On a Sunday evening, three days before the six-month anniversary of my move to New York, I sat in the orchestra section of the Brooks Atkinson Theatre during a performance of the musical Waitress. I was both alone and surrounded by people. I’d wanted to see the show for some time, and as luck would have it, the ticket I’d booked was for the last performance of Sara Bareilles’ Broadway run.
Bareilles’ emotions were palpable as she sang the lead role of Jenna, and they continued to build as the character she gave voice to became progressively trapped in a life she saw no escape from. When she reached the searching ballad “She Used to Be Mine,” the lyrics pierced me, finding their way into an empty space inside my chest and lodging themselves there:
It’s not what I asked for
Sometimes life just slips in through a back door
And carves out a person
And makes you believe it’s all true . . .
And you’re not what I asked for
If I’m honest I know I would give it all back
For a chance to start over
And rewrite an ending or two
For the girl that I knew
I wiped at my eyes furiously, glancing around to see if anyone noticed, and saw that the woman next to me was crying, too.
It’s hard to believe it’s been six months since I got on a plane with most of my belongings contained in three suitcases. Over these last six months, there have been days when time moved at a torturous pace, because of winter storms and the cabin fever resulting from being trapped indoors. But mostly, time has elapsed quickly, a reminder that no matter how you spend your days, the clock keeps ticking.
It wasn’t long after I arrived that I started thinking about leaving. I didn’t realize how much I’d miss the ease of California living. How much I craved sunshine, and the ocean, and fresh produce and the warmth of community. I didn’t appreciate what it meant to live in a place where people know you, where they know your work, where you’re handed opportunities without having to interview or audition or prove yourself. I miss that. I miss being known.
But there’s a reason I decided to go. Maybe it was simply so I could realize what I was giving up. But I don’t think so. I think it was about a search for something I hadn’t been able to find. Something I still haven’t found.
So often in New York, I feel green and inexperienced and not enough. I know this isn’t true. But these feelings are a consequence of starting over, particularly in a city as hard-driving and as competitive as this one. As a friend said recently, “New York calls you out.” And it has. It has called me out on all the ways I hide, all the ways I feel plagued by doubt, all the ways I sabotage myself. It has made these first six months uncomfortable. But it hasn’t necessarily made them bad.
One of the few books I took with me when I moved across the country was Cheryl Strayed’s small but mighty Brave Enough. There’s a quote in it I keep returning to:
The question isn’t whether you should stay or go.
The question is: How would your life be transformed if you chose to love this time with all your intelligence?
I’m pretty sure Strayed is referring to romantic love here, but I find the quote to have broader application. I read it as: Wherever you are, be all there. Commit. Live in the moment, and love it, with everything you have.
I haven’t done that here. In truth, I’ve spent much of the last five years being anything but present. Running. Jumping on planes. Passing time until the next time I could go away and get out of town. It was grief that made me do this. Grief that kept me swimming like a shark, afraid that if I stopped moving, I’d suffocate.
I can admit this now. I’m not sure why I couldn’t before. Maybe I just couldn’t see it. Maybe it’s New York that made me realize it. But here it is: ever since my mother’s death, and my father’s death, and the deaths of my grandparents, I’ve become progressively unmoored. I haven’t felt connected to a place. I haven’t felt connected to myself.
I’m so tired of running. The transition to life in New York has been hard on me. It has been harder than I ever thought possible. But I don’t want to leave. What’s exciting about this city is the sense of possibility that is everywhere here. For every opportunity that doesn’t pan out, there are so many more things to try. So many more roads to go down. So many more doors to knock on. So many more people to meet.
As I write this, it’s the first day of Spring. Tomorrow, there is yet another snow storm in the forecast. But even still, winter is waning. The days are growing longer. And there is so much that feels possible, waiting just around the corner.
Until next time, friends.
Your writing is wonderful as always! Written with a sincere and honest feel! I love the connections you make!
Thank you Tamara! And thank you for reading. ❤️
I started following you after you liked one of my blog posts about a year ago or so. I was inspired by your ability to be vulnerable about your life and brave enough to keep moving towards understanding your own truths. I also could relate to the connectedness of place you have mentioned as I am a NW woman and understand the call of inlets and bays that have a grounding effect on my soul. For whatever reason, I was thinking of you a few days ago. I was wondering why you had not written a blog post recently, and I was hoping all was well for you in New York. See your words connect! They matter, as here I am in the Puget Sound wishing a woman I have never met, is doing ok. Today, especially, your words about being unmoored resonated with me and I found a bit of myself (ok maybe more than a bit) in your truths, especially about running from loss and how in that running it is so easy to lose a bit of oneself. Anyway, your words matter and someone out here in the Pacific Northwest is happy you write and is wishing you the best. Carey
Carey, thank you. I am so moved by your comment and can’t tell you how much it means to me. Thank you for reminding me that our stories matter. I’m wishing you well. Sarah
I also second Carey’s words Sarah, you had also crossed my mind. I’m always delighted to see an email arrive alerting me to a new blog post from you. I save them to read when I can sit down with a ‘cup of tea’ (U.K, England) 💓 I even forwarded this particular blog onto a friend who I felt might identify with the path you are on right now. Your words absolutely matter! Please keep writing! Best wishes, stay strong xx
Oh that means so much to me, thank you! I love the thought of you sitting down with a cup of tea to read one of my blog posts. That warms my heart. I promise I’ll keep writing, friend. Thank you for the encouragement. xx
I admire your willingness to be uncomfortable. Most of us refuse to leave our little comfort zone, so we never learn anything new about ourselves or about life. Good for you.
Thank you friend!
Prayers and more power to this beautiful piece of writing. And you. ❤
Thank you! ❤
That was a wonderful heart felt read Sarah, so real, as if I was there. Sarah you must write books. Pours you some more tea and listens and awaits your next amazing heart felt read. Thank you for sharing.
Oh and there are no cages Sarah Kelly. …only friends, and always a new coming spring.
Thank you friend. When I write a book, I promise you’ll know about it!
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” -Mark Twain.
You may have referenced this quote in a previous blog posting. I often turn to Twain for perspective, humor on humanity and a reminder of the importance of storytelling in our lives. Your writing style has a very similar ease and comfort. I’m truly enjoying your journey and cheering for you!
When I “flipped” the script on my life seven years ago -this April… I had NO IDEA what I was in for. But I saw this quote in my hometown news paper, clipped it out and made my decision to move. No real “life plan”… just a job to report to the following week.
The first night in my little studio, this clipping was the only thing I taped to my bathroom mirror. It was a reminder why, like yourself, I threw off the bowlines and sailed away. In my 31 years, at that time, I never knew what it was like to MISS HOME. And I think THAT connection to THAT feeling has been part of the lesson. To figure out where “one’s” home is in this world. And you’ll never know… till ya cut the line.
So Keep sailing!
And if you haven’t read it yet… Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad is great comfort for wanderlusters.
Great advice, Tracy! And I think you’re right about needing to be connected to the feeling of missing home. I never thought about it quite like that, but it’s spot on. Thank you for reading the blog and for your kind words. I haven’t read that Mark Twain book but I’ll pick it up! ❤️
As always I connected with this deeply! You have a way of writing what we are all thinking, especially living in New York. And reading this I didn’t realize how unmoored I had become either. We all go through those periods where we are ships lost at sea, and where we have to face the hard truths even if we would choose that they get swept away by waves. And while these six months have been hard, you are facing them and living them even when it doesn’t seem it. New York is very unforgiving, but those who can withstand her reality checks become much stronger and you are. Thank you for sharing this, and congrats on your six month anniversary! 🙂 ❤
Thank you my friend! That’s very kind of you to say. Wishing you well always.
I appreciate your honesty so, so much. I’ve been feeling unmoored lately, and needed this reminder that I am not alone. Best wishes to you in your new life, your new world. I expect you will find the magic in it and learn to soar here.
You are not alone, Brenna. I promise. Thank you for your kind wishes. It is because of people like you that I want to keep writing honestly and openly, even when it’s hard. Sending you a big virtual hug.
I lived in Miami for a couple of years, I went there by myself. I found a job and made friends, but I felt exactly like you – unmoored – It was an exciting place and don’t regret my time there, but in the end I came home. The homesickness was a knot in my stomach I just couldn’t shake. Once I came home, it left and I felt moored again. It was an adventure, and I am still friends with people from there all these many years later. You will find your niche, you will feel moored, it will happen without you noticing, one day you will just wake up and it will dawn on you, I am happy, I am moored, I am home. Please keep writing, love your blog! xxx
Wow. I came here courtesy of Snakes in the Grass’ recommendation. You have certainly described my life over the past five years. I am trying to decide where I will end up when I have to leave San Francisco (which is inevitable at this point), but I will admit that New York (or anything remotely comparable) was never on my radar. Thank you for expressing yourself so clearly and for giving me a chance to understand (even for a moment) how someone else is dealing with some of the challenges I am facing. Peace, Eddie
Thank you for that, Eddie. I’m glad you ended up here. Wishing you well on your journey. ❤️