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.