Well, there’s no point in putting off admitting it any longer: I moved back home to Westchester. I’m living with my parents again and I’m no longer a slave to the noise and mayhem of the big city.
There were several reasons for this, and I feel it’s fair and reasonable to explain them here, partly because I want to help other people plan their moves and lifestyles better, but also so that I can make myself feel more like a human being and less like a failure.
Here are some of the expectations I had, the realities that ensued, and what I would and will do differently the next time I
run away to become a star attempt reasonable independence while still pursuing my dreams in a reasonable way.
Expectation #1: Working two flexible jobs that both pay twice minimum wage will surely make me enough money to live on.
Reality: I worked as a hostess in a busy Times Square area pub and restaurant, and I also worked as a barista at a high-end supermarket cafe kind of place on the Upper East Side (which is initially where I lived). Despite the fact that I was working 50-60 hours each week, these jobs barely managed to make ends meet.
Next time: In addition to securing a more consistent job so you aren’t scrambling to find backup sources of income, it’s advisable to have at least six months’ to a years’ worth of rent in savings before moving out. Yes, really. That much. One great thing I did do was never carry cash on me—I used my debit card for everything so I could track every single purchase and see where all of it was going, just in case I was being frivolous and spending too much money on lunch or something. Which leads me to…
Expectation #2: Food isn’t expensive. I don’t eat that much. Plus I can cook my own stuff!
Reality: Did you know that many species of birds have to eat 80 times their bodyweight in one day just to survive? That’s basically what you have to do if you live in New York and you’re on your feet all the time. And cooking? No. That is not a thing that I ever had the time or energy to even think about attempting. I found plenty of clever ways to score free food, especially since both my jobs were in food service (ah, showbiz), but the fact is that you will almost always need more food than you think you do and it will cost more than you think it will.
Next time: It’s okay if my next apartment doesn’t have an oven or even a full-size refrigerator. My sophomore year of college, my roommate and I had a combination mini-fridge and microwave; the fridge would automatically shut off when the microwave was running to conserve energy and prevent things from exploding. That thing is actually all I need to get by with the sort of life I live. Also, canned soup is everyone’s friend. Never underestimate soup.
Expectation #3: Going to the gym is totally something I’ll be able to do.
Reality: I joined Planet Fitness, and I have to say, it lives up to the hype. The one near Alvin Ailey is huge, immaculately clean, well-staffed, and a very comfortable workout environment. Thing is, it took a half hour to get there…but that didn’t matter, it was so cheap! Yes. It did matter. Because I only went once. Because that was all I had the time or energy for. Life was enough of a workout.
Next time: DVDs and YouTube are there for a reason. So are “risk-free trials” of a million classes at a million different places all around the city. Furthermore, if life tires you out so much that you can barely muster the energy to walk two blocks to the subway, it’s entirely possible that you are not, in fact, an out-of-shape piece of turd, and that you are just overworked and exhausted.
Expectation #4: I’ll go on auditions all the time.
Reality: I think I went to two auditions while I was there. That was all I had time or energy for. And they weren’t particularly good.As much as we sometimes want to think we’re rock stars who can wing it no matter what, we must remember that auditions—GOOD auditions—are not just spur-of-the-moment, spare-time sorts of events. They require preparation, and rest, and energy, and focus. If you’re so tired and disoriented that you can’t see straight…or if you’re coming straight from work and deodorant isn’t quite enough to mask the lingering smell of the dank storage room with a leak in the ceiling right above the box of cup sleeves you needed to grab…or if you’ve spent so much time working and commuting that you had very little time to devote to actually rehearsing…chances are, your confidence and morale will suffer, and that will show in the audition room even if your monologue is brilliant and you can flawlessly belt a Z in the key of impossible.
Next time: Planning is everything. At my barista job, there were only about eight of us, we never got each week’s schedule more than a day or so in advance, and there was no consistency to this schedule, which made planning (or changing the plan) very difficult, not to mention stressful. Not all survival jobs are like that, though—indeed, I’m doing the same job back at Starbucks, and planning is infinitely easier because (a) we get our schedules at least 2-3 weeks in advance, and (b) we are in touch with a whole network of Starbucks partners across the district, so that when we need coverage, we don’t have to limit ourselves to searching within our own stores. When seeking a survival job (or “parallel career,” as you might want to put it on your resume), it’s crucially important to find out as much as you can about the scheduling process in advance—without making it sound like you aren’t prioritizing this job or taking it seriously.
Expectation #5: Health insurance isn’t a huge expense, and I got the best deal I could anyway.
Reality: I was grossly overpaying for health insurance during my time in the city. I had a $244 premium with a $1250 deductible, which was almost entirely spent just a few days after my 26th birthday when I mysteriously came down with a fever of unexplained origin and got loads of bloodwork done to make sure I wasn’t dying. By the time healthcare.gov was fully functional and I could successfully apply for Obamacare, I was nearly broke.
Next time: Every time a Republican talks about repealing Obamacare, it makes us actors want to slap you. We don’t want to be on Medicaid any more than you want your tax money to pay for it (it’s our tax money too, just saying). We are hardworking people who deserve affordable healthcare at least as much as anyone else. Luckily, Starbucks has me taken care of for now (for those who don’t know, Starbucks offers substantial, comprehensive benefits to part-time workers), and I suspect that I might have lasted longer in the city if I’d been hired there from the get-go, but most jobs don’t have the flexibility AND the benefits that Starbucks does. Luckily for us, that is changing. I hear great things about Costco and Trader Joe’s, for instance; they operate on this radical concept that companies will do better business if they treat their employees better. Mind-blowing, huh?
Expectation #6: I’m a failure if this doesn’t work, and I’ll give up.
Reality: I’m smarter, more mature, more resilient, more creative, more assertive, simply MORE of a person for having tried this. I also realize all the things I took for granted without even knowing it…clean air, quiet nights, stars in the sky, money in my savings account, driving, oh Lord did I miss driving. My increased awareness has done nothing but good things for my craft, and for my life.
And what’s more is…after all I went through during my several months in the city (and to be clear, I went through a lot more than I’ll ever post about in a public blog, but these are the basics), I still want to go back. I still taste that dream every time I crack open my rep book, every time I pop down there for an audition or a cabaret show, the energy of Broadway fills me up and energizes me inside out until I feel I’m simply a mist of weightless passion floating through Times Square.
There is still no other life I want, and that thought is wildly comforting. It means I’m not dead. It means my passion is still there, that it still motivates me, that it lights a fire that will keep me going no matter what’s thrown at me. Giving up never entered my mind, and it never will.
I still heart you, New York. I’ll be back soon.