People keep telling me that the things I do are hard.
Upon moving to Madrid (twice): “Wow, moving abroad without knowing anyone – that must be hard!”
When I walked the Camino de Santiago: “Wow, walking 500 miles across Spain – that must have been so difficult!”
Upon becoming vegan: “Wow, how can you not eat animal products? I can’t imagine doing that!”
On learning Spanish: “Wow, learning a language is so tough for adults – I could never do that!”
I won’t deny that these things were all difficult in their own way. Yet, none of them can hold a candle to the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Something that cannot – can never – be praised because it will never be finished as it’s a process.
The pursuit of creativity.
I also came here for another quiet reason, one I didn’t use in the elevator “Why I’m Leaving the U.S.” speech that inundated the days before and after our departure. The question is now asked as “Why Did You Leave New York?!” Still, the real answer is one I hesitate to give out freely.
I came here to live a creative life.
Do all writers eventually become expats or is it expats that become writers?
Hemingway. Fitzgerald. Wilde. Joyce. The list goes on.
Patti Smith’s memoir, Just Kids is on my just-read shelf. It is a beautiful homage to both New York and a creative woman struggling and growing into her own. I saw myself in her, walking the streets of New York as a college student, and now, as I throw words at a page and wonder if they’ll resonate the way I want them to.
But Patti’s New York is gone.
CBGB’s is a designer clothing store and the Palladium is an NYU dorm (complete with an unlimited Sunday brunch with a chocolate fountain – I may or may not speak from experience).
Taking creative risk is something that is simply not possible in New York anymore. That is, unless you have a trust fund, a situation where you pay no rent or living expenses, or are fine never sleeping so you can work two day jobs. Yet rarely does the last situation leave you with the time or energy left over to create.
I left New York because I was tired.
Not just physically tired, but tired of having to defend myself for being frustrated in the city that everyone dreams to live in. I didn’t want to pay $1000 a month for a basement room in a four bedroom apartment anymore. I was overworked and stressed out and 2015 fled by as if it was barely there at all. (For more New York musings, read why Veren believes New York glorifies personhood but does not prioritize people.)
Here in Madrid, I’m not constantly tired from being overworked. Living here grants me more time and energy – I wake up excited to work on projects I’m passionate about. I’m free to take more risks, and of that, I’m acutely aware of and grateful. I don’t want to squander it.
Then there’s a voice that says, “Do not waste this. Do not fuck this opportunity up.”
With creative risk – with any risk – comes fear.
Every day I go to my computer and work. Sometimes it’s paid work, sometimes it not. Luckily Madrid is affordable so that’s ok – for now. So while financial concerns are always there, I’m lucky and happy that they’re not my main worry. These projects cost money (and lots of time) but don’t put Veren and I in a grave financial risk.
My main fear is this nagging creative one. Every day I put words on paper or type them onto a screen. Just thoughts that arise from my head spontaneously. They’re in there like squiggles, and somehow my hands make them cohesive. Sometimes.
And what if they’re not cohesive and I don’t make anything out of this? That’s the more statistically probable outcome.
What if people laugh or think my writing is ridiculous? What if they tell me to get a real job instead of freelancing (which allows me to have way more time for personal projects)?
So the fear is there. Everyone likes a risk taker once they’ve succeeded. Everyone loves the artist’s rags to riches story once their work is hung in the Met.
The cafe where J.K. Rowling sat at writing Harry Potter as a young, broke, single mother is now a pilgrimage site for poor nerds who aspire to be just like her.
Yet it’s no one gave her the time of day when she was sitting in those wooden chairs. If the Harry Potter books hadn’t been a success, the Elephant Cafe would just be another cafe.
Spending a significant amount of time on creative projects is hard work, exhausting in a different way that clocking into an office 40+ hours a week is.
The latter is exhausting, draining, consuming, and leaves little time for anything else. When I worked in New York, in addition to my 40+ hours, I commuted 10 hours a week, meaning I barely had any time to feed myself before I crashed on the bed in a state of exhaustion. No time for re-evaluation or self-doubt in that cycle. That’s just existing.
If you follow this formula, the American dream tells you that you’ll be successful. There’s no questioning your success when you’re promoted or accepted into a prestigious law school.
It’s different when you’re building something yourself. There’s no external validation until you’ve undeniably “made it.” There are no Facebook likes for a finished yet still unpublished manuscript or when you get a blog post to rank #1 on Google for the first time.
Yet starting something from the ground up is so much sweeter than any other job I’ve had. If literally three people find something I wrote useful this month, then I’m helping more people than ever before, which in turn makes me feel more fulfilled than ever before.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you up and quit everything – at a glance one may assume that’s what Veren and I did. The truth is, our escape from New York was almost a year in the making – but that’s another post – stay tuned. A good place to start is with Jiji at Cleverish Magazine – she tackles this topic with honesty and practicality: Balancing Your Creative Projects with Your Day Job.
Since beginning on this journey, I’ve met many inspiring and struggling creatives on different paths. Bloggers, photographers, novelists, startup founders, podcasters, and freelancers of varying kinds.
And for all you creatives out there that I haven’t met yet – I applaud you.
Because this, this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
But it’s also the most rewarding.
I truly believe that everyone harbors creativity in them. It’s just a few of us that embrace the difficulty of showing up to that creativity, day after day, to let it blossom.
What creative projects do you have within you? What are you waiting for?