Since going into lockdown back in March, there has been much talk of New York City being “over.” Before the pandemic, the “Why I Left New York” story was an established genre in its own right. Even as some make their exodus from big cities to greener suburban pastures, there are still those making the opposite move and coming into cities for the first time. Despite the lockdown, there’s a trend among young people who are taking this time to uproot their lives and move to start over somewhere new.
Host Avery Trufelman talks about her own experience of moving to Brooklyn during the pandemic and the weird sort of intimacy involved in the process.
AVERY: I gave everything away. One friend took my ottoman. Another took my copy of the collected works of Joe Brainard. I unloaded it all in handoffs in the park, where I’d place the object between us and my friend would take it in their arms. My possessions became the conduit for our intimacy because I couldn’t hug them good-bye. And I couldn’t throw a party. I was moving during COVID. It felt like a bonkers idea to move right now. Although it seems like a lot of people are doing it. In this time of enforced stillness, there is so much motion.
The Cut’s writer Maddie Aggeler decided to move from Brooklyn to Austin, Texas, despite having never visited. She chose to dig in to this time of uncertainty because if not now, when?
MADDIE: I just sort of decided to leave. I knew a couple of people in Austin. It sounded really cool. I’ve never been.
AVERY: You’ve never been?
MADDIE: I’ve never been, but I was like, Why not? Seems cool.
AVERY: I could never take a risk like this. I feel like I was only able to move to New York because I’m from here, and my family is still here and I had a job here and I planned it all out. Although, I mean, Maddie is still working for the Cut. But she can just log on to Slack from wherever.
MADDIE: I think it’s just cool to just start a new life and be like, What is it going to be like? Who am I going to know? Where am I going to go? What’s it going to look like? Those uncertainties are very exciting to me.
Avery also spoke with author, artist, and activist Chanel Miller, who wrote under the alias Emily Doe about being sexually assaulted at Stanford University by Brock Turner. She moved to New York City from San Francisco one week before lockdown began.
CHANEL: You know, it’s funny to move into an apartment during lockdown. Everything is quiet. So I didn’t even know what the neighborhood looked like when it was alive.
AVERY: Why did you move?
CHANEL: I’ve been in California my whole life. And when I was writing the memoir, I felt like it was important to be close to my hometown and where everything happened. And then when I felt like I had finally confronted everything I could possibly confront, I thought, Okay, now my work is done, and I can ask myself what I actually want to do and where I want to be, which was a question that I didn’t have the liberty of asking because, for the last five years, my life was defined by this story, and I was locked inside this case. And so my choice was New York. And so I came to New York.
AVERY: How did you decide New York?
CHANEL: Publishing is here. You know, I would always come and I would have all my chapters printed out and my editor would lay them across a table and we would move things around. And I love being able to work with paper and work with people. Also I’m such a night owl. And so I like that this city enables me to stay up late in that it will feed me if I’m still awake at 2 a.m., which is not possible in San Francisco.
AVERY: Although no one is working with paper or people now. And the city that never sleeps pretty much seems to close down at midnight.
CHANEL: I mean, one thing that’s difficult is I moved away from everything that’s familiar and all the people that are very close to me. And so I think when you’re thrown into so much uncertainty, you have this instinct to kind of go back to what’s familiar to you.
The pandemic’s upending of routine has given a select group of lucky people a new sense of direction and freedom, prompting them to move. That’s not to say that moving during a pandemic isn’t lonely or hard. It probably will be. But it will also be exciting. And during such an uncertain time, it’s almost easier to make that leap that you’ve been thinking about and give in to the uncertainty of it all.
To hear more about what it’s like to move during a pandemic, listen above, and subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.