Sari Botton, Carolita Johnson, and Rosie Schaap, GOODBYE TO ALL THAT (Revised Edition)

Sari Botton, Carolita Johnson, and Rosie Schaap, GOODBYE TO ALL THAT (Revised Edition)

Zibby is joined by Sari Botton, the editor of Goodbye to All That, and two of the authors who contributed essays to the revised anthology, Carolita Johnson and Rosie Schaap. The four women discuss the role New York City has played in each of their lives, as well as how it has changed since the re-release was planned back in 2019. The interview, like the book, was full of nostalgia, reflections, and love for the iconic city.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, everybody, to “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” We’re discussing Goodbye to All That, edited by Sari Botton, Writers on Loving and Leaving New York. We are joined by Carolita Johnson and Rosie Schaap as well, and Sari. Here we go. Welcome, everybody.

Sari Botton: Thanks for having us.

Zibby: As a life-long New Yorker, I was particularly drawn to the topic of this book and your other book, both people who have left New York and people who love New York and the intersection of both of those. Sari, not only did you curate this collection, but you contributed to it as well. Then Carolita and Rosie, you both have written essays in the book. I was hoping, Sari, maybe you could start by talking a little about what inspired you to collect all these essays to begin with, I know you have come from a Longreads background, and if that informed this collection here. Then I’d love to hear from Rosie and Carolita about their essays. Maybe everyone could just share what their essays are about.

Sari: I originally published this book in 2013. I had been trying for years to get publishers and agents interested. Everybody said it was a great idea, but I shouldn’t do it because I didn’t have enough platform. Anthologies don’t sell. I had moved Upstate in 2005 after my husband and I got kicked out of our apartment in the East Village. I kept meeting other versions of myself, people who had had to leave New York or wanted to leave New York. Then also, outside of Hudson Valley, where I live — I was a columnist for The Rumpus — I kept interacting with people who either had left New York or had thought about leaving New York. The Didion essay kept coming up in conversation, the Joan Didion iconic essay that she published in 1967, first in the Saturday Evening Review. Is that the name? Saturday Evening Post, and then in her collection, Slouching Towards Bethlehem. I just kept thinking, what about a collection of essays inspired by that? I eventually went to Seal Press. They were interested. The book was a hit. It was such a hit that in 2019, Seal came back to me and said, “Let’s revamp this. It’s still doing well. It could do even better. Also, New York has changed.” What I didn’t know was that a few months later, the pandemic was going to come along and make things even crazier, more people leaving New York for the Hudson Valley and in Carolita’s case, going back from the Hudson Valley to Queens. It just became so much more interesting. It was so exciting to work on again at this time. There are seven new essays. Carolita and Rosie are two of the new contributors.

Zibby: Excellent. You have such an amazing list in addition to all of you guys as well, but Roxane Gay and Chloe Caldwell, Lisa Ko, Dani Shapiro, Emma Straub, Marcy Dermansky. I’ve had a lot of these people on my podcast. That’s pretty cool. Hope Edelman, Meghan Daum, Cheryl Strayed, this is amazing. You had so many people coming together. By the way, as someone who is now — I had an anthology come out in February. I have another one in November. People said all those same things to me too. Everybody always tells you not to do basically everything you want to try, I’ve found. Anything that’s worth doing, people say, forget it, it’s too hard.

Sari: There’s a lot of no.

Zibby: A lot of no. Got to ignore the no’s. Rosie and Carolita, why don’t you talk about your essays? I didn’t memorize the titles, but I did read them. They were wonderful. Rosie’s is the first one called “Homemaker.”

Rosie Schaap: Hi, everyone. It’s nice to see you. Thanks for having us. Sari, thank you again for letting me be part of this beautiful book. A friend of mine, when it came out, said, “Did you leave New York just for the possibility of being in this anthology?” The thought might have occurred to me, but I had other reasons to leave that I talk about in the essay. When Sari asked me, I was so excited. I had an idea. I wanted to make sure it was really okay to write about leaving a home of more than twenty years, leaving an apartment of more than twenty years, than writing more broadly about leaving New York. I know, Carolita, you’re a fellow native New Yorker. In some ways, I was so used to being in New York. I feel like I kind of, as a native, took New York for granted in some ways. I never had that Didion experience of what it feels like to arrive in New York and to see this whole new world. I don’t want to sound like I was blasé about it, but maybe in some ways I was. What got me more as I was getting ready to leave the home of my lifetime was leaving this little apartment that I’d made into a home as a young woman, that I’d put so much into. Now I had to say goodbye to that as well as the city.

Zibby: I was sort of hoping for pictures of the apartment. Do you have pictures? It’s so visual, how you write it. Maybe in revised edition number three, you can include some photographs.

Sari: Rosie, I love the specificity of your piece and that it is so much about that apartment which was the focal point of your New York City life for so much of your time there as an adult. I love that it’s not just about the city. It’s about the specificity of exactly where you were living and how you had made that place your own.

Rosie: Thank you. One interesting thing about the book is seeing relationships among essays. For me, it was impossible not to notice a similar thread in my essay and Carolita’s about widowhood and how that affects life decisions. You see these affinities among different essays, which I really love, in the book.

Zibby: Even the way you described your whole tenure in this apartment when you said, “I moved in as a twenty-five-year-old single woman who spent most of her time in bars. I lived there when I got to know a good and thoughtful man who loved cooking and loved Wordsworth, and not long after our first date, he moved in. We lived there together when the planes hit the towers and when, not long after, my father died. We got engaged there and married. There were dinner parties, holiday parties.” Then just to jump down a little farther, “I lived there when we separated and when he got sick and when we un-separated. In February 2010 at thirty-nine, I became a widow there, and that’s when it was time to move out, but I couldn’t afford it.” I’m really sorry for your loss, by the way, Rosie. I’m so sorry.

Rosie: Thank you very much.

Zibby: What a wonderful way to write about this whole experience through this lens. It feels like an off-Broadway play, the one set not moving, until later of course. All the things that happen through time, it’s amazing. Often, life does feel like that. We’re just in one place pressing fast-forward and zooming through. Every so often, you have to stop and catch one of those frames on pause. I feel like I should’ve hired you a mover or something. Maybe you should do some collaboration with Mayflower Moving or something.

Rosie: I did have help. It wasn’t just me, but I probably could’ve used a little more.

Zibby: Even your conclusion here when you’re mourning the loss of the apartment and everything and you say, “They are only things, I remember telling myself, after my friend had issued his judgement, and although I loved them, I could live without them. Afterward, I often wondered if I’d told myself the truth. Two decades later, I discovered that I had.” It’s so beautiful. Beautiful essay, seriously. Beautiful. You have a new book coming out. You’re the author of Drinks with Men, Becoming a Sommelier, and now Slow Road North. Tell me about that book.

Rosie: It’s coming. I’m working on it now. I think everyone can agree it’s been a strange time to do anything, including write a book. When the book is about a place and the people in it and you can’t really engage with those people, it’s been challenging. I am still hopeful that the book will be out next year.

Zibby: Excellent. What’s the main crux of the book?

Rosie: The main crux is what a native New Yorker is doing in a small coastal village in Northern Ireland.

Zibby: That sounds good.

Carolita Johnson: What coast?

Rosie: I’m on the coast of County Antrim.

Carolita: Where is that?

Rosie: I’m about thirty miles north of Belfast.

Carolita: Okay, got it.

Rosie: Come on over. It’s a good place to be and to write and to think.

Carolita: I used to dream of living in Sherkin Island, which is just off the coast of Baltimore. I visited there once.

Rosie: I haven’t been to Sherkin Island, but the Cork coast is beautiful.

Carolita: Yeah, it’s beautiful.

Zibby: Rosie, are you required to keep green behind you in all the Zoom Ireland?

Rosie: It’s actually a little mortifying. People ask that. I don’t know if the tourist board — this house used to be a holiday house — if they enforced that, but I’m hoping I can change it soon.

Zibby: For those who can’t see, I’m talking about Rosie’s green, beautiful plates in her cabinet behind her.

Rosie: The plates, I’ll keep. The paint job, I think I’d like to change.

Zibby: Carolita, let’s talk about your essay. That is called “Goodbye, Hello, Goodbye, Hello.”

Carolita: And probably goodbye again at some point. I’ve been going back and forth between New York like a yo-yo since I left in 1987 for the first time. Unlike you, Rosie, I had never lived any place for twenty years. The longest I ever lived anywhere was seven. That was in Inwood in New York. I also don’t consider myself a native New Yorker because I grew up in Queens. I did actually experience the awe and excitements when I first began going to college in New York City. That was the first time I started going to the city alone. I actually bought very dark sunglasses because I found it impossible not to meet people’s eye. It’s not like Queens was some little village or anything like that. It was actually pretty unfriendly, but it was also smaller and more homey. I was fresh out of high school where you know everybody. I just found it impossible not to meet people’s eye or involuntarily smile at some creep. I deliberately got very dark sunglasses because I found myself walking down 14th Street getting in trouble. I was in awe. I did experience that awe of the big city in college. I did leave. I left because I needed to. It was one of those coming-of-age leaving. I had to leave my parents’ house. I needed to get as far away as possible, so I went across the ocean with a one-way ticket. That was the first time I left. I stayed away for about eleven years. I didn’t live in the same place there either. My life has been just a series of moving from one place to another within less than five years, mostly. The longest I ever lived was that place in Inwood which I lived in with my husband for seven years.

Zibby: You say in your book, when you talk about moving to Kingston — not your book, sorry, your essay. You say, “I’d been moving northward ever since my last return starting with Brooklyn, then across the river to the Lower East Side, to Harlem, and then with a partner, to Inwood. When he turned sixty-nine, I decided it would be wiser to skip getting priced out of the Bronx in five years, so we made for the Hudson Valley to Kingston where I thought we could live unfettered by financial worries into his old age. In Kingston, I never had to network. Kingston networked me.” Then you continued and said, “I’ve always thought it’s utter snobbery to live in a city and not work in it, so I applied for and got a few shifts there within a month even before I knew the money, which I certainly did later. When my partner was diagnosed with stage four cancer, everyone knew it and kept an eye on us and help me care for him. When I found myself alone again, I wasn’t really alone. Kingston was there for me.”

Carolita: This is true. Sari came and sat shiva with me. I met Sari because of the job I got at that café. Within a week, Sari, you came up to me at the counter, bought something, and then said, “Hi, I’m Sari.” We had a mutual friend named Emily.

Sari: Emily said, “I love this writer and cartoonist. I think she just moved to Kingston.” Then I found myself at the counter at the café, and there you were. I, of course, looked you up. I was like, “I’m Sari. We’re supposed to meet.” We became friends immediately.

Carolita: Everybody told me you were the queen of Kingston, that you knew everything, that you knew everything there was to know about Kingston. The rest is history, isn’t it?

Sari: That’s probably why I have mono. I’m too busy.

Carolita: Huh?

Sari: That’s probably why I have mono. I’m doing too much.

Carolita: Probably, yeah. Kingston, that job was definitely the key. I think the key to any city is working in it. I firmly believe in that. When I lived in Paris for eleven years, I never got around to going on up the Eiffel Tower. I said, I’m going to live here like a native. I’m just going to work and live. I refused to be a tourist. All the tourist attractions of Paris remain for me to see still, and same with New York. Although, I did come and see the — when I first returned after eleven years and paid my taxes for the first time — I didn’t pay any taxes in New York for ages. It was a fortune, by the way, because I owed a lot. It was the first time I’d ever spent four thousand dollars all in one shot. To celebrate, I went up to the top of the Empire State Building with a little takeout of sushi and ate up there. I had dinner at the top of the Empire State Building after dropping four thousand dollars at the main post office behind Penn Station, which felt very New York.

Rosie: Very New York. So it was you and your sushi there at the top of the world?

Carolita: Yeah.

Rosie: No champagne in your bag?

Carolita: No, I think I had one of those little bottles of sake that fits on top. I’ve always loved those.

Rosie: Those are great.

Carolita: New York is a great place to be alone. It’s a fantastic place to be alone.

Rosie: It is. I feel like that’s one of the major themes of your essay, Sari, is just the sheer pleasure of being a walker in New York. I’m not struck by pangs of homesickness often, but that is something I miss, just walking the streets of the city.

Sari: I felt like the city was my companion in a lot of ways when I was there. I was a single woman. I was still in that phase where you date unavailable men. I think part of it might have been deliberate because I didn’t want anybody to interfere with my relationship with New York City. I wanted to just walk around by myself half the time.

Zibby: Your essay called “Real Estate” elicited a lot of interesting questions because of your consultation with this medium or psychic. She was ten years off, but eventually, you found the guy with the letter B and the jutting sideways — I’m not explaining this right. She had envisioned you would meet him at some sharp-cornered buffet situation. In fact, that is what happened.

Sari: A room with mediocre food and sharp angles. I was like, the weirdest clue.

Rosie: I love how in New York psychics double up as food critics. Full service.

Sari: I told the friend that it was his wedding where I had been. He was like, “You thought the food was mediocre?”

Zibby: I saw a psychic. There was one in college. When we were all in sophomore year, they had one for some on-campus event. You could go in. Of course, all I wanted to know was, when am I going to meet my husband? I shouldn’t have said of course. That’s so not very of the moment. Anyway, that is what I wanted to know. She said, “You’ll meet your husband at a sporting event.” Then of course, I started going to a million sporting events. I was like, which one is it going to be? I met a boyfriend of mine at a lacrosse game a year later. We were both watching our younger brothers. I was like, oh, this is what she meant. Look at this. We’re at a sporting event, and I met him. I think that, to your point about it happening at some point, I eventually met — he didn’t become my husband. The man who’s my husband now, I met playing tennis at a sporting event, doing sports. I was like, these psychics, you get one thought, and maybe it happens. It’s funny. You found your place too.

Sari: I did. Tenth Street Lounge, sharp angles.

Zibby: Yes, and how ultimately, she had told you not to give up your apartment. You did. Of course, for New Yorkers, giving up a great apartment is like a sin.

Sari: Not only that, I gave it up a month before we found out we were losing Brian’s apartment where I had moved. That one-month overlap, if I had just waited, we would’ve still had a place in New York City. I kick myself.

Carolita: I love the old lady you met who said that she did not give up her apartment and was full of regrets. I just wanted to pat her on the back.

Sari: I think of her too. I think of her all the time.

Carolita: I think she was right. I think she should have had no regrets. She looked like one of those salty New Yorker types that probably wouldn’t have been happy getting married anyway.

Sari: She kept the rent-controlled apartment for $150, but it had kept her from — she had called off engagements. She had not traveled. She was an actress. She hadn’t been in traveling casts around the world because she was afraid to give up her apartment. That apartment had become a prison.

Carolita: I know, but I bet all her friends were really jealous of her by now. She still has a place to live.

Sari: I wonder if she’s still alive.

Carolita: I wonder.

Rosie: It seems like such a New York thing. I’m sure people in other really expensive housing markets feel it too. You can kind of feel imprisoned by low rent. That sounds outrageous and awful and unappreciative, but it’s a very real feeling. There were so many things I loved about my apartment. The main reason I stayed as long as I did, and overstayed — as I wrote in the essay, I really would’ve liked to have left when Frank died. I just knew I couldn’t afford anywhere else in New York. There is a time to go. I agree. I think you got good advice from that lady.

Carolita: I would like to be imprisoned by low rent someday.

Rosie: Careful what you wish for.

Zibby: Now that the revised book is out there, post-COVID, everybody’s leaving — the other day, somebody I met at a wedding, when I said I was from New York, for the first time in my life, they said, “What’s keeping you there?” I was like, “That’s an interesting question. What do you mean?” Of course, then my husband’s like, “Yeah, what are we doing there?” I was like, “Stop. Our whole lives are there.” It does raise those questions. Sometimes it makes me think about even — this is going to sound terrible. You know in periods of history where it’s clear you should be moving on? There are all these signs, like in Germany, all the things before the war and all these times when you should’ve left. When you look back on history, you’re like — I’m reading it now — why didn’t everyone just pick up and go? I remember asking my grandparents about things like that. They would say, “People didn’t want to go because it was their homes.” I’m like, “Yeah, but couldn’t they see that all this stuff was coming?” Home is a very powerful place. Then I think about New York. I read the New York Post or something and I’m like, oh, my gosh. Well, it’s okay, it wasn’t on my block. I’ll be fine. It makes you question. Is this one of those times where logically you think, why would you live there? I don’t know. Although, I just interviewed somebody from San Francisco. She’s like, “Living here is like living on the edge. You never know with fires and earthquakes.” Maybe there’s part of that that there is an inherent sense of risk to living in these places that makes it you double down like cognitive dissonance. I picked it, and it’s risky. Therefore, I need to definitely — then all these people, of course, left. That was a random soliloquy. Excuse me.

Sari: We’re feeling it now here in Kingston. There’s a housing crisis. I now think about gentrification in a way that I had not thought about it at all when I moved to the East Village when the East Village was just a pit in 1993. I hadn’t thought about it when I moved Upstate. I have many different ideas about gentrification. I recognize that I am what they call a pioneer gentrifier. I am someone who doesn’t make a lot of money, who gets kicked out of a place when it starts gentrifying. I move to the next affordable place. I’m one of those creatives who contributes to the allure of the place. Then it attracts the people with money. Luckily, my husband and I were able to buy a house three years ago. We bought a foreclosure because we were otherwise completely shut out of the housing market. If we had to buy a house now, we would’ve been completely unable to. We would not have been able to compete with people coming up from the city plunking down cash. They don’t even need the bank to say, we’ll give you a mortgage because we agree it’s worth this. They’re buying things for thirty percent more than appraise value. People are getting displaced. It’s very upsetting. There’s only so much individuals can do. A lot of it has to do with government, municipalities, what they do. Right now, our city hall is supporting billionaires, letting them get away with waving all kinds of stipulations and things that they’re supposed to do like put twenty percent of their units in affordable housing. When I can, I get involved politically. I will get involved more now that I’ve finished my book.

Once I’m done with mono, I’m going to get more involved in raising awareness about gentrification and pushing back against city hall. For instance, they’ve rubberstamped a resort of little tiny houses that are now going for over six hundred dollars a night on the river, but they have stalled tiny houses for homeless people or unhoused people. I think that there are a lot of considerations that especially white people don’t realize when they start getting priced out of places and just move to the next. Brian and I, when we couldn’t find a house in Kingston, we were like, all right, let’s look at Troy, and then further and further up like Carolita was doing, moving up, up, up. Luckily, we were able to find a house here that we could afford, a foreclosure. Also, now I feel like we have an obligation to get involved. A couple years ago I brought Jeremiah Moss from Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York up for a discussion about gentrification to city hall here in Kingston. Over a hundred people showed up. We talked about, what can we do? It was starting then even before COVID. He said individuals can only do so much. It’s really about municipalities and their policies and them bending over backwards for developers. The only thing you really can do is get involved in activism. I will be getting more involved.

Zibby: Interesting. Great. Thank you all for coming on and talking about this great book, Goodbye to All That, which by the way, I gave to my sister-in-law who recently left. Not even so recently, but five years ago. That was her Mother’s Day present this year. Thank you for this. Congratulations on the anthology.

Sari: Thank you so much for having us. It was a wonderful discussion. to see you guys.

Zibby: Lovely to meet you all guys.

Author: Great to see you.

Author: Thank you.

Zibby: Bye.

GOODBYE TO ALL THAT (Revised Edition) by Sari Botton

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