New York Times writer Tim Kreider may not live in Baltimore, but he sure knows how to get its goad. In a recent Sunday Review section, the writer waxed nostalgic about time spent slumming in Charm City a decade ago. Part memoir, part trend piece, part white-flight fear made plain, the article traverses the city’s gritty textures, basking in the glow of its trashcan core and lack of ambition.
Sure, Kreider nails a very specific nostalgia experienced by expats, but describing the current landscape with decade-old anecdotes and references to The Wire is simply insulting. Based on my own five years spent working in New York media, I could mirror his article in exactitude. I’d describe present day Brooklyn using wistful recollections of the extreme cheapness and sketchiness of pre-gentrified Bushwick. Then I’d support it with references to locations used around that time in Sex in the City scenes and quote something told to me by the city’s cultural ambassador, TV on the Radio’s Kyp Malone (who for the record ALSO hunts the same Union Pool barstool he did a decade ago). But that would be ridiculous, right?
Kreider’s piece is also condescending, but it’s not just because he’s talking about us. You’d be amazed at how many writers insult NYC as a narrative technique, compliment the quaintness of another place and then end with “but NYC is what’s right for me NOW”. It’s right for you now because you’ve become ambitious? Stopped stalling? Finally made it? Or just grew up?
It’s an all-too-familiar trope and a humble brag any way you slice it. That’s the core of the local outcry: it’s a visceral reaction to the writer’s lack of self-awareness. There’s a reason I chose to move to Baltimore instead of back to Brooklyn but it’s not because I don’t know better or am suddenly unambitious. (I actually met more more grand-scale visionaries when I lived in San Francisco, anyway).
I’ve stayed because my sense of what is important and most useful to society has shifted. That new ethos manifests as a less showy ambition, but not one that’s in any way smaller. I’ve been a loud voice on a national stage, but I think the work I’ve done recently, below the radar, is of equal or greater importance. It’s condescending to assume that a lack of similarity to one’s own ambitions means another person lacks ambition entirely.
To say nothing of the fact that the assumption of our wandering lifestyles is baldly inaccurate. Several guests at my 4th of July party had just come off national/international tours and about a dozen folks didn’t attend because they are currently out there. Another just got off the road supporting his book for Scholastic, a bunch of folks are doing work for Adult Swim. We had several people from NASA, one person who works on House of Cards, another from VEEP. A friend who shoots for the City Paper told me his coverage of the uprising was syndicated all over the world and his work recently bought by Library of Congress. We had several nurses/docs in training from Shock Trauma / Hopkins, both consistently rated top-tier learning facilities of their kind. New tech companies. New activism. New blood… and old blood too. Very, very old blood. Blood that remembers when Baltimore was king and the Big Apple was bankrupt.
They aren’t an aberration. This city is alive and spinning with significantly more than criminals, quirky Hons and John Waters lookalikes. Failing to acknowledge the dynamism of a place where so much has occurred and is occurring is either a dismissal of its achievements or a willful act of ignorance. I love New York, both for its people and its history, but, with respect:
It isn’t a city of unique ambition. It’s a city of unique and unending self-promotion.
And it enforces its primacy through the denigration and/or assimilation of OTHER peoples’ talents and ambitions. Doesn’t mean it isn’t its own kind of amazing, but let’s be honest: these types of articles aren’t about Baltimore. They’re about another place’s constant, unending need for affirmation.
PORTIONS OF THIS ARTICLE RAN PREVIOUSLY IN WAX ATLAS.