Here I am at the Onion in 2006.
This is not a goodbye-to-New-York note. It is a goodbye-ish-to-New-York note. Which is really what a New York goodbye note ought to be, since we use “ish” as a suffix even more than Los Angelenos use “-adjacent.”
When you move to New York, you need to find your people. Your tribe. You won’t survive otherwise, unless you’re a genuine loner – in which case you’ll probably thrive in a city that can be incredibly isolating to its 8 million inhabitants.
When I moved to New York in 2005 I had a really short haircut and an unfortunate penchant for American Apparel clothes that really didn’t work on a curvy body. I was a graduate student at Columbia University, coming off a yearlong stint as an AmeriCorps “Artist in Residence” at a charter high school in the Southwest. I had applied to Columbia on a whim – I was certain I would move back to my college town in North Carolina, marry my boyfriend, and get my M.A. in teaching from Western Carolina University. I only applied to Columbia because it had been my dream school as a kid, and I wanted to see if I could get in. When I did, I figured I’d frame the acceptance letter and pack it up with my other stuff when I moved “home” to NC. Then the boyfriend and I broke up, and I decided Asheville, NC was too small for the both of us. I said no to a full scholarship and a teaching assistantship at Western Carolina and yes to Teachers College at Columbia.
I didn’t really take to teaching, although I got to student teach at the fantastic Bronx High School of Science. But I did find something else, thanks to an ex-Comedy Central employee in my graduate school seminar who said to me, “I think you should try stand-up comedy.” She took me to a grungy little downtown bar and club called Rififi and introduced me to her friends, and eventually I enrolled in a sketch-writing class at the PIT and started doing bringers at Laugh Lounge. I had found my people – my fucked-up, competitive, wild, loud, self-destructive, extraordinary people. My tribe.
Early on in New York, I lived in a magical dusty three-story brownstone in Bed Stuy. The Bed Stuy place contained the landlord’s prized collection – the world’s largest assortment of vintage paint-by-numbers art. When I arrived home from my $30,000-a-year gig writing for a library resource magazine in the South Bronx – a place where employees were required to sign in and sign out of the building just in case, as apparently happened on occasion, someone were kidnapped, mugged, or raped – I was greeted by innumerable weirdly-painted fairy tale tableaux and vaguely Southeast Asian landscapes and tributes to Donald Duck and Minnie Mouse. One grinning clown painting glowed in the dark.
On a $30,000-a-year salary in New York, you generally need to hustle and do other stuff to make ends meet. I wasn’t a starving artist by any means – I had help from my parents and could go home to do my laundry for free in Jersey anytime I wanted – but I needed some cash flow. So in the big bedroom that came with a futon and a once-magnificent marble fireplace (and a big hole in the floor), I blogged about sex for Nerve.com. And in the bathroom, I interviewed different guests in the bathtub for a video series I called Tub Talk with Sara B. That’s how I met Jonathan Ames, and befriended Reggie Watts, and introduced a bevy of people to my favorite bath toys and old She-Ra dolls. I couldn’t believe someone paid me to overshare about my sex life and take baths with artists I admired. I still can’t believe it.
Eventually, I moved back to Manhattan, where I’d started out my NYC journey in a lovely girly three-bedroom share convenient to Columbia. Then there was the studio with the boyfriend on the Upper East Side, and the studio by myself near Wall Street, and the brief stay in the two-bedroom on noisy Vernon Boulevard in Long Island City in Queens, and then finally the one-bedroom on 50th Avenue in LIC, right next to the police station. In each of these places, I kept up with my tribe through email and Facebook and Gchat, sometimes even venturing out to actually hang with these humans. I was far more social in my early years in New York, far more inclined to perform at shows like Family Hour with Auntie Sara at the PIT or at Ochi’s Lounge; my later years in the city were taken up by a lot of writing, and my natural hermit tendencies found full expression thanks to delivery from Seamless and FreshDirect.
But the reason I decided to put this note here rather than pitching it as a post somewhere else (like the fun and funky XOJane) was because it’s really for my tribe, and that may just mean you.
Like I said earlier, you probably can’t survive in New York without your people. I don’t have a tight Sex and the City group of gals with whom I have brunch every Sunday and swap blowjob tips. What I do have is a funny little collection of similar souls who are busy, creative folks in their own right. Some of them know each other. Some of them are outliers, folks enmeshed in their own social whirl who have met me as individuals rather than as extensions of their primary groups.
I’ve found that some folks are with you when you’re up but not down; some folks are with you when you’re down but not up; and some folks will take the ride with you regardless of how high or low you go. My oldest and best friends live in Houston, Milwaukee and Los Angeles, and they are members of the latter group. I have been lucky to find a few people in New York who are like that, too.
I’ve also found that there are many people who aren’t meant to get really close to you but are meant to have a great time with you! I have so many New York memories filled with hilarious and amazing humans with whom I’ve never shared a really personal, deep conversation but who have made me laugh my ass off. There is value, too, in that.
I’m moving to Los Angeles to do more of the work I’ve been fortunate to do in New York. I am blessed in that it doesn’t always feel like work. I am able to make a living by telling stories, and this is a rare and beautiful thing for which I am immensely grateful. Having the privilege to explore storytelling in various media has been and continues to be a fascinating education. In many ways, I feel like an apprentice. And it feels pretty good. I’m excited. I’m eager. I’m hopeful. I’m nervous. I’ll probably take a lot of naps to deal with the transition. But then, I take a lot of naps to deal with everything.
My trip to LA may be a brief sojourn. Work and family will both take me back to the East Coast at least once a month for the first four months I plan to live in LA. I may decide Los Angeles just isn’t for me. I may decide it’s the best place in the world and I am living there until I die. I don’t know for certain what the future holds. What I do know is that my past seven years have been spent in New York City, and they have been rich and wonderful years. My mind is vivid with memories of all the colors and sounds and, yes, smells that make New York the greatest city in the world.
So to the members of my tribe – those who’ve lived with me in New York and those who’ve lived with me online – I just wanted to say thank you.
It’s been quite a ride.