In which every time I go to New York, I have some sort of revelation about how unhappy I am. This is a very long post; YHBW.
The last time I was in New York, I’d gone to sing on my friend Barbara’s a capella album. I went because I was invited, not because I’d decided to check out New York. But when I got there, I had an amazing and transformative week.
My then-husband was off in Colorado at the Telluride Blues & Brews festival. I’d been to that festival before, and while it is hella fun, lemmie tell you what: it ain’t no fucking New York City.
I loved every single second in the city but I kept having the recurring thought, each time I was transcendently happy with what I was experiencing, that my husband, if he’d been sitting next to me, would not have dug it. I realized that he would not have liked the food, the company, the conversation, any of it.
In short, I finally really grokked that my husband and I were utterly unsuited. Add to that the observation that I’d been panic-free the entire trip (save for the episode I had my last night there, when I thought about having to return home), and I’d had a life-changing breakthrough: I wasn’t sick, I had a panic disorder. I had a panic disorder because I was deeply unhappy. I was unhappy because I hated my life: my husband and I had nothing meaningful in common and I was emotionally, intellectually, and socially starved. On Maslow’s chart I was essentially hovering between the bottom two states, with no hope in sight of ever going any higher. Ever again.
This was a revelation to me (although perhaps not to those around me) because I honestly hadn’t allowed myself to know how miserable I really was. I had been trying to count my blessings, I’d been trying to make the most of my choices, and I was trying to honor both my wedding vows and the terms of my mortgage. It just turned out that, after trying both, I didn’t like marriage or country living. Not even a little.
So I left New York after a deliriously happy and fulfilling week, and went home knowing that if I were to survive some shit seriously had to change. Within the year I had separated from my husband and moved back to town. What followed then was a period of fucking off and being selfish, followed by a period of being responsible again.
Five years later I’m having regular panic symptoms again, and once again I’m trying to attribute them to physiological anchors – I wrote a post about my luteal phase less than two weeks ago, didn’t I? Well, I don’t know if it’s perimenopause. I think I might just be really fucking unhappy. Again.
Frankly, I don’t know what I want and I don’t know what to do to get it, but I do know these things: I’m not intellectually stimulated. I’m not creatively stimulated. My self-esteem is low and my inner monologue is stuck on “I’m fat, I’m not pretty, I’m certainly not special, and all the really cool people are better than me. I could never compete with truly smart/talented/driven people. Not in the real world.”
Hello? WTF? I mean, I just figured this out last week, this story I’ve been telling myself. Where did this soundtrack even come from? I don’t know, honestly; but I do know that it’s NOT ME. I’m NOT LIKE THAT.
Except apparently I am like that. The problem with being me, my tragic flaw if you will, is the disconnect between what I think I am and what I actually am. I think I’m self-realized and well-adjusted. What I actually am is disengaged, frightened, and mildly depressed. Why? Probably because I’ve been subsisting in the first two tiers for the better part of a decade and I need to be permanently in the top two in order to enjoy anything resembling mental health.
I got a glimpse of all of this last Monday when I told Deb, right before the lights went down for the play we’d gone to, that I was grateful for her, “and for our conversation, because I’m so lonely.” As soon as the words came out of my mouth I nearly burst into tears on the spot because it was so true. I am lonely. I interact with other people, sure, but I don’t communicate with them very much. I am now and have always been all about process, and I never talk to anyone about process any more. The perception of personal evolution really doesn’t much concern the people I know these days. Or if it does, I don’t know them well enough to explore it.
So I’m lonely. And I’m not satisfied with what I have, and I feel guilty about that because I’m really lucky to have what I have. I also seem to believe that I either can’t have or don’t deserve anything different, and my argument with myself seems to be that if I actually was one of the cool kids, I’d have succeeded in something by now. Some part of me seems to think that its too late now.
Too late for what, I can’t tell you, but apparently my disassociation says no one makes anything of themselves after forty. What the flying fuck, I ask you, is wrong with me?
No, I don’t know where all this shit is coming from, I just know I got back from a wonderful dinner (with clever, articulate people who could discuss their lives with clarity) and a wonderful play (done at an extremely high level and so much love and energy) and singing at the cabaret (they kept me up for a second song! it was so much fun!) and a greasy two a.m. breakfast (spinach omelet two blocks from the apartment FTW!) my second night in New York, and put myself to bed and cried like I was in Amma’s lap for an hour. Like my heart was broken. Like I was really, really unhappy.
A few days before I got to New York, my hostess Deboka sent me a link to an About.com page with information about getting to NY Penn station from the Newark airport. Fifteen minutes later I found myself reading an article called How To Move To New York, in particular a paragraph that said, in essence, that only driven people should bother doing it because New York spits out all but the best and the brightest. At the time I didn’t really notice myself deciding that that fact immediately culled me because I’m neither.
Once, years ago, I told my very bright friend Keef that he was smarter than I am, and he more or less said that he’d beat me if he ever caught me saying shit like that again.
I told Deb that I’m always having epiphanies when I’m in New York, and she said, “Well, maybe you should move here.”
Last Tuesday my musician friend from college sent a car for me, and I spent the evening with him and his partner in their gorgeous modern Greenwood apartment chatting and having cocktails. It was wonderful. Eventually we moved into his studio and listened to my latest EP and then talked about me.
He told me again the same thing he’d told me a decade ago about finding my sound and how to create and market it. (He’s a fantastic musician, composer, and producer.) His parting words to me were not to be so hard on myself.
He called a car for me and gave me the fare. When I got back to Deb’s I pulled out my umbrella and walked in the rain around her Brooklyn neighborhood for awhile.
I thought about surfeit of joy. I thought about where my happiness is. I remembered what Derby had told me with a shrug: “With a few months of vocal work with a coach, you could try out for a Broadway role… and hey, you might even get it.”
Could I move to New York?
Why the hell not? What’s gonna stop me?
My fear is this: that am I so small by nature that I could go live there and in spite of the calibre of people and wealth of opportunity I could still contrive to live a small life. If I try and fail, what will be left?
And what do I mean by fail? No, I don’t mean financially. Shit happens, and I don’t have shame in that area. I mean this: what if I move to the city and just work a day job and hole up in my room and don’t go out, don’t perform, don’t communicate? That town has become a symbol for me, a holy grail of engagement and interaction with life as a symbol of Self. If I go there and lame out, I will have to live with myself. I’ll have to admit that I’m a small person, lazy, underdriven, and what’s worse, capable of choosing misery in the face of opportunity.
And if I’m being honest, which I am, I admit that I’m very much afraid of that.
Here’s the “Why I can’t move to New York” list currently clotting together in my brain:
Money. It’s very, very expensive to live there. It’s expensive to move there. When I look at my earning potential over the past twenty years, I find that I tend to hover just above the poverty line. I’d have to show up with many thousands of dollars and have a job lined up just to survive the first year without being a burden on anyone.
I don’t have enough earning power. The only reason I have discretionary income now is that I don’t have to pay rent. Cheap rent in the city is nine hundred bucks a month: 53% of my current monthly income. Ergo I can’t afford to live there doing work I don’t hate. I’d have to get a job I loathe – complete with heels, hose, and an eight o’clock curtain time – just to keep a roof over my head.
Salability. I’ve spent the last decade in an industry that pays shit. I’m really good at what I do and I can get a job doing it anywhere, but I get paid three bucks an hour above minimum wage. I’d either need to need to get some paper or manifest a hell of a perfect scenario if I wanted to keep geeking this way at a better income level.
Age. Who moves to New York in their forties on a shoestring budget? Being poor when you’re twenty-something is different; I really don’t dig it any more. I like being able to buy decent food and pay my electric bill. I’m too old to couch surf, aren’t I? If so, why? Why am I making up these stupid boundaries? I’M NOT LIKE THIS. Except apparently I am.
Commonness. Sure I’m talented. But I’m not THAT talented. In small towns, I’m a big fish and I like that. In the city, I’d be average at best.
Yeah. Whatever. Fine, don’t move to New York, miss negative nelly. Nobody even cares.
The first four days of my vacation I stayed with Deboka. She’s in school studying Chinese medicine. Her juju is very deep; being in her space is vibratory and transformative.
Her own life is in flux too; while I was there she and her BF decided to move to Chicago.
She’s a great listener and a great communicator. I found I couldn’t shut the fuck up around her, and the stuff coming out of my mouth shocked me. I’m a fucking mess. I am not getting my needs met. I’m not even really trying. I don’t know how to try because I never had to before.
I feel like I’m enduring.
Not like a mountain endures, but like a prisoner endures.
I stand on the corner waiting for the light to change, and I don’t feel well. Not sick, not in pain, but un-good.
I’m afraid to count my blessings because the last time I did I made myself crazy. I need to get happy. I don’t know how.
I’m a grown-up. I can do math. And I can be honest, too. Maybe a geographical relocation isn’t really what’s called for here.
Living here in Walla Walla is nice. The weather’s nice, the Mexican food is nice, the music scene is nice. Family is nice. My dog is happy in her old age. I work a day job, I gig sometimes, I can meet people, and I have money to take two well-financed vacations every year to places like DC and Seattle and Portland and Dallas and New York. I can buy clothes and shoes and go to the dentist four times a year. I can have new glasses and contacts. I can buy gifts and fabric and netbooks and yarn. I can pay my bills. I can live within my means. I am materially as comfortable as I’ve ever been.
Moving all the way across the country to live in a huge machine of a city would deprive me of the nice things I do have. I may be limiting my options more than being practical when I say this, but isn’t it likely that I’d end up working a full-time day job, gigging occasionally, and being too poor to buy clothes let alone travel twice a year?
The pros are significant, though:
New Yorkers walk everywhere. I need to do that. I’m healthiest when I’m forced to use my feet for transportation; I just am.
The bar is high. Good music, good acting, good food, smart people, competition. Pace. Exposure.
The few people I do know there are fantastic fucking people. They’ll know other fantastic people. I could have friends in not too long. Everybody is doing something exciting and engaging and fantastic all the time.
It’s New fucking York. EVERYBODY is in fucking analysis. Talking about your shit is de rigueur. Crazy is normal. Everyone’s got Xanax and Klonopin rattling around in the bottom of their bag.
Music. Theatre. Hell, I could work as a singing cocktail waitress. What an excellent way to be mediocre! At least there’d be music!
It’s New York. I love New York.
Realistically, though, I need to finish my debt reduction program before I do anything at all. It’s not like I’m haring off to the east coast in the next five minutes, I’m merely doing what I do best: having weird feelings and putting them down for all the world (and multiple spiders, bots, and crawlers) to see.
I also have to decide if I can stand to lose what New York is to me now: if I actually move there, I can’t ever visit again. The joy of being a tourist would be gone forever.
Eh, I’ve learned some important things. My internal monologue is FUCKED. I’m probably depressed. I’m way under-engaged. I need to clarify and address these issues before I self-medicate myself into actual alcoholism. I need to make some plans.
Next step: make an action plan to get spiritually and emotionally healthy. Next next step: stick with it.
Step after that: plan my next fabulous vacation!