The ‘New York Woman Writer’ Trope: Am I A Stereotype, Or Am I Real?
I was on the New York City subway the other day, around 1 PM, which is a supremely odd time to be on the subway, because all of the office workers, one of whom I used to be, aren’t on the train then. They’re at work, or probably on their lunch breaks, and I sincerely hope they’re taking that time for themselves. But I digress.
A thirty-something woman sitting to my left is wearing the consummate office commuter uniform, the stereotypical suit jacket/skirt with bright white Nikes, heels stashed in her bag. You know, the combo best immortalized by Melanie Griffith in “Working Girl”. So she’s the exception to my assumptive rule about office workers on the subway midday, midweek, I guess.
Anyways, the office worker woman is watching something on her phone, and I surreptitiously catch a glance of what it is: “Sex And The City”, the cultural phenom that won’t die.
Carrie Bradshaw and her friends Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte are having brunch by the looks of it, and it’s all sunny and fun and bright designer clothing.
Carrie, with her long tousled curls and Jimmy Choos, looks radiant, happy. And I remember that she is a writer, and I am a writer, and outside of that one SATC episode where her building goes co-op, forcing her to beg not only her friends, but Mr. Big for the loan she needs to purchase her apartment, Carrie has had few issues with making money as a sex columnist, and even less so as she becomes a published author in later seasons, while affording a designer wardrobe envied by real women the world over. (And lo, many pixels have been spilled regarding this particularly unrealistic factoid.)
But I felt a pang of jealousy then and there, sitting in a subway car, exhausted from having spent the morning tussling with a client over such sundry and insignificant details as “contract terms” and “payment remittances”. The simultaneously dry and dramatic circumstances that freelancers endure, because it’s what puts the “free” in “freelancer”.
The morning is what prompted me to get on the train in the first place — to leave the house, recharge my batteries, gain some fresh perspective, and to go shopping for some clothes I actually desperately need. A Treat Yo’self day, as it were, but for a super low budget. Thank sweet baby Jesus for everything at the Gap for being fifty percent off, is what I’m saying.
But that pang was something more than jealousy over a woman who doesn’t really exist. But doesn’t she? In the trope of the “woman writer in New York”, she’s not just Carrie Bradshaw. She’s Lena Dunham in HBO’s “Girls”, Anne Hathaway in “The Devil Wears Prada”, Esther in Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar”, Meg Ryan in pretty much any Nora Ephron film, Joan Didion’s much-lauded, well-tread essay “Goodbye To All That”, Mary Tyler Moore throwing her hat up in the air, and geeze, even Jo from “Little Women” have solidified into some sort of thematic idea, a stereotype of the lady who comes to New York, determined to take it by storm, have it all, and wipe the floor with publishers on their journey to Make Their Mark.
And after my years of resisting the voice calling to me, deep within the wrinkles and folds of my gray matter, of the voice peeping at me throughout the soul-sucking, menial work I’ve done in the name of Disruption, I gave in. A writer, I knew, is what I had to be. What I was supposed to be. To Make My Own Mark. Without the literal trappings of an office, in service of someone else’s vision. Call me smart; call me insane; call me someone who made a decision that she feels good about for once in her life.
But a freelance writer’s lifestyle, especially after years of the Monday to Friday grind, is unmoored and unpredictable. Glossy Carrie Bradshaw was never seen on the phone to her editor, hoping and praying she’d actually get paid. Even though Carrie’s never endured this particular rite of passage on the small screen, I’ve joined her in the ranks of the Women Who Come To New York To Write, fictional and otherwise.
As for that pang on the subway, I, for a split second, saw myself in Carrie, and I couldn’t help but wonder: by being a woman, writing in New York, am I an unoriginal archetype, destined for the footnotes of literary history? Or have I taken real steps towards becoming a more real version of myself?
Whatever the answer, I’ve thrown my hat into the air, along with Mary Tyler Moore’s, except instead of shouting I’ll make it after all! I’ve whispered …maybe me too?