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.

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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.