Just Jump: Two Years Later
"Ok, carefully step forward. Watch your right foot. You're going to take three steps forward."
Holding my hands and gently leading me through the darkness is my boyfriend. He's instructed me to get ready for a night out. I got all decked out, I used my expensive hair products, I put on eye liner and I even bust out my "boob" dress.
I open my eyes. I'm at one of my best friend's houses. My ENTIRE support system is there. All my close girlfriends (most I've known since elementary school), my brothers, my sisters, even my 2 year-old nephew is there chillin' on the floor with his Cars sippy cup. Everyone who means something to me is there. My friends coordinated a theme of deep red, black and gold. They're all dressed like it's the Oscars. Someone has written a beautiful farewell message to me on the mirror portion of Melissa's wall. There's a divine chocolate cake -- and I do mean divine because I'm a 1%er of the cake tasting world. Cake snob for life, yo.
Food, drinks, my best bud from high school even brought out his professional DJ equipment. I looked around at all the people that have contributed to my person-hood. Whether it was Nick and Omar's unrelenting teasing that calloused me stop crying so much in public (I guess that's helpful when I bomb an audition) or Karla's unending kindness that keeps me going when I'm on my last dollar and feeling like a complete failure or lovely boyfriend who has encouraged me every step of the way. I looked around and realized...
I'm leaving this all behind. In a few days I will cash in my one-way ticket into LaGuardia airport and really take a stab at this whole being an artist thing.
Cut to me sitting in empty, overpriced, un-airconditioned dorm room in Greenwich Village. I'd packed away my few belongings. Ate a PB&J. People watched. And then I cried. I cried for many days. I didn't make friends. I didn't know what to do. I was mourning the loss of the comforts of my former life, suffering from the unbearable NYC heat wave, coping with not having very much money at all and to top it off -- starting a really frickin' hard graduate program.
I'd go to the library for the free A/C and sit somewhere in the corner and watch Teen Mom on my laptop. I'm so cool, right?
It was hard. Harder than I'd ever imagined. There is a specific energy in NYC that's almost like double dutch. It's that moment where someone is waiting to jump in and just watches the ropes go up and down, up and down, up and down. They watch and wait for the best moment to jump in so they don't hit the ropes and ruin the whole operation. Well, I wasn't making the jump. Everyone's just whizing by you doing this and doing that -- and I felt like I was just watching. And waiting. I wanted in on some of that energy.
Summer passed, I thanked the Gods for cooler weather. Enjoyed my very first winter -- EVER. Then, I started meeting some friends, getting involved in some experimental performances and some interesting teaching work. One year later, at end of the program, I was still the scared, insecure-ish dreamer but a bit different. The work I put into my thesis set me up for some pretty nice teaching gigs post-grad. I could teach part-time and spend the rest of my day creating and performing.
I spent the next year teaching and performing here and there, but still not really going for exactly what I wanted to be doing. By the end of summer 2011, I was beyond frustrated with the work I was doing, as I felt I'd outgrown some of it, I was overwhelmed by the heat of summer -- again -- (see pic) and not being able to book anything. But there was no way I was going back home.
One serendipitous day, I got an email from a parent requesting a drama tutor for their child. Me? Uh...yeah...yeah I can do that! I was unsure of myself but I took this opportunity to flex my freelancing muscles. I ended up working for the most amazing family and tutoring the sweetest, most dedicated little girl ever. Over the course of several months I prepared for an audition into Mark Twain Middle School. I'd prepared her with three monologues, cold reading skills and choreographed a two-minute dance piece.
Now, I've taken specific action to build a business around the the skills I already have, and doing the things I already like to do. I've stopped taking teaching residencies I don't want, I'm only involved in work that excites me ( mostly), I have an amazing apartment, I've written and directed my first play, I am financially thriving, I perform regularly, I dance regularly, I train vocally and I actively pursue the kinds of roles I want to perform. I plan to phase out working for agencies to support myself financially in the next 6 months, submit my play to a few festivals, and host another performance night at my apartment. I'm not saying these things to brag or do some artificial ego scaffolding.
What I am doing most directly is talking to myself. I'm talking to the terrified, overwhelmed, depressed girl who moved to NYC almost two-years ago.
I'd like to end this post by revisiting some of my worst fears I had a month before leaving for NYC.
- FEAR #1: What if I look like an airport idiot?
I didn't. In fact, a friend of mine heard about what I was doing and paid for me to have a personal driver pick me up from the airport and drop at the doorstep pf my dorm -- just because he wanted to help.
- FEAR#2: Aren't New Yorkers supposed to be the nastiest people on earth? What if they eat my soul?
Well, it turns out people in NYC are just like people in every other place in the world. NYCers are stand off-ish at times, but all that playing hard to get is so worth it. I promise. My roommate teaches high schoolers playwriting when she's not fighting out against human rights violations in Palestine, another good friend I met up here teaches five year-olds by day and works as an amazing performance artist by night. Another chick writes and records her own music when she's not acting, I could really keep going. There's so many people up here, you're bound to find a solid group you really identify with.
- FEAR 3#: Where will I work out?
Um, first of all. I walk my ass off (no worries, not literally). Second, I have access to many different fresh local produce options and other healthy food choices that I've drastically changed the way I eat and live. I've been training in modern dance and ballet and I have an affordable personal trainer. Forget working out, I've become a more active human being.
- FEAR #4: What if my roommate is messy!?! Y’all just might see me on “Snapped” if that shit happens.
Hey, stuff like that happens. It's been annoying at times -- but at my place now we have a legit (like Excel) cleaning chart and we all rotate cleaning duties. The house is pretty much spotless.
- FEAR #5: I will owe Sallie Mae my first born.
Yeah, that fear was pretty much correct. I owe a shit ton of money. So what? I pay my bills every month and it doesn't severely impact the way I move through life. Also, there is no way to determine how my life would be different if I hadn't gone to NYU. No regrets there.
- FEAR#6: How on earth will I style my fro in cold weather?
Not only has my fro thrived chile, it's grown crazy fast and the winter months have been absolutely no problem for me. I've found ways to keep it moisturized and preserve my sexy. Take that, take that. Can't stop, won't stop. Bad Boy. #DiddyVoice
- FEAR#7: How will I ever find people to hang out with that are as grounded, real, and as beautiful as my friends?
I already answered this. People up here are awesome.
- FEAR #8: What if I get lost? Not talking street directions here.
Oh, two-year-ago-Shelah. IF you get lost! I actually didn't get lost in the personal sense. I actually got found. I feel like I've been given the tools and space to grow more into the Shelah I've always wanted to be. But -- I DID get lost in the physical sense...a lot. I spent my first three months crying on the train and asking, "Is this going uptown or downtown?" Good times. Just get a damn smart-phone with GPS and you're gold. Oh, and don't take the train anywhere on the weekends. You can do cartwheels to your destination faster.
- FEAR #9: What if I hate NYC and it’s not for me?
Uh, that's bullshit -- but if it was, I would leave. And keep it moving.
- FEAR #10: What if I fail?
But what if I don't?