My Long Goodbye


MATTHEW ELLISON
Co-Founder – Yellow Bear Films 

I

arrived in New York City on a hot June morning. Prone to theatrics and disillusioned by the enormity of my surroundings, I carried three Hefty garbage bags over my shoulder as I climbed the stairs to my first apartment just off of Union Square.

Tiger print cloth and rusted metal swords adorned the walls. Books by Oscar Wilde, Norman Mailer, and James Joyce lay purposefully around the coffee table calling attention to the pseudo-bohemian tendencies of the owner.

I was subletting for a woman whom I would later discover was the editor of a prominent fashion magazine. She was spending the summer with her boyfriend in Switzerland and had given me the apartment for pennies on the dollar. Naïve and unassuming, I thought nothing of it.

I remember setting down my bags in the living room and feeling truly liberated. For 22 years I had experienced a crisis of identity, an immeasurable feeling of discontent that seemed to permeate all aspects of my life. New York was meant to change that. It was the perfect amalgamation of everything. The culture, food, art, and varying ideologies were meant to lift me up and augment my sense of self. Tuesday night plays at THE PUBLIC and Friday night drinks at my salon of choice (Kettle of Fish) were romanticized as weekly rituals and not fodder for How I Met Your Mother jokes. I was going to tackle the city. I never expected it to so violently tackle me.

Before arriving in New York, I’m not sure I understood defeat. My sheltered existence had precluded me from the many maladies of the world and I was now seeing everything through an unfiltered lens. Each neighborhood seemed to have its own distinctive and indelible charms. It felt like an extended scene from Stand by Me as I learned the many streets of the Lower East Side, drunkenly ate pizza at Bleecker, and reconnected with old friends. I then slowly began to understand the history of New York, the socio-economics of each borough, the flailing public school system, and the political polarization that exists across different industries. Reading beat generation essays by William Carlos Williams, Jack Kerouac, and Allen Ginsberg further contextualized the magnitude and importance of my new home. Their counter-cultural ideologies resonated with me as I grappled with my own ontology. However, the veneer was quickly fading.

There is a darker side of New York, one that takes time to fully understand. And after four years of trying to stay afloat amidst the hedonism and sycophants, I have to ask: am I a better version of my former self?

The answer is no.

And perhaps that is my greatest fear. My true colors have been revealed — I’ve been exposed. Maybe the happy and insatiably curious young man is now the cold misanthrope who unironically quotes Drake.

I hope not. However, the Mephistophelian presence is getting harder to ignore.

The parties, the bars, and the restaurants now blur together in my mind. At once, perfectly complementary, and now distastefully overrun, these experiences are no longer experiences. I came to New York allured by promises of grandeur and intent upon sharing my life with close friends. Though, people grow up. They evolve and take on new forms. And yet, I haven’t.

No anecdote of mine can summarize that evolution. In Goodbye to All That, Joan Didion says, ‘Part of what I want to tell you is what it is like to be young in New York.’ I can tell you that it is both painful and confusing. Friends come and go. Relationships change. And the search for basic human reciprocity never ends.

Still, I know it’s time to grow up.

“I came to New York allured by promises of grandeur and intent upon sharing my life with close friends. Though, people grow up. They evolve and take on new forms. And yet, I haven’t.”

My many witticisms (self-proclaimed) and sincere intentions seem to be masked by a jagged exterior. An exterior that too seems jaded and fully corrupted by the inherent vices of New York City. The constant posturing, networking, and self-flattery are inescapable and I’ve become far too adept at all of them.

I wish I could draw a line back to that inflection point. I wish that Sheridan Square and Barrow Street seemed as unfamiliar as they once were. I wish I knew less about New York’s social hierarchy and more about the local politics. I wish that my personal life wasn’t a never-ending wave of volatility, and I wish that I could bottle that naïveté.

I realize that I’m a familiar atavism — these are not unknown feelings. I’m merely a reflection of many lives lived and must somehow find comfort in that platitude. I think one day I’ll figure it out. I’ll come to terms with my identity, my insecurities, and my sense of self. I hope that road isn’t tortuous, but I cannot be sure.

I am an emotional person; New York you’ve bore witness to it all. However, I need more than flash in the pan ebullience – I need you to be there for me. And right now, you’re not.

I don’t know where I’ll go – hopefully just far enough to escape your gaze. Yet rest assured, I’ll be back. I’ll return stronger and with firm resolution.

Goodbye, New York. I’ll see you soon.

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  • Matthew Ellison is a filmmaker and a graduate of Hamilton College. He previously worked as an investment banker before launching Yellow Bear Films with Andrew Morrison. He currently lives in New York City where he is completing a documentary about the relativity of success. He will be spending the majority of 2018 in Bangladesh and Turkey where he will be focusing on issues related to the displacement of refugees from Myanmar and Syria. His last film, THIRST STREET, premiered at the Tribeca and Venice Film Festivals.

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