Letting Go of New York

One year ago today, I was living in New York City, living my dream – or, at least, trying to – and wholly unaware of what would be happening in less than a week.


After the COVID-19 pandemic hit and New York City (along with the rest of the world) shut down in mid-March, I hunkered down and stayed put – I had just arrived in my dream city. I sure as fudge wasn’t about to leave!


But then a couple of months passed, and the stifled stuckness of locked-down NYC slowly surpassed my resolve to stay. Yeah, I was in New York City, but there was nothing to do. No jobs to be had. No friends to be made. No places to go to even pass the time.


So in early June, I left. But I left believing in my heart of hearts that I would be back after my summer job ended in August. After all, that was another two and a half months away – surely something would have changed by then!


But then August rolled around, and nothing had changed. New York was still shut down, and, at no fault of anyone or anything other than COVID, I no longer had a space to live in NYC.


So I took my time coming back home to Ohio – I stopped to visit some family, I adopted my cat, and eventually I came back home…still with the hope that perhaps I would just wait until the new year and then move back to NYC again.


But the new year came and went, and I decided that I would wait until I had a job in the city before moving back. That made the most sense, after all, since I couldn’t support myself without income.


So I doubled down on the job hunt and put in applications for any job that sounded remotely interesting – theatre, ministry, transformative justice, anything that utilized any of my skills, I applied for as long as it was inNYC.


But nothing panned out. I started feeling like I was banging on a locked door that had no intention of budging. The sense of defeat grew with each passing day.


So I eventually had to make a decision:


Keep knocking on the same door, working as hard as I could to get back to New York City, or…


Take off my blinders, and try a different door.


.. … …


I’ve wanted to live in New York City ever since my grandparents took me to visit for the first time when I was ten years old. I don’t remember much about that trip, only that we saw Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, walked what felt like the entire length of Manhattan multiple times, and went on the longest tour of my life – a four-hour walking tour of the Steinway piano factory/warehouse. (Well, my ten-year-old self thought it was most boring thing I had ever been asked to do; in hindsight, I can appreciate that it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But still, not *super* fun for a ten-year-old.)


Obviously, I have minimal memories from that trip; however, it nonetheless left a lasting impact, for two main reasons:


1. That trip introduced me to theatre and sparked a passion I never knew I had.


2. That trip gave me the first taste that I can remember of the possibility of a life outside of Ohio.


Seventeen years later, those are still the two things I want more than anything: to live in New York City, and to work in professional theatre as an actor and writer.


… … …


Five years after that fateful NYC trip, I finally worked up the courage to try acting and, ya know, actually be in theatre. I knew it would never do me any good if I spent my time merely daydreaming about working in theatre, rather than actually doing it. So I took my first acting class and auditioned for my first play, and for the next three years in high school, theatre was all I thought about. It was all I wanted to do and the only place I wanted to be.


Naturally, the next step would be pursuing it for college, right? I did my research and applied to some of the best theatre schools in the country – NYU, CMU, and Northwestern, to name a handful. I prepped my resume and practiced my monologues and printed my headshots – I was ready.


And I didn’t get accepted to a single school.


I was devastated.


That was the first time I let go of my dreams of moving to NYC and working in theatre.


… … …


I ended up attending my ‘safety school’ – Ohio State – and declared a psychology major. I didn’t think there was any point in pursuing theatre if I wasn’t good enough to get into any of the top conservatory programs.


But, to use a cliché term, I was lost without it. I ended up adding theatre as a second major during my sophomore year; honestly, I assumed I would never use both theatre and psychology, but I felt good that I could at least study one subject that made me happy and another that would be useful in finding a career.


Except I managed to find the one thing that combined both theatre and psych – and the one thing that made going to OSU worth it.


I found a little thing called drama therapy, through a class called Shakespeare and Autism – a class that forever changed my life.


(I could sing about this class all day, but to spare you all from hours of reading that you probably don’t want to do, I’ll attempt to summarize this class as best I can for those who haven’t heard of it before from me: this class was part of a second round of research on the efficacy of the Hunter Heartbeat Method, a series of games developed by UK-based actress Kelly Hunter intended for play with autistic youth. The games are based on characters and scenes in The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and within the parameters of the games are social-skill-building exercises related to skills such as eye contact, spatial awareness, and emotional recognition, to name a few. By encouraging students to get better at the games, they naturally strengthen those skills.)


From day one of working with the students in Shakespeare and Autism, I knew I had found my new calling.


After some brief research, I discovered that the best way to pursue this new calling would be obtaining a master’s degree in it, which would set me up with all the credentials to become a licensed therapist.


But by the time I made this discovery, the application window for the next academic year had already closed (barely – I was mere weeks late). Oh well. I’d take a year off, live at home, work some part time jobs to save up some money, and apply for the following year.


Which is exactly what I did.


… … …


I applied to exactly two grad school accredited by the North American Drama Therapy Association (NATDA) (and one in the UK, accredited by their official drama therapy organization, but I didn’t get accepted there, which was fine with me for reasons I will not disclose here). I applied to the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, CA, and New York University in New York City, NY.


This was it.


My second chance to live in New York City.


Naturally, my eyes were set on NYU. They had a fantastic program, with some of the leaders in the drama therapy field, and if I could just get accepted there, I knew that’s where I wanted to go.


So I interviewed at NYU, decided I still liked the program even after the interview (because opinions can definitely change after interviews), and crossed my fingers for that acceptance letter.


But a week or so later, I had my CIIS interview. Definitely wasn’t as excited for that one, but if my undergrad audition experience taught me anything, it was that options are important.


So I flew out to SF and interviewed at CIIS…and then decided that I actually liked CIIS’s program more than NYU’s…uh oh. I knew I was in a bit of a conundrum at that point, so I crossed my fingers that the universe would make the divine choice for me.


It didn’t.


I got accepted to both NYU and CIIS (which, before continuing, I will say that I was delighted and honored to have been accepted to both – that wasn’t lost on me, especially since I never had that kind of choice for my undergrad institution).


This left me at a bit of a crossroads:


Do I pick NYU, the school that had been my dream that would put me in the city that still 100% had my heart?


Or do I pick CIIS, the school that was absolutely the best fit for me?


Ultimately, I knew that the program was more important than the location, so I accepted a spot in CIIS’s 2017 cohort, feeling at peace knowing that I had at least been accepted into NYU’s program this time around.


So I packed up and moved to San Francisco, leaving behind my dreams of living in NYC as a performer and theatre artist for the second time in my life.


… … …


The weirdest part about my decision to get a master’s in drama therapy is that I always had a feeling that I never really wanted to be a therapist. That feeling was confirmed when I started my practicum in the last year of my program – as honored as I was to be my clients’ therapist and as much admiration and respect as I had for each of them, sitting as a therapist never really, well, *sat* right with me.


But throughout my two and a half years in my master’s program, I had several opportunities to create theatre with a foundation of healing. And as quickly as I figured out that being a licensed therapist wasn’t for me, I discovered that therapeutic theatre absolutely was.


So I found myself back at my original dream, but with an added twist: I didn’t just want to work in theatre, I wanted to work in theatre as a playwright and performer who creates original, healing work.


And with a career in theatre now back on the dream table, so was living in NYC.


… … …


In the last year of my grad school program, I had my sights set on NYC. I planned to graduate in December (2019) and move sometime in early 2020 (and this time without the use of an NYU program to get me there!).


I was ready. I couldn’t wait. I may have given up my dream twice so far, but it wasn’t going to happen this time. After all, third time’s the charm, right?


…apparently not.


I set my feet on NYC soil (or, probably more apt, NYC concrete), and things fell apart just as quickly. The COVID-19 pandemic hit, NYC shut down, and Broadway went dark. I left NYC. I took three different nannying jobs during the thirteen months that I flailed around the job market. With no success in landing full-time employment, I eventually came to the choice I outlined earlier:


Do I keep trying, refusing to let my dreams go again?


Or do I accept that this door won’t budge, and let go of my dreams for the third time?


… … …


I started writing this post Wednesday evening, continued it on Thursday, and am finishing it up on Friday, the day I plan to publish it.


On Thursday, after an hour or so of distracted writing, I finally gave up and decided to watch Elena of Avalor with the 4-year-old I was nannying.


As soon as I got home from nannying that afternoon, I noticed I had an email from one of the two remaining job applications I still had open for positions in NYC.


It was another rejection email, letting me know that they had already interviewed and filled the position I had applied for with them.


I was down to one potential position left – one opportunity that I could put my hope in, one path that might lead me back to NYC so I could keep holding onto my dream.


But at that point, I knew that getting that position won’t make a difference; I’d already made up my mind.


I had already let NYC go.


My yearlong quest to make a life for myself in NYC has been hit with roadblock after roadblock, despite that I’ve diligently and faithfully been banging on the same door for over twelve months. I feel exhausted, depressed, and hopeless. My mental, emotional, and spiritual health are suffering, and as I step back to look at my life over the past year, it’s very clear to me that the door I’m knocking on isn’t budging. So why was I continuing to try?


It was time to let go, and start looking for opportunities somewhere else.


… … …


So what does that mean? Am I giving up on my dreams entirely?


No, I’m not giving up on my dreams any more than I ‘gave up’ on them the first two times. In those cases, I let them go, not knowing that they would come back to me in due time.


I’m letting the dream go, but this third time, it’s different; I’m letting them go knowing that they will come back. And yes, I’m sad that I’m doing it, and I admittedly question why those dreams have constantly been on my heart, only for me to give them up over and over again.


But at the end of the day, I cannot worry about why things happen the way that they do. I cannot spend my time being angry at the universe for dangling the same carrot, only to rip it away from me again. I cannot waste any more of my health and happiness trying to force something that just isn’t in the cards for me right now; I care more about how I feel on a day-to-day basis than I do about living somewhere.


Maybe I’ll actually get to NYC someday; maybe I won’t. I can’t say for sure.


But I can say that I already feel lighter and more optimistic.


I know that I made the right (albeit, bittersweet) choice.


… … …


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Photo credit: Jonathan Riley from Unsplash