Little Girl, Big City: The Kit

Welcome to Autostraddle Kits, a new series where we tell you all the stuff you need to be/do a thing you want to be/do. Lesbian Activist? Heartbreaking DJ? Wanton Sex Goddess? Food Historian? Sort of like if Amazon’s Listmania and Amazon’s “So You’d Like to Be A…” had a same-sex marriage and then had a baby.

It’s like a playlist, but for all of your senses!

Got a request for a kit? ASS me!


Little Girl, Big City, (No Car) : The Kit

Look at you all grown up with your cute/squalid apartment in a major urban area! Do you have friends? Are they like these friends or are they like these friends? Whether you have no friends, eighteen girlfriends or a pet squirrel, you still need a motherfucking backpack, among other things/ideas. This starter kit will help you get on your way.

“Everything is faster here. There are too many people, jammed on to a tiny island where buildings and streets are crumbling and everyone is in a hurry. Often I hate it here. In the summer the city is sweltering, the air is stale  and used up, recycled millions of times by others who have gotten to use it first. Only the poor or left in the city in the summer: anyone with money tries to escape. But in some ways the hard core of humanity who stay behind are the most interesting.”

-Tama Janowitz, Area Code 212: New York Days, New York Nights





Once upon a time, I was a little girl in a big city called New York and I wrote about it a lot. New York City isn’t the only big city you might be living in — for example, I currently live just outside of San Francisco, though I’m not sure I’m such a little girl anymore. Besides New York, most of my friends live in Los Angeles. I have friends who live in other places too: Portland, Sydney, Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston, Montreal, London and so forth.

This kit is for girls moving to cities where you’re unlikely to drive your car very much, if ever — cities where you can’t avoid other people in your face all the time.

Natalie Portman in "Closer"

“Big city, hmm? Live. Work, huh? But. Only peoples. Peoples is peoples. No is buildings. Is tomatos, huh? Is peoples, is dancing, is music, is potatoes. So, peoples is peoples. Okay?”

– Pete, The Muppets Take Manhattan


1. Handle Your Head

In order to deal with the often overpriced and physically uncomfortable reality of Life in the Big City, one must arm oneself with lots of Impossible Dreams and Great Expectations. These Dreams don’t just fall out of thin air, however, they come from things like Annie Hall or Joan Didion.

And they come from books. As most young women writers will, at some point, live in a city and try to write in that city, there are lots of books about young women living in cities and writing about it.

Here’s some of my (admittedly hyper-New York centric) favorite books to stoke the fire of your city dreams. (Share your own in the comments!)

+ And the Heart Says Whatever, by Emily Gould (2010)

“They smiled at me, I poured myself a glass of the champagne I’d bought and took it over to the window where I stood, not even feeling awkward standing by myself. I could stand by myself at a party. I could decide who I wanted to talk to and when. I had made it this far; it felt like I’d scaled something. In a way I had, and in a way I was at the bottom. But I would climb, and fall, and climb.”

+ Veronica, by Mary Gaitskill (2005)

“I said I’d gone to New York to be a model, and I hadn’t. I’d gone there for life and sex and cruelty. Not something you learn in community college… I felt monstrous wants and gorgeous terrors that found form in radio songs, movie screens, billboards, layers of posters on decayed walls, public dreams bleeding into one another on cheap paper like they might bleed from person to person. I took it in and fed on it, and for a while, that was enough.”

+ From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E. L. Konigsburg (1967)

Claudia kew that she could never pull off the old-fashioned kind of running away. That is, running away in the heat of anger with a kpasack o her back… therefore, she decided that leaving home would not jut be running from somewhere but woud be running to somewhere. To a large place, a comfortable place, an indoor place, and preferably a beautiul place. And that’s why she decided upon the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

+ The Slaves of New York, by Tama Janowitz (1991) (New York City)
+ Valencia, by Michelle Tea (2002) (San Francisco) (gay)
+ The IHOP Papers, by Ali Liebegott (2006) (San Francisco) (gay)
+ Cool For You, by Eileen Myles (2000) (Boston) (gay)
+ Portland Queer: Tales of the Rose City, various authors (2009) (Portland) (gay)
+ The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath (1963) (New York City)
+ Manhattan, When I Was Young, by Mary Cantwell (1995) (New York City)

2. Handle Your Shit, Part One

Get a Magic Wallet. It fits in your pocket and, in many ways, its low capacity capability will inspire you to pare down your essentials to your actual essentials.

In addition to the traditional gadgetry (phone, ipod), I recommend a Kindle. Obviously you’ll be using public transportation a lot because you care so much about the environment (just kidding, it’s because you’re poor) and flipping pages AND holding on to a pole is difficult if not impossible.

Kindles don’t come with cases, so you should either get a case or do what I do, which is stick it inside a fuzzy purple sock.


3. Getting Around: Bicycle

If you like the phrase “it’s like riding a bike,” then you’ll really enjoy riding a bike! Here are 50 examples.

4. Handle Your Shit, Part Two:

I’m not 100% sure if it’s fair for me to tell you to wear a backpack with your cute outfit. But if your outfit isn’t really that cute, you might as well wear a motherfucking backpack.


I’ve enjoyed the aesthetics of this Puma Bag as well as my Timbuk2 laptop/messenger bag.

But my body (muscles, bones, etc) HATES those bags and it’s always asking me, “hey, you know someone invented backpacks, right?” Then I’m like, “But I’m almost 30 fucking years old!” and then it’s like, “exactly.”


Backpacks are especially handy for grocery shopping. Sometimes, if I’m really hungry, I take my hiking backpack to the grocery store.

Quick Trick to Avoid Burglary: In New York, I’d always swing the backpack around like a baby carrier when I was on the subway, because I have PTSD from the graphing calculator stealing bullies in high school. I never wanted to get robbed.

Honestly, I pick a backpack based on what’s on sale at Marshall’s, but if I was a more sophisticated shopper, I’d go for any number of these beautiful backpacks:

Also (and this is especially important if you plan on using a trendy shoulder bag instead of a backpack) my ex-roommate Lo introduced me to the value of bags-within-a-bag, to prevent that pesky “digging in my bag” feeling. These bags can be makeup cases, pencil pockets, whatever. I like to divide by context — things you put in your mouth (gum, pills, granola bars), things you put on your body (makeup, lotion, hairspray) and things you would die without (wallet, phone, keys).

I also got into the habit of carrying around a cheap Nike/Puma/Adidas gymsack within my larger bag — so that I could take a book and a wallet on my lunch break or cart a magazine/ipod/phone around the gym without having to take my entire backpack with me. Similarly, I could put a change of clothing in it.

Or you know, just get this:


5. Friends

Lesbians love cities. Not as much as they love sea mammals, but still a lot. If you’re looking for queer friends in your area, there’s probably an ASS group for that. Apparently there are meet-ups happening all over the world all the time!

6. Drink

Sofia Coppola came out with her own line of champagne a few years back. It’s called Sofia Blanc de Blancs and I’m telling you about it because it looks a lot like Red Bull, therefore enabling you to drink champagne in public places like streetcorners and subways without attracting attention or open container violations.

7. Keeping Track

Get a journal and if you’re really serious about it, you’ll travel with double-sided tape and/or gluestick to easily paste memorable things into the multi-media experience of your journal.

Finally, if you live in New York City and you think it might be time to leave, read Joan Didion’s Goodbye to All That and assess the situation like an ADULT. In the meantime, I suggest eating the faces of everyone you see until you explode from it.

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Riese is the 41-year-old Co-Founder of as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in nine books, magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. She's Jewish and has a cute dog named Carol. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3178 articles for us.


  1. If anyone is looking for more books about cities/NYC, my favorite book in the whole world is The Good People Of New York by Thisbe Nissen. I had a really hard time making a college list because of this book, as I couldn’t decide if I wanted to go to NYU so I could be in New York like all my favorite characters, or if I wanted to go to Oberlin like the author so I could write an amazing book like she did (clearly this is how life works…you either get to be characters in a book, or you get to write a book, depending on where you choose to attend university.)

    Anyway I picked New York and never looked back. Yay, cities!

  2. With this and the Moving 101 thingy from a while back it’s as if Autostraddle is telling me to finally stop being such a wuss, pack up my crap and actually move to a city ASAP. Well, then…

  3. Definitely seconding the backpack suggestion. Messenger bags LOOK cute, but they are going to wreck your shoulders and your spine (as well as your attitude when you get caught on a doorframe for the fiftieth fucking time). Also if you have long hair you are going to sling the strap over your shoulder squarely on top of your luscious locks at least twice a day. Jansport backpacks are the best. They’re hard-wearing, often plain so you can decorate them with awesome stuff, and I think you can send them in for free repairs when they finally start to break down.

  4. Studies have shown that people get smarter and more productive if they move from towns to small cities, and small cities to bigger ones.

  5. I want that classy as fuck canned champagne and I want it now. I’m not in a city, but I will find a street corner to drink it on.

  6. LOVE YOU FOR recommending From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E. L. Konigsburg (1967)

    I found this book randomly in our library and read it in middle school, and still find it so entertaining and imaginative :)

  7. I had to read “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” in the 6th grade, and I think my obsession with NYC can be traced back to that book. I still want to stay overnight at the Met.

  8. “I said I’d gone to New York to be a model, and I hadn’t. I’d gone there for life and sex and cruelty. Not something you learn in community college…”

    I don’t know, that sounds a lot like my community college experiences in Ohio.

  9. Adore the ‘bag within a bag’ suggestion/directive- like a practical version of Russian dolls, many thanks.

  10. Again Autostraddle recognizes ‘The Muppets take Manhattan’ for the cultural touchstone that it is.

  11. For NYC only:

    I’ve lived in NYC for a little over a year. Here are my suggestions:
    1. It costs a lot of money to live here. You could get a house in all 50 states for what you’re paying for 1 bedroom in your shitty broken/unsafe/walk-up/whatever-sucks-about-it apartment. My sister pays less for her ENTIRE ginormous 1 bedroom in LA than what I pay for one room in my tiny converted 3 bedroom.
    2. You should live in a converted __ bedroom. Essentially, you split the living room into another room, or someone just lives in the living room. You will have 3 people needing to shower at once. Whoops.
    3. You will be poor. Because it’s hella expensive to live here. There are no Stop & Shops or A & Ps or Shop Rites. There’s Gristedes and Morton Williams and Food Emporium, and your groceries will cost a lot of money.
    4. To counteract high-priced groceries, locate your nearest Trader Joe’s. It will become your friend.
    5. To counteract your poorness, get a job. Or 3. You’ll probably be doing something demeaning for minimum wage, but you need to pay your insanely expensive rent.
    6. Walk. Why pay $2.25 when you can walk 3 miles? I’m serious.
    7. Get a granny/bubbe cart. One of these babies: Then you can actually bring your shit home.
    8. Somehow, while you’re poor, you’ll somehow have money for alcohol. I don’t get it either.
    9. Your super will be an asshole. They all are. Some smoke pot in your building.
    10. There are 2 lesbian bars in Manhattan, and they both suck.
    11. If you manage to get a full-time job, or are going to be spending a lot of time in one area, live there. Being able to walk to work saves you $104/month on a Metrocard.
    12. Your roommates will probably suck. You’ll be living in really close quarters. Try not to kill them.
    13. Befriend the following foods, as they are cheap: dollar pizza, falafel, Chipotle, Subway. If you believe in hot dogs, the whole Gray’s Papaya chain may be your friend.
    14. If you’re buying something off the street (food, jewelry, anything) haggle. The vendors change the prices when they suspect tourists who will pay $2 for a bottle of water or $4 for an ice-cream.
    15. There’s a good chance that you’ll change apartments every year. It’s a NY thing. No one’s ever happy.
    16. Beware of hipsters.
    17. Don’t be afraid of outer boroughs. Queens and Brooklyn can be more affordable NYC living options that Manhattan.
    18. There are lesbians in NYC. I don’t know where they hide, but they do exist.

    • funny, even though i’m in the middle of an exhausting apartment search in nyc right now, i feel so much lighter and more in love with new york after 5 years than you sound after 1. i hope it gets easier for you.

  12. Sometimes I think about moving to a big city, but then I think about big fenced in backyards, easy and quick access to beaches and forests and orchards and mountain bike/cross country ski trails and and frisbee golf courses, knowing your neighbors and saying hi to them in the mornings when you sit on your porch having coffee…

    someone should do a post ‘in defense of small towns’

  13. i was all up for big cities until yesterday when i had some random dream about me and flowerpots and getting f****d in an apron. i’m probably just sexually frustrated.

    • I don’t know why these are mutually exclusive. I know lots of people who get f****d in aprons in big cities…

  14. When you move to NYC, you have to get a Strand bag. It’s the only way to go. People will think you’re cool and literate.

  15. Uncanny timing. I found out today that I got a job in NY and I’m moving Saturday. Life just fucks with your brain sometimes

  16. I’ve recently moved back to the “big” city of Melbourne and you’re right about this list. I’ve got everything on it – except replace the kindle with an ipad! You nailed it. Fun read :)

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