“That is one last thing to remember: writers are always selling somebody out.” — Joan Didion.
Private writing is therapy, and public writing is almost the art of making political statements.
In my diary, where I don’t have to worry about half finished thoughts and under-polished phrases, I could write pages upon pages about the mundane aspects of my life in New York, of people I’ve met and loved and grew apart from and reconnected with and rematerialized like a nostalgic ghost and then just like that faded back into the hums of daily appointments and Jira tasks and lectures and projects and grocery lists. I could write about my anticipations of trends and events, where I can see my life was going and didn’t. I could write about my expectations of myself and how those expectations were fulfilled, or more interestingly, not. I could write about my favorite restaurants without worrying about the bucket list checking tourists swamping out our Tuesday night tables until the restaurants, too, fade into my list of places I had loved and had relied on, to come back two years later when the crowd has moved on to find the staff had burned out and the food no longer contained the taste of joy that I remembered after a year or two of corner cutting and shrinkflation for a crowd that has been and has since moved on. I could write about my boring habit of loitering at the little dollar pizza store near Grand Central where I used to watch people zooming by making it to their train back to Greenwich.
But here – a space that is incredibly public (associated with my name, perhaps forevermore) and yet I feel as of it is in a forgotten corner, a little secret pavilion on Park Avenue owned by some struggling mega-corporation whose city-required public space in exchange for tax deduction, perhaps I can write about how hard it is to pick a place to eat at 8 PM on a Tuesday night, when the weather is bad, and the only person who can open the door to the place is a stranger who is not a stranger at all. Perhaps the place is a bit too empty, the owner a bit too haggard, and yet the chicken soup still tastes like its coriander had been lovingly roasted in the sun before the chef skillfully roasted it into her memory of home and the crisp air of Nepal, of chickens loitering in the backyard and children running around in the roads.
Places like that – the places down the street that make New York City feel like home to me – places where people who are as skilled as many Michelin-starred and James Beard-nominated chefs but who, like me, didn’t grow up in the Eater hype machine or the ICC – is it really selling out to write about them?