Escape Artist Tells All
Awl pal Mary HK Choi managed to make a certain kind of dream come true: She left New York. And now she has a thing she wrote about it, a thing that you can and should buy. Let’s learn more!
Balk: Mary HK Choi, you have a new thing you wrote called [KINDLE SINGLE TITLE TK]. Tell me about it!
MHKC: I do, it’s called Oh, Never Mind and it’s a collection of essays. It’s not a book. It’s more like a booklet. Or maybe a pamphlet??!!! ANYWAY, it’s 5 essays that are new. They’re a buck ninety nine. Like, an US Weekly when they were competing with In Touch. Or whatever. It’s about me leaving New York because that’s what happened to have happened while I was writing them.
Balk: Mary, how on earth could anyone leave New York? And b) Why does everyone who leaves New York have to write about it?
MHKC: I love New York but sometimes New York is so mean to you. And I needed a level up. Los Angeles is a decent level up because they pay you lots and lots of money for whatever you’re verbing for them. The thing about leaving New York is that you can come back. This way you don’t have to tread water and cry and feel a low-grade panic attack the whole time. I think this last winter broke my fucking brain.
b) Because we’re all assholes and because it’s the craziest feeling to leave New York. It does absolutely feel like capitulation because you didn’t WIN at New York to where you own a million dollar brownstone that now costs 4 million or whatever. But it also feels like breaking up with everyone you’ve ever loved all at the same time. It feels like you’re going on the spaceship to colonize another planet or something. It feels completely fucked up and scary and incorrect to leave this place. and some of us just gotta workshop that shit plus, also, it’s this THING to where if you don’t win; you age out. I wanted a car and a house and a washer and dryer. and it’s #basic as fuck to want those things but I got too old to care about how it seems. I have made a huge mistake. Probably.
Balk: Okay, I can see that. I can even MAYBE A LITTLE SOMETIMES (but particularly after this winter, which was brutal) think that possibly New York might not be the best place to grow old and die in. At one point during this HORRIBLE winter I was talking to a friend who was trying to decide whether she should stay here or go to California and I was like, “You know what? If you’re not FROM HERE there’s no reason you have to stay here.” Like, for me, I don’t think there is any other choice, if I’m being realistic. What am I gonna do in America, say “hi” to my neighbors? Drive around with a smile on my face and wait for the good movies to come to me three months after they get released? Go eat at Chili’s? Let someone finish their sentence? I’m stuck. But people like you and my friend, who did not grow up knowing that this is the pinnacle of civilization, have options. Still, LOS ANGELES? I cannot even comprehend. We’re not kids anymore, isn’t it a little late in life to have to learn, like, when to avoid Wilshire Blvd, or what the different degrees of plasticity mean, or a whole new language of how people are actually saying “fuck you”?
MHKC: Here’s the LA hack: my friend calls it “rehab.” You’re living your life as an avatar. I keep calling it purgatory or a fugue state because NOTHING YOU DO THERE MATTERS. Nobody gives a single solitary shit about you. Do you know what it feels like to live your life NOT conjuring clever observational little things to say?
Balk: I’ve seen ‘Big Bang Theory’
MHKC: There’s something about NY that feels like IRL Twitter sometimes, and I’m not saying that to be uncharitable.
Balk: So it is like a sheer but sunny existential reality? All is meaningless, but the weather is nice?
MHKC: The weather feels like psychotropics.
It’s not that I’m done with New York. I love you fuckfaces who are all trapped here. But don’t you ever think that if you had a few months somewhere else, as a re-up or another gestational period, that you’d have to energy to do this place again?
Balk: Eh, I get itchy after three days away. But I also tend to go to places where no one gives you the finger or calls you “cocksucker” just because you walk too slowly, so maybe that’s part of it.
But what is almost more amazing to me than the fact of your breaking free was the way you did it. Like, one week I saw you at a party and the next week I was like, “Does anyone know where Mary is” and they were all “She moved to LA.”
MHKC: Well, you must know who I stole that move from.
Balk: Joan Didion?
MHKC: Ahhaha you know what? The funny thing about Didion is that I’m so ESL that I actually never read any of the Important Essays On Leaving. I know that sounds like people who make movies that steal EVERYTHING from comics and then say, “I never read that graphic novel” but I think if I’d read all of that stuff I maybe would’ve felt too corny about writing about leaving. ANYWAY you’ve gotta soft move, don’t you feel like because: Internet people who make a big deal about leaving are sorta the worst?
Balk: Hate them so much. Did you get a lot of angry reactions or were people more like I’M JEALOUS and I UNDERSTAND and TAKE ME WITH YOU?
MHKC: Some people were angry but that’s OK. I told the people who I saw at least twice a month and it turns out that’s like maybe 10 people.
Balk: Yeah I guess in New York we always imagine we have a much bigger circle but you could go a YEAR without seeing someone and still think you hung out with them the week before last.
MHKC: Totally. And there’s something sorta fucked up and broken about that. It’s the NY spell.
Balk: Because the time it takes this town to grind you into dust is so imperceptible you don’t notice it happening.
MHKC: Yes but also, it’s a pretty kind way of doing it. Here’s the thing: I love the people who make New York New York and that sounds ridiculous. But I’m not so HUNGRY anymore because I am old now. And it feels rad.
Balk: From Camus to Buddha.
MHKC: Like, I fucking earned leaving New York. But I’m also not convinced I won’t be back. I think the real move is doing both.
Balk: Okay, so apart from the fact that you are one of my favorite writers and everything you do is such a goddamn delight, why should people buy this kindle single ($1.99 at Amazon.com)? What’s different from any of the other “LOOK AT ME I LEFT NEW YORK I’M MAGIC” collections?
MHKC: It’s not JUST about leaving New York. It’s about a lot of things. It’s about losing your mind. And buying shit you don’t need. And gyno appointments. And moms. And being Asian and feeling A Way about it. And being a woman and feeling A Way about it. It’s also an experiment I guess. Like WTF Kindle Single. How the hell does that work even? Don’t you want to know if it works? I don’t get it at all so I wanted to try it.
Balk: Man, between you and the new David Mitchell book it’s going to be a season of stuff about being Asian and making gyno appointments. But I will do what you say and buy it and urge everyone else to.
MHKC: Isn’t that JUST want you wanted to kick off Q4?
Balk: I have one more question for you. This one comes from, to anonymize him, let’s call him “a co-founder of my company.” Or her. It could be a her. Anyway: “What does it feel like to always be the pretty one?”
MHKC: Like burning. It feels like burning.
[You know how chats always have the thing on the bottom now that say “This interview has been condensed and etc.?” Well, that, but with a lot less effort. Photo: Jon Snyder.]