When I was moving to New York, the moment I saw the skyline for the first time, I started sobbing. It felt like finally, finally, I had found that piece of my heart I had been in search of, for so long. It had been missing and I’d tried to fill it with every option under the sun – friends, new adventure, beautiful hikes, nature, romance – BOY, had I tried to fill it with romance. But when the hole in your heart is New York-shaped and sized, nothing else will ever quite fit.
And every moment since, I’ve looked around at this city I’ve longed for since I was 12 years old, and I’ve said, “I cannot believe this is my life.” If it’s a dream, I hope no prince has a kiss powerful enough to snap me out of this. And I hope every person in this world has the opportunity to wake up every day convinced there is NO WAY their life is real, because it’s just too beautiful to fathom.
Part of this beauty is that, since my move to New York City, I’ve had more moments than I probably deserve where I could feel actual magic in the city – where it felt like if I grasped at thin air, my hand would suddenly be filled with stardust, where time seemingly stood still and I looked around as if the world had frozen in place. The Empire State Building stops me dead in my tracks every time. I skip through Central Park like Traci Turnblad dancing through Baltimore. And riding the subway is just another opportunity for me to people-watch, instead of being the annoyance it is for so many.
But perhaps none of these magic moments has been more powerful than Friday, December 2. Because for a moment, I’m convinced time actually did stand still. It felt like I was hovering above myself, having an out-of-body experience, watching the pieces of not just my life but others as well, literally fall into place with such ease that there could be no other explanation than that God or the universe had already written the pages that would follow.
Creative energy that I haven’t had in years suddenly came flooding back to me. A desire to sit down immediately and document what I’d experienced, though no words could ever suffice – that came too.
It was too perfect to have been coincidence.
Now, to be fair, we’d all intentionally put ourselves in a position to meet Lauren Graham. For all my old lady readers, (HI GRANDMA!), Lauren has many illustrious credits, though she is most known for her roles as the coolest moms ever (other than my own) Lorelai Gilmore on Gilmore Girls and Sarah Braverman on Parenthood (the show that makes you cry constantly, you’re welcome Kleenex brand). But she’s also a brilliant writer, and her writing, her story, her onscreen presence during all my rewatches and her voice resonated so strongly with me in Los Angeles, that they were a large part of why I got up the courage to move in the first place. And since basically every moment of my life has been outrageous witchcraft since I moved, it shouldn’t surprise me that Friday would play out the way it did.
Except that moments like that are so rare. The number of moments where I’ve felt overcome with emotion since I moved here? There are too many to count – always pure happiness, contentedness, gratitude, hope. But Friday, Friday was a moment so rare that you can actually feel your world changing while it’s happening. Everyone has these moments, you can usually point to them without much thought because they’re so powerful and profound and because they don’t come around very often, maybe a handful of times in one’s life. It’s a moment that you can look to and say, “THAT is when everything changed. That’s when I met these people. That’s when I overcame. That’s when I felt most at peace. That’s when my dream came true. That’s when my dream began. That’s when I turned this corner. That’s when I coped with ____insert your own reason to see a therapist and we all have them, so if you say you don’t, thinking you don’t need a therapist is probably your reason here_________. “
As I stood in line to meet Lauren, not only was she the kindest, most radiant, intelligent, humble, heartfelt person I’ve encountered in a long time (not measured in celebrity terms, measured in REAL human terms), but so were the girls who stood with me, strangers until an hour or so before the event.
And as we stepped outside to chit-chat and process the ridiculous number of triggers that had taken over our emotions, the connections that began to form shook me maybe even more than getting a hug from Laur… HAHAHA JUST KIDDING NOTHING will ever shake me more than getting a hug from Lauren I’m not even finishing that sentence. But you get the point.
So we talked. And so many of them wanted to move to New York too, from various parts of the country, and for various reasons. Moving to New York is a desire so deeply personal that the sidewalk in front of the Barnes & Noble in Union Square wasn’t the time or place to exchange the long-term motivation behind these dreams (also, that sidewalk had seen enough of our tears and emotions today and we needed to give it a break). But trust me when I say that anyone who is crazy enough to pack up everything and move to this city because “it just feels right” has a heart that’s a made of at least a little magic.
And when you find other people with magic in them, you make sure you lend a hand in any way you can. Because the worst thing for everyone is when we know there’s magic there, and we let it die. The world DESERVES all the magic it can get. Because with magic comes happiness, and with happiness comes kindness, selflessness, deep and true friendship, laughter, all the good things in life.
So because I’m nosy and can’t mind my own business, I was casually listening to their conversation. I overheard them talking about wanting to move here and I heard a girl mention nannying.
“Do you want to nanny? I nanny. I can connect you to my agency.” I flipped around to face them faster than I flipped the pages of Lauren’s book.
My nosiness paid off. As it turns out, many of these girls had extensive nannying experience, in addition to having some of the kindest hearts I’d ever known and a beautiful energy about them. You know how you get an instinctual read on people before you’ve really heard more than “hi” from them? My instincts said, “They’re some of the good ones.”
And when I wound up in front of a bookstore, seemingly at random, to thank a celebrity stranger whose own work – whose writing, characters and personal story – had inspired me to move to New York City (without her knowing), I found some more people to pass that love on to.
72 hours later, this group of girls and I have been in constant contact. I’ve connected a handful with my nannying agency and have talked to a few more about moving to New York City and what that entails. We’ve laughed about Gilmore Girls, cried about how lucky it all feels, and I’m still convinced I can get my sweet sweet Erin in Kentucky to move up here, but if she doesn’t I’m planning a trip to visit her (ERIN I’M PUBLICLY PUTTING YOU ON BLAST END SCENE).
At the end of a rollercoaster weekend where I cried no less than 47 times (this is not an exaggeration. This is probably an under-estimate of how emotional I was) at how overcome I was with gratitude and how absolutely unreal it feels that 1. I’m here in this city and 2. Since coming here, every moment has felt impossibly perfect, I feel nothing short of overwhelmed. I’m overwhelmed at meeting Lauren, of course. I’m overwhelmed at the ease with which these friendships were formed this weekend. And I’m particularly moved by the beauty of this crazy thing called life, which feels all at once like it’s out of our control and completely manageable because it’s full of unexpected magic.
If I’m not calling the shots, I’m glad the author of my life story has written such beautiful pages since I moved to New York. And I hope he continues to author such beautiful stories for me, for my new friends, for all of you!
When I, a diehard Cubs fan, took on the Tribe as my American League team 8 years ago, I never fathomed we’d be here, on the other side of the best World Series that this country has ever seen. In fact, I told someone, “The world will end before the Cubs and Indians play in a World Series, so really I’ve done the most responsible thing I could in choosing two teams who will never face each other in a high stakes game.”
And yet here we are, and I have so many things I’m working through and trying to process. My emotions for the Indians are just some of them.
But while the last 7 games and their outcome have me completely unhinged, I know a few things with total certainty.
We’re a lot alike, Cleveland and Chicago. Our baseball teams proved that this past week – talk about two immensely talented teams! Talk about grit! Talk about fighting back when you’re down! The Cubs did it, down 3 games to 1. The Indians did it, down 4 runs in Game 7. When you look at the aggregate runs scored this series, it’s tied up at 27-all, and I think every Cubs fan is well aware that one crack of the bat means the outcome is flipped. It truly was one for the ages.
Then there are our fanbases. Hoping for the best but expecting the worst. Because the worst is all we’ve known for so long. And yet, every year, April rolls around and our eyes fill with hope and we know without one shred of doubt that THIS is our year, even when it isn’t. Even when it hasn’t been for decades, or centuries. These fanbases are loyal. They stand by their teams come hell or high water. We don’t run when things get hard. We don’t abandon ship in rebuilding years. We plant our feet firmly in the ground and say “This is my city, this is my team, and JUST YOU WAIT TIL NEXT YEAR.” We’ve all uttered those words, hands planted firmly on our hips in indignation. These are fan bases who thank a team who’s just broken our hearts because they took us on a fun ride up to this point. And even when our hearts are broken, the spring rains wash out the doubt, and we return with a hope renewed, our faith as fresh as the new paint adorning the outfield grass.
And then there are our cities as a whole – rust belt beauties, built on the backs of those who came before us. They are cities that know what it means to work hard, cities that share the same values, cities that live with the same self-deprecating humor, coupled with our always immense and unmatchable pride. Our cities are like our families – we can talk a lot of shit about them, but the second an outsider does, someone’s getting a black eye. We also both share the misery of Lake Effect Snow, and most of America will never really understand this plight.
And given the connection I’ve always felt to the city of Cleveland, given how much I’ve always seen a little bit of Chicago reflected in the Terminal Tower lights, there are a few things I know to be true after last night’s game, things I needed to share with you after the best World Series ever:
1. Cleveland is proud – As one should be when a roster has some key players out and you STILL take the statistically best team in baseball all the way to the brink, Cleveland is BEAMING with pride. I said this about Chicago after our Game 4 loss, and I say it to you now – win or lose, you are from Cleveland. Put your hand on your heart, feel it beating in your chest, feel yourself so full you could burst with the pride you have for where you came from. Think of how it shaped you into the person you’re becoming. Embrace it all. Smile. Wear it as the badge of honor it is. I know you will – you always do.
2. Cleveland is resilient – The way you fought back in Game 7, the way you clawed through the Warriors in the NBA finals this year, the way each of you has, in some way in your personal life, pushed through the seemingly impossible? That’s the Clevelander in you. You will bounce back stronger than ever. Your time will come. Your year will be here before you know it – hell, maybe it’s even next year for real. I’ve seen your roster – you’re coming back with a vengeance. And if it’s not, you’ll hold your heads high then too, just as you’re doing now – knowing every ounce of your fight was given, knowing that this, too, shall pass. Someday, the rain will fall and the drought will end, and until then, my dear Cleveland, you’ll rise up.
3. I know some Cubs fans have been talking shit to you guys – I apologize for them. Those are NOT our diehards. Those are NOT the fans whose fathers’ fathers grew up at Wrigley. Those are the bandwagon fans. They annoy us too. They deserve a swift kick in the shins. I PROMISE you true Cubs fans look at you guys with a tip of the hat and massive amounts of respect in our hearts. We salute you for the way you played baseball. We salute you for your loyalty to this team. We salute you for sticking with the Tribe and for still rallying together 68 years later. We crack open a Bud for you. We defend you. Anyone who speaks otherwise does not speak for me and mine and can pack their bags.
4. Cleveland fans showed so much heart – LOOK AT THIS TEAM, YOU GUYS! LOOK AT HOW FAR YOU WENT. LOOK AT THE ODDS YOU OVERCAME! Those players, immense talent aside, are feeding off YOU GUYS – the fans! Your heart fueled them through a grinding postseason as much as their tremendous hard work and abilities. I salute you all, cause that makes me feel things!
5. Baseball isn’t just about the game for you. Us either. It’s about generations of families coming together around the TV to watch. It’s about stories passed down from grandparents and parents. It’s about the loved ones we’ve lost and how much they would have LOVED to see a game like last night’s. It’s about friends. It’s about memories made in and around the ballpark, memories made rallying together around the team. This is so much more than baseball. This is in our blood.
Cleveland, from a loyal Cubs fan, hat’s off to you. Thanks for making the last seven games an incredible rollercoaster of emotions and for making history with us. As Joe Maddon was quoted saying after the game, “Sometimes people forget that both sides are good.” But you know what, Cleveland? You put up the fight of your life, and there is NO denying that you, too, are good. This game will be shared with our children and their children for generations to come, and the incredible baseball played on the Cleveland side is just as much a part of the narrative. Just remember, when the fans go home and the field lights go dark, when the Chicago Cubs fans have finally stopped celebrating, you are STILL. FROM. CLEVELAND. And with that, you can rest easy, full of hometown pride, knowing that your day is coming & it will be every bit as glorious as you’ve imagined. Because no one throws a party quite like a team that finally gets some rain after a long drought (whether that’s actual rain or just a shower of champagne is irrelevant) and no one knows that better than these two fanbases.
“We came. We saw. We loved.” That’s how I would sum up my three years in Los Angeles.
I came, with nothing but the clothes and shoes that would fit in three suitcases and a carry-on Longchamp, with a few pictures tucked in a journal. I came with a heart thirsty for adventure, with a mind ready for a new challenge. I came with feet ready to walk. I came with eyes ready to learn. I came with hands ready to serve. I came with terror in my heart at the unknown and with excitement for what was ahead all at once. I came with ideas of what to expect and with no freaking clue of what the next three years would hold.
I saw. I hiked, I swam, I climbed, I drove. I tried new foods, I met new people, I explored new places. I saw my students graduate and enter college. I scaled the bluff. I ate breakfast at the beach house. I saw what happens to straw floors when you walk on them sopping wet. I saw the note in the morning that said, “Blow dry said straw immediately.” I saw movies in the park. I saw a goblin on stilts ride a carousel. I saw the sun rise and set over Echo Park Lake. I saw the entire city, fog-free, from Griffith Observatory after the rain. I saw the Dodgers win some and lose some. I saw myself fly into a rock while learning to surf. I saw my house get broken into. Thrice. I saw moments of passion and love that will be burned into my mind forever. I saw the marathon finish line get closer. I saw the border of Mexico and I walked across it. I saw the start of the PCT, and I dreamed that one day, I’d see the end of it too. I saw myself feeling at home here.
I loved. I loved my students with all my heart, exhaustingly and unabashedly and unwilling to quit. I loved my first L.A. friends – the Core Crew whose families adopted me as their own. I loved my cousins who were my only actual family in Los Angeles and who kept me safe through my three years. I loved the places I went. I loved the people I met. I loved the job that fell in my lap. I loved the Beerventures. I loved San Fernando and Sylmar, my homes away from home. I loved the cultures I experienced in the different neighborhoods of Los Angeles. I loved my first house, despite the break-ins. I loved my roommates who became my sisters. I loved the coworkers who were more than colleagues – the ones who were my biggest cheerleaders, biggest critics, biggest source of love and friendship. I loved him, even in losing him.
I came. I saw. I loved. But mostly, I learned. When I think back on my time in Los Angeles, it is the lessons I learned and the people I learned them with that I will carry with me always, with the deepest sense of clarity and gratitude.
“Mama, I’m OK out here. I’ve seen how hard the world can be. My step is sure, and I know my name. I’m strong just like you prayed I’d be.”
I almost didn’t make the move to Los Angeles. I had been in New York City three weeks prior, and I had a complete quarter life crisis. All I’d ever wanted was to live in New York, and while I was sitting in the theater watching “Lucky Guy,” the last play the brilliant Nora Ephron wrote before she died, I had a meltdown. I didn’t want to move to L.A. My heart already belonged to New York City.
When I got home from that trip, I spent a week in bed trying to decide which route I would take – would I quit Teach For America to pursue journalism in NYC or would I move to LA as planned? It was my 12-year-old brother, wiser at 12 than I’ll ever be, who convinced me to stick to the plan. He told me, in more appropriate 12-year-old terms to “get my shit together” because there was someone in Los Angeles I needed to meet and things I needed to learn.
He couldn’t have possibly known how right he was. But looking back, his words seem almost prophetic.
“No, it won’t all go the way it should, but I know the heart of life is good.”
Obviously, I made the move. And in that move, I learned to approach everything with an open heart and an open mind. But that lesson didn’t come immediately. Rather, a month into it, I almost quit. I’ve never been a quitter, but living here – with very little family and approximately 1 friend before I arrived – this move was hard, man.
Shit got real – real fast, too. As soon as the TFA institute bubble burst, I was broke, homeless, and for all intents and purposes, stranded on the other side of the country. My parents couldn’t afford to keep me on my feet, and they couldn’t afford to fly to LA to bail me out, either.
So I stayed. Not out of choice, but out of necessity. And up to this point, I had begun to learn a lot about education and teaching and life. I learned that lesson planning from night to night is not a picnic. I learned that LMU thinks it’s unacceptable to drink in McLovin (and probably all of McCarthy/ Rains after our corps was done there – if they’re now a dry campus, I’m not the least bit surprised). I learned there are two types of naturally smart people – the kind who are so smart they can’t function socially and the kind who are so smart they don’t have to try. I learned the TFA 2013 corps was mostly the second kind of smart – sorry, LMU. I learned that $10 will get you a long way when you have no money for food. I learned that you can live in the back of a Suburu fairly comfortably. I learned that Malibu at sunset is the most beautiful place in all the world, and I learned that the world’s best fish tacos are those served at Neptune’s (seriously, how do I arrange to get these in NYC?)
But the real lessons – the ones I would learn about myself – these were still to come. Some of them came after my stint being homeless in the back of Lexi’s Subaru. Some of them came after my friends’ families graciously told me, a practical stranger, to stop being homeless and gave me a place to stay until I found a house. Some of them came after I had to learn to humble myself and accept the furniture my roommate Jana was so graciously offering so I could stop sleeping on the floor. Some of them came after failing – miserably – multiple times throughout my first year teaching. Some of them came after pushing my body to its physical limit in finishing the marathon, realizing at once that 26.2 miles is hella far and also that I was physically stronger than I ever believed myself to be. Some of them came after having my house and car broken into. Some of them came after having my heart broken into pieces.
And yet, all the hardships that brought me to these lessons, I wouldn’t trade them. Because in them, I learned to see things through a lens of grace and humility and gratitude. I learned to love me. When I think back on my time in L.A., I learned my own strength. I learned that everyone needs to hit rock bottom. I learned that even new friends can be true friends, and I learned that true friends can remain true even with distance and time zones between you. I learned that it is possible to find a job that fills your heart so much that you could burst from the love. I learned teaching is maybe the hardest job other than parenting, but it will reward you in ways you could never dream.
“Bad news never had good timing. But then, the circle of your friends will defend the silver lining.”
Mostly, I learned that no matter how dark things get, there will always be people – friends, family, strangers – who will remind you of the good in the world. They will give without a second thought, expecting nothing in return. They will help you find hope when it seems lost. These are the people who will sit with you on the ground with you when you’ve hit rock bottom, hand you a bottle of wine, and hold you while you cry – but only for a little while. Then, when you’ve had your moment, they’ll tell you to pull your shit together and get up because you’re stronger than this. And you’ll believe it. These are the friends who help you put one foot in front of the other when you don’t think you can go any further.
And in all the lessons I learned the hard way in Los Angeles, I learned that I was blessed with more of these friends than I could ever possibly have deserved. You see, when my brother told me there was someone I needed to meet, I thought that “someone” was one person. I realize now it’s so many.
There were a few people who had always been in my life but with whom my bond was forever strengthened by my time in Los Angeles. It was Taylor, my sister from another mister since age 3, who welcomed me with open arms the second I got off the plane and with whom I had to figure out this whole “adulting” thing. We moved across the country together, holding onto each other as family. It was Katrina and Emily Carew, dance team family from high school who, though I didn’t see them all that often, were a constant support and who always always reminded me of home. It was my brilliant beautiful star of a neighbor from good old DuPage County, Emily Gutowsky, who, in our time together in LA, has blown me away with her love for life, her determination to chase her dreams, her wisdom beyond her years, and with the brightness with which she shines. It was Joe and Val, my cousins who became like my big brother and big sister during my three years here. Even that’s an understatement for how much I love and admire them, how much I look up to them, and how grateful I am that they were here whenever I needed anything, that they let me tag along and that they made me feel so included among their wonderful friends.
Then there were the people I had yet to meet. It was, from my first moment in TFA, Lexi (and then, by extension, Sarah), who were the first people to teach me that the friends you choose for yourself are the greatest friendships of all. Even when it’s not convenient or when life gets hectic, these are the friends you would drop everything for. They have dropped everything for me, and I have and would always do the same for them. They are among the most empathetic, brilliant, unapologetically authentic people I know, with bigger hearts than you could dream. Lexi, Sarah and I chose each other from Day 1, and it’s all been a beautiful ride since. It’s the two of them with Alec, Nicky, and Jordan – my core crew who made the transition bearable and so much more fun, who made Malibu feel like the most magical, safe place in the world, who welcomed me into their homes when I had nothing material to offer, who were content with friendship for friendship’s sake, who willalways, alwaysin my eyes be some of the most generous people out there and who will always hold space in my heart for what they gave when I had nothing to give in return.
It’s Julia, Suneeta, Erik, Ari, Ashley, and Taylor, who made PLCs and LMU classes an adventure, something to look forward to each week, instead of a heinous use of precious time, who blow me away with their passion for social justice, their completely open hearts, their determination to create change, and their ability to seemingly do and have it all while still remaining so fun, grounded and balanced. It was my brilliant roommate Ruth whose faith, warmth, and always kind soul make her one of my biggest role models despite the rarity with which we see each other. It’s Jordan Lieberman, Lucy, Margaret, Benino, Matt, Humberto, Jessica, TJ, Brooke, Cassie, Brian, and Tunji, who made sure that any moment of frustration was immediately turned into something that made me laugh. It’s Brittany, whose light shines so brightly on all those who know her and who is always up for a random adventure, who understands my love of college football and The Today Show and who instantly makes everyone around her so comfortable because she’s just so darn fun and inviting. It’s Courtney, whose beautiful heart, unwavering faith, and unending mentorship have challenged and supported me through the last three years, who continues to inspire me to be the best version of myself, to question the world around me, to make it better for our kids today and the ones who will come tomorrow. It’s my students, each and every one forever written in my heart with their unique gifts, personalities, and ability to inspire me. They are the future, they are the present, and they blow me away with their willingness to step up in the face of obstacles. I cannot wait to see where they take us as the future leaders of this world, and I have learned far more from them than I could have possibly taught them. They are my heart, they are my purpose, they are going to make this world such a beautiful place – my world is already exponentially better because of them.
It’s Val’s family – her parents,Erika, Patrick, and Adam – who are not family by blood but who sure feel like family after my time here. It’s Nancy, my mama bear (Mama Lion?) who brought encouragement and guidance to Lakeview and made it instantly feel like family. It’s DJ Cruz Control, who brought encouragement, karaoke, 90s music, themed-parties, never-ending inside jokes, good chats about life, exponentially more fun prep periods, so much advice, and so much laughter to my life. It’s Maricela, Jessica, Allie and Pauline, whose wisdom shaped me and whose openness and kindness inspire me to be better and to believe in my own strength. It’s Shari, who is my literature-loving soul sister, who radiates nothing but love and kindness and with whom I’ve found a shared sense of weird humor and love of all things David Bowie. It’s K.Su, who keeps me young at heart, who radiates kindness and positivity into this world, and who is the best artist and colorer ever. It’s Reid, who brought so much laughter to my life, who taught me how to play poker, whose #ClassicRandy quotes will continue to be the highlight of my morning viewing of TimeHop, who is at times a very real Ron Swanson and with whom road trips and seemingly mundane tasks became lasting memories. It’s my spirit animal Lyndsay who taught me to say “yes” to the universe and without whom my aura would be a hot mess. It’s Kendra, whose fierce spirit and strength inspires me daily, whose family I absolutely adore, who is the BEST aunt in the world, and with whom I’m never judged for my wine consumption and chisme. It’s Rachel, whose passion for our kids, loyalty to her friends, inner mom, marvelous intelligence, ability to challenge me in a good way, and willingness to let me snuggle my dog nieces have given me such a safe space in LA. It’s Manny, who believed in my New York dreams even when I stopped believing in them, who pushed me as an educator and a person.
It’s Malcolm and Kylie, who were introduced to me through their significant others but whose friendships have developed in their own right because of their humor, brilliance, boldness, and most importantly, their beautiful hearts. Malcolm is genuinely one of the wittiest, most interesting people I know and one of the easiest people to feel comfortable around. Kylie is simply incredible – brave and bold and fiercely independent, so funny and kind, passionate and compassionate, and most importantly, an unbelievably talented tap dancer. It’s Chris & Renee who make me better, who pushed me and coached me. Though we’ve known each other since our time at Hogwarts, it was in forming the History Department of Magic that they became two of the dearest friends I could ever have asked for. They are two of the people I am most authentically myself around. They are the most incredible collaborators, educators, wizards (witch and Muggle? idk ask Olivander), and humans, and I will so deeply miss working with them, hanging with them, singing Hamilton with them, and nerding out with them. It’s the Beerventure Club as a whole, who made my weekends an adventure and taught me what beer is supposed to taste like (Illinois, love ya, but you’re mostly doing it wrong). It’s my girl Jana, the best roommate, most selfless human, and most incredible (Insert Season here) of Fun adventure friend I have ever come to know. Her strength and friendship got me through some of the hardest years of my life, some of the hardest experiences of my life, and I can’t imagine having lived in the Crack House with anyone else. It’s Katherine, who is my person, who knows the truest and craziest parts of my heart and somehow chooses to be seen with me anyway, who will ruin Cardio Barre workouts with me at Pitfire Pizza, who will irresponsibly brunch with me, who will always come to Street Food Cinema with me, who will always be weird with me. She is the friend who knows I’ve had a bad day and brings me coffee or just sits with me. She is the friend who reminds me of the woman I want to be. She is intelligent and confident, she impacts everyone she meets for the better. She is the friend for whom words will never suffice, the friend I can’t imagine I ever lived without.
It’s every single person I encountered, named and not named, who altered my life with his or her kindness, selflessness, love, inspiration, laughter, friendship, and always mind-blowing support. I couldn’t go to New York without knowing these people are in my life. I wouldn’t be half the person I am without them.
You see, three years ago, I wanted to move to New York City. But I wasn’t ready then. Before I could conquer that beast, I needed to learn, to see, to love. They call Los Angeles the City of Angels, and for me, this city is full of them – all the people I mentioned above, those were and are my angels. Los Angeles was the city that reminded me of the good in the world, of the beauty in other people – it was here in this city that I truly found my way. And I will always love Los Angeles for being the guidepost on the way to my dreams and for filling my life with so many beautiful people along the journey.
“Fear is a friend who’s misunderstood, but I know the heart of life is good.”
Now that I’ve built this life here, I’m terrified to leave. Excited – but terrified. But sometimes being scared is a good thing. I was terrified to come here, after all. And the woman I am, standing here today, she’s learned so much from these people, from this place. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I wouldn’t go back to that girl I was. And I’ll probably never be this girl, the one who sits here writing this, ever again. But I’ll carry this girl and Los Angeles in my heart always – the lessons, the opportunities, the places I’ve visited, the people I’ve met. Because it was all of these things, the combination of heartbreak and love, betrayal and friendship, hardship and triumph, sadness and laughter – so much pure, unadulterated laughter – that taught me the greatest lesson of all during the last three years. In all things, you can find goodness. In all darkness, you can find a light. In all sadness, you can hold onto something joyful. In the face of hardships, you can find a friend who will lift you to your feet.
And with these lessons in mind, I know I can conquer my fear. Because I know I’ll face trials and hardships, and things will not always be perfect. There will be good days and bad ones, people who love me and people who disappoint. Bad things will happen. But thanks to Los Angeles and the people I met here, I can rest at ease knowing that no matter what lies ahead on my journey, at its core, the heart of life is so very, very good.
Thank you for three wonderful, life-changing years, Los Angeles. You’re in my heart, always.
“I’d known since I was a child that I was going to live in New York eventually, and that everything in between would just be an intermission.” -Nora Ephron
I’m a firm believer that every decision in our life can serve as a crossroad, and the direction you take at any given fork can alter the trajectory of your life. For me, every crossroad, twist, turn, and seemingly mundane or unrelated decision led me to here, to this moment, to New York City. This is my journey.
The moment I signed the lease, it felt like a piece of my heart that had been long missing was back. A weight had been lifted off my shoulders, I could finally breathe again. Against all common logic and against every instinct in my body that wanted me to have all my ducks in a row, this move made sense – maybe more sense than anything up until this point ever had. Officially, my new address was in New York City. Unofficially, my heart had resided there for the last 14 years.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I should go back to the beginning.
I was 12 years old the day I decided I wanted to move to New York City. I had never been there, but when I saw “When Harry Met Sally” for the first time, the city became more than just a daydream. I wanted to be a journalist, and I wanted to become it in New York City. Those who know me well know that movie directly impacted me in a way that few other films have. It made me want to be a writer. It made Nora Ephron one of the single most influential people in my life. It made me, above all else, want to pack my bags in Chicago and move to the greatest city in the world. It was the point of no return, the start of my “intermission,” as Nora called it.
I’ve spent the 14 years that have passed since that moment studying Nora, writing daily, singing, dancing, and dreaming of the Manhattan skyline. And in high school, I finally had the opportunity to get in on the action, to live on Columbia’s campus for 10 days as part of the People 2 People Leadership conference, which brought together teens from around the world who loved theater and the arts. I was so enamored with New York that I chose that leadership conference instead of going on the class trip to Spain, a choice I would probably never make today. But it was the first fork in the road that led me here. Because that’s where I met Hallie.
Hallie and I became fast friends at People 2 People. We were in the same small group and she was someone I instantly connected with. We spent those 10 days traipsing around New York City at each other’s sides. We wept over “Wicked,” we met the Rockettes, we danced in Lincoln Center. We visited enough art museums to last a lifetime, we got vertigo at the Guggenheim, we made the world’s worst short film. And we crossed our 16-year-old hearts and hoped to die that we would live in New York City together one day. And then we boarded our planes, and while we’ve always stayed in close touch, we haven’t seen each other since.
Life went on. I pursued a journalism major at Ohio State – the same one “When Harry Met Sally” had inspired – and ultimately moved to Los Angeles in 2013 to become a high school teacher. Hallie also became a teacher in Canada. We’ve always cheered on each other’s successes through the years, but our journeys had led us to the other side of the continent, thousands of miles away from our beloved Manhattan.
By the time 2015 rolled around, New York seemed further than ever. I was still on the West Coast, surrounded by the most beautiful support system I could dream of. Los Angeles had challenged me, it had reminded me of the goodness in people. It had filled me with the deepest love and undying gratitude for my friends. And though I always swore it was a temporary city, it had started to feel like home. You see, over the course of the three years I spent in Los Angeles, I found a job I love – one that filled me with the deepest sense of purpose. I found friends who loved me through heartbreak, being homeless, starving, having no money – friends who loved my heart instead of the material possessions I could offer. I found people who took me in, who celebrated holidays with me, who I laughed and cried with over day-to-day happenings, who rolled couches and dressers up Magnolia Boulevard with me, who drank an impressive amount of craft beer with me. These are the people I survived Teach For America with, people who cheered me on through my first year of teaching, who opened their homes to me, who lived in cars with me, who stood at marathon finish lines for me. I have watched my friends get engaged, have children, pursue new degrees, and in all the friendships I’ve made throughout my life, there is something special about the friendships I’ve made in Los Angeles, friends who have chosen me and whom I have chosen. They are people I want to grow old with, people I want to have in my life forever.
But 2015 also brought questions. As Zora Neale Hurston wrote, “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” 2015 was a questions year. For many, these years can be confusing and sad and lonely, and at times, 2015 was each of those things. My life looked perfect – I had the most incredible students in the world, I had coworkers one could only dream of, and I had friends who had become family. My parents and friends from home would describe my life in Los Angeles as “adventurous,” “purpose-filled,” “full of love and laughter.” And it was all of those things. But something was off, because in spite of those beautiful pieces of my life, I was also “lonely,” “unsure of myself,” and “more than a little lost.” And 2015 was the first time I was able to admit that to myself. I was lost, I was terrified, and though I was surrounded by the best people I’ve ever known, at times, I felt very alone. 2015 was a year that asked questions – tough ones, heartbreaking ones. But if we allow them to be, these years can also be pivotal turning points in our lives. So when I look back on 2015 ten years from now, I hope that my overwhelming feeling about it becomes, “2015 was the year I turned the corner. It led me to clarity. It led me here.”
By December, the questions had become more urgent, more specific. I was starting to make sense of the mess. I reached another crossroad. As the year came to an end, I sat in the Pantages Theater watching Idina Menzel belt her little heart out in “If/Then.” I wouldn’t say it’s one of the great musicals of all time, but it completely leveled me with its contents. She sang, “What if I always belonged in the city that moved me with people who thrill me?” Though the protagonist built her life on the West Coast, she had always longed for New York City. She had wasted time lying to herself. And she chose to stop wasting it, stop wondering “What if?” and to take a leap. I wanted so desperately to love my life in Los Angeles. At times, I still have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming. I could see myself staying forever, with these people, in this job. And I’m not ruling out forever roots in Los Angeles. But in that moment, in that theater, something about it didn’t feel authentic. There was a part of my heart I had been ignoring that had been elsewhere since I was 12.
It was the first of my answers.
Meanwhile, Hallie was having a questions year of her own. And the answers to her questions led her to New York City in her own way, where she began to build a beautiful life. As 2016 progressed, her answers led me to mine as well.
A few weeks ago, Hallie texted me out of the blue asking what my plans were and if I had any desire to move to New York by August 1 to be her roommate, just like we had talked about at 16. I had just one question – how would I pay the bills? And when she later responded with a slew of answers to that question too, I knew I needed to pull it together in the short window. All the dreams I’d had since I was 12 were waiting through an open door. I just needed to take that step.
It’s been a terrifying few weeks. I wasn’t expecting the text and I certainly wasn’t expecting the quick turnaround time. My ducks are mostly – but not all – in a row. It’s a lesson in trust – I’m a control freak. I want all my ducks and I want them in a straight, single-file line that would excite Ms. Clavel from Madeline. I don’t have a for sure full-time job offer, though Hallie helped me line up multiple interviews and a few part-time things that allow me to pursue all my passions at once while still paying the bills. I’m an emotional basket case about leaving Los Angeles – leaving my school and my friends and my students. I’m terrified by the uncertainty of the next few months. But if we’re not scared, then we’re not leaving our comfort zone. And if we’re not leaving our comfort zone, what are we doing? So I’m letting go, and I trust that if I take this leap and if I work as hard as I can, the ducks will find their way to The Pond in Central Park and get themselves in a line.
To my friends in Los Angeles, please know that there will be a void in my heart where your beautiful souls hold space – that space cannot be filled, no matter how many people I meet. My life will not be better in New York, only different. I’m not going because I don’t love Los Angeles or teaching or you all. I’m going in hopes that I’ll find a version of myself that is more true. For as much as I love you, I have always been the most authentic version of myself in New York City, and while I have the opportunity to do so, I need to make that version of me the permanent one.
I know some people will question my decision, seeing it as stupidity or selfishness. For those people, no genuine explanation will suffice. But the beauty of this is that I don’t have to explain it. The truest people in my life will cheer me on even if they don’t understand the decision. They might ask questions, but only to make sure I’m following my heart, not because they doubt me or my intentions. To everyone else, it doesn’t matter if they understand my journey. Because the beauty of a journey is that it is unequivocally and wholly mine. It does not belong to them, so their understanding is not necessary.
And with that in mind, I must go. Despite the nerves and the seeming insanity of my decision, I’ve also never been more at peace. Gone are the nerves I felt before my Los Angeles move. Gone are the concerns about where the money will come from or how I will keep food on my table. Gone are the worries about what my friends will think when I tell them (for the record, they’ve been more supportive than I could have ever dreamed). The lesson in trust will be an ongoing one no doubt. But I already feel more “myself” than I have in a long time even just dreaming of the person I’ll be in a year or two or five.
And with that knowledge and peace and with a tremendous amount of gratitude in my heart, the intermission is over. Thus begins the next chapter of my life, one full of energy and risk and excitement. One filled with the noise and grit that only New York City can provide. One that comes with a moment of self-discovery, of leaving “not this” to find “that,” of finding my heart and who it is meant to become.
Joan Didion once wrote, “…Quite simply I was in love with New York. I do not mean ‘love’ in any colloquial way. I mean that I was in love with the city, the way you love the first person who ever touches you and you never really love anyone quite that way again.” I’ve loved a lot of places over the years, I’ve called many places home. But New York has always been my first true love, and in that, my love for it has always been the most pure, unadulterated, incomparable version of love. No love has shined quite as bright.
So when I finally get to glimpse the skyline through the eyes of someone who calls it “home,” I know that, in all reality, the city probably won’t be waiting for me with open arms. I mean, isn’t that the beauty of New York, that a world can feel so completely mine while simultaneously reminding me at every turn that it can function just fine without me? With almost all certainty, the city will knock me down, break me, challenge me, teach me a thing or two. And then perhaps it will put me back together. Maybe the city’s pulse only beats so strongly because it waits for no one. But though it won’t run to me screaming “Finally!” with arms wide open in anticipation, its pulse, its dirt, its noise, all of these things are, in a sense, the unique greeting I’ve been waiting for all along. These things – the lessons I’ll learn the hard way, the people who will cross my path, the places that will become my own special map of the greatest city in the world – those things are the city, screaming in all its magical glory, “Welcome to New York, it’s been waiting for you.” My God, have I been waiting for it too.
We need to have a conversation about the Little Mermaid. I vividly remember seeing it in theaters – it was the birth of my love of musicals. I would listen to the soundtrack on a Disney cassette tape growing up and one time I got in trouble because I tangled my hair in a fork trying to be like Ariel.
But the older I get, the more angry the whole Ariel storyline makes me. And not because getting those knots out required two bottles of detangle spray.
I mean COME ON. The plot is basically this girl who dreams of something more, so instead of chasing her dreams in a way that is authentic and strong, she decides to LITERALLY GIVE UP HER VOICE so that she can stand there, look pretty, and win over a guy who only likes her because she’s wearing nothing but purple seashell pasties.
Don’t get me wrong, I still want to jam to “Under the Sea.” But WHAT?
My issue here is not in the fairytale of it all – I’m as hopeless a romantic as they come. And let’s be real – no one is going around physically trapping girls’ voices in seashells (Though if someone figures this out, can you holla at me?@Em_Guts, can you hit up Ursula on your shell phone? Cause I’m trying to sing like Lea Michele, Jessie Mueller, Pippa, or Idina for REAL. Audra McDonald can keep her voice because she kicked herself in the face while she was pregnant doing a tap dance, among the million other reasons I’m unworthy). But the idea of someone giving up their metaphorical voice to be with a man? That thought terrifies me.
And it terrifies me because I’ve been there. I gave up my voice because I thought the guy was worth it. And in the process, I lost my authenticity. And I lost my confidence. And I lost my ability to say, “ENOUGH. I’m worth more.” I lost the parts of me that speak my mind – not only with him but at work, with my friends, in social settings. I developed social anxiety. In essence, I lost me. I chose that – it’s NO fault of anyone else’s. No one can take away my voice unless I let them, so that’s on me. But it happened nonetheless and it happens to so many of us that I felt the need to address it.
I took the parts of me that were messy, that I felt I needed to hide to be “good enough,” and I put them in a shell. I put the parts of me that were goofy and silly there too, lest he think I was too dorky. The parts of me that were loud? I shoved those in there so I wouldn’t annoy him. Sometimes he told me I was too loud. The intelligent parts of me were in the shell so that he wouldn’t think I was snooty. The parts of me that were vocal, full of conviction, unafraid to speak my mind? Those were definitely jammed in the shell. And the parts of me that were strong, confident, brave enough to say, “I’ve given you all the love I can give, and in return, you treat me like shit, so I’m walking away because I don’t deserve it and I didn’t ask for it and it’s NOT my fault, it’s YOURS.” Those parts were silenced, relegated to the deepest, darkest coils of the conch.
At the end of the day, when I’d tucked away all those parts of myself, I still wasn’t “enough” for him. I was never going to be. I know that now. I know nothing I could have changed or molded about myself would have made me enough, and no one that asks you to change that much is worth a damn. But because my voice was trapped in that shell for so long, sometimes I feel like part of my voice, the part that used to bellow with confidence and strength – it’s still stuck in the back corner of the shell and I can’t quite get it out.
Some days, I’m a force to be reckoned with. I’m brave and courageous and I shoot straight and tell it like it is. I stand up for myself, I fight for what I believe in, I’m unafraid to be a leader. But others, I’m petrified to even breathe, timid and uncertain and unsure of who I am or what I know to be true. I allow people to walk on me or worse, look through me as if I’m worthless and invisible, and rather than seeing it as a reflection of them, I see it as a reflection of all that could possibly be wrong with me. I like the brave me better.
Some days it takes all my courage to muster an, “Excuse me, I don’t mean to be a pain, but did I do something wrong because I get the sense that you’re upset with me and I don’t want you to be upset with me so I’m going to apologize preemptively in case you’re upset with me and also, if you could, what did I do and are we cool?” On my best days, it’s either “Hey, I know I messed up, but I’m confident enough to own it and apologize genuinely from the bottom of my heart” or “I’m not apologizing and actually, you owe ME an apology because don’t think all the shit you’ve talked hasn’t gotten back to me and you’ve been a giant dick for no reason recently and despite all your lectures about how I shouldn’t be passive aggressive, it’s apparently fine when you are. PS: I’m not your punching bag, though you’ve seemed to think I am for the last three years” (the last two options depend very much on the circumstances).
Some days, I find my voice and I forget how much I liked its sound. That fire in my eyes comes back, if just for a moment. Other days, it stays stuck in its hiding place, tucked away deeper than the ocean floor, and I forget my own strength. And I don’t like those days. And I don’t like that there is a(n otherwise brilliant) movie that teaches little girls that if they just give up their voice, or pull an Aaron Burr and talk less comma smile more, the boy or the boss or the group of “friends” will think they’re worth it. Because as an adult, I know enough to sort through those things and I know that I make a choice to give up my voice or not. It is a CHOICE that I made, that I’m done making. But as a child, I didn’t always know the difference. And no child should think their voice doesn’t deserve to be heard.
Because girls, even if you can’t sing like Audra, your voice is beautiful and worth sharing and the world needs to hear it. Be heard. You DESERVE to be heard. You’re a star. The people in your life who deserve to stay will stick around even when the words are messy and don’t quite rhyme yet, when you’re unsure what line comes next. Don’t hand Ursula the magical shell – your voice is worth too damn much.
I’ve been away from the blogging game for awhile. The words weren’t coming. The tears were – oh MAN, they were. But I couldn’t quite get the words on the page.
Something in this weekend snapped that piece of my soul back into place.
I spent Saturday in an ongoing dialogue with my little DuPage County runaway NoHo spirit animal about our plans vs. God’s plans. His are always bigger. And THANKS BE UNTO HIM FOR THAT. Because her plans were Geneva, and my plans were the San Fernando Valley, and then God was like, “NOPE. WRONG DIRECTION. NOT THIS WAY. 🙅”
God literally put a giant barricade over the door that led to laying down roots in these places (insert Les Mis lyrics about barricades here) and was like, “This door is closed. You are not going this way. #DETOUR.”
And I was PISSED. I was so angry at God and this person and so hurt by it all.
Enter my drunk guardian angel here.
In our conversations we were both like, “WAIT NO. We are BIGGER than this. We are bigger than this thing that we think hurts so bad it could kill us. We can’t even fathom what God has in store for us, but the world is our stage and dammit, we were born to be stars. Our dreams are too big for these roles we’ve relegated ourselves to in this place.”
And then I found this beautiful passage called “Not this,” about when you don’t know where you’re going or what exactly you want to do, but you know it’s #NotThis. The most courageous thing you can do is leave “this” – whether it’s a person or a job or a habit – and find a “that.” I have no idea what the next year holds, but I know it’s NOT. THIS.
Fast forward through a perfect night with my old roommate and forever +1 to this morning, when for whatever reason, all my “Not. This.” and my determination and my confidence had apparently been snatched by some evil dream wizard overnight because I woke up feeling like this:
Until I got to church. Which was less like church and more like a giant dance party. The whole message was that God doesn’t want the version of you that you THINK He wants. He wants the version of you that is authentic, because #Grace. So stop looking at your feet and worrying about what other people think when you’re dancing. Just freaking dance. Look up, and dance, and remember that the most fun people to dance with are the ones who don’t give a shit what other people think. Stop auditioning for the role of “you.” It’s already been cast, and the actress is a STAR.
So I’m writing, because it’s my way of rewriting. I’m rewriting what I thought to be true for my future. I’m allowing myself to be cast as me – mostly happy and laughing and goofy and dancing, but sometimes wanting to roast someone over an open fire. I’m allowing myself to accept that God wants both versions of me, because both are true. If I was the first version of myself all the time, I wouldn’t need Him in the first place. But I really need Him. I’m allowing God to direct. Because every show needs a good director.
The takeaway of this weekend is this: God’s job is to block your scenes. Your job is to make sure you’re standing where you’re supposed to be. And that place is not the San Fernando Valley. Or Geneva.