Empire State of Mind

October 19, 2011 at 4:01 am | Posted in NYC, the book biz | 2 Comments

Columbus Circle

I grew up in a New Jersey town perched on a ridge of hills overlooking Manhattan. At several points in town you crest a hill and see the skyline spread out before you. (Of course, it was from the crest of one of these hills that dozens and dozens of people gathered to watch lower Manhattan smolder on the evening of September 11, 2001. My familiarity with that skyline is why my breathe catches still when I see the city from across the river, or from a plane overhead, with that deep gap in lower Manhattan where the Twin Towers should be.)

After college, I attended Columbia Journalism School and was thrown out into the city to pound the pavement and report. Were there Metrocards in 1997? I can’t remember. (Certainly there were no cellphones.) I became intimate with the NYC subway system and to this day can get almost anywhere in Manhattan without a map. After Columbia, I lived in the city on and off for the next several years, training for a marathon in Central Park, living it up in champagne bars in Tribeca, watching the Gay Pride parade from a balcony in the West Village, having a drink on my aunt’s terrace on the Upper East Side. I was relieved when I left NYC for good in some ways — trying to have fun in the city on a journalist’s salary is, well, not fun. But it is the city I know best. Even though I have now lived in Boston far longer than I lived in NYC as an adult, I still can’t quite navigate my way through the South End or even the so-called Boston Financial District (and I actually worked there).

One of the many, many upsides to my new role as a literary agent is that the publishing industry is based in NYC, so I have to travel there often. (I’ll save what I actually do when I’m there for another post.) I get on an early morning Acela and by 10 a.m. I’ve popped out of the subway somewhere near one of the publishing houses, feeling like I’m in the midst of a lot of really important things happening all around me. You may be much hipper than I and so thus familiar with the acronym “FOMO” — “Fear Of Missing Out”. (I was introduced to it only relatively recently by a much hipper friend.) When you’re in the publishing industry but not based in NYC, visiting Manhattan stirs up a bit of FOMO — why don’t I live here? What could I accomplish if I did?

Alas, I’m now a Red Sox fan, raising children with Irish surnames in the Irish Riviera that is my husband’s hometown. I’m extraordinarily content. And, yet, when I stride confidently down Broadway, I also feel at home.

In the second grade I wrote a poem called “The City At Night.” It was so catchy that I remember it still:

The city at night is a wonderful sight,
As you walk down the moonlit street;
The smell of the air, the feel of the wind,
And your heart begins to beat.

A stroll down Newbury or Charles Streets just isn’t …. exciting.  Boston doesn’t make my heart beat quite the way New York does — as it has always done.


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  1. I completely agree. There is something about NYC that makes me feel alive; navigating these crowded streets on foot is invigorating in a way that Boston never was for me. But like you, my husband’s family is there. We certainly could have an easier, less expensive life in Boston – and maybe that’s a better life, now that baby Z is around. These days, we are in non-stop discussions about where we should live, and it may be that Boston is the best answer. Before I can say that with certainty, though, I have to come to terms with the fact that no matter how hard I try (and I tried HARD, and I have a good sense of direction), I will never know the city as well as I know New York (or Chicago) and it will never get my blood flowing like New York (or Chicago) does. But Z’s grandparents are there (and her others made an all-too-early decision to live in Scottsdale full time), and that may be more important than my yearning for this big city life. I may just be a bit overdressed for work in our Boston office 🙂

  2. Boy, can I relate!

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