Friday Speak Out!: Leaving New York

Friday, February 21, 2020
by Laura Yeager

It was 1985.

I was 22, and I had moved to New York because I thought I wanted to become a magazine editor. I’d won a prize in a fiction contest at Cosmopolitan. Since I had an in, Cosmo was the first place I applied for a job.

I needed interview clothes. I bought a blue, flowered, southern bell dress at Bolton’s for $39.99. The thought never occurred to me to invest in an interview suit.

The day of the interview, my boss where I was temping at The American Bible Society, a kind, older gentleman who was watching out for me (babysitting), said when I came to bring him his daily coffee and warm corn muffin, “Now that’s how a lady is supposed to dress.” He wished me luck, and I hoofed it over to the Hearst building on 57th Street.

The young, beautiful woman who interviewed me had advice to impart.

“Don’t become an editor,” she said.

“Why not?”

“You’re a writer. You’ll never get any writing done if you become an editor. Do you want to be unhappy for the rest of your life? Move back to Ohio and write.”

Needless to say, I didn’t get the job. She wouldn’t give it to me.

But what the girl at Cosmo said was weighing on my mind. Should I leave the city?

I plowed forward. I moved from a college friend’s parents’ brownstone to an apartment in Park Slope, rooming with an editorial assistant at MS. Magazine. She occupied the living room, and I got the bedroom. The rent was $450.00 a month. (Those were the days.)

I didn’t have much to move--only clothes and a typewriter. I was still typing everything on a Brother electric. My room was furnished with a box spring and mattress and a creaky, old desk.

Cosmopolitan called and graciously offered me the job of reading their slush pile.

Flattered, I took the freelance work.

The gig consisted of picking up brown grocery bags of manuscripts still in their manila envelopes at the Cosmo office, taking them back to my apartment, reading each story and making an editorial decision about the fiction. If a short story wasn’t worthy of passing on to a “real” editor, I attached a rejection slip to it and mailed it back to the writer in the SASE she’d sent.

I made a salary of 25 cents a manuscript.

Around that time, I found a part-time day job as an assistant to an arts fundraiser. I typed and proofed grant applications for various arts organizations around New York. The commute was long, 90 minutes one way, on the train. I hated it.

Things were going all right for about a week until I had to do laundry in Brooklyn. The nearest laundromat was two blocks away. I loaded up my clothes in my only suitcase and somehow made it to the dirty washhouse.

Let me just say, doing laundry at my neighborhood laundromat was not pleasant.

It was hard living in New York.

The job was going OK, I guess, but my social life, not so good. Basically, I had one friend, Sam.

One lonely Saturday in December, it was pouring down icy cold rain. I called Sam, who lived in Manhattan, and asked him to come down to Brooklyn.

“In the rain?”

“Yes. Come visit me.”

“Not in the rain.”

Life in New York was getting harder. I hated my commute on the subway, hated doing laundry, hated my lonely existence.

I left New York a week later and moved back to Akron just in time for Christmas.

Now if I think about it, if I’d never left New York, I would have never had the life I have now. It’s a good life. I live on a quiet cul-de-sac in a suburb of Akron; I adore my partner; I have a beautiful child.

I’m glad I listened to that young woman at Cosmopolitan. “Don’t be an editor. You’ll never have any chance to write.”

Out here in Ohio, I’m writing up a storm, but truth be told, GOD, I MISS NEW YORK!

I miss the wind whipping down the block on a freezing day, the pavement so bitter cold that it goes right through your cheap, black flats. I miss breakfasts in shiny delis. I miss the pails of red, purple and yellow flowers resting in water, the roses and the carnations and the tulips, in front of crowded corner grocery stores. Riding buses. The musicians playing a classical guitar duet. The dancers in the upper stories of buildings visible through plate glass windows, practicing pirouettes. Broadway shows!

Yes, I miss New York.

New York made me a little tougher and a lot wiser. In this big city, someone stole $650.00, the money from my first paycheck, right out of my blazer pocket, on 42nd Street.

Why did I leave New York?

* * *
Currently, Laura Yeager is writing regularly for curetoday.com, a leading cancer website, and psychcentral.com. Laura teaches writing at Gotham Writers’ Workshop and at Kent State University. She is looking for an agent for her book The Prodigal Daughter, a collection of short fiction and nonfiction about bipolar illness.
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Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!
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10 comments:

Angela said...

Laura ~ I love your story! What a refreshing personal essay told with such detail and compression. That's so interesting the woman at Cosmo told you not to be an editor. She has a point. When I'm buried in editing work, my personal writing gets put on hold. In fact, I didn't write creatively for ten years, but it was more than just editing--it was owning two businesses that took all the creativity right out of me.
So you worked for Cosmo in New York! How many people can say that? :) It's so interesting how we look back on times that were hard and miss them. Your paragraph that starts with "I miss the wind ..." is gorgeous. Such lovely images. :) I'm writing a coming-of-age memoir right now about some of the roughest times of my life, but there are things I look back and miss... mostly my youth! Lol. Good luck on your agent search, and keep up the great writing! :)

Laura Yeager said...

Dear, Angela:

Thank you for your kind words. I'm so glad "Leaving New York" found a home at WOW! Good luck with your memoir. Can't wait to read it.

Laura Yeager

Sioux Roslawski said...

Laura--I am a woman of "a certain age" and I too was impressed by the Cosmo job.

Good luck with finding an agent. You need thick skin to keep submitting... and right now, my skin is dangerously thin.

(It's funny how we miss the times and places where and when we had it rough. I still love macaroni and cheese with sauteed onions, and that goes back to when I was a single mother, money was reeeally tight, and my daughter ate decently, but I would have a dinner of 25-cent macaroni and cheese (the plain label kind, in those days). Sauteeing onions to add to it made me feel like it was a gourmet meal. ;)

Margo Dill said...

Hi Laura:
It's so funny that you write all these hard things that happened in NY and then you say that you missed it! But I get it! There are times in my life when things were hard or difficult, and I miss them because of the good things that were going on then too. Life is such a big, wonderful mess! Best of luck with all your writing! Which you got to do, I guess, because you didn't take the Cosmo job.

Laura Yeager said...

Dear, Sioux:

Thank you for your kind comments. I'm going to try the fried onion and macaroni and cheese recipe. Sounds good!

Laura Yeager said...

Margo:

Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my essay!!

Evelyn Krieger said...

Loved your essay, Laura. I think aspiring writers can learn a lot from reading the slush pile. Glad you persevered. I went to NYU in the 1980's. Now my daughter is there. We are both writers and creative souls.MYDecember blog post was about New York at Christmas time. NYC today is cleaner, safer, more crowded, and super expensive. Do you ever visit?

Laura Yeager said...

Dear Evelyn:

Thank you for your email! Yes, I do visit New York. My nephew and my editor live there, so I go in to see them fairly often.

Holly Jahangiri said...

Gosh, if I'd known I had an "in" at Cosmo, I'd have submitted something for you to read (and maybe we'd have gotten back in touch sooner, or I could've given you your quarter's worth of misery).

I don't think I'd have understood what that woman was trying to say, when I was younger, either. But I do think there are writers, and there are editors, and it is a very different skillset and interest. The writers I know who are working as editors are miserable; the editors who are forced to write are miserable, and God bless them - the good ones bring out the writer's best, while the bad ones (me!) are compelled to rewrite the whole thing from the ground up.

Laura Yeager said...

Hi, Holly:

So glad we're back in touch! Thanks for commenting.

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