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.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

Where dreams become nightmares

I've been writing grad school application essays. I've been begging people to write reference letters and send them to said grad schools as well as various newspapers offering internships. I've been in a constant state of flurry, stress and agony about the future. These are the things I've been dreaming about for the past few years. Getting a great internship somewhere--the New York Times, maybe? A girl can dream--going to grad school, living in New York as a journalist/novelist/world traveler. And with every second that passes I get closer to reality and my dreams start to feel like nightmares.

They haunt me wherever I go. I wake up thinking about grad school; I go to bed wondering if I'll get an internship; as I walk to class, I pretend I'm walking the streets of New York City in a business suit and stylish pumps on my way to my newspaper job. They're dreams that are starting to become nightmares.

I've spent my whole life wanting nothing more than to be a writer. I want to write novels; I want to write articles; I want to write documentaries, memoirs, news segments, poems...I want to put my fingers to the keys and tap until brilliance pours out. I want these things so badly that my heart squeezes inside my chest and I start to shake.

The problem with all these dreams is that real life has a hard time intruding. I have a paper due next Thursday that I have barely thought about because I'm in the middle of writing a novel. I have a documentary to shoot and edit that I can't focus on because I'm sitting on tenterhooks waiting for The New York Times to tell me that dreams come true and I've got an interview. I have a book to read for class that I haven't looked at because my mind is consumed with thoughts of the grad school essays I'm eking out.

I have all these dreams that cloud my thoughts and when I go to sleep at night they become nightmares. The internship turns into a summer working at a discount store barely making minimum wage. Grad school becomes another nine months in Columbia just getting by. My future in New York warps into an unrecognizable slew of years in a Southern village driving my minivan to doctors' appointments and church potlucks.

And there's nothing wrong with those things. To some people, those are the dream. To me, though? They are the nightmare.

I want to be a writer.

I fear I'll be nothing more than a wanna-be writer who has stacks of novel manuscripts that never made their way to an agent, a publisher, an audience.

But I'm not going to let that happen. I will fight. No matter where I end up. If the internship becomes a retail job, I will write my novel. If grad school becomes nine months of a retail job, I will write articles and blog posts and re-apply. If my New York future becomes minivans and church potlucks, I will write stories about them and fight to have them published.

I will not let the nightmares come true. It will be the dreams, and that is that