How to Kill a Meme: or, the New York Times On Leaving New York


There are some topics that are undeniably played-out endlessly fascinating, and as anyone who has access to the Internet has learned in the last few months, “leaving New York” is one of those. And so even if you don’t follow trend pieces as closely as do those of us who read the Internet professionally (nice work if you can get it, you know?), you’re probably pretty aware of the fact that just about every person who has even so much as thought about living in New York has written about leaving it, or staying in it, or whatever is in between those things. But unlike most Internet memes, this one didn’t show any sign of waning, and in fact had been garnering more and more interest thanks to the recent publication of “Goodbye to All That”: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York, an excellent anthology, edited by Sari Botton, and including essays by Botton, Emily Gould, Meghan Daum, Elisa Albert, Ruth Curry, and many more.

Well, this type of Joan Didion-inspired essay showed no sign of going away until now, that is, because the “leaving New York” phenomenon was finally covered by the New York Times Styles section, which is where all trend pieces go to die. I wouldn’t have been that surprised if the Times piece was all about how writers are leaving New York for the greener pastures of Brooklyn, but it wasn’t. It was actually a pretty thorough roundup of these types of essays dating back to the original Joan Didion piece that has long-served as inspiration for writers over the last few decades who wanted to add to the “leaving New York” cannon. And because this article is so complete an examination of this type of essay, it feels all the more like the final nail in the coffin. It is, as Sari Botton tweeted earlier, “the backlash to the backlash to the backlash.” Which means that it’s over, right? There’s nothing to say about leaving New York that hasn’t been said?

Well, no. But isn’t it pretty to think so? For the time being, anyway, it kind of is. It’s kind of nice to think that, once you’ve read Botton’s book, you’ll feel up-to-date on everything that could be said about leaving and loving this city, and you can feel confident about ignoring anything else that comes along on the topic. Like, if you happen to see that someone wrote something about leaving Nashville? You can be all over that! But if it revolves around New York City? Don’t click. Whatever you do, don’t click! It’s all been said. Unless someone is talking about leaving New York City because of a zombie invasion, there’s nothing you can learn anymore from these essays. At least, it’ll feel that way for awhile. The thing about New York, though, and the reason these essays feel like they’ll always be written, is that New York is not a static place, it is ever-changing. And so the reasons for leaving New York (other than the financial reasons, which never change) won’t stay the same, and the essays produced on the topic will be always be an interesting picture of this city and how it looks and feels at one particular moment. So, yeah. For now maybe, this type of essay is dead. But it’ll be back. And so will the accompanying Times Styles piece.

Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen

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