By Geo Ong
I am not sure that it is possible for anyone brought up in the East to appreciate entirely what New York, the idea of New York, means to those of us who came out of the West and the South.
—Joan Didion, ‘Goodbye to All That’, Slouching Towards Bethlehem
I’ve lived in New York City for six months, and in about a week I will visit home for the first time since leaving. Home is Los Angeles, by the way, and of course it always will be, which is why I’m excited, if not a little anxious, to spend a week there.
During my last six months in Los Angeles, my decision to move to New York City already final, I spent many moments walking along the edge of Redondo Beach, daydreaming about how different my new life would be. It will feel rather strange now to walk that same stretch of beach, this time thinking (not even remembering, recalling, or imagining, but thinking) about my very real life, my actual reality, the one that’s waiting for me at home, New York City, as I visit family and friends back West.
It just so happened (although, these occurrences tend to happen to me more and more often as of late) that, two days ago, for no purposeful reason, I read Joan Didion’s superb and Cali-centric book of essays, Slouching Towards Bethlehem. The last essay, ‘Goodbye to All That,’ struck me particularly. It’s a meditative essay, written in retrospect, of Didion’s first eight years in New York City. She is, like me, from California (Sacramento, to be exact, which of course is very different from Los Angeles), and moved to New York City when she was around 22 or 23. In the essay she documents the slow erosion of what New York City meant to her. At 28, in her mind, the city seemed to age along with her and everything seemed old. The excitement had withered away, and the loneliness of the big City, so liberating a feeling at one time, began to sink her down. After eight years, she and her husband moved—where else?—to Los Angeles.
Joan Didion is many things to me, but is prophet one of them? I suddenly recall an LA friend of mine tell me that New York is the kind of place that chews you up for a few years and then spits you back out. I then recall a distant cousin of mine, a former New Yorker who has since lived in many other places, still regard New York as the place in which he could’ve lived and died.
Of course these thoughts are all interesting at best and pointless at worst. Six months is a very young amount of time. And, perhaps most importantly, anyone who knows me shouldn’t ignore the fact that the urge to travel may trump any physical place in this entire world for the rest of my life, no matter how much I think I love it.
We’ll just never know.
(I almost forgot to mention: Joan Didion moved back to New York City in 2005.)