying so, that we’ve never met personally, that you’re probably a man, and that you have no idea what you’re talking about (since I don’t skulk at poetry readings– when I’m there I usually sit in the front; since the only poem I’ve ever written about my grandmother was in 1998; since Olson and Frost seem like a binary to you, silly boy). but i already described your type within the post. congrats on being a stereotype.

  8. Mark L. says:

    NYC is filled with narcissists, dude. I haven’t met many people here (who I didn’t already know before I moved here) who aren’t narcissists. I would even go so far as to say that you need to be a narcissist to *survive* here. Fortunately, I am one, so I’ve been able to make it this far…

    How exactly, is rewriting Frost or Oslon or whatever “conventional” poetry is categorically any better than rewriting Frank O’Hara ad infinitum?…

  9. @Mark L. Thanks, but I wouldn’t worry about it. I’m not a narcissist… similarly, I’m not having an “existential crisis.” I just don’t like New York. For some reason, Abe has some issues…

  10. Mark L. says:

    I was responding to “Abe,” and not you (I dont think your reply had posted at the time I wrote the post).

    Personally, I dont think there is necessarily anything that wrong with narcissism. Nor with arrogance, particularly in New York City where most forces that you will encounter are hell-bent on grinding you to a past for their own gain. Arrogance is necessary, especially if you are teaching in an environment where you are emotionally and verbally abused on a daily basis…

    I concur with all of the points you mention above. And I would add that the mythology of New York concerns a New York that existed 10 to 20 years ago. The New York of the present is a fallen ghost of its former self, the dying cultural center of a dying nation. What New York once was has moved elsewhere, to other cities…in other countries…

  11. Jack says:

    One hopes abe recognizes how gentle you have been with him, and if subtlety is somewhere in his bag of tricks, he will. The Frost-Olson binary nip is sweet, indeed.

    It’s a long way from where you are, but there is a poetry event coming up this month in Berkeley that really deserves your presence, and you would enjoy some freshening of your artistic electrolyte balance, an inevitability if you can make it out there. If you can, there will be some older poets there who will (I know this) embrace you.

    Finally, and unrelated to this post, a question: Is it fair to conclude that a lot of the writing that was once accessible through your blog no longer is, and the cause relates somehow to an abandoned attempt to get an anthology of young poets going (an effort I have only just learned of this week)?

  12. @Jack I seem to have a few trolls who don’t know or understand me. It’s easy to insult people you don’t know, eh? Gosh I wish I could be in Berkeley but I don’t have that kind of cash. … I don’t think the protected posts on my blog have anything to do with the younger poets’ anthology. There are just different strata of privacy– that which is public; that which is protected but can be bought or given; and that which is never public.

  13. Charles says:

    I guess I’d be one of the Berkeley poets Jack Large believes would enbrace you if you were there to listen to the poetry about to have a 40 year old perp walk, reunion tour, what have you.

    I resist gadgetry and technology and couldn’t find my way into anything on the URL Jack sent me with his effusions about your energy and verve. I see in the above 3 levels of transparency leading to opacity in the public and free, which is a way I usually deal, public and for sale, and never public.

    Well, I wish you the best of everything and I will try to find my way to the writing you want me and others to take seriously.

    Sincerely,
    CP

  14. Michael Ford says:

    I get the feeling that if you were someone else, Abe’d be praising your “brilliant reappraisal of the Frostian granny mode.” Not that that’s what you are doing, he just seems like that sort of guy.

    As for New York City, leaving before summer is the best idea. I like NY in short doses, but I prefer the 90 degrees at night summers here in New Orleans to the disgusting car exhaust filthiness of NY.

  15. @Michael Ford … ha! “Frostian granny mode” … Yeah, I like NYC in short doses too. And i like my neighborhood– Greenpoint– a lot. But I like it b/c it’s manageable… I don’t find the rest of NYC manageable on an everyday basis. I want to be in a smaller community. (Just saying New Orleans makes my mouth water… what an amazing town….)

    @Charles… thanks? I think? You sound very cynical. ;-)

  16. Charles says:

    Well, you see I’m such a newbie I respond to something tangential when I was supposed to say, I hate New York too, and have only visited as a rube from the west. It is filthy, rude, and vastly overrated. The only place as provincial in the US is San Francisco. Did I mention how useless the poetry is? Old school stuff no doubt. Or consider The New Yorker; a box of self-reflective mirrors with one good review a month, and by actual count, one good poem in about 4 years of steady reading. You’re correct to think that more dynamism can be found in smaller towns. Seek it out.

  17. abe as in abraham as in james maslow abraham says:

    “congrats” on guessing that someone named “abe” as in “abraham” is a
    “man. ”

    as for binaries, a “woman” designating someone a “man” (you actually believe in “men” and “women” (silly “girl”)) is about as starkly binary as one can get. all of your arguments are built on binaries: you oppose “new york” to “buffalo,” making it to “not making it,” etc. but, as the discourse here is about as elevated as a flat tire, i don’t imagine there’s much point getting any more technical.

    good luck in the rust belt, where i’m sure “poor” “undereducated” people find the pain of their penury and lack of education greatly ameliorated by the slower “pace.” as if you ever met a “poor” “undereducated” person in new york. though you might have had you gotten that teaching job. oh well.

  18. I’m not sure how my sympathy for people who have to live in these conditions and my desire to help people who’ve had fewer advantages than I have is consistently held against me by a handful of men as being classist. I did grow up in an upper-middle-class environment and I have had more advantages than many people. There are many ways in which I try to give back, including attempting to teach at underfunded schools. Is that wrong? In your estimation this apparently makes me a terrible person, but I have trouble buying that.

    I don’t believe in male-female as a binary except insofar as it is performed as one, and I see you performing it by being a certain type of man who sometimes trolls around my blog and insults me on various counts. I gave the male-female non-binary the benefit of the doubt by allowing that you, despite calling yourself Abe, might be a woman. But of course you aren’t. You’re a dick.

  19. Lynn Behrendt says:

    Hi Jessica — it sounds like living in nyc was an awful experience all in all. I think you were very brave to try it, though — something I could never force myself to do. Your resolve to find somewhere to live that will allow you the freedom to write sounds stronger, though–so maybe living in ny had an indirectly good effect in a way.

    Good luck with your move to Buffalo. It will probably feel like a big relief to go to a more manageable city with old friends. Take care.

  20. Jack says:

    I should note that Charles is referring to an elsewhere effusion about jessica’s writing, but I couldn’t refer to the poetry because, with Charles, I can’t access it. I also can’t access the links to pay my paltry 5 bucks to get in, so it is a little difficult to tell whether the blog is half- open or half-closed, as it feels like it may be going opposite directions simultaneously (a feeling I recognize instantly).

    Since the cat is out of the bag, and every reader of this blog now knows that I do, indeed, know Charles, I can verify two facts about him: He has his cynical moments, and his dues are paid. He is also the individual who wrote this:

    Binary

    1
    This is a binary poem.
    It’s either a one or a zero.
    Please come forward and take a number.
    Any number will do,
    As long as it’s a one or a zero.

    You’re either on or you’re off.
    The gates are either open or they’re closed.
    It’s a binary system,
    A one or a zero,
    A digital system,
    No space for analog fudge.
    Everybody and everything else
    Is no place.

    2
    It’s cosmic duelism
    Where you are challenged to be
    Either a one or a zero.
    Be on or be off.

    Existence or non-existence.
    Binary breaks the law of averages
    Boosts the gold from the mean
    Washes out the middle ground.

    The system is either open or it’s closed.
    It’s either a one or a zero.
    It’s the spittle of Aristotle
    Made to resemble manna.

    3
    This is your opportunity to be
    Either a one or a zero.
    Be part of the problem
    Or be part of the solution.

    You are either a one or you’re a zero.
    Don’t look for halfway in between.
    Half-hearted
    Half-baked
    Half-assed
    Half-cocked
    Hermaphrodites.

    4
    The mic is either on
    Or the microphone is off.

    The charge is either negative
    Or the charge is positive.
    A neutral charge
    Is a terminal contradiction
    Among lapsed oxymorons.

    Stasis, neutrality, equilibrium,
    Peace and quiet?
    Forget about it.

    They’re just states you pass thru
    On your way from one to zero
    With no place to stay
    Not even a manger
    For a fictitious virgin birth.

    5
    Step up and take a number.
    Be a one or be a zero.
    No other numbers need apply.
    Be happy you’re either a
    One or a zero.

    It’s an open and shut case.
    You could try for
    More than one or
    Less Than Zero
    But that would make you a novelist
    And we don’t do prose.

  21. Jack says:

    I should have included the copyright: Slash and Burn, Charles Potts and Robert McNealy, Blue Begonia Press, Yakima 2001. All rights reserved.

  22. Jack says:

    Forgive my littering your comments section thus, but I wish you would appeal to the readers of your blog to chip in a few bucks apiece to send you to Berkeley. You have the look, and your blog has the feel, of a person fledged to escape the bulimic academic nest of poetry and soar into the wide-open skies of the real poetry world.

    The good professors often forget to add to their lessons that academics follows the poem, and not the other way around. That way lies death, or at least cynicism.

    PS: Where do I send the money? (and its gotta be done online, or it will take so long to get there from Seoul that it won’t help you.)

  23. Ha– Thanks for the thought Jack but I can’t go flitting off to Berkeley. And since I’m in a state of perpetual broke-ness I’ve appealed to my blog readers more than enough times to help me out financially. I will make it to Berkeley some time, but not this time.

    A funny story about academics following the poem: I was at the NEMLA conference a few years ago and Charles Bernstein and others were reading in a room alongside one of the academic panels. Apparently the poets were getting way too poetic, because a grey-haired old boot from the neighboring room came in and told them to keep it down. I wondered at the time– I still wonder– what the hell– as obvious that guy would have nothing to study, no livelihood without the likes of those unruly poets!

    You! Keep it down!

  24. jack says:

    A lot brokeness wallowers less qualified than you have flitted here to Korea to teach English for a year or two, including the two Ghanaians and one Korean-American I read about this morning who faked their degrees. Many save a couple thou a month for a year and return to their lives with newfound liquidity. A few don’t leave, staying so long the option closes, or nearly so. Yes.

    If you’re so buffaloed you can’t make Berkeley, you probably can’t make Korea either, but in case you want to know what you’re missing, at least on paper (so to speak), try daveseslcafe. And visit my poet movies on YouTube. And tell me how to get a password to your blog.

  25. françois says:

    Ah, but Jess, you know I would somehow contribute something if you were to come to the Bay Area.

  26. Ana says:

    Hi Jessica,

    Sorry to hear you’re moving — I hope you take some at the very least “interesting” NY experiences with you into the roses and freshness of the Buffalo summer. It was good reading with you, I was very moved by your reading, and I hope you write again very very soon.

  27. crawly says:

    Post-Rudy New York is so dead!

    Fuck NY poets. Fucking ghoul-fucker ghouls.

  28. @francois thanks… i will come soon. but not right now. that doesn’t seem very responsible, right? like “oh, i have no money and no reliable source of income and i’m moving in two weeks, what i should really do is take a trip to sf.” that is not okay.

    @ana ;-) thanks dear… it was great to be here for a little while in that i got to meet and be inspired by people like you. now back to the land of $60k Victorians…

  29. Lynn says:

    Jessica!!

    This is exactly how I feel! I moved to the city two months ago, and I absolutely. hate. it. I try everyday to love it, and go to free shit in the park and eat out when money allows it, but I just am not feeling it. I have a one year lease on my place, so I have to stay till then. Then I am getting the hell out of here. I also have no desire to work 10+ hour days at a job with crap pay that goes 100% to paying my rent on a tiny, hot box of an apartment. The City sucks for living. I’ll sick to visiting. There is nothing keeping me here.

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