My friends are leaving New York City by the truckload. Some by choice and some because financially they had no choice. And I get it. This city can chew you up, spit you out, and then look at you like you’re the crazy one for wanting to be treated better. New York City is a crotchety old man.
Though like so many crotchety old men, it is an incredible teacher and good lord has it taught me. I grew up in the dirt of rural America (to this day there is a tractor crossing sign across from my childhood home) but I came of age in New York City. This great gorgeous place changed me and changed my life for the better. I showed me what matters. On these streets I figured out what matters to me and why. It gave me passion and heart and confidence. It gave me and put me through fire (literally and figuratively) but I emerged from the other side polished and transformed in ways I never imagined. New York City showed me what was possible by showing me my potential and daring me to take it.
Like so many of my friends, I am beginning to hear the exit music, or at least the exit music to this New York chapter of my life. And let’s be clear, I want to stay in New York. I fiercely love this city and its people and myself among them. There’s a part of me that will always be Christa in New York. Always. But, as life has shown me so many times before, what I want and what I need are often two very different things. And what I need now, in this moment, may be a change of scene. At least for a little while. At least for right now. Even Joan Didion, a towering figure in the literary world who famously penned her essay “Goodbye to All That” when she left New York for LA, eventually found her way back to Gotham. But she did need to take that journey. She needed to go away to come home again.
There’s a lot of New York in New York, and it may be time for more of us to spread our New York-ness to other places that need inspiration and courage to follow a less traveled, less conventional path. This world can’t stay on its current path of self-destruction and quiet desperation. We have to carve a better way forward.
New York doesn’t need another writer like me, but plenty of other places do. Friends, there’s a lot of blank canvas out there, a lot of stories that need telling, and they’re not coming to us. We have to go to them. We have to get out on the road, discover them, and then get it all down as faithfully and as honestly as we can.
If you’re a writer, or someone who likes to hang around with writers and other creatives, then New York City isn’t your only option to call home. Heck, it’s not even your best option. I recently found two lists (backed up by plenty of data) of cities in the U.S. that are great for writers and New York City isn’t anywhere on them:
This one lists: St. Louis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Orlando, Minneapolis, Buffalo, Denver, Seattle, and San Francisco.
Another lists: Chicago, Charleston, Austin, Bellingham, Asheville, Washington, D.C., St. Paul, Seattle, Great Barrington, New Orleans, Miami, both Portlands, Ann Arbor, Savannah, Pittsburgh, Jersey City, Iowa City, Portsmouth, and Cambridge.
I have no idea (yet) if any of these cities are right for me. Maybe you don’t either. What they do reveal is that we have options. We always have options. Now, it’s about choices.