The last week or so, I have been rather introverted and melancholy. Perhaps melancholy isn’t the correct word. Contemplative? That’s it. However, my contemplativeness is tinged with a bit of melancholy. My usually sunny mood has been replaced by something cloudier; not darker per say, just shadowy. It’s as if the sun is passing behind a cloud before coming out again.
Now that I’m finished with all my pretentious-sounding weather metaphors, let’s get to the crux of the issue, shall we?
I haven’t been able to explain why I’ve been feeling more introspective than usual, cagey, and once in awhile, irritable. Things I felt sure of, I’m not so sure of right now. In the voyage of my life, I am making my way through some kind of valley rather than climbing or standing on some peak. While I’ll admit I’m more exhausted than usual by work commitments, that explanation didn’t seem to placate my feelings.
That’s when I realized: I was approaching my one-year anniversary of my move to New York City (which was last Thursday, September 13).
It’s a funny thing, anniversaries here. Everyone always celebrates “surviving another year” in New York. Surviving. That’s the term I hear a lot from other fellow transplants as they celebrate their moving dates. It’s like your anniversary is your badge of honor here. “I’ve been here five years” or “I’ve made it eleven years.” The longer you’ve “survived,” the cooler and tougher you are. But no one really says “I’ve lived here this many years.” It’s an odd sort of thing I just started noticing recently. Even the song says, “If I can make it here, I’ll make it anywhere.” Apparently, to make it in New York, one must be a warrior.
I’m not denying this first year has been an uphill battle at times: money struggles, creative roadblocks, unsuccessful auditions, homesickness. So many times, I’ve wanted to furiously throw in the towel and go somewhere else. But then moments later, something so glorious or hopeful would happen, and I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. I’ve romanticized New York so many times in my head that when it hasn’t matched that idea, I’ve immediately wanted to bolt. But when it does match, it actually far surpasses what I imagined. This is the beauty and the curse of this city; this love/hate relationship pulls on you more than any other place I’ve known, but it’s thrilling in its own frustrating way. You do feel stronger because of it; a warrior out of sheer will. You have to actively pursue your life and livelihood here. You have to want it and then make it happen, because no one else is going to do it for you; they’re too busy trying to make it happen for themselves. It’s every woman for herself (or every man…).
Dare I say I’ve learned just as much here in one year as I did in seventeen years worth of formal education? Yes, but the information is distinctive and raw, which is how I feel these days. The polish of my educational achievements has given way to something wilder, more unkempt beneath. In this concrete jungle, I am animalistic in my pursuits; everyone is. I am a youthful, brazen creature inside a demure body, and my instincts overpower my reason. School teaches us to tame these things, but I think in order to really live, we have to let that side come out once in awhile to balance ourselves.
(Sorry. I keep sounding pretentiously metaphorical. I really shouldn’t sit down to write after reading Vanity Fair and Truman Capote short stories.)
Sometimes, I look back on this first year and think I haven’t accomplished anything. I haven’t been cast in any shows (save for a cabaret), my bank account is far more meager than it was upon my arrival, I work endlessly to temper said meager bank account, I’ve been on like two dates, and I’m nowhere near having an agent or my union cards. I can be self-deprecating to the point of being fatalistic, so it’s easy for me to see only these negative aspects of my first year in the Big Apple. However, when I truly consider all that has occurred and all the knowledge I’ve accrued, I’m really rather proud of myself. I have this incredible little circle of friends who have become my honest-to-god family (other than my awesome uncle, aunt, and their family in New Jersey who generously let me come visit on weekends), I’ve made some charming and intelligent new friends, I’ve never missed paying my rent and bills, I’ve reconnected with old teachers and friends, I can go to Central Park whenever I want or Lincoln Center or museums, I’ve auditioned in front of lots of different creative teams, I’ve become a better cook. These are experiences and things I cherish and wouldn’t give back even if it meant I had more money and was living elsewhere.
One of my good friends said to me a while ago, “You know, I really love this person you’ve become since moving here; not that I didn’t love you before. I don’t know, it’s like you’ve come into your own somehow. You don’t care what people think of you anymore. You’re freer.” I looked at her incredulously; it didn’t occur to me until she made that comment that I might actually be growing into myself, becoming less inhibited and more honest. As much as I think I am less accomplished sometimes, other people see me another way, and that has begun changing how I think about myself. You know what? I have accomplished a lot here; perhaps not professionally per se, but personally. I’m learning to let myself be messier, unpolished. It’s a new sensation for me to be sure, but by letting go of certain things that have been hampering me for so long, I’m finding fresh and intriguing facets of myself.
Beyond learning how to absolutely make the most kickass, perfect grilled cheese sandwiches, I think the biggest thing my first year in New York taught me was faith. It’s so easy to succumb to cynicism, doubt, depression, and other dark states here, and at times, I’ll admit I did fall into their trap. But I had people – wonderful, tremendously patient people – who very gently guided me back towards the light. They reminded me to laugh. They gave me hope. I have learned that when I have faith and trust things will work themselves out, they always do. I still have to remind myself of this every now and then. I think that’s why having faith can be so difficult sometimes, because I have a hard time letting go. It’s much, much easier to choose negativity and sometimes it feels good – marvelous, even – to wallow in it, but in the end, faith is so much more rewarding. Choosing to have faith and optimism is always the slightly more precarious path, but it has never let me down thus far, and it never will. Patience and faith go hand in hand.
And if you’re still reading this, thank you for your patience with me as I’ve rattled off every conceivable thought in my head. This is the only way I know how to make sense of myself. I could lie and say I wrote this for you and to some extent, it is for you, but the truth is I wrote this for me so I’d have some peace of mind, some catharsis. I could have just written all this down in my own personal journal (and some of it I have), but I felt compelled to share it so others might understand my voyage so far. I share this so you might have a deeper insight into me, because I’m not always the most forthcoming with my feelings.
It has been a helluva first year in New York, but I feel confident going into year two. I’ve found my footing. I know how things work. With as much of a whirlwind as my first year was, I’m hoping the second will be even more exciting but a bit more financially stable. I have plans I want to carry out and dreams to make realities.
So as year two is getting under way, I look forward now with faith and patience and optimism and gumption, knowing I have mastered many beasts in this city and confident I can face new ones. This time next year, my story will have evolved and new adventures will have taken place and who knows how I’ll feel. For now, I keep my head ever in the present.
“I look out the window and I see the lights and the skyline and the people in the street rushing around looking for action, love, and the world’s greatest chocolate chip cookie.” Nora Ephron