The autumn after I graduated from college I moved from California to New York. I had studied theatre in school, one of my best friends already lived out there…it just seemed like the thing to do. Of course, once I was actually there, things did not go as I had planned.
My friends and I have taken to calling the first year out of college “the year of despair” and that is exactly what it was for all of us, even the ones who hadn’t moved all the way across the country. Being out of college and away from almost all the people I loved felt like such a loss. For a while, I felt I could barely function in New York while trying to learn the ways of this new city, and truly an entirely new culture. When I first arrived I had no job and no idea of what to do and there was just this feeling of nothingness. I would have nothing to do all day and somehow all that nothing would make it feel impossible to do anything. I would desperately need groceries, and yet I could not make myself get dressed and go. There was a whole huge metropolis to explore, but I found myself in my room day after day in the same pajamas from the day before.
I can’t say exactly what made me leave this slump, but I can say that even after I was able to get myself up and out of my apartment it took me a long ass time to find anything remotely resembling happiness out there. It was a constant struggle and that was new to me as I have always been pretty relentlessly positive and easily happy. In California I just WAS happy. I didn’t have to try at all. I had an amazing community of friends, I had glorious weather, I had home. When I finally, finally got to happiness in New York it was a completely new sensation.
New York happiness was never going to come easy. I always had to work at happiness and peace there, but because of this it was also incredibly rewarding. I remember the very first time I felt true joy and belonging there. I was singing at an open mic with a group of people I hadn’t known when I moved out there and I thought to myself, “I did this. I didn’t know any of these people when I moved here and now I am doing something I love with friends in a bar at midnight on the Upper East Side.” I felt so victorious, so proud. I had earned that moment of happiness with so much hard work and enjoying it is something I will never forget. (I will also never forget the drunken stranger who came up to the front of the stage and bowed to me while I sang that night. Thanks for the memories kind sir…)
Now that I am back in California, once again surrounded by people and places I love, I find that I sometimes long for a little bit of that New York Ashley. New York Ashley really had nothing to lose and for a while there she became fearless. I was fearless. I tried to find every single thing that frightened me and do it. I joined classes, I took guitar lessons, I found a singing partner on craigslist, I started an email letter exchange with a stranger, if I had nothing to do on any given day I would just leave my house and see what happened. I felt so fully alive, and sometimes I miss that here. I miss the small daily thrill of all the things I was doing that terrified me.
But this project is pretty terrifying to me and that is a start. It is hard to let everybody in on all these inner thoughts. It is hard to go for a photo shoot each month and worry about what the photos are going to look like (even when you have an amazing photographer) and know you will have to post them. It is terrifying to think of failing at this so publicly and also terrifying to think of succeeding because that comes with its own unique struggles.
But whatever the case may be, I hope I can start to pick back up all those things that scare me and I hope in the end I can look back on this time and this project in much the same way I look back on New York. I hope I get to the point where I can look at the struggle and say, “I did this. I worked so hard and I earned this moment of happiness.” And maybe someday I won’t have to think of “New York Ashley” and “Ashley” as such different people. It will just be me.