Call the Hipster, He’ll Come Over

Last week, I was interviewed by Margaret Durfy for her dissertation. Her subject is city living, urban subcultures, and hipsters. For whatever reason, she was put into contact with me by my friend Katie, who long ago fucked off out of NYC to go grad school in Boulder and, you know, be all successful and stuff.

Anyway. I met Margaret at Joe on East 13th Street. Despite my oft-professed misanthropy, I found her very affable, not least because she wanted to ask me all about my favorite subject: me!

(See, that’s funny because if you actually know me at all you know just how little I think of myself. It’s ironic!)

It was a strange experience in some ways. I moved to New York in August 2003 and know I made the right decision. Until I was asked why, though, I never thought about the question.

The question started with where I’m from and why I left. I never really considered the why because I didn’t think I needed a reason beyond “it’s Tulsa”. The interview was supposed to last an hour, but it went over 90 minutes because I truly considered my answers and I really, really can’t ever shut the fuck up.

Why did I leave? Because within the hermetically sealed little world of my friends and the people around me that I built in Tulsa, I was too close to the center, too close to being talented enough to slot in among the people at the top of the group. I just… don’t think I belong at the top. If I was in a place where I was better than mediocre, the place was too small.

Why New York? Because I always thought I was a city kid; how better to find out than to move to the biggest one in the country? No truer test.

I also got to speak on my current theory of myself: that I am a self-hating hipster. “Hipster”, what a loaded word. It represents so much. Affectations, fashion, degree of employment, parental assistance, so much. Everyone has an opinion on their idea of a hipster. Many people’s opinion is negative. That mostly includes my own.

So: people see me in a t-shirt and jeans, hair dirty, tattoos, riding my bike or hanging out in Park Slope or Williamsburg. Can I blame them for automatically assuming I am whatever a hipster is? No, I can’t; for all intents and purposes, I am one. But that doesn’t stop it from bothering me.

Ultimately, I guess that represents why trying to define “hipster” fails. It means too many disparate things. Relocating to New York from somewhere smaller and less glamourous and being or pretending to be poor is really all it takes. I have those things down.

I’ve been in NYC for long enough now that even the most stringent native would at least consider the argument that I’m a New Yorker. I may even stay long enough to make it a sure fact. I already have a pretty clear idea of the “who”. But over the past few days, I’ve put some thought into “why New York?”, and it’s led me to the biggest one of all: why haven’t I ever thought about this before?

7 comments

  1. leah

    nice. seriously. but i’ll argue with you (AGAIN) that i wish you had a “nicer” back sorry like “i was looking for an adventure….something different.” or “my girlfriend was moving there. i thought why not join her” rather than Tulsa=small minded, mediocre and unglamorous. i’d imagine wayne coyne would have some interesting thoughts on living in oklahoma. as would many, many others. meh. i need to end this argument with you. you have the right to feel like you deserve better or more and i think you are in many ways attaining.

    • Jesse

      I wasn’t knocking Tulsa for being less glamourous than NYC. Most places are. It’s a fact.

      And I think you misunderstand me, at that. I never called Tulsa small-minded or mediocre; I said that I am not good enough to be more than mediocre, and in the world I made in Tulsa, I was. There is a world of difference there; you’re either putting words in my mouth or projecting. Whichever it is, it’s not what I said.

  2. Johanna

    There’s a quote whose provenance I can’t recall. It says that there are 3 types of New Yorkers – those who are born here, who give New York its stability. Those who commute here, but live elsewhere, who give New York its ebb and flow. And those who come here from somewhere else. The last type gives New York its passion.

    In the end, maybe the answer is that it’s not about the past. I think in general, people come to New York because we’re looking for the future. We’re looking to reinvent, reimagine. We’re looking for a little bit more than whatever we used to have.
    It takes a strong person, a brave person, and a person willing to give up just about everything for their one little scrap of this town.

    In the end, isn’t everybody who’s young and broke a hipster? Isn’t that the term, so we can categorize and qualify everything and everybody? A nice neat label? A box to put people in? It’s just a word. With no true clear meaning.

  3. Adi

    Because introspection is impossible. I never really know the reasons I do stuff. Isn’t “because I want to” a good enough answer?

    I can’t, in my wildest dreams, imagine belonging in New York. It’s beyond me. I have to work hard enough to be mediocre where I am. Imagine if I went where all the talented people are? GOD. No thanks.

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