I heard an update recently about a woman I'd gone to college with who I hadn't heard from or about in a long time. We were in the same profession and I recalled that at one point when I was struggling as a writer, she'd earned a huge promotion, boosting her from the bottom of the haystack to the top of the pile. She gave me hope that me ascension in the field could be as quick. Then she fell off the face of the earth.
I assumed she'd gone brand new or ''Hollywood" with her newfound prestige and didn't have time for The Little People like me. This happens to near everyone at some point (myself included. My mother had to humble me a bit last time I was home when I pulled a diva antic), so I figured I'd catch her when she levelled out or I caught up to her. She didn't strike me as the type that would go to the deep end and never return.
A couple years passed until I heard from her again. She sent me an email out the blue. She'd left New York, had returned to Atlanta where she was from, was living with her mother and debating a master's in something totally unrelated to writing. When I inevitably asked what happened, she said, "I just got tired is all." I assumed she'd been laid off and couldn't find a job fast enough. It's not uncommon in any sort of entertainment field.
Recently, I got the full version. She was good, rose fast, got to the top and couldn't handle the pressure. After another bad day at work in a long series of them, she ended up crying hysterically on a SoHo corner in a Noreaster type storm while the few passerbys she encountered ignored her. She called Back Home to her mother and told her she was done with New York and all its bullshit. That week, she quit her job, broke her lease, packed her shit and left. She's been back once on a vacation of sorts and I'm told she called but didn't see any of her friends.
Not a particularly shocking story as if you've been here long enough, you've seen plenty of people come, rise, fall, and leave or perhaps equal, come, struggle and say "fuck it" within a year or two's time. And usually when they go, it’s like they've fallen off the face of the earth. They feel like they've failed at something everyone else seems to be succeeding at or become totally disillusioned because they realize their life's dream was really a nightmare and now they don't know what's next.
And well, those of us still here must think "failure" or "fuck it" is contagious because we tend to write them off and erase names from Blackberrys like the person never existed. (There's two exceptions to this in my world. One is Mr. Ex. The other might be upset if I mentioned their name. But they both bounced to come back stronger. The latter will return in a hail of glory in a matter of months.) I'm not proud of it, but I've been very guilty of doing this and please allow me to explain.
Living here is a bit of a bitch. And if you're not from here, you sort have to brainwash yourself into the New York state of mind that says you can be happy being relatively broke, relatively single, and definitely overworked (and overlooked) living in a crowded, dirty city. Of course there are tremendous virtues to this place (summer. Need I really say more?) and if you focus on them as those of us who have been indoctrinated into the cult do, you can not only live but thrive. But to stay in the fold, you can't have people pointing out flaws like what you pay for an apartment in an inconvenient part of town is a mortgage in a prime area with a garage and a plot of grass anywhere else. Or because you’re unaccustomed to trees and grass now, your allergies are a bitch whenever you leave the city (all the more reason to stay here or only travel to other major cities.) I hung up on my own mother when she pointed out it was ludicrous to work 10 hour days, then go home and write some more. Perhaps all the bullshit New York throws, isn't worth it all the time. But you can't think like that on any sort of regular basis-- as the people who left tend to do-- and expect to survive or thrive.
It’s like all of us here are perpetually pledging New York City and to leave means you just dropped the line, you think the put out isn't worth the payout. I know the effort I put into being here and maintaining a continuous cycle of work, suffer, celebrate (I know someone from here who tattoed that on their back.) And it's frustrating to talk to non-believers. Frankly, it’s hard to pledge allegiance to the dream when someone's reminding you that you could be a break down away from it becoming impossible.
Really, that's the fear. There are so many of us who grind at 100 mph and manage to just make it (there's a reason no one leaves their borough on weekends. It’s called recouping.) There's no big gap between you and the next person gunning for your job. And when you're operating at full capacity, there's always the chance that your engine will give out and fuck coming in third, you might not make it to the finish line. This might be my biggest worry.
So for all the people who were on this island, then got off this island, and all the people who were never here because they hated the idea of NYC, and the people who live here and talk incessantly about how they want to leave, this is why we don't speak on any sort of regular basis.
It's not you. It's me.