What doesn't kill you...makes you leave New York

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetThis city has siren-called me for years. First, it awoke in me a primal desire to just be here. I ached for it with a youthful passion, so much that my bones reverberated with the desire to exist in this space. For years, I longed. While living in New York, my soul sang the sweetest tune it’s known; I gloried in my city. I thrived. I blossomed and bloomed and whatever other cheesy metaphor you have for doing well in a place.

For a year, at least.

For a year, I truly lived in New York. I went to school and my part-time job and I did my laundry at the laundromat and I went out to dinners with friends; I stood in line (three times) for Black Tap burgers, I went on a lobster cruise in the harbor, I went to church and parties and just really inhabited the city.

Things went downhill during the second year, to the point where I woke up one day and realized I was working hard just to continue working. I was devoting countless hours to my barista job, coming home and spending more hours writing and submitting articles, just to scrape by. At the end of the month, I barely made rent, and then I started all over again.

I wasn’t living in New York. I was just taking up space, working just to wake up and do it again, striving just to keep on striving.

The hardest decision in the world was the one to leave. How could I give up this place that has meant so much to me? New York is more than a city for me, more than a home. It’s a friend.

During some of my darkest hours, when the depression has swung and struck and hammered and battered at my soul, it’s been New York that saved me. I would leave my apartment, ride the subway and get off at a park or Fifth Avenue or the waterfront and just breathe it in — the pure life of the city.

It rejuvenated me, reminded me I wanted to be.

Even before moving here, New York was saving me. I was hospitalized as a sophomore in college for being exceedingly suicidal, and what was it that got me out of the pit? The knowledge that if I died, I wouldn’t make it to New York on a class trip the next month.

I have loved this city with a burning love for a long time. And as much as people say New York is hard, that it chews you up and spits you out, I have felt like it loved me back.

Processed with VSCO with x1 presetOh, it loved me with a tough love. It didn’t coddle me, and when I found myself in tough straits, it didn’t give me a job. In fact, it kicked me out.

But it loved me regardless.

There was the day I walked down the street sobbing, on the phone with my father trying to figure out how I would survive the hours, and a strange man stopped and said, “Hey, are you OK?”

That was New York offering love.

Or the way the Chrysler Building lights up just for me, all swirly and golden and piercing straight to my heart with its beauty.

The contrast between sky-reaching buildings and the corner stores — the buildings that don’t know me from Adam, the bodega owners who smile and know my order and call me “sweetie.”

They are the life of the city. It’s the little things. It’s funny, that such an impossibly big city is given life through the little things, but so it is.

I adore this city.

But I have to leave it. I have to, and I want to.

The life I’ve lived this past year is no life at all. I’m grateful I have the option to go somewhere else, to reset. It’s a combination of deteriorating mental health and the fierce competition in the media industry that led to me working a barista job and barely scraping by.

And so I know — if I can start over somewhere else, somewhere a little easier, I can come back stronger. I know this because I have to; I know this because it’s the only reason I can leave — this knowledge that I’ll come back.

To New York: you are my love, my friend, my home. It’s been hard, but we’ve made it work. Until we couldn’t.

Oh, man. I’m sitting here sobbing like the world has ended. I’m driving away tomorrow, driving to a new life. And I know I’m going to pull over so many times and cry again. My heart is breaking. I don’t want to leave the city, the friends, the life I made.

But really, I left it a year ago, when I first took a six-day-a-week pizza-slinging job. It’s just taken me this long to realize it.

Sometimes you need to take a step or two back in order to come back stronger. I’m not ashamed of the fact that I’m doing this. I’m just sad that I have to.

The freedom to dream (again)

I have 10,000 blog posts in my heart about leaving New York. Wait, you didn't know I'm leaving New York? I wrote a newsletter explaining why. So now this post can jump right into an unintended positive consequence: I feel free again, free to dream big and paint futures for myself in the sky.

IMG_2900Recently, I've been feeling so...stuck. Stagnant. Like I'm treading quicksand, just waiting to disappear. Except I'm not sinking, but I also can't get out.

I've always been a big dreamer. I never really boxed myself into an "ideal" future, because I was constantly painting a new one. I was constantly believing that what was to come would be better than what was.

Not in the sense that I was unhappy; just in the sense that I truly believed things would continue to improve.

As a child, my dreams took the shape of how I would grow into someone so pretty, how all the boys would love me, how I would be famous and rich and successful and happy. I had this one dream, when I was around 11 or so, that by age 14 (incidentally, the age at which I knew I would return to America) I would be tall, slim, with long red hair that my nimble fingers could form into a braid.

When that didn't turn out, I simply turned to a new dream. That's how I was. That's how I am. Dreaming is part of the fabric of my brain. I have this innate sense of how things can and will be ever better.

I've lost that over the past year. Oh, I think I had it, some, for my first year in New York. That was the year that I was in school and working part-time, the year that I spent a lot of time with my friends and did a lot of cool New York things.

The second year, things dwindled. I worked, and that's about it. I worked, watched TV, read books, and slept. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

I stopped dreaming. Recently, I've been telling everyone how I feel stuck. I thought the solution was to get a new job, or perhaps win a novel contest, or maybe break into a new publication. I thought the solution was to work harder.

And then, a week ago, everything changed. In quick succession, I quit my job, decided to move away from New York, planned a three-month reset visit to Italy followed by looking for jobs. And I decided that I wouldn't give myself a city, state or even general geographic vicinity in which to look. I wouldn't box myself in. I would pull up my computer and just look for any writing job, anywhere.

The dreams came back. Suddenly I was visualizing myself driving through Seattle; living on the beach in California; writing for a newspaper in Hawaii; dating a country music singer in Nashville; I was able to see myself in all these places, and even better, I was able to imagine myself happy.

I think the trap I fell into over the past year is that I decided I wouldn't be happy if I was anywhere other than New York. But I wasn't happy in New York, mostly because I wasn't really doing anything other than work food service jobs that didn't have any personal fulfillment. It's one thing to not be satisfied in your job but have a social life that fills you with joy. But to have neither? I was so exhausted I couldn't do anything other than work. But I wasn't happy at work. So I just...wasn't happy.

But I was convinced that I wouldn't be happy leaving New York.

Obviously, I haven't left yet, so I don't know if I will be happy anywhere else. I believe I will, though, and that's half the battle.

The thing about dreams is that they really do influence reality. If I allow myself the liberty of believing I could be happy anywhere else, the chances are much higher that I really will be.

So I'm letting my imagination loose. I'm visualizing myself anywhere and everywhere all at once, living a life of adventure like I've always dreamed. I had no idea it would take giving up on one dream to learn to dream again.

It's heartbreaking that I have to leave New York. It feels like I'm betraying not just the city but myself from two years ago. It feels like I've failed; I tried to hack it in New York but wasn't strong enough, couldn't do it.

Those feelings come and choke me and threaten to take away my ability to dream. In those moments, I allow myself to mourn. I let myself be sad about what I'm losing, what I never had. But I'm not going to let them take over.

So what if I failed at living in New York? That's not a real measure of success anyone other than two-years-ago-Karis uses.

10644404_10153908909159884_3512343102413048896_o

I let myself mourn, and then I start to dream. I dream about the adventures I'll have in Italy for three months. I dream about all the jobs that I can apply for now that I'm not limiting myself to one metro area. I dream about all the cool places I could live, the beautiful furniture I could buy, the kitten and puppy I could adopt. I dream about the new friends I'll make and the boys I'll meet and the life I'll build.

And it's good.

It's so good.

New York — it's amazing. But it's not everything. And I think I needed to lose it in order to see that.

Missing my heart-land, away from home

There's something about being away from New York that makes me miss Italy more fiercely. It doesn't seem like those two should be so intertwined, does it? How does leaving New York relate to missing Italy? They're not the same!

And yet, somehow, being in the city, walking the streets of Brooklyn, glowering at the tourists in Manhattan, it has this ethereal quality to it, this thing I can only describe as a feel, that makes me feel at home and reminds me of Italy. And so I miss Italy a little less, because I'm distracted by New York City.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

There's so much to distract you in New York. There's a fog of exhaustion that seems to float behind every step, compounded by the stress of public transportation as the only means to get anywhere. There's a level of striving in everything, a tension that doesn't leave your shoulders at all, because every month this niggling question hovers: will I make rent for next month? I breathe a sigh of relief at the end of every month when I pay my roommate the allotted amount to give me 30 more days in the city.

And there are people, new faces to observe, new oddballs to dodge, something different on every corner. There's a job, 40+ hours a week on my feet in almost constant motion, serving other Brooklynites their coffee and panini, and yet, despite the countless time I spend working and charming people for tips, I'm barely scraping by and looking to pick up side gigs for a little extra cash flow.

There's constantly something on my mind in New York, and that combined with the Europe-ness of the city means I don't have time to think back on Trieste...

...To think about long and lazy morning walks seven miles down the waterfront, ending at the castle I love so much I tattooed it on my body...

...To think about the gelateria where the hot chocolate is so thick your spoon stands up on its own, leaning in close to your best friend from childhood and giggling, giggling, giggling...

...To think about standing on the edge of the pier, staring out at the Adriatic Sea as its waves ripple the streetlights, this feeling of peace and serenity flooding you and overtaking every synapse...

...To think about home, with its creaky floors and warm-pumpkin walls and the bed you've had since childhood that's still your coziest retreat...

When I sit down to try and write about Italy, about Trieste, about all the things I love from my hometown and my adopted country, I find I don't have the words. The English language falls flat at my fingertips, unable to convey the depth of emotions I have toward that place, unable to truly translate to you the beauty of it, the beauty of its movement, language, of the ethereal feel it has that just wraps itself around me and holds me close to its heart.

I think I'm lucky, so lucky, to have found two places that I love beyond words. And when I leave one, I find myself craving the other desperately.

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetI'm in South Carolina at the moment, sitting in a comfortable chair in my parents' beautiful home, a home I'm simultaneously jealous and afraid of. Because it's small by suburbia standards but large compared to my place in Brooklyn; because nearly every inch is coated in soft carpet I don't recognize from New York (or Italy); because mornings are slow and the sun seems to blink its eyes open as lazily as I do, rather than darting awake like it does up North.

Things are different in the South, it's true, and a big difference is that down here there's less to distract me and less to satiate my craving for Italy.

So I miss it, with a passion. For the first time in months I've found my fingers itching to buy a plane ticket to Trieste, I've found my stomach collapse at this longing that just eats at me, I've found myself blinking back tears and a lump in my throat because I'm here and not there, here and not there...

I've been asked so many times this weekend why I refuse to move back to South Carolina. There are reasons, one of them being that New York is home now and I don't want to leave it, but a big one that I'm just realizing is that I miss my Italy-home more fiercely when I'm away from my New York-home.

And so, I stay safely cocooned up North, where the people are plenty, the smells abound and the Italy-missing is less intense.

 

A promise to keep on

11231036_10206439186115425_7479951697701760541_n-2 For so long, I wanted nothing more than to go to grad school for journalism in New York City.

I worked my butt off to perfect my applications so I would get accepted to Columbia, CUNY or NYU. I took my personal essays and rewrote them tons of times, each time filled with even more dread and anxiety.

And then I waited for several months, heart in my throat, for the response. I vacillated between certainty that I would get in and the absolute knowledge that I would be rejected from every single one of my dream schools.

Until the emails started coming in: CUNY, yes; NYU, yes; Columbia, yes.

I cried. My dreams were coming true. Within a few months, I accepted NYU's offer of admission, packed my belongings into a bunch of boxes and drove from South Carolina to New York City.

My dream was coming true.

And now I don't know how to go forward.

Because I don't know if I can do this, after all. I don't know how to be unafraid, how to go after a story like a hound dog and not care who gets in the way.

I'm terrified, every night, of failing. I'm filled with anxiety, wondering if this is really what I'm supposed to do with my life. Perhaps I'm better suited to a simpler life, a life with fewer hardships and less angst.

I got into journalism because I wanted to tell stories. OK, that's not exactly true. I got into journalism because I liked writing and wanted another avenue; and the more I learned about it, the more I got into it, the more I discovered the possibilities. Journalism offers a chance to tell people's stories when they can't do it themselves, to give hope sometimes and yes, to uncover injustice and lies and generally bad things.

The longer I spent studying journalism, the more passionate I became. My first "real-world" work experience was at the Sochi Winter Olympics, when I spent nine days putting together video packages with other students. As hard as that experience was, as many blisters as I got and as many late nights as I lived through, I would have stayed for weeks and weeks longer.

Then I did a summer internship, and that just set my passion into stone. I got to cover events and tell stories of incredible people and that's when I knew, that's when I knew for sure, that I was going to pursue this for the rest of my life.

And now I don't know. Now I'm living my dream and facing the prospect of that all coming to naught. Because what if my fear is going to keep me from doing this job? What if my instinct to believe people when they say what they're doing is good will actually keep me from being great at the job I've dreamed of for so many years?

What if I'm standing in my own way?

Maybe I should have just kept to creative writing. I shouldn't have gotten into such a demanding, high-pressure field.

Maybe this is why The New York Times keeps rejecting my internship applications: they sense, in the way that I can't, that I'm not suited for this career. They've seen through the facade and understand that I'm not going to add anything to their newsroom, because I have nothing to add.

I'm in the midst of an identity crisis. For the past four years, I've been a journalist. Sometimes a student journalist, sometimes an intern and sometimes a freelance journalist, but always a journalist. I don't know who I am if I'm not that anymore.

More importantly, I don't want to give it up. This is what I'm passionate about. I mean, I've dreamed of this for such a long time! I want nothing more than to be a successful journalist living in New York City.

I know the field is hard, and the city is hard, and the person I am today is too weak and untested to survive either.

But I'm not willing to give up my dream just yet. I'm not willing to let a few blows knock me out completely.

I will keep pursuing this career as long as I can, until I'm bloody on the ground and unable to get back up. I will fight to be Karis Rogerson, journalist extraordinaire. Nothing can keep me down.

This is my dream. I'm scared of continuing to pursue it, but for once in my life, I'm not going to let my fears keep me down.

My three month-aversary with #NYC

Three months ago today, I sat in the back of my parents' car and drove into New York City. My stomach was in knots, and I couldn't get rid of the nagging thought that demanded, What the heck do you think you're doing? For the first time since mid-2014, when I started planning my applications to grad schools in New York, I was petrified. What if this was a mistake?

We pulled up to my new home and I jumped out of the car, running up the front steps to grab my key. And the picture happened.

I've used this photo before ... but oh, well. Photo by Becky Rogerson.

The first 24 hours seemed to last forever. But here I am, suddenly, three months later, and I'm not sure where the time went.

Oh, of course, I could think about it and figure it out.

On a visit to Photoville early in the semester. Photo by Liz Arakelian.

The time passed with dinner cruises with fellow NYU students, with first projects and tears and victories, with visits to Photoville and walks across the Brooklyn Bridge. It passed with constant dreaming and some nightmares.

The time passed with a week-long hospital stay and a weekend in Baltimore. It passed with evenings with classmates and church friends. It passed with making friends and a life for myself.

Time passed with starting a new job tutoring second graders and getting published by Seventeen.

Time passed.

And here I am, three months later, and it wasn't what I expected. Every day hasn't been filled with Instagram-worthy moments of city perfection. Of course there have been some — fall in the city is breathtaking, and even way out in residential Queens the red, yellow and orange of the leaves have been glorious. But there have also been a lot of evenings spent at home with Netflix and pizza.

I thought I would be partying every night, in the city with friends and constant excitement. I thought my life would be like "Friends." "How I Met Your Mother" and "Castle," full of quirky incidents, opportunities and cute guys.

It hasn't been like that. It's been so much more chill. Of course there have been opportunities. I never would have gotten an article published by Seventeen if I hadn't been at NYU. I wouldn't have gotten to go to Baltimore to write about community women doing leadership.

All this to say — my dreams came true. I moved to New York, and I've been here for three months. It's not what I expected; it's better.

The anti-suicide manifesto

It's not a secret that I struggle with depression. Or that I was diagnosed as bipolar. What is, I assume, a secret, is how much those two things affect me on a daily basis. How often I am incapacitated by my emotions. How many times I retreat into my prison cell of a mind and torture myself with thoughts of how little worth I have, how insignificant I am, how things would be better without me... Even in New York, in grad school, in this world of journalism, I fall victim to my own insecurities and self-hatred. I thought coming here would change everything, but I've realized ... I can't be changed by a place, a career or a person. No outside influence is going to swoop down and rescue me.

There will be days when I truly believe I can't go on. And my salvation has to come from the inside.

A while ago I developed a mantra, a life motto if you will:

But that wasn't enough. I still flirted with the idea of ending my life. I still felt agonizingly alone. I still wondered if I had what it took to survive.

Until a few days ago. I was on the train, ricocheting on the tracks, and I wondered what would happen if the train detailed. If I died. What would people say? What would they feel?

And if I died through my own will?

And that's when I promised myself that wouldn't happen. That wouldn't be my story.

Because I'm a writer, I wrote. I wrote a manifesto explaining exactly why that wouldn't happen.

It was supposed to just be for me, to keep on my desktop and remind me of my pledge. But I'm also an oversharer with an intense need to be known and understood. So I'm doing the same thing I did a few months ago with my definition of success: I'm sharing.

Below, for the world to see and hold me accountable to, is my anti-suicide manifesto.

I am not someone who died too young. I am not full of unrealized potential. I am not a sad obituary of one snatched away too soon. I will not be published and celebrated posthumously. My funeral will not be filled with hundreds of peers who can't believe I'm gone so early. My life will not be snuffed out in its prime.

There will be no tears of disbelief, no sobs, no anger at me or God. My parents will not witness my demise.

I am no cautionary tale.

I will be someone who chose life always, no matter what. No matter how many scars litter my arms, no matter how many tears scald my cheeks, no matter how many days pass without the sun. Rain, shine, hurricane, tornado. Fall, winter, spring, summer. In my 20s, my 30s, my 60s and 80s: as long as it is in my power, I will choose life.

I am not a statistic, a number, a blip on a police scanner. I am not a memory, a ghost or "somebody that you used to know."

I will not be the granddaughter, niece, cousin, friend you refuse to speak of. Some days I might be the granddaughter, niece, cousin, friend you refuse to speak to. But I will be there.

I will be at every birthday party, in every family photo, part of every wedding.

Holidays will not be sad because they remind you of me. They will be joyous because I will be there to make you laugh.

Through everything, I will remember: He. Is. Here. He is life, He is here, and so am I.

I am not death. I am filled with life.

This is the closest thing to a suicide note I will ever write. It is my anti-suicide note.

That is my promise, my vow, my oath.

I'm still obsessed with New York

You live here now, Karis. You don't need to keep reading articles about why New York is the best city in the world and wish you were there. You're here. I don't know how many times I've told myself that over the past six weeks. It happens as I'm scrolling through my Instagram feed and catch a glimpse of the Manhattan skyline, when I'm watching Castle and the scene is his insane apartment or when I click on an article giving advice for how to be a true New Yorker.

Every time this happens, I feel a pang in my heart and think, Wow, I wish I were there. I've been doing it for years.

The only difference is that now, I am here.

I ride the subway across the Williamsburg Bridge every day, go to school mere blocks from Washington Square Park and am often just a short walk from sights like the Flatiron Building and Bryant Park.

I've taken the Staten Island Ferry, wandered Little Italy — in both Manhattan and the Bronx — traipsed through Brooklyn's picturesque residential streets and familiarized myself with the cheap delis in Queens.

There is no way to count the number of germs I've collected on the subway, I've consumed countless cheap slices of pizza and diner hamburgers and I've had a nighttime walk through the Battery Park City (where, dude, I would so live one day).

And those aren't the only things that make up my New York experience. Other factors include approaching strangers on a packed sidewalk and asking them about the pope; emailing a woman I spoke to briefly at a festival to see if I can do an in-depth story on her; having stories published and rejected; and live-tweeting the CNN GOP Debate before putting together a Storify of it.

I've made friends with the 13 other students in my program. We go out to lunch together and treat each other like siblings. We have a group Facebook message that's filled with plans to meet up, questions about assignments and, yes, full-on panic about what we're going to do and why we're here. I've had the equivalent of counseling sessions with several classmates — where I was both the counselor and the patient, at different times.

In the short time I've been in NYC, I've grown into a whole new person. I walk about five miles a day. I approach strangers in the biggest, most diverse city I know of, and ask to video them. I navigate the subway with ease. I am both more scared to be a journalist and much more confident in my calling.

Most importantly, I wake up every morning knowing that no matter what happens, no matter where I get thrown or what uncomfortable situations I'm in, every experience is making me stronger. I'm becoming a better friend, a better writer and a better city-dweller.

I'm overwhelmed. This is the city I live in, guys:

IMG_0018

I mean, seriously, what? How did this happen?

I don't know by what measure I was allowed to be blessed in such a way. But man, am I going to enjoy it. Every minute. Even the ones where I'm terrified, where I'm lonely, where I'm uncomfortable ... even those.

When the story doesn't pan out, and the value of reader trust

The 89th annual feast of San Gennaro is currently taking place in Little Italy. As a pseudo-Italian myself, I knew I wanted to at the very least make an appearance. And because one of my grad school assignments involves weekly stories based off of New York City events, I decided to combine my two loves and write a story about the feast.

The entrance to the feast, on Mulberry Street.

So on Thursday after class, my friend Leann and I headed downtown and spent two hours wandering the streets of Little Italy, talking to vendors and residents and, in Leann's case, attracting the interest of all the eager Italian boys.

The sign welcoming visitors to the feast.

I spoke to 10 different people and gathered a hodgepodge of views on the festival as well as Little Italy itself. I thought it was going to be a great story, one that highlighted how gentrification had changed the culture of the once-tightknit community and even altered people's perceptions of the feast. There was just one problem: the residents and vendors who spoke negatively of the area refused to give me their names.

I guess they were scared. I get that. And in my eagerness to write the story, I forgot one important rule: we can only quote anonymous sources under mitigating circumstances.

So I wrote my story and sent it to my professor.

It didn't go over well. The story, it turned out, was a flop. Worse: there was no story, not without someone being willing to come forward and put their name to their words.

There's something terribly discouraging about realizing that you've failed in your reporting. Not that I think there was anything more I could have done — I bartered with my sources, but both refused to give full names, and nobody else seemed willing to speak disparagingly of the event. But it's still a disappointment to feel like you have a story at your fingertips and have to let it go.

But I understand why that's what had to happen. It's one of the basic rules of journalism: honesty and transparency. If I don't let my readers know where my facts are coming from, how can they trust that I'm not just making them up?

Earlier this week, I spent a long time researching Jayson Blair, the New York Times reporter who was fired in 2003 for fabricating quotes and stories. What he did was wrong not just because he failed his employers, but because he failed his readers. He presented as truth something that was, in fact, falsehood.

As journalists, all we have is the perception that our word is good, that it's worth something. If we lose that, well ... we have nothing.

So as hard as it was to let go of my story, I knew I had to do it. Not just because my professor told me to (although of course I do like to follow my teachers' instructions, on account of them being smarter than me and all that), but because I don't want to start my journalism career on unstable ground.

I want to be the kind of journalist that people trust.

I want to be someone sources have no fear entrusting their names to, knowing that I have great respect for the privilege they are affording me and that I will do everything in my power to protect them.

But I also want to be someone readers believe in, someone whose words matter. I want to be the kind of reporter who is so honest and open about where my information comes from that, if I ever do have to hide a source, people will know it's for a good reason, and believe that what I say is truth.

As I've mentioned before, I'm incredibly passionate about the role of journalism in society. I honestly think it's one of those things that has to exist, because people need to be able to trust someone to tell them the truth no matter what. And I don't want to do anything to jeopardize having that future.

It's a bit of an ego-killer to not get a story published, especially after my first story turned out well. It feels like I'm slipping backwards instead of surging forward. But it made me realize I have to decide what I value more: getting published, or being trustworthy.

I think I'll choose the latter.

Surviving the one week mark

Can you believe it? I know I can't. I've been living in New York for over a week. That's right. I've spent eight nights in my new home, I've attended church, I've met up with college friends who live in the city, I've made new friends from my program during an orientation program we decided to skip out on and I've been on several solo adventuring trips. I've worked nearly 10 hours for my job, experienced multiple subway incidents, and have a bag that smells like tea because I spilled water in it and the teabag started seeping. I've walked, on average, 4.5 miles every day, I've done laundry in a real live laundromat and I've gone grocery shopping by myself.

In short, I've settled in. Or started to, at least. I still haven't fully settled into my morning routine and I do have to walk the streets with my handy-dandy arm extension, Citymapper, turned on at all times. But I'm getting there. Show me a subway station for the "A," "M," "R," or "J" and I can get myself home just fine, thank you very much. I've even memorized the last few stops on my journey home!

I still haven't made friends with the people at the grocery or the pharmacy — in fact, due to an incompetent employee's screw-up, I am the farthest thing from "friends" with my local Rite Aid — but I have had the opportunity to blow off one entire evening talking and laughing with my roommate while spending another one walking Battery City Park with one of my first Asbury friends.

My worlds are colliding. This dream city is becoming home. It's becoming — dare I say it? — almost mundane.

Ok, mundane it isn't. It will never be guilty of that...

I just laughed at myself for calling New York "mundane." I take that back. It's still a foreign world to me. But it's a world I'm slowly acclimating to, one that, I hope, is beginning to accept me.

I'm no longer one of those people on the ferry bubbling about all the things I want to see and do in my three days in town; I want to see and do the same things, but I have so many more days available.

I don't know how long it will take for me to be able to consider myself a "New Yorker." I'm thinking by the time graduation rolls around I might have earned that moniker? But today, I'm a definite "New York-liver." I most definitely live in this city.

My new friends!

I'm thrilled beyond words. On Wednesday I woke up and cried, feeling lonely. Since then, I've met three people from my program and have plans to meet up with them tomorrow and again on Monday to hang out, explore and get started on this adventure called grad school.

After a full week in New York City, I finally feel like I've made it home. And I'm going to be okay.

10 Things that happen when you move to NYC alone at 22

  1. You marvel at the sheer number of people populating the streets. You've lived in cities before, but never one quite like this.
  2.   You search for an ATM because half the stores only accept cash, get lost, get angry, then find a lovely park where you settle down to have lunch and pretend you don't need money.
  3. You cram all of your laundry into one washing machine, without separating, because one load costs $1.75 and despite your earlier blissful ignorance you know you do, after all, need money. Sorry not sorry, mom.
  4. You have a panic attack on the subway because YOU MOVED TO THIS CITY ALONE, HAVE YOU NOT SEEN ENOUGH EPISODES OF "CASTLE" TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DO THAT??
  5. You watch "Friends" on a loop and wait for the six of them to enter your life so you're not always alone.
  6. You cry in bed on your fifth morning in the city because you're so lonely and you didn't think it would be this way.
  7. You wait anxiously for classes to start so you can be surrounded by people again and have a purpose.
  8. You hope classes never start because what if you're not cut out for this big life you dreamed of? What if you fail and have to go home in shame?
  9. You remind yourself why you made this crazy move: because the only way to land on the moon is to fly toward it, ignoring whatever scrapes and bruises the meteors you run into on the way will give you.
  10. You realize that it will be okay because you were called here for a reason and there is no failure in doing God's will, whether you land on the moon or thud back to Earth.
  11. BONUS: you remember that the Earth is pretty doggone awesome so if the moon doesn't work out, well, there's always that.
  12. DOUBLE BONUS: you wait for Taylor Swift to come back from tour do the two of you can be besties.

A tale of 24 hours in New York City

Holding the keys to my first apartment! We arrived at 10:30, driving through a tree-lined residential neighborhood to the building that is my new home. As I ran up the front steps to gather the keys, my mother prepared herself: it was photo-taking time. Obviously we took one with my new keys. I am so excited to be here.

Then we moved boxes from the car into my small bedroom. When I say small, I mean it's just about the perfect size for me. Just about.

After an hour of that, my parents and I boarded the "J" train from Jamaica Avenue and rode about 45 minutes into Manhattan — yeah, my neighborhood is pretty far from downtown. But the train ride is mostly elevated, and I've got a great view and some fun podcasts/books/news articles to entertain myself with, so I'm not worried.

We stopped by 20 Cooper Square, otherwise known as the home of NYU's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, otherwise known as my home away from home. There, I interviewed with Prof. Mitchell Stephens to see if he would let me help him do research for a biography he's writing — I know, I thought it sounded perfect, too!

The interview lasted an hour, and the whole time I couldn't figure out how it was going. I can usually tell, can usually read people, but this job that I wanted so much was proving itself to be somewhat difficult. In the end, I was given a stack of papers and told to fact-check. I'm pretty excited, not gonna lie. Total nerd alert.

Nerd alert No, 2

And then I picked up my NYU ID card!

We had a delicious lunch at Katz's Delicatessen, which is an experience in itself. We walked into a large room filled with people where a brusque man handed us a pink ticket with the warning that if we lost it, we would be forced to pay a $50 fine. Yikes. Another man, who called my mother "baby," which totally threw me off, showed us to our table. I ordered a reuben sandwich and am planning on eating the second half for lunch today. Cause it was absolutely huge.

Afterwards, we rode home and spent the evening unpacking. We've made a ton or progress. All the boxes are empty and what remains to be done involves personalizing the place — curtains, shelves of knickknacks, and a bookshelf.

I was in bed by 9:15 p.m. I have definitely mastered the NYC party life ;)

I'm not going to lie; when I went to bed last night I was feeling incredibly unsure of myself. During the drive up, I sent this text to a friend:

Screen Shot 2015-08-15 at 09.54.54

And while I knew that the second part was true, I was really feeling the first part. It didn't hit me until we drove into the city that I'm really doing this, this thing that I've dreamed about for three years. I'm moving to New York City. I'm going to grad school for journalism. I'm staking everything on the hope that this will work out and be my future.

The fear that I'm wrong is overwhelming. So going to bed last night, I was filled with unease and worry.

I woke up at peace and contented. I looked around my room and thought, "This is home." I went for a walk around the neighborhood, where I forgot for a second that I'm in New York and I smiled at a stranger.

He did not respond in kind. Lesson learned.

I also got lost, but refused to pull out my GPS and managed to make my way back home. In doing so, I've gained an understanding of the layout of this place, and I feel even more at home.

I honestly can't believe this is my life right now. And as scared as I am, I know that if I hadn't taken this step, I would regret it forever. I would spend every day wishing I were here, wishing I were stepping out into the blind and praying for God to catch me on the way down.

And yet I feel so okay. Because no matter what happens, God will catch me. I might live in this city for the rest of my life — I hope that's what happens. But I might not. Either way, it will be alright.

I've been in the city for 24 hours now. I can't wait for the thousands of hours to come.

How I survive depression because of a dream

The anticipation is nearly stifling me. I've waited so long — so very, very long — to move to New York City. And honestly, throughout the three years that I've held firm to this dream, there have been times that I didn't think it was possible. It's not just that I didn't know if I would be good enough to get into grad school, get a book published or find a job (and only one of those things has happened, by the way). It's not just that I didn't know if I could survive living with eight million other people in a city that TV shows like Castle and Gossip Girl have shown me can be more than cruel — because to balance that I had shows like Friends and, yes, Castle, that showed me how great it can be. It's not just that my days in Kentucky felt eternal, like I was caught in a perpetual whirlwind of college that I wasn't 100 percent anxious to leave.

It's that there were days when I didn't know if would make it. I wasn't sure if my physical body would survive the war my mind waged inside of me.

Visual representation of said scars and one of the reasons I'm alive today.

If you know me, you'll know that I was hospitalized for intense depression two-and-a-half years ago. If you know me better, you'll know that I was diagnosed with a mild form of bipolar disorder last January. And if you know me best, you'll know that the scars on my arms aren't just cutting scars; they're visible records of times I tried to take my life.

There were days when I didn't think I would see the next hour, much less a moment when my dreams would come true.

So to be here now, five days away from moving to pursue my dream of being a journalist in New York City ... that is an amazing feeling. To know that I have written two novels that I fully intend to publish and have at least six others marinating in my brain is empowering. To even let the idea cross my mind that someday I can be happy — that I even deserve to be happy — is a feeling I never thought I would have.

Yes, I made it to Sochi, and yes, it was so very worth it.

Interestingly, the dreams that I'm now about to live out are the very ones that saved me. Two-and-a-half years ago, if I hadn't dreamed of visiting New York, wished to attend the Winter Olympics in Sochi and aspired to be an editor on my school newspaper, I wouldn't have made it out of that hospital.

There was this moment when I was curled up on my paper bed in the place I had nightmares about for months that I looked at a picture of a beautiful landscape. The thought crossed my mind that I would love to someday stand in that very spot and soak in that beauty.

And that was it. That tiny picture sparked something in me, a desire to live. A desire not just to exist in this world, but to be a part of it, to be woven into the tapestry of others' life in such a way that my time on earth could be as rich as possible.

I don't doubt for a second that it was God who put those dreams in my heart and gave me the strength to move forward. And I don't doubt that those dreams are the reason I'm sitting here today, in a hotel room in Florida, getting ready to watch my cousin get married to the girl of his dreams.

There are so many, many layers of depth to how incredible this moment is. I'm about to be a witness to the happiest day of my cousin's life less than a week from moving to study what I love in a city that seems to promise everything. I'm tearing up just sitting here thinking about it.

And this subject is too important for me to be subtle with the moral of this story: if you're going through anything at all that makes you wonder what there is to life, allow yourself to dream. You don't have to plan out your ideal future; you can just decide you want to visit Yellowstone National Park, get a tattoo, lose a few pounds, give some food to a homeless person ... whatever allows you to recognize that your life is precious and so very worth living.

I don't know if anyone is going to read this and take me up on this offer, but I want to say it nonetheless: I'm a safe person to talk to about all the hard things you're struggling with. I'm a sympathetic crier with the ability to imagine myself into every scenario and feel pursuant emotions deeply. So if you need help — let me be there for you. Let me help you forge a dream, a series of a dreams, a reason to live.

*drumroll please* And the future holds...

...a summer internship at the Messenger in Madisonville, Kentucky, and a year and a half studying at New York University's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. Yep, come Dec. 2016, I will be Karis Rogerson, M.A.

For the first time in months, I know what I will be doing after graduation! And I'm beyond excited about it. Because just a few months ago, on Jan. 1, this is what I journaled:

It's the New Year! The year I graduate...the first New Year's Day in my life when I don't know where I'll be or what I'll be doing come the next New Year's Eve. It's thrilling and terrifying at the same time. I mean...seriously, where will I be? WHO will I be? Literally the only person who knows is God.

I swear I wasn't lying when I said it was thrilling, but obviously the truth leans a little more heavily toward the "terrified" side. Anytime you don't know what the future holds, there's bound to be a whole lot of fear and trauma involved. And I finally can say that I have some idea of what's going to happen. Of course, anything could change and I might wake up one morning and realize that God wants me to do something completely different. But for now, this is the plan, and here's how we got there...

First about the internship. Last November, I began applying to hordes of paid journalism internships. I don't even remember all the different places I applied to, but they ranged from The New York Times to The Baltimore Sun and the Google Journalism Fellowship. One of the organizations through which I applied is the Kentucky Press Association, which facilitates about 20 internships a year. Paid internships. And on Good Friday, I got a call from the Messenger saying they wanted me! After driving three and a half hours to get there for an interview, they offered me the internship and I accepted it a few days later.

I will be living in Madisonville with an older couple (who, apparently, are also hosting two baseball players) and I begin May 26. I am excited.

And now onto the bigger news: grad school!

I applied to four schools: Columbia University, the City University of New York (CUNY), New York University (NYU) and Northwestern University. And somehow, through some miracle or act of God, I got into all four!

As convinced as I originally was that I was going to end up at Columbia, my thoughts started changing in February when I got my acceptance to CUNY. Did I really want to get my degree in just ten months, or would I rather take some time to enjoy my grad school experience? Would I rather be one of 230, or one of 10 or 15?

So, soon after spring break ended, I bought my ticket for a weekend in New York to visit Columbia, CUNY and NYU.

And that trip is what sold it for me. I walked into the NYU journalism building at 20 Cooper Square, met Yvonne Latty, the director of the Reporting the Nation/Reporting New York department, of which I will be a part. She gave me a tour of the building and we had a long chat, which completely won me over.

But my visit with CUNY was also amazing. I went to a brunch with six or seven other potential students, met faculty members and current students, ate bagels and had all sorts of questions answered. And I walked away wondering--CUNY or NYU?

Y'all, I'm gonna be a bobcat. A graduate bobcat :) Photo cred: Becca Patton

NYU. The answer is, and always will be, NYU. Because I want to be a part of Yvonne Latty's program. Because I want to be a member of that excellent network of alumni. Because they tripled my scholarship. Because I know that I am wanted. Because I don't want to hide behind the walls of an Ivy League school or be immersed in touristy New York. Because I want to feel the heartbeat of New York City, and I think NYU can do that for me.

Go Bobcats, y'all :)

My New York Weekend

I left the apartment in the pouring rain at 5:30 a.m. and spent the next six hours on and off of planes, trying to get from Wilmore, Kentucky to New York City. I was supposed to be at NYU's School of Journalism at 11 a.m. for an event, but I didn't even land until 11:30 a.m., at which point I jumped right in a cab and sped to 20 Cooper Square. Where I promptly fell in love with the program.

But today isn't meant to talk about the grad schools I visited and my decisions about that. No, that will come next week (because those decisions still have not fully been made). Today is to talk about my experience in New York April 10-13.

Becca and I hanging in Central Park

It's the city I've dreamed of living in for the past few years, the city that felt like home when I first stepped onto its soil two years ago for the CMA conference. It's also the city that one of my good friends lives in with her husband. So Friday night, once I finished up at the visit event for Columbia, Becca and I made our way to her adorable apartment, where we ate pizza and watched Project Runway. Afterwards, we (and by we I mean Becca and Luke, because I was hiding in the bathroom to avoid manual labor) pulled out the futon and I collapsed and slept the night away.

Saturday, after my Columbia events, I went exploring with Becca. We visited Washington Square Park, where we saw a performing troupe do a wild jump over the heads of a bunch of spectators. The park itself was packed; it was a beautiful Saturday, and people flooded out to fill its corners. And that's one of the things that excites me so much about New York: there's always something going on, always a story to tell or, even better, to live.

We also visited Little Italy!

Little Italy, where I ate some stellar cannoli and love everything.

And on Sunday, after a great brunch at CUNY, Becca and I visited Central Park, where even more was happening than in Washington Square Park.

You guys, New York is the city that I love. It's the city my heart belongs to--well, the American city my heart belongs to. And I'm so exctied, and so hoping to be there this fall.

The definition of success

Sometimes it feels like I can only process things if they are in writing. That's why, last Tuesday, I wrote down my personal definition of success...as far as the creative writing/publishing industry is concerned. Here it is:

Success is having the book published. Success is having it do well enough to be able to keep writing and selling. Success is enough to afford a small apartment somewhere in NYC, food for my table, and clothes for my body. Success is being able to continue Compassion...and more. Success is being able to help my family.

As a side note, I'd like to say that I believe that success in life is following God and honoring Him. As far as my goals as an author, though, this set represents a huge victory for me.

You see, for most of my life I've nourished the secret thought that success equals fame and fortune. To be a successful writer, I thought I had to be a famous writer, someone like J.K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins or James Patterson. Success meant thousands if not millions of followers on Twitter. Success meant being recognized on the street. Success meant multiple homes and hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Last summer, though, I was in a counseling session and my amazing counselor said that she thought this kind of fame and fortune would be the worst possible things I could experience right now. I stopped talking and stared at her, open-mouthed. "Huh?"

She explained: if I was finding value in success, and this was my idea of success, achieving it would do nothing but make me big-headed and impossible. And if I ever lost it, I would also lose any sense of worth I felt.

I've been thinking about her words a lot. And somehow, when I woke up last Tuesday, I understood. I understood why I write: not because it is the pathway to fame and fortune (cause it's not). It all goes back to story. Ever since I was a child, I have had an obsession with stories. I used to beg my parents to tell me stories of their childhood. As I grew older, I began reading. Then I discovered movies. Then TV. In the end I was filling my mind with as many stories as possible.

I write because there are stories I want to share with the world.

But I also write because the act of writing itself is something beautiful. It is cathartic. It makes me feel alive. It is the art form that I can do...I might even venture to say I am fairly good at it.

I write because I love it. Therefore, success as a writer means being able to continue doing what I want to do: write.

I've come to realize that I don't need fame or fortune, millions of Twitter followers and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Those things would be awesome, yeah. And I'm going to do my best and if I reach that type of fame, awesome.

But success, for me...success is being able to keep writing, keep loving and helping people, keep sharing my stories with the world.