Of Puppies, Pandemics and Privilege
Why was my essay about leaving New York during the pandemic the most sinister of my career?
This time last year, I was dragged on Twitter as essentially the worst person in the world. I was “a plague rat,” “a selfish asshole,” “a rich, tone deaf dip-shit,” and a “vapid, selfish fucking monster,” among hundreds of other vigorous characterizations.
The occasion for this outcry was my April 15, 2020 essay for Medium’s GEN magazine about leaving New York City in the wake of the pandemic and renting a place in the mountains of a southeastern state — with a high-maintenance puppy, no less.
I’d hesitated to write the piece. On the surface, which is pretty much the only layer on which anything gets read or discussed, it’s about as close to the definition of Twitter hate bait as you can get. Look! A privileged city person fleeing her urban petri dish by vectoring up an economically disadvantaged rural community and getting her Green Acres yucks on at the same time! The actual facts of the situation were quite different, but I knew the optics were stacked against me.
I published the essay anyway.
I have a habit of doing that. In the 25 years that I’ve been publishing my work, I’ve made something of a specialty of saying unpopular or unflattering things. But as I’ve mentioned in this space a few times lately, I don’t write about myself as much as I used to. Though I’m always careful to use my experience not so much as a main subject than as a lens through which to examine larger ideas, the last several years has had me foregrounding myself less and less. Part of the reason is that getting older can mean there’s less drama in your life (either the real kind or the kind you tend to stir up in your own brain when you’re in your twenties and thirties) and it’s easy to find yourself lacking for any observations that feel new.
But there’s something else going on, too. I find that I’ve also been shying away from first person writing because the lane of acceptable topics is becoming narrower everyday. This is especially true if you want to avoid being accused of the sin that social media most loves to police: privilege.