This is an essay I wrote for Say Hello to the City when I had recently moved from years in New York, back to Iowa.
This is where I discovered the healing, therapeutic power of taking what felt like loads of inexplicable emotions and crafting them into coherent thought. I'm addicted.
I watched Annie Hall three times the week before I moved to New York City.
Diane Keaton made it look easy, in her perfectly tailored slacks and her perfectly tailored sense of cynicism. The film was New York to me. I think the experience is common; we all associate a book, a person, a film, a musical with the entirety of the city. Until proven guilty, it serves as the untouchable, exciting “something” we can see glistening in the distance, but never get close enough to touch, or to find that it was all an illusion.
It’s only now, with time and distance, that I can see New York in untainted, honest light. It’s a city, just a city. But when you’re in it, being carried by its momentum, it’s hard to accept it as merely a mass of people chasing visions of what the city promised them when they traded comfort, space, friends, stability for its lack of.
To try to encapsulate something as pulsing and personal as living in the city and then leaving it is daunting. But when friends ask why I left, I reach for my faded, coffee stained copy of Joan Didion’s essay Goodbye to All That, that lived in my purse for months before I left. It was my litmus test, my way of taking my emotions and holding them against something. Didion and the way she referenced her “idea of New York” made sense to me, when little else did. It was what Annie Hall never could be-real life.
Disenchanted and tired, I shipped boxes of books home, ate a final dinner at my favorite place with my closest friends, and slipped out for a midnight walk in the Village. As the taxi drove over the Brooklyn Bridge to the airport, I felt not nostalgic, but complete.
I felt like I was leaving just a city.
New York is good. Des Moines is good. There is good and beauty and good, beautiful people to be found in any city.