Today’s Village Voice cover story, by the incomparable Jen Doll, tackles the age-old question of How to Be a New Yorker. The very title, riffing on a Mad Men-era guidebook by Les and Joan Rich, suggests that being a New Yorker is something learned rather than something most of us are born with. (The designation “Native New Yorker,” after all, highlights the fact that the rest of us are transplants, working our way up from rube status.)
I spent an hour or so on the phone with Jen a couple weeks ago talking about the piece and am happy to find myself quoted a couple times. (The really great stuff comes from Milton Glaser, whose work hangs in my office. I can’t say how happy I am to rub shoulders with him in print — and also with long-time friend of PWHNY Jeremiah Moss.) In one of my quotes, I suggest that when you hear someone say “I’m a New Yorker …” you get kind of suspicious. You want some form of authentification. More often than not those words are followed by something terribly un-New Yorkey, some justification of the city’s ongoing transformations under the juggernaut of gentrification.
Jen’s article reclaims the high ground for the New York Romantics among us. I really enjoyed the piece. One of my students just tweeted that it made her cry. So read it, especially if you’re included in that category of people E.B. White argued were the truest New Yorkers, “strangers who have pulled up stakes somewhere and come to town, seeking sanctuary or fulfillment or some greater or lesser grail.”
On the subject, though, of perpetual complaints that New York just isn’t what it used to be, you might enjoy some of the following, especially if you’re visiting this site for the first time:
We’ve had, over the years, several posts on White’s classic essay.
Here’s a gaggle of posts on the dramatic transformation of the Bowery over time, and a short one that looks at the earliest efforts to gentrify the Bowery, all the way back in the 1820s.
Jen mentioned, in her piece, Theodore Dreiser’s complaints that New York in the 20s just wasn’t what it had been when he arrived. Here’s a little more on that.
My epilogue to our Cambridge Companion to the Literature of the New York tackles a similar problem and identifies nostalgic and counternostalgic strains in a lot of writing about New York over time. (By counternostalgic I mean the sort of writing that reminds you that the olden days weren’t always better for everyone.)
A few years ago we hosted a conference on the theme Lost New York, 1609-2009. You can download a pdf of the accompanying exhbit catalog, featuring essays by some of our graduate students, here.
If these sorts of topics tickle your fancy, stick around, add us to your feed, or follow us on Twitter. We’re currently in the middle of a two-semester online version of our regular NYU course offering, Writing New York. More here.
i’ve tweeted this before, and i say that if one starts a sentence “like any normal new yorker…” tells me that they aren’t a new yorker
and New Yorkers:
“never waits on line for a cupcake.”
“do not identify a subway line by its color”
“say 6th Avenue,” not “Avenue of the Americas”
“order chicken wings and fries from any chinese restaurant”
“get lost in the Brambles of Central Park for a few hours (or days)”
“know the 5 boroughs, and appreciate that NYC goes far beyond Manhattan and nouveau-hip Brooklyn and Queens neighborhoods”
and When someone begins a story by saying, “I was walking along Broadway…” a New Yorker will stop and ask, “What borough?” (Yes, each borough has a Broadway.)
i wouldn’t call this “high ground for the New York Romantics”. i’d call this pride of being a New Yorker. and i’m sorry to say this but if one cries over that article, then their not a New Yorker, just someone who romanticizes New York from afar
Hey, Cire — Thanks for the comment. Yeah, you get where my suspicions come from.
I think crying over the article is a fair response, especially if you’re young and have just arrived. I think it’s consistent with Jen’s own narrative & with a long tradition of “coming to the city” narratives. We all arrive (unless we were born here) with a head full of stories and expectations & emotions attached to them.
more soon — bw
*they’re ( i meant to say their idea of being a New Yorker is misguided — stream of consciousness [sure ee])
i think that’s the problem with the new arrivals — they have pre-dispose idea of what NYC would be like, whether living the SATC, Gossip Girl, whatever lifestyle they’ve seen in tv or movies. back then, people who moved to NYC were just trying to get away where they’re from, and most moved here to be accepted and not be marginalized from their hometown or to create art, music, i.e. to be creative, but not to be fabulous.
one would cry over that article since now they are finding the the real truth about what it’s like to live in NYC or be a New Yorker and can relate and find they are not alone in their SATC polluted idea of living in NYC and that being a New Yorker does not mean living a fabulous lifestyle with fabulous jobs. that article basically burst their SATC bubble and have waken them in the reality that they are living in a closet space on 5 floor walk-up sleeping on air mattress in a closet space room on a five floor walk-up thus a not so fabulous lifestyle. and the article basically just said to them — hey, that’s ok, that’s what NYC or being a New Yorker is all about, you’re not alone.
Actually, the SATC version, crying over bedbugs, roaches, and high rents doesn’t describe the student I’m talking about (or the general type of student I’m thinking of w/r/t our WNY course). I think she saw some of her aspirations & desire to let the city reshape her in Jen’s narrative, esp the conclusion. But I’m just guessing.