Friday, August 11, 2017

There and Back Again: Why I'm Coming Home

“I’m moving to New York City,” I said, walking down the sidewalk of my small tourist town at 11 o’clock at night.

“You keep saying that…” the actor replied.

It was the summer of 2013, one and a half years after my college graduation. I was a starving artist in the recession, and so returned home for survival. I never planned on staying that long, but facing reality is hard when you don’t have to. And, in fairness to me, I kept getting work at the local theatres that would stave my plans to leave for several months. It was gratifying to have them beg me to come onboard, my reliability and low value of my time irreplaceable. Plus, I enjoyed it.

Something carnally bothered me about not being believed, and ever since I can remember, I have been determined to finish what I set out to do. I suppose it has to do with people’s tendency to write me off, or my mother’s insistence that because I had a fibbing problem at three, I’m probably lying now.

I was procrastinating, that was true. I only knew that I didn’t want to live in Jackson. I didn’t think I’d want to be a New Yorker for the next fifty years. At the time, the only things I wanted out of life was to write and have a family. Be warm. Not have to shave ice off my car in the morning. I didn’t particularly want to raise children in an urban environment, and I could write from anywhere.

After that conversation, I met someone. He was Australian and intelligent. Shy and introverted, a reader who was in the middle of The Wheel of Time series. I wasn’t into the bad boy look, not a fan of a smoker or tattoos, yet something about his mix of masculinity and femininity and geekishness—he liked cars and theatre and A Game of Thrones—appeal to me. He stopped short when he first saw me, and I felt intensely flattered by the way he looked at me. He was a talented actor, and as I observed from afar I saw a lot of pain and sensitivity. I don’t know why I was mesmerized with him, but I was. I remember saying to myself before I asked him out, “What’s the worst that could happen?” Funny.

After an exciting first two weeks, he made me miserable. He ignored me. Claimed to be busy. Jerked me around in a way I’d never seen someone treat another before, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt and listened to his excuses. When we were together he was happy. Excited to see me, showed me off to his friends. When apart, it was like I didn’t exist. I did think another woman might be in the mix except the small town status and the fact that we went to all his haunts made it seem hard to believe.

I’ve said in the past I didn’t want to go into the events because it’s not just my story. Those of you who have been following me have seen some emotional turmoil and pretty severe anger in what followed for the next three years. The end results were me in Australia, me considering what I really wanted out of life, recognizing that I would have to give up so much to be with the man that I loved.

A part of me was deeply upset that I had never lived in New York City like I had wanted. Yes, some of it had to do with telling people. Some of it had to do with the fact that I always thought it was an option. There were many things, I’d come to realize, that by moving to the “Loneliest City on Earth” as Perth is lovingly called, I had limited myself from.

When I left my ex and returned to Wyoming with no money, dog, or house, without a financially sustainable career and a pile of unpublished manuscripts that may never see the light of day, I was at the lowest point in my life. It wasn’t that I felt my worse… I just didn’t feel anything at all. It occurred to me that all of the things I thought I would have, all of the things I thought would make sense over time, might never come to fruition. I’ve always struggled to feel crushes or infatuation, and the deep, irrational love that I had for him was something I didn’t think I was capable of. One year later and I realize that I may never feel it again, especially with my shut-in lifestyle and intense anger at the obsess-and-discard attitude prevalent in dating these days.

The decision to move to New York as soon as possible was based off my complete loss of desire. I didn’t want to be limited. I wanted the world to be open to me. I wanted something interesting in my life. I wanted people to take me seriously. On that same note, despite wanting all these things, I at the same time wanted nothing specific. What was I looking for in a partner? What place could I find peers who would inspired me? Collaborate with me? Share the need for challenge and risk while having the savviness of when I’ve taken it too far?

The fabric store closed down. The art supplies were gone. The music store didn’t have a golden E string.

New York was filled with aspiring artists. It had people of all walks of life. It had every job imaginable. It was busy, energetic, alive. I didn’t know what I was looking for, so it seemed like the best place to be.

I spent the first few months stressed, sending my resume out into the void, beginning my querying process seriously for the first time in fifteen years. I felt alone and worried about money, but optimistic just the same. I got my job and relief washed over me. I met up with friends. I got into a long distance relationship with a younger man who, despite being the carbon copy of my ex a decade removed, actually enabled me to come to terms with the condescension and inadequacies my ex made me feel. This time, when—unbeknownst to me—another woman caused his odd behavior, I reacted to his emotional distance and noncommittal ways by writing him off and moving on. There was no satisfaction when I found that the girl in question rebuked in him a humiliating way, but there was the ability to forgive, and a sense of empowerment that I didn’t put up with his bullshit even lacking all the information.

That’s where things started to change.

After online dating in which I met some nice men who didn’t know to brush their teeth before a date, regardless of how casual, and long hours of bemoaning the massive amounts of selfishness a person can bring down on someone, I began to acknowledge not only that I may never have a family, it wouldn’t be as big of a deal. This year, my goals have drastically changed. I went from desiring stability and security to seeing the benefits of freedom. Both my prior relationships were merely emotional vacuums with little reward. When the younger man came to see me in the city, anything romantic he attempted was ruined by his conditional attitude afterwards. “Next time it’s your turn!” he’d make a point to tell me, even though I’d beyond demonstrated my generosity. The quid pro quo attitude that men presented to me tended to ignore the more subtle gestures, often more difficult and time consuming, I did for them, while giving no appreciation towards any of the grand gestures where I went out of my way to make him feel secure and wanted. While being in a relationship prior to all of this felt rewarding and stimulating, today I associate it with being responsible for another being who will often resent you.

I have wanderlust, I realized.

I love New York City. In the last couple of months my social anxiety has dispersed into thin air. I still have my awkward moments and tend to retreat into my mind instead of acknowledging people in stressful or embarrassing situations, yet the actual act of making eye contact, joking with a stranger in the elevator, and just being around people in general is a thousand times easier. I’m not a fan of making small talk any more than I was before, but I don’t feel like the same intrusion that I did just a year prior.

I like how I can walk down the street and get milk. I like the people here and their general attitude. I have found multitudes of aspiring artists who seem to understand my creative curiosity. It’s expensive, but when you don’t drink, it’s doable. I like dog walking. I like the animals themselves, the sunshine and the exercise. I like being on my own with my thoughts.

The atmosphere is wonderful and exciting. But I feel a little trapped.

Being without a car is hard, even in a city with good transportation. Taxis make me instantaneously motion sick, plus the expense. The subway is typically fine, but unreliable, limited, requiring a great deal of walking. And when you’re schlepping something back from downtown, it becomes immediately apparent just how far five miles really is.

My belief that things would be more accessible to me here was incorrect. In Jackson, it would take me an hour one way to drive to the closest store to get batting for a quilt. In New York? Still a forty-five minute long trip, and instead of getting in your car, putting on cruise control, and listening to an audio book, you’re walking fifteen minutes to the subway, fifteen minutes from it, riding on a subway car that smells like grime, squashed in between two people and trying not to get motion sick as you read your ebook. Whatever you get, you have to carry it back, and you can’t just do all your errands at once.

Oh. And you actually might have an incredibly hard time finding what you’re looking for. Partially because all the store names are different out here, but they don’t have many “Walmarts” or superstores to just walk into grab all the items you need and leave. The batting was ridiculously difficult to come by. I called and walked into numerous stores before I got the only kind offered, paid an arm and a leg for it, and was recommended to try buying it online.

If I wanted to buy things online, I’d live in Wyoming.

A big reason I wanted to move to NYC was the theatre. I enjoy producing, and I wanted to get in on networking with a wide variety of artists. However, since my producer time in Los Angeles, things have changed. I’ve learned how one successful project does not make the next easier, I have little desire to commute down to the theatre district every day for a show, and I’m broke, exhausted, and don’t have the time or money to dedicate myself to a piece like I used to. I don’t feel inspired to produce right now, and getting the point where I had the resources to do so would take a few years of actively spending most of my time in the theatre. Right now, I feel more inspired to make my novels into something and not so excited for the plays.

I also came here to take lessons that would be offered to me… except I don’t have any money. Yes, I would love to do stage combat, but it’s over a grand a month, and I don’t have that. My new habit in the violin already is emptying my wallet.

Jackson has a wonderful dance company, and other classes that I haven’t taken advantage of. Why did I need to come here?

But the decision was made for me when I started watching Girlboss, and subsequently bought the autobiographical book by Sophia Amoruso.

I have been bemoaning how my starving artist lifestyle and wanderlust makes my resume look like crap. All over the place, switching jobs every two years or less, even though I have the best recommendations you can ask for, I look like a flight risk. Which, I am.

As I stated, last summer I had little to show for myself. Skills, yes, but more or less useless ones in terms of benefiting society. Anything I was good at would only be profitable for my own business or as a teacher. I left my puppy with my ex. I left our beautiful (rented) house in Australia. I left my image of our life together. We had plans for a wedding, names for kids, a future. All of that was gone.

A few months ago I got a call from my old job offering me a title and a salary.

“I hear you’re coming back!” my manager said after I had merely mentioned it to a select few individuals.

What the…? Goddamn small town… I muttered to myself.

“If you want your job back, we’ll make it worth your while!”

Out in the Wild, Wild West, my parents also had a piece of property I would one day inherit and my dad, a contractor, suggested that if I come back, he’d help me build a small house on it. The promise of having a home—even if I ultimately didn’t decide to live in it—perked me up. It would be a potential permeant space, but not only that, it would make getting a dog in the next few years possible.

After my stint in Ireland, I’ve been making expensive plans to go to Morocco (which changed to Cambodia), as well as any other place I can find a means to. Traveling breaks the monotony of my life and creates good memories, along with a feeling of living my days to the fullest.

So with all that promise, the ads for Girlboss hit me right at the best moment.

Girlboss tells the true story about Amoruso who started her own ebay company selling vintage clothing by having the right eye for style and showmanship. She began it out of necessity, needing funds to survive. It reminded me of Amanda Hocking, whose success as an author started when she self-published her book to afford tickets to some concert.

I wanted to do that. I wanted to see more funds come from my writing and sewing and artwork. I wanted the freedom to travel, to create, and to do things that I’ve always wanted without being tied down to a job. If I’m not going to have my husband and children, then I’m going to take advantage of the silver lining. At first I wrote it off as a pipedream of everyone’s, but I’ve spent years honing my presentational skills that I’ve never really tested out. Not only did Amoruso’s success make it seem possible, a good friend of mine from college recently quit her job due to her successful Etsy business.

I decided to move back to Wyoming on a whim. It came in June after a coworker went out of his way to lecture me on how he thought I should have handle a certain situation. I didn’t disagree with him necessarily. Yet, his drastic oversimplification and unfamiliarity of what occurred, his melodramatic way of speaking, and his need to spend a condescendingly long amount of time on something that was more or less obvious in hindsight pissed me off just enough for me to consider what I really wanted to do come my lease’s end in September. He was tactless on a somewhat trivial matter that I’d already learned from. I didn’t really plan on quitting, knowing it was a temporary problem, but once I began to analyze the possibilities, it just felt right. If you know me, rarely does anything “just feel right.”

Without the assumed children to support, my starving artist lifestyle has a longer stainability. I don’t need to plant roots when it’s just me. I don’t need as much financial security. I am much more flexible in what I have to do to survive. I had previously considered that if I’m going to live in a small room with no money to stay at home and write, then wouldn’t it be better to take a part-time job somewhere cheaper and give myself more creative free time? The location in Wyoming offers a ridiculous amount of space for a lot less money, giving me a better ability to create. More to the point, I’ll have my cat back and the potential of getting a dog on my own. I’ll be able to set up a workstation. In Wyoming, more of my money can go to what I really care about. I can take classes. I can travel. I can buy better equipment. I can start looking into marketing and professional editors to help me push my work further. I’ll be closer to friends and family, and the limitation I felt there is smaller now that I realize being in the city doesn’t necessarily mean things are available to you.

I want to have creative space, funds for my actual career, the ability to play my violin when I want (without the practice mute), my cat, a real fridge, an oven, a functioning toilet.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I want to live in Jackson forever. It’s cold and isolated. But it’s not the end of the world if, in two years from now, I decide to flee again. Not if I turn focus to less conventional means of financial freedom.

I love NYC. Coming here has done more positive things for me than any other decision I’ve made in adulthood. I feel stronger, wiser, and freer. But it also helped me realize that perhaps I really don’t want to be tied down to an expensive apartment in one singular city.

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