A few weeks ago, I posted a picture of a Connecticut sunset on my Facebook page. I thought it was so gorgeous, I thought I’d participate in some typical white girl behavior and take a picture of autumnal scenery to share with my social networks. I captioned it I heart Connecticut.
One of my friends, an actor who is currently making his way across country in various projects, commented You should travel.
I was slightly taken aback by that comment. Not only do I travel a lot for work and play, but I have taken the opportunity to live out of state. My adoration and commitment to my home state isn’t some way of being a “townie”, or being in a box. It caused me to think of the six months I spent living in a place that is definitively not CT.
New York City is the place I thought I wanted to live for my entire life. I went there with my parents all the time to see plays or meet friends, and it’s where I dragged various people on several birthdays. I still remember going into the city to see a Broadway show three weeks after September 11th and feeling a gaping silence that even as an outsider felt unnatural. It was like the heartbeat of a beast had suddenly gone into V-fib.
I begged my parents for years to let me move, and they refused until I graduated college. After a few delays (my sister got married, I got starring roles in a few shows, etc.), I finally got my chance in April 2009. My parents settled me into my tiny studio apartment in Chelsea, I kissed them goodbye, and settled in for what I assume would be an inevitable conveyor belt to stardom.
Three months in I knew I had to leave.
It wasn’t a “This is too scary, I don’t like this because I’m afraid of change” realization. It was a Gob Bluth style “I’ve made a huge mistake” revelation. Those three months were like my body had camped out in a panic attack. And it wasn’t just about the place. It was the reality of my career path hitting me like a car. And I’ve been hit by a car, so the comparison is one I feel confident in making. It’s apt.
I had spent those three months going to every single audition that would take me, while working extremely long hours at a barbecue joint to pay my bills. I would go into auditions and sit next to incredibly lean – or probably starved out – actors complaining loudly about the juice cleanse they were on in order to lose five pounds of water weight for their next round of headshots, and I’d sit and stare at the slight hint of a roll over the top of my pencil skirt feeling enormously guilty about the pasta I had eaten the night before. If I was seen without getting “typed out” at my auditions I would nervously yowl my way through my 16-32 bars of music before excusing myself, shaking uncontrollably. I would go to the gym and work out for 2 hours because I kept getting told I was too big.
I started losing my hair a month in. I lost my period two months later. Uncontrolled, high-processed stress will do that to you.
I remember texting my sister from a midtown Starbucks bathroom, sobbing uncontrollably. I want to leave. She urged me to stick it out. It’s always difficult at the beginning! she exhorted. You can do this!
Maybe I was a wuss. In a lot of ways, I was. But I also knew that I lacked something these people didn’t – training. These guys came out of the womb singing and dancing, and were prepared to make their entire lives revolve around their business. In order to make it as a professional actor, you have to want it so badly you cannot think of doing anything else. It’s a pretty lonely existence, the life of a professional dramatic. Two months into my stay in New York, I would’ve worked at a maggot farm rather than sing another note. The business of acting either makes you hungry, or exhausted. And I was exhausted.
Granted, I probably would not have had these problems if I had A) a job waiting for me in the city and B) a job that was in no way related to acting waiting for me in the city. But the life of a nomadic actor whose career is predicated on moment-to-moment changeability? That life drove me bananas.
The one thing I did every single day was write. I wrote almost every week in my blog and every day in my private journal, as well as various other forms of creative musings in other files on my laptop. On my days off, I’d get up early and write. Write about the boyfriend I had broken up with prior to moving that I was most definitely still in love with, write about my day to day in the city, write about fashion/hair/makeup, write about working out, whatever. I never stopped.
It was what got me up in the morning. And I had never been able to fully express that with any amount of courage until my Dad confronted me and I broke down. “I have never been this stressed out or lonely or just totally miserable in my entire life, and that includes the dark time sophomore year of college when I was obese and hating everyone.”
Acting, while a huge part of my life, is something that I’m okay with not doing every single day. Same thing with dancing and singing. I’m also much, much better at handling the the pressures of acting and singing when my entire life doesn’t depend on it. I haven’t been spending the past four years despondent because I’m not acting, that’s for sure. That’s not to say I don’t miss it, but it’s something I don’t have to do all the time.
I have to write every single day or else something is drastically wrong.
In order to become a writer, I had to go back to school. I wanted to do it correctly. So I left New York as quietly as I came in.
I also had to confront that I had a lot of growing up to do and a lot of darkness to weed out. When I got home, the heartbreak and terror of changing careers manifested itself into a truly dark year and a half of disordered behavior that I didn’t fully break until March 2012. I also entered into two different clusterfuck-filled relationships that ended horribly. I ended up swearing off dating at all until I got my shit together.
Some people find themselves when they move away from home. I found it when I came home.
October is a special month for a lot of reasons. It’s the month I moved home. It’s the anniversary month for my parents (35 years, holy shit). And yesterday marked two years since the boyfriend and I had our first date. Had I not moved back home, I would have not done the deep psychological work I needed to do in order to fully be ready and willing to enter into a, you know, adult relationship built on mutual work. In a weird way, moving home brought me to him. Out of respect for his wishes to remain anonymous, I will keep referring to him as just the boyfriend. Not everybody barfs their life onto social networks. Crazy, right?
There are a lot of reasons to love living in New York. There’s a lot of reasons to keep living in New York. I am profoundly blessed to have been given the gift of running around the Big Apple for half a year. I was given space to fuck up, to fail, to grow, to learn. And I will admit I miss having a movie theater, three museums, two frozen yogurt shoppes and a raw vegan cafe within walking distance from my house. Not to mention a Starbucks across the street. Oh, dream of dreams.
But I’m a girl who is loud but craves quiet.
I love nights filled with a silence punctuated by crickets outside my window. I love backyard fire pits, running on reservoir trails, outdoor yoga and pumpkin patch picking. I love a sweet chill in the air, insanely hot summers that make you want to stay in ALL day, and snow on evergreen. I love being able to see my parents whenever I want, to be able to see my godson on a daily basis if I so choose, and being surrounded by the familiar. These things don’t mean I’ve settled. It means I AM settled. In my heart, I’m a Connecticut girl. No matter how much people tried to justify all of the reasons I shouldn’t leave, New York wasn’t the thing that made my heart pulse. For the first time in my life, I feel both of my feet on the ground. This is where I’m supposed to be, and Connecticut is what formed my sensibilities about life and all the craziness that comes with it.
In New York, the place where I thought my life would begin, I was entirely isolated and afraid. In Connecticut I have accomplished more than I ever thought possible in my small life.
On that first date, the boyfriend and I went through the traditional first-date spillings and grillings about our lives and careers, and over the course of the conversation I mentioned my stay in NYC. He asked why I came back. I looked in his eyes and said with a shrug, “I thought it was where I needed to be. And it wasn’t.”
Connecticut is where I want to be. And for those lost two years of loneliness, it was where I needed to be.
Of course, one can’t just stay stuck in one place for their whole life. It can prohibit growth. My PhD pursuits may have me leaving to go other places. Granted, those places are close by – I’m applying to URI, UMass-Amherst, Brown, UConn, and Yale – but all but one of those schools will require me to move out of state. In a lot of ways I am more ready to leave CT now than I was back in 2009. I am prepared to make moves if I must.
But Connecticut was, and will always be me.
It will always be my home.
Find what makes you wake up in the morning. Commit to it. And always live in and around what makes you wake up.