Someone once said to be a great writer, you have to be left alone. The thing about being a writer in New York is this city will leave you the hell alone.
Last night I went to an event at Housing Works Bookstore (an organization doing fantastic work, check them out.) Jazmine Hughes, Eve Peyser, Syreeta McFadden, Durga Chew-Bose, Norman Brannon, Yahdon Israel, Glory Edim, Mira Jacob, Helena Fitzgerald, and Claire Beaudreault, came together to share their New York stories in 180 seconds or less. Aside from being a "New York story" there were no other rules. Some told them, animated and engaging like we had been friends with them for ten years. Others read excerpts from their books, forthcoming or already published.
I'll admit, I only knew a few of the names but once I saw Jason Diamond was hosting, I was sold on the event. Ever since I went to his book signing of Searching for John Hughes at The Strand, I've become a bigger admirer of his work.
Almost everyone that got up on stage said how long they had lived in New York City. There were lifelong New Yorkers in Eve Peyser, and Yahdon Israel. Others had just hit 5-, 11-, and 20-year anniversaries.
I have only lived in New York for three months, but if I had to tell a 3-minute New York story it would be about last night. Being in a room with hundreds of people with no two alike origin stories who have come to the same bookstore because we have a shared interest is electrifying. Living here is like being part of a huge club where no one knows or cares who the other members are. But there is something unifying in the present about living here and will be in the future, long after you leave (if you ever do.)
On the stage, stories were told about gentrification, summertime sex, bad and broken relationships, and witnessing something truly awful, like accidental death or suicide. Each was bound together by the dirty streets we walk every day, crossing paths without ever meeting. Because New York is nothing without the people who live here. We were all on Crosby Street last night but every day, for better or worse– we're in New York. Separate but together.
Some of my other favorite lines from last night:
When you first move to New York, you'll notice couples fighting on the streets. If you live here long enough, you'll become one of those couples.
My boyfriend and I broke up on a Tuesday. We went for a walk, 5 years tied up in 20 minutes.
The year was 2012. I was just starting my first semester at The University of Georgia while Cat Marnell was being quoted in the New York Post article about quitting her job saying "I couldn’t spend another summer meeting deadlines behind a computer at night when I could be on the rooftop of Le Bain looking for shooting stars and smoking angel dust with my friends."I was almost exactly five years out from making my decision to move to New York City.
I can't quite recall how I stumbled across that infamous Page Six article or Cat Marnell or her writing, but I did and she quickly became one of my favorite writers. Some of my other favorite writers are Bret Easton Ellis, Sylvia Plath, Jay McInerney, and Hunter S. Thompson and Cat has a bit of each of them in her persona. I guess you could say I have a "type." And like so many others as I kept up with the Cat Marnell being chronicled in the media – I was excited when I heard the news of Simon & Schuster paying her a book advance. I read the proposal that netted her the advance, which was published on Jezebel. I waited. And then Cat seemed to all but disappear. Four years later there was finally some developments. Her proposal turned book, How to Murder Your Life, was finally forthcoming.
So imagine how I felt five years later when I went from being someone who read Cat's articles and about the media circus surrounding her to being at the release party for How To Murder Your Life in Williamsburg, Brooklyn?
My friend and I purposefully showed up an hour late, because that's what you're supposed to do, I guess. We each got a drink, and then a few minutes later there was Cat, the doe-eyed (former blonde) clad in a sparkly floor-length dress and a candy-colored purple wig that was curled.
"That's Cat," I pointed out to my friend. He hadn't heard much about her beforehand so in the uber ride from Nolita to Williamsburg, I tried to give him a verbal highlight reel of the 2012-present day Cat Marnell story. I didn't rush up to her right away, but let her smoke her cigarette, mingle for a bit, and hang out behind the DJ booth. About an hour went by before I approached her.
When I finally did, I said hello and told her I was an aspiring writer that had just moved to New York. I asked her if she had any writing advice for me.
"Any writing advice?" She echoed back. Someone approached her for a picture. "Hold on. Stay right here. I'll be right back, don't move." She was swarmed for group pictures and then swept away talking to other people, presumably friends and people like me who wanted a chance to talk to Cat.
After a few minutes, I walked back to my friend. I never ran back into her. If it was a brush off (and I don't think it was) it didn't feel like one. And so after staying for a few more hours, dancing the night away to Bad and Boujee and wrapping a How To Murder Your Life-themed hospital bracelet on my wrist, my friend and left the release party.
With or without advice from Cat, it was a great party and an even better reminder that a lot can change in five years. In five years, I went from starting school at UGA to living in Kansas City to living in New York and reading Cat's Amphetamine Logic columns for VICE on my laptop to being at the release party for one of my favorite writers. Life can surprise you in that way – and it's wonderful.
By Kathryn Greene