I first visited New York my junior year of high school. My mom took me as part of an East Coast college scout, but we both knew this was a thinly veiled excuse for her to introduce me to the pleasures of the Big Apple. We attended Broadway shows, explored some of the world’s finest museums, delighted in culinary wonders (I tasted my first truffle – a happy accident whilst ordering parpadelle pasta). And of course, we checked out NYU. By the end of the three magical days, I was madly in love. I knew I needed to live in New York.
But not right then. As enchanted as I was by the skyscrapers and the theater and Greenwich Village, the city also frightened me. It was so far from my family, such a massive change from Portland, so big and fast and overwhelming. I could barely wrap my head around going to school there. Would I survive? Would I make friends? Would I keep up?
I applied to three schools: USC, UCLA, and Chapman. I chose USC, as they offered me the best financial aid package, and packed my bags with shorts and tank tops. Hollywood, here I come!! I kissed the Oregon rain goodbye, and never looked back.
Only east. While I never regretted my decision to move to California, I fantasized about New York often. Even though it had made more sense to go to Los Angeles, with my dreams of becoming a film and TV actress, New York always beckoned. That’s where the real artists live, I thought dreamily. The pure-hearted thespians and true lovers of the craft.
This, too, frightened me. Did I have what it took to be a starving actor hustling in black box theaters? I had worked hard in Los Angeles and made certain sacrifices for my career, but I’d also built a comfortable life. I’d carved out a niche in the commercial world, enjoying a relaxed existence that no longer included waiting tables or bartending. Did I really want to give this up to go struggle in Manhattan where people with $100k salaries feel poor? Wasn’t it enough to just visit for a week each summer?
Well, no. Because every time I visited, I wanted desperately to stay. Something in my heart told me I needed to be in New York in my 20s, at least for awhile. There was a reason I’d been telling people this was a life goal of mine for the better part of a decade. What it was, I wasn’t entirely certain, I just knew I had to do it.
And then I got my chance – a house swap. It was the perfect opportunity, really. While in New York for my blog, 40 Dates & 40 Nights, I stayed with my friend Sam. Her roommate Isis confessed a desire to try out LA for acting, a hidden passion she’d recently unearthed, but like me, she had been too afraid to pull the trigger. While she didn’t love her real estate job, she loved her life in New York, and the thought of leaving it permanently led to inaction. A familiar story, if I’d ever heard one.
We discussed a temporary situation, a three month agreement to exchange places. I would get her apartment, rain boots, and public transportation; she would get my bungalow, espresso machine, and Jetta. (Funny enough, this would not be my first swap: my debut TV appearance was on the ABC Family show Switched! where I traded lives with a girl from Doylestown, Pennsylvania for a week.)
The opportunity thrilled both of us, and we planned tentatively on March. However, when I got back to LA and fell back into my routine (and a new relationship), our plan seemed less and less realistic. I found myself making excuses, formulating reasons it wouldn’t work. And I was doing the same thing professionally.
I had an offer from Adaptive Studios to write a book under the publishing arm, but I couldn’t seem to agree to it. I felt paralyzed with fear – that I was making the wrong decision, that I wouldn’t be able to write the book, that I had no idea what I was doing, that I was signing my life away.
People kept asking me the same question – “What do you want?” and I kept giving the same answer – “I don’t know.” But the truth was, I did know. I wanted to live in New York. I wanted to write a book. I wanted to be a “real artist.” I had wanted these things for a long time. A really long time. But my fear of failure and change was preventing me from fully embracing it, from acting upon it, from simply saying “yes.”
I waited until the last minute on both fronts. Isis needed to give her boss notice in order to make the move; Adaptive needed an answer or the offer was coming off the table. I consulted pretty much everyone I knew, and was greeted with a resounding refrain: follow your heart. So I did.
It’s been almost five months now since I said “yes” to New York, “yes” to writing a book, “yes” to new possibilities coming into my life. And while I’m still figuring out what this whole experience has taught me (more blogs to come!), still encountering resistance (see post below), still deciding which city to call my home (both?), I can say without a doubt that this has been one of the best experiences of my entire life. From the people I’ve met to the perspective I’ve obtained to the creative path I’ve explored, New York has proven to me why I needed to live here. My 17-year-old self knew it, thank god my 29-year-old self had the courage do it.