On Leaving New York City

This Is That Dreaded Blog Post That Was Foretold

Every blog poster fears that one day this post will be upon them — that painfully self-important and -unaware “Why I’m Leaving ${city}” post. I’m gonna try to do this right; to make this one on the less-obstinate side to some of the other ones I’ve seen, but unfortunately I may make no promises, and you’re on my blog.

I’ve tried to write this post for a few weeks, and each time it just gets longer and more ambling and less clear, so I’ll keep this short for now and update periodically. The general rundown is: why did I move to New York, what did I find here, why am I moving back to Denver, and how will it all matter in the context of my life?

Real talk, this one is mad self-indulgent, and has almost nothing to do with websites. You’ve been warned.

That’s New York Babey

I moved to New York City towards the start of the pandemic, after the Tiger King Era but before the Vaccine Era. Every movie I loved had a Central Park in Autumn scene, every post-punk revival band that got me through high school had some song about New York; there’s so much cinematic and cultural lore to the city, and I had known for a long time that I wanted to be part of it. New York is a town full of brave and confident main characters — when the isolation of the pandemic set in and I started to lose my senses of meaning and self, it felt like it’d be a good place to find them again.

We’re getting to the overly philosophical part. Bear with me, keep your lantern on the path.

But people are more than the place they live, and it turns out you cannot just update your home address as a proxy for a personality. I did not immediately find who I was meant to be the moment I drove into Manhattan, and that was challenging.

I started experimenting with aspects of my life, an exercise I understand now was meant to test what parts of my Self are durable and valuable. Accidentally at first, then maybe too intentionally, I began to ask myself a torrent of questions — what pieces of my personality am I proud of? What pieces may I leave behind? For example, is my sober lifestyle still important to me, or am I still glad to be a vegan? Do I like dancing? Am I a kind person? Will I look back at the way I’ve spent my time with pride, or with disappointment? Does a man decide he is a certain way, or is that decision made anew in his every act and action?

A thousand years and two apartments and millions of everything bagels and one copy of Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search For Meaning” later, I still felt as listless and as confused as when I left Denver, and realizing that was clarifying. I’ve come to understand in the last six months two things:

  1. If I am to be made, I must do it myself — ${city} cannot do it for me, and
  2. If I am to continue to make myself, I’d like to do it out West — it’s time to follow the sunsets back home.

Go West, Young Man

Philosophically, I’m moving back to Denver because New York answered for me empirically that I will not find an end to the deep, gnawing sort of yearning for Something I’ve always wrestled with in a new map location. And more terrestrially, I’m moving because I miss the good weather and the mountains, I miss the tight homies, and I miss my folks.

I’ve always been enamored with the staggering drama of the Rockies and Wild Western skies and I do think it was goofy to deny myself access to those things. There’s a great Cy Warman poem1 where he identifies the unique feeling of being in the Rocky Mountains:

And when I walk where the flowers talk
I just feel good all over.

I miss my friends, the DIY punk kids and queers and cyclists and car nerds and Arcteryx hiking fiends. New York has all types of people; in fact I’m sure there are these sorts of people here too, but they’re not my people like these old Coloradan friends. You can’t replace your community.

Finally, I’m honestly a huge mama’s boy, and it’s taxing to be so far away all the time. I love my parents. I’m proud of the life they’ve built for themselves, and I want them to witness enough of my life to be proud of me too. The monthly phone calls home ain’t cutting it.

The Bittersweet Part

There’s something poignant about saying goodbye to a city like New York. It’s taken me month to shake loose the fear that I’m somehow giving up on a version of myself I fantasized about being for years. I’m still learning to part with all those imagined futures of SoHo loftdom and weekly West Village diner mornings and painfully well-dressed see-and-be-seen Central Park walks.

It’s the hidden cost of romanticizing and daydreaming about a million possible lives: you can live all of those lives a little bit if you want, but never at the same time. I think the growth I need to do here is getting comfortable with viewing my lifetime as a collage of lifetimes. It’s the end of this NYC chapter for now, but not necessarily forever, and the tapestry becomes more thoroughly woven with each life I weave into it.

I think I can say this in a more resonant way if I think more carefully about it. Line?

The Actually Constructive Part

At the end of the day, it’s not that useful to spend my entire life yearning, and it makes me feel threadbare. I don’t regret moving to New York even the tiniest bit — I’m grateful for all the soul-searching and adventures and friendships I can’t wait to make last a lifetime.

There are things about New York I adore and will miss dearly, and I’m sure there are things about living in Chicago or London or Mexico City that I’d adore too, but I don’t want to spend the rest of my twenties driving Uhauls and checking the greenness of the grass. It is in my control to actualize the life I want. So here’s the plan:

Wrapping Up This Chapter Right

I dread the thought of returning to Denver and realizing all the things I ought to have done while I was still in NYC, so I’m minmaxing NYC in the weeks I have left. I’ve made a New York City Bucket List that I’ll keep updated even after I’ve moved away. This city is an infinite playground of new experiences to have — in a dozen lifetimes I will not know all the wonder NYC has to share, but I’m gonna do my best. I want to meet everyone here I haven’t yet (get at me lol), and otherwise spend as much time as possible on an adventure.

Urbanism and Civil Engagement

The thing a lot of these Why I’m Leaving City posts get wrong is that the way to live in a city is to invest personally in its development. It is each of our responsibilities to engage with your community and help make it safe and wonderful and accessible for everyone. The things about the city of New York that still excite me most are the trains and the diversity of experience:

You can take a $2 train 30 minutes from my Upper East Side (xoxo) apartment and make it most of the way to any neighborhood in the city, and that’s almost more liberating than owning a car and having access to the entire American interstate system. Denver is a great city and they’ve made leaps with their transit system over the last 10 years, but there’s plenty more progress to be made. I’m resolving to spend my first year back getting involved in the Coloradan public transit infrastructure community, and working to get more accessible, comprehensive, and publicly-funded transit built.

Secondly, you can meet so many thousands of types of people in New York — every time I leave my house I discover a new sort of wonderful and spectral person, and I want to find that sort of diversity and community in Denver too. This is a much more complex pool to wade into as an individual than the aforementioned “lol just build more trains forehead”, but I think I can focus my efforts firstly in the scope of my new neighborhood; as Pratt Institute professor Courtney Knapp writes:

As a unit of planning, the neighborhood is the most important in terms of promoting social diversity and increasing social capital. It is conceptually broad enough to get individuals to think beyond themselves and their streets, but of a small enough scale to still support the notion of “neighborliness” and encourage collaboration between community planners and stakeholders.2

Specifically, I think my background in web design and development can be useful for event programming and outreach — there are always better email newsletters to program and event websites to be built.


Anyway, thanks for reading, I think that’s all I’ve got in this particular gasping breath of a blog post. If you’d like to chat about this one, or make a friend in New York or in Denver, feel free to shoot me an email. If you’ve got recommendations for Things I Absolutely Must Do Before Leaving NYC, I’d love to hear about those too, either via email or via the form on nyc.henry.codes. I’ll keep a running changelog as I inevitably decide to do more rolling down this hill and subsequently update the post.

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