Why didn’t I leave the City sooner? This is a question I often ask myself. I’ve been living in the Hudson Valley for two years after living in Brooklyn for fifteen. My last few years in Brooklyn were like being in a bad relationship, it held so much promise but really couldn’t deliver. Like somehow if I stayed there maybe my dreams of being a writer-musician-wunderkind would come true, but in reality I was working so much I had nothing left at the end of the day to pursue my creativity.
I stayed because of my business. I just didn’t know how I would make money somewhere else. I stayed because of my ego. There’s some kind of identity of being a New Yorker that I wanted to hang onto. I had worked so hard to carve out my little niche that I was reluctant to give it up.
But I was so stressed out from the noise, crowds, constant stimulation, and work that my adrenals were shot, my system was inflamed and I became depressed. Everything looked great on paper- I had the business, husband, apartment but then I couldn’t get out of bed. The suicidal thoughts came and wouldn’t stop which led to shrinks, more and more meds, hospitalizations, and eventually ECT (electroshock therapy), which affected my memory and left me a shell of my former self.
We couldn’t keep going in the city. I somehow sold my business during all this, and while I was on my psych hospital tour of 2015, my husband moved all our stuff into storage upstate. We moved into the tiny weekend cottage in Catskill that we had been renting for a few years. No jobs and no guarantees that we were going to be ok. Nothing.
I wouldn’t have ever left if I hadn’t gotten so sick, that I am certain of. I would’ve worked myself literally to death. But now what would become of us?
The same day my husband moved our stuff into storage he got a job interview in his field up in Albany and he actually got the job. It was a 45-minute commute, but some people do that or more in the City crushed in a subway car with half of humanity. A typical NYC kid he’d only gotten his license in the past year after a lot of prodding from me. Now he had to buy a car and drive to Albany every day. Thankfully, the thruway between Catskill & Albany traffic really isn’t all that bad. His commute would be air conditioning, music, and mountains on either side, not riding in a subway car with a pair of discarded shit filled underwear across the aisle like he did his last few weeks in NYC.
I, on the other hand, was a mess. The depression was better, but I wasn’t totally out of the woods. I struggled with the trauma of the past year in hospitals and losing my life in the city, my business, etc. I worried the only job I could get would be working a Target at the depressed Hudson Valley Mall. But at least I’d have a nice view of the mountains. If I had to work at Lowes the same was true. And if I worked at Stewarts at least I’d probably get free ice cream.
One thing we held onto in this transition was the fact that none of our friends who had left the City and moved upstate said they regretted it and wished they could go back. They had vibrant lives and families and time to enjoy them.
For work I boarded and trained dogs and I opened a small gift and pet related shop in Saugerties called Dogerties. I had always wanted to have a little shop and the rent was so reasonable. I couldn’t have afforded to do it in the City. I started sewing and making dog coats, pillows, and bandanas. I had always wanted to learn to sew but never had time. While I was sitting in the slow shop I wrote and played music a little, but mainly I just recovered from the past year or years it had taken to get me to this place.
We were able to buy a house, a simple ranch on 7 acres, with a creek and mountain views. Our mortgage is less than a studio apartment in the City. We could sit out on the back deck and watch the pink and orange sunset over the mountains.
I took my dog for walks on the different trails nearby, the Comeau in Woodstock, the Lighthouse & Falling waters in Saugerties, some of the easy hikes in the mountains near Tannersville. I read. I listened to music. I slept. I ate and gained weight from the psych meds and not walking everywhere in the City. I went to the gym.
Sometimes, I got frustrated about my weight and tried to go down on my meds or switch and wound up feeling like shit again and going back up. Some days I cried and was scared I was falling back down the hole again, but usually the next day would be a little better. I just had to be patient, which has never been my strong suit.
I met other writers, artists, musicians, and instead of them being competitive as they were in the City, they were oddly nice and supportive. They weren’t worried about who your agent was or how many books or records you’ve sold. There are a lot of sharp elbows in the City. Upstate people are just excited to meet and experience another creative.
Dogerties was losing money despite my best efforts and I knew I would close when my lease was up at the end of the year. I’m glad I got to try having a shop, but honestly, sitting around waiting for someone to come in is not for me. But I value the experience as something I wouldn’t have had in the City. I made friends with the other shop owners in town and met a lot of nice people.
I didn’t know what I would do next, but I got more and more interested in real estate since I had been looking at Hudson Valley & Catskill Real Estate for so many years in the City. The real estate agent who had sold us our house became a friend and encouraged me to study for my real estate license. I passed and got a job at her company. I really enjoy it, but it is a lot of work and you’re never sure if you’ll actually make money. I’ve done pretty well so far selling a few houses in my first year and I hope with the hustle I learned in NYC I’ll be able to make my business grow to sustain me.
I went back to Brooklyn recently for the first time in two years. A lot of friends have moved away and the few we have left there are anxiously hanging on or planning their exit. Brooklyn has become a caricature of itself. Everything is “Brooklyn” loft or “Brooklyn” coffee or “Brooklyn” mayonnaise. I don’t even think Brooklyn is in Brooklyn anymore.
When I moved there in 2000 Brooklyn was creative, rough around the edges, rife with possibility. I see all that more in Catskill and Kingston than in Brooklyn these days. It’s exciting to be a part of a community again where regular not wealthy people are starting out shops, galleries, restaurants, doing their art, and finding their way.
I think it’s possible upstate because it’s more affordable and there is more down time, which is what Brooklyn used to be. Now Brooklyn is more expensive—the art space that used to be around the corner from me is now a gym, the tattoo shop an insurance firm, the record shop a bank.
I’ll never be grateful for the sickness that drove me out of the city, but I am grateful for the life I have today. It’s quiet, but not boring, there’s actually so much going on in the Hudson Valley & Catskills that I can’t do everything. From music shows, to literary readings, to gallery openings, to hiking, swimming, and farming. I thought I would feel isolated, but I’m always running into someone in town that I know, always meeting yet another City expat or weekender that wishes they could be here full time.
I think the best gift that this move has given me is that now I know I can hustle anywhere. NYC gave me the gift of making me tough, creative, and resourceful and now I get to do that in a beautiful place where I actually have time to enjoy it.
If I could’ve told myself anything a few years ago it would’ve been just to leave. Leave before it gets so bad you have to leave. Life is too short to be miserably hanging onto what you think you are and where you think you need to be. Just fucking leap, you will land and it may be even better than you’d thought it would be.