By celebrating this milestone, I dedicate this blog to my readers who've expressed their curiosity regarding one of the most important, life-changing, segments of my personal journey:
Why I decided to move back to New York, how I made it happen and what I did to re-establish myself.
The decision to move back to New York was a bit impulsive, timing-wise, from an outsider’s perspective. I was into my 5th year in Los Angeles and just finished working on a television pilot when I decided to take a 10 day trip to the Big Apple. I really missed the city and loved living there when attending school. A major factor in going there at that time was to see “Rent” before it closed on Broadway (Yes, I was a Renthead during my school days.)
More film work was waiting for me when I returned to LA and it didn’t take me long to realize that despite the increase of work, life seemed to be going nowhere. No challenges, no excitement, nothing. A friend that I visited in NYC texted me one day and it hit me. Through our texts, I could feel the vibrant energy from the busy streets, the anxiousness of anticipating the next big groundbreaker in the world of theatre, seeing the skyscrapers that symbolized the sky truly being the limit for me. It all came down to an ancient and infamous Hollywood, choice: Which is it going to be, my career or my happiness?
I’m choosing both, I am moving back to New York.
One of my West Coast friends informed me that their relative had an extra bedroom in a rent controlled apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and the current tenant was moving out. Perfect! And it's exactly where I wanted to reside!
It took me a month to sell my car and that was my chunk of change to start the move - which came to about $3,500 after the cost of shipping, what I was unable to take with me, back to Texas and for the airfare.
I landed at LaGuardia Airport on November 7, 2008 after one engine malfunction caused me to miss my connecting flight which caused me to arrive five hours later than anticipated - only to find out that my largest of my luggage was lost and my pre-arranged living situation fell through. The tenant decided to stay a couple of months longer, so I ended up staying with a relative, in Queens.
Despite the country just then enduring the Great Recession, I surprisingly found a restaurant job through Craigslist rather quickly. But one month into working, a fire in the kitchen closed the place – and I was so overwhelmed by my obsession to live in Manhattan that I gathered my bags, left Queens and backpacked from hostel to hostel until the tenant finally moved out (which didn't happen). In the midst of this backpacking adventure, I got hired by a new upscale restaurant and began booking stand-in work through Casting Networks. I am in the SAG-AFTRA union so it gave me, at least, $125.00 per day on set. I started targeting Backstage East (when it still had the format of a newspaper) to look for free stage readings to attend – in hopes that it could build my theatre network. Right before the economic collapse submerged the new restaurant into its early grave, I managed to find a small one bedroom, on the Upper West Side, through Craigslist. It was more like a closet converted into a small bedroom, but hey, the price was unheard of in this location and as long as I was able to land little gigs here and there, I could afford it.
One of the things I learned when backpacking from hostel to hostel was that I could still find ways to stay true to my diet. Processed food costs a lot more than fresh fruits and vegetables, so a main staple that helped my finances and cured my hunger were sweet potatoes. They are awesome! Every hostel had a microwave, every deli had plastic forks and every bathroom had paper towels. Stab the potato with the fork a few times, wrap it in a paper towel, pop in a microwave for 2-3 minutes and after letting it cool, bite into it like an apple. Divine! 3 sweet potatoes brought my food cost to roughly $0.75 per day and if I really needed protein, I would go to the deli and order 2 eggs on a roll. It came to about $2.50 per sandwich so I had to budget for this wisely.
Speaking of budget, there was one splurge I did during this transition: “Rent” had just closed, but there was ongoing buzz about a Broadway show called “In The Heights” which was dubbed the new "Rent”. In many ways, it was! And even more remarkable is that Lin-Manuel Miranda was not only the original leading man, he was the writer and director of this musical! For me, this was mind-blowing as was the Latin-rap fusion of the music. I scored a ticket by entering the old school lottery (Where you had to show up 2 hours before curtain to write your name on a blank sheet of paper in hopes that it would be drawn out of a cardboard box). This was my first time ever to enter a lottery and I won a $20 front row orchestra seat. I got to experience one of the best shows I've ever seen. It was inspirational and so was Lin-Manuel Miranda who has shown me that an artist can wear many hats in one production and still generate great quality work. It is not surprising that his talent has taken America by storm with his history-making masterpiece, “Hamilton”, eight years later.
I never thought, in a million years, that it was possible for me to be wearing many hats for my art. I started off as an actress in Los Angeles and although I experimented with writing and pitching stories there, I was often met with disapproval and told my voice would never resonate to a mainstream market. 10 years later, I performed at the first table read of my playwright debut and I had people, of all ages, approach me with their own stories that closely resonated with the message behind my play. I don’t hold grudges toward my naysayers. If anything, they have further defined my values as an artist. If my messages are entertaining, great! But I refuse to sacrifice honesty.
I wasn’t always this confident and forthcoming with establishing my values. As a matter of fact there have been a couple of moments that shook me to the core, making me question everything I believed:
Six months into my New York transition, two devastating deaths occurred. One was a banker who saved my mom’s life when she suffered a near fatal heart attack – only for him to turn around and lose his battle to cancer. I always believed that when people do good in this world, the Universe will deliver and he wanted so much to live long enough to watch his kids graduate from high school. He didn’t get his wish and his death seemed so unfair. The second death was a second mother to me. Growing into adulthood, it was obvious that we had so much in common. We were athletic, adventurous, ate healthy for the most part, loved to laugh. The shock of her death by heart attack knocked me off my feet. How could this have happened? I’ve got family members that eat rather unhealthy, don’t exercise and survive multiple heart attacks and she doesn’t survive her first one! These deaths, barely two months apart, sent me into a dark tailspin.
Fast forward to five years later when I thought I needed to leave the entertainment industry to live a “normal life”. My work environment was driving me nuts and after confiding in a theatre friend – she made the comment, “This sounds like a sitcom” and before I knew it, we were first time producers. We ran a successful fundraiser, I was writing multiple episodes for our starring roles and we put together an incredible cast and crew. Plan, plot, remain organized, stay on top of every detail and you will never falter, right? Wrong. After filming the pilot, we were met with unexpected circumstances, causing our project “Tempt!” to slowly crawl out of post-production. We were unable to meet our deadline with the studio and our chance of solidifying a television contract, with them, was lost. The most difficult, humiliating moment of my professional life thus far.
But through these two painful moments, wisdom was born:
The passing of these two loved ones are a reminder that life must never be taken for granted. So many people knew the banker and deeply mourned for him. This revealed to me that he lived a fulfilled life by helping others. It's not how he died that I now remember, it's the impact he made on his community - a legacy that leaves me smiling every time I think of him. My second mother’s death is an awareness that I don’t need all the financial luxury in the world to make dreams come true. She was a single parent, working multiple jobs, but that never stopped her from fulfilling her passions. I always admired her way of transforming ideas into reality - for traveling, especially. You want something? Be creative and make it happen. Life is too short to ever feel limited. (Her 56 years are living proof.)
My project's P.P. H (Post-Production Hell) has shown me to always expect the unexpected, especially when I put myself out there to try something new. Mistakes are bound to happen and I had to make peace with that because with every mistake made, a lesson is waiting to be learned. And when a lesson is learned, regret cannot survive.
10 years later... I can conclude that moving back to NYC was the best decision I have ever made. Life has been going somewhere ever since. There have been euphoric highs and devastating lows, but I’ve never felt this level of passion any place else. I believe if feelings are invested in my journey, it means I actually care about what’s going on in the environment. It's a far cry from being numbed by a life plateauing through a youth driven, non-changing, environment that Hollywood was for me. My journey to get here wasn't perfect and it wasn't easy, but it was mine. This was a time where I went against all suggestions and beliefs to just trust my gut. And as I sit here with my husband, my rabbits and the many drafts I am implored to finish to meet m deadlines, I'm so glad I did.
"I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it."
- Nelson Mandela
Best wishes on your journey.