Monday, December 26, 2016

The End of a Difficult Year

In January 2016, I debated extending my visitor’s visa in Australia. I had left the States to return with my then-boyfriend to his home country and had been living south of Perth for a few months. I knew it hadn’t been enough time to settle, but the depression and stress were getting to me.

Australia is a beautiful, friendly country, the people real and down to earth, the weather nice and hot. The food was to be lacking, their absence of corn syrup and poor selection of everything from cereals to soda pop making me eat healthier (there are no brand names in grapefruits!) but this combined with my mood made my appetite nearly non-existent.

I, however, wasn’t lonely, despite being in a country literally halfway around the world from my family. I loved being with my boyfriend, and his mother and step-father were friendly, supportive, and caring. But I knew living there would mean giving up on things:

I would never live in New York City. There was definitely a ceiling on careers in Australia, everyone ambitious going to U.S. or the U.K. The majority of books and movies were American and more expensive. I could find very few Australian novels, and it seemed that you worked backwards—become successful in the U.S. you’d be in bookstores all around Australia. Be successful in the outback and you might get a chance to get an offer by an American publisher. Course, that is according to my limited knowledge on the subject after spending only six months down under, but every artist I spoke to mentioned how they wanted to move to the States to further their careers.

I would no longer have an easy chance to take a motorcycle and go on a book tour around my home country. I would not easily see the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, travel to Los Angeles, New Orleans, and, of course, NYC.

I won’t air the details of my love life as it is not only my business, but as anyone who follows me knows, I was growing far more certain that my relationship would forever lack certain aspects I had imagined in my lifetime partner. I realize now that those “little things” were actually pretty big, and sacrificing so much was never a good idea, but I cared deeply about him. It was hard and against everything I’d worked for to be “selfish."

My then-boyfriend and I moved into a beautiful home and got an even more beautiful dog. I didn’t talk about him much, for a lot of reasons, but I think about him often. He died last June, after I had left.

It wasn’t until my family came and we had the first real vacation we had ever gone on that things changed. As I pulled myself away from a bad environment, I found a breath of relief. I realized both how depressed I had truly been, as well as my love for travel. My mother, father, and brother all headed out to the middle of Australia, took a train ride north to south, and saw some once in a life time sights. I felt good for the first time in a while, and I knew I had to make my decision.

It was hard. Harder than you’d believe—unless, of course, you’ve gone through it yourself. But when my extended visa ran out early May, I returned home, heartbroken. We hadn’t broken up immediately, but when he made no effort to contact me during that time, despite our discussions about how much our lack of communication hurt me, it proved to me once and for all I needed to go.

Dead broke after the last six months of expensive plane tickets and moving, I lived throughout the summer in my parents’ R.V. in our parking lot—a huge dirt area with a great view of Grand Teton National Park. I took a job at a restaurant close to home and found the labor to be fulfilling and distracting. I received a raise early on for my hard work, plus a hundred dollar tip from the boss, which benefited my confidence—smarting for the first time after the poor relationship.

When Storm died, I couldn’t look at other dogs. I couldn’t look at other relationships either. In a way, I had lost everything I had been working towards. I was getting harassed by guys every time I went out into public (it was as if they could smell the failure on me), and my attempts to overcome social anxiety and work on my people skills garnered me a lot of attention I truly didn’t want.

There was just something about the timing. Some months into the summer, a high school friend started an Aussie dog-breeder business, asking me to like his page filled with the cutest puppies you could find. Had I not already decided to move to New York City, I would have snatched one up then and there, damned my parents’ distaste of the animal on their property, damned the difficulty of finding rent. The only reason I didn’t was due to the unfairness of trying to keep an animal inside a closet-sized room which I could only picture I’d have.

At the same time, I went to the Jackson Hole Writers Conference. As some of you may remember, I was nervous about the newest version of my beginning. It was a last minute overhaul in which I believed would fix the majority of the problems, but I was worried. I liked it, but hadn’t sat on it long enough to have my opinions settle. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. Combined with the sinking feeling consuming me at that time—I’m not good enough—I couldn’t take another hit to my esteem. If they tore it apart, the little excitement and inspiration that I hadn’t had in months would be gone.

But that’s not what happened. The writers conference proved extremely enjoyable. I was in my comfort zone, I knew people, I understood how things worked, and three out of four critique partners told me they thought it was time to send out my eleventh draft, that they couldn’t think of much more to do with it. (The fourth informed me I had adverbs.)

Since then, I have found several solutions to the larger problems in the manuscript, the ones I have been struggling with since its incarnation. Though I have been distracted with the move since September, I am banking on sending it out to the first batch of agents on the 15th of January. Outside of one attempt on my fourth manuscript back in 2008, this is the first time I’ve actively pursued publishing. I’m confident that, even if the book doesn’t get picked up, I’m still proud of what my 13th manuscript has become.

In August, a mentor of mine died.

He was young. Far too young. I hadn’t realized how much he had an effect on me until he was gone, but he truly did impact me. I think about him often as well, despite that he wasn’t entrenched in my life, “no more” than a peer who I would end up working with from time to time. It comes to me in flashes; whenever I sweep I remember the time he yanked a broom out of my hand saying, “Oh for God’s sake.” When I think of classes I want to take in NYC, I remember the stories he told me about stage combat. He was always friendly and accommodating, and I had no idea that he would be gone and all of those times I thought I would have another chance to take his class or go to his movie nights, I had been wrong.

This is the first year I’ve faced my mortality: that I might not live until I’m seventy, or even if I do, I will make choices that could prevent me from doing something I always thought I’d have the option on.

During the summer, I felt stagnant. I decided from the moment I wouldn’t be returning to Australia that I would move to New York like my dream, if only to be sure that’s not what I want. I didn’t develop friendships, knowing I would be gone in a few months, didn’t have a space to call my own, didn’t think about my career long term, and could only really focus on my art, which, honestly, I was struggling with. I didn’t have a great amount of concentration in my heartbreak and stress. I hadn’t written, not really written, in years. Yes, bits and pieces, but the manuscripts were slow coming.

October came my day to leave. I had a flush bank account, a car, but no real plan. My mother and I ran across the country on a road trip, and I got to see Chicago for the first time, as well as the location of my Great-Aunt Ara’s store back in the 1930s (now a minimart.) While in Boston, I spent time with my cousins who went above and beyond helping me to find an apartment that was safe and within my price range.

For the two months I was mooching off them, I still struggled with stress. I struggled to get out of bed, to eat, to force myself to search for apartments and work. I still didn’t write much.

Then the day came where I signed my lease. My roommate was bubbly and grounded, my room quiet, affordable, and in a great location. The second I had something solid to sit back on, a lot of tension released.

I was able to eat again, which solved a lot of my pains. (Not all, as I’ve been in chronic pain for the last six years, but good meals obviously helped.) I started writing again, and am anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 words away from the end of at least one book, plus many others that are in a variety of sizes and states.

I’m in a headspace to look back on everything that I’ve done, and realize that I wasn’t as much of an invalid as I thought. As scared as I am for the future, having no idea where to go from here, when I will find a job, or what I will do long term—financially, locationally, familially—the fact is, I am living in a city I’d dreamed of for years with a polished manuscript I’m proud of and a whole set of skills I’ve struggled with for years.

I’m home for Christmas, visiting with my cat (who my parents told me not to get because he would end up living with them). I miss him quite a bit, but realize that my New York closet is not a place for him. I hope that in two years’ time to move somewhere he’d be happy, and we’d be united once again, until I get a puppy and then he can hate me.

We trekked out into the woods last week to cut down our tree, facing the cold as a family unit. I’ve made some poorly crafted gingerbread that I have no idea how I’ve wonked up, we managed to find the stockings and Christmas placemats, and so far, it has proven to be a wonderful holiday.

The year 2017 starts on a Sunday, which is a good sign to me. Of course, we’ll have Trump for president, so I guess we’re really going to learn more about the political system this year. But as for me, I think that I’ve set it up to be a good one. No matter what happens, I have agency over my life, and I plan to live this next year to the fullest. For me, 2016 was just a stepping stone.

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