Thursday, August 5, 2010

Is the Big Apple a poisoned fruit?

Towards beginning of this week, I went to a party for writers on a recovered boat. It was an experience I will cherish and carry to my grave. The weather, the people, the temperature, and the music were all perfect. It’s true; you can live all your life in New York and yet discover a breathtaking place every week.

But as a bunch of us got talking, a friend’s friend, who is also a visual artist aside from being a writer and works in this gorgeous community where 30 artists share a communal kitchen and dining space -- like an artist residency but within NYC, said something that caught my attention. She was talking about how she and her boyfriend had invited their artist friends, from the community, over for dinner a few nights ago. But here is the key, they managed to cook a meal for nine people under $35!!! Remarkable, isn’t it?

Maybe it’s an Indian thing where we don’t mention money and dinner invitation in the same breath. Hospitality, sometimes, breaks our backs, but we don’t (or choose not to) whine about it. Also, for most non-vegetarian Indians, your meat and fish would cost way more than $35 for a meal for less than nine people since we are used to serving multiple entrees. And I am not even talking about wine or other alcoholic beverages.

Separate story: Couple of evenings ago, I met a friend for tea, and she was frustrated that a lot of people from her social network were moving out of New York. Why? Because most of them think that though the city has tons of opportunities, it is also not sustainable. It’s difficult to buy your own place. And when you do, it’s a matchbox (People from Bombay can relate to this). And if one of the partners in the relationship decides to not work or turn an entrepreneur or follow an artistic career or stay at home to take care of the kids, it’s difficult to maintain the existing lifestyle. Your basic cost of living is so high.

Putting the conversation from both the evenings together brought up a crude reality that most artists and single-income families in New York City often have to deal with. Not all, and I am not generalizing. Kudos to those who don’t have to.

For people who have always lived with a single income, their lifestyle is different. In some ways, they are more set. They are used to expenses dependent on one paycheck. My post is based on interviews with fellow writers, artists, or anyone else who had a traditional, dependable paycheck coming in every two weeks for the longest time of their career. All of a sudden, your lifestyle is crippled.

I understand that lifestyle is a matter of perspective. No one-way of living is better than the other. But habit is a bad thing. The older we get, the more set we are in our needs and wants. While a backpacking vacation across Europe sounded promising (The hope of meeting SRK on Eurail) when you were twenty-two; at thirty, you want a reasonably good hotel room with an attached bathroom in a good neighborhood.

NYC offers very many temptations that spoil habits. Given the paucity of space, people prefer dining out instead of entertaining at home. You can walk out of your apartment building, and the aroma from restaurants or sight of other distractions lure the wallet. My husband and I don’t live in a Donald Trump neighborhood, yet our building has a fancy Latin restaurant, which makes the most amazing sangria. For people, who are used to trying new cuisines & restaurants, hanging out with friends at wine bars, watching Broadway shows, or doing extensive vacations regularly, all of a sudden, the lack of a paycheck hits you. The reasons for which people choose to move to the Big Apple eventually start gnawing at their throats like poisoned apple.

I have friends, in well-paying corporate jobs, who would want to work part-time but can’t. To be able to afford to pay the nanny and the child’s 25K in pre-school, along with other ridiculous fixed cost, requires two salaries.

Is it a surprise that a lot of people eventually want to move out of the city? If another place offers you the opportunity to lead a life of quality on your terms, eventually the move is bound to happen. After all, priorities change with age. People my age would prefer an extra bedroom as opposed to living on a floor above a dance club. I am not joking; a friend of ours did at one time in Chelsea and every time we visited her, we vibrated involuntarily along with the furniture in her room.

When people ask me how is the transition from being the head of marketing (again, dependable remuneration) to a full-time writer (no guarantees of fixed income), I always tell them that I saved for this one year, so I could travel to residencies and attend workshops. If I lived in any other city in the US, I would have never thought twice about it. But given where I live, beyond this year, I have no idea what the writer in me is destined to do. Writing is here to stay. But whether or not I’ll be back in corporate America will depend on what NYC does with me.

More until next time,


Copyright © 08.05.2010

“Each man reads his own meaning into New York” ~ Meyer Berger

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