Learning to dance when you think you’re falling

I made the decision to move today.

I called my gramma and told her the plan. She said it felt like I was moving too fast. And to anyone outside of my brain, they would likely agree.

I visited New York last week — totally free because I had a flight credit from having to cancel a trip to New Orleans to attend my cousin’s wedding. I booked the trip before I got my job. I told Yelp I was supposed to go to a wedding. They told me they couldn’t give me enough days off because I’m required to work weekends. So I canceled the trip and got a flight credit.

While in New York, I became acutely aware of how little there is for me where I currently live. There’s my dad, sure, but we hardly see each other despite how close I am now. The only friends I had made were coworkers, and they were all but blacklisted from talking to me. I feel completely detached from where I live. I used to live in a garbage area when I lived in LA, but even with all the break-ins, FBI raiding my apartment complex, murders, and other various crimes, I could still find something in the chaos and feel a warmth of attachment to it. Here, there’s not really any crime. It’s pretty quiet. I mean, I can hear the highway from my apartment, but I’m not hearing gunshots and screams throughout the night. But I also don’t feel any sort of warmth or attachment even though it’s quiet and safe. In New York, I saw how little I have, but I also saw how much I could have if I just put myself in the right spot. Poor in money, rich in life, etc.etc.

I’ve spent the past two months toying around with a lot of ideas. There have been a lot of different types of opportunity floating around my head and they’ve all got their unique pros and cons. I knew for sure I couldn’t stay in this spot, but I didn’t know where I could go, where I could get a job and feel like I fit. The former is a priority, but the latter is always a nice perk. I went on apartments.com, selected the whole of the United States, applied the appropriate filters and then sorted the listings from lowest to highest. I lightly wondered if South Dakota has a good comedy scene.

I started selling my things in weekend yard sales and baking cupcakes to sell, too. I paid my bills with that money. I wrote a piece for Fusion and did some odd gigs here and there. I paid my rent with that money.

To keep going like this isn’t a struggle to me. I mean, it is a struggle in the traditional sense, but it’s not as emotionally exhausting and draining and painful as what I was stuck in. Truthfully, and this is pretty self-indulgent, I kind of prefer the feeling of free falling to the rigidity of certainty. When I was working at Yelp, I knew all the details of every single day; I knew how much I’d be earning, which skills I could focus on developing every shift, the tiny steps I could take to create challenges in the work — I could easily see tomorrow and next week and next month and the redundant cycle of a conventional job.

They had a PowerPoint presentation on the customer support ladder from Trainee to Customer Support Representative to CS Agent to Lead to Manager…but there’s zero PowerPoint slides on the steps needed to advance from where I’m at right now. I don’t have a roadmap. And I like that. I like the pressure that comes with selling my stuff to have cash for bills, hitting “Publish” on a piece where I liken myself to Hitler or analyze the difference between pride and happiness without questioning whether it’s worth posting, critiquing my work based only on if it’s challenging my skills in a way I want to grow, being totally independent from “the grind” and having the freedom to push myself even harder because of it.

Before the letter, I was so afraid of losing things. My passion for writing, my job, a roof over my head. I was terrified every day like I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. When I lost my job because of that letter, I was faced with my biggest fear and, shockingly, it didn’t kill me. Instead, I became acutely aware of how empty fear is. My plan was to get a 9-t0–5 and pursue comedy and writing on the side. But as I settled into my apartment and the schedule of graveyard shift, my resources were drying up. There were zero safe roommate opportunities on the horizon and my job left me increasingly emotionally exhausted and afraid. I was in survival mode, swimming in fear-based adrenaline to keep grinding. I was pushing myself more and more to figure out how to make things work. I picked up shifts, worked every holiday from Halloween through New Year’s Day, sometimes for twelve days straight. I was pushing myself to make it work despite how many doors kept closing in front of me.

The morning of my letter, I was on the train coming home from work and I looked up part time jobs on Indeed. I wanted to figure out what type of part-time schedule would work best with my 11pm-7:30am Wednesday night through Monday morning schedule. But my phone was dying and I was tired so I decided to wait until after I got home and had some sleep. I was ready to completely sacrifice all of my dreams for the sake of getting by because the fear of not having enough to pay my bills had exhausted me into total submission.

But then I woke up, hungry and shaking and frustrated by how much harder things got the harder I tried to improve them. I realized the problem wasn’t what I needed to do to get things working for me, but how hard all my coworkers were working to get by and how screwed up it is that they had those second jobs and roommates or living at home and they were STILL struggling. They were showing me the path I’d be taking and the cons so far outweighed the pros that it was insane that this was the reality we have been forced into. It’s not their fault the housing market is destroying their lives. It’s not their fault they work for a billion dollar startup that pays their lowest tier employees the same minimum wage as any non-billion dollar non-startup in the city. It’s not their fault.

The possibility of losing my job or the chance of my rent check bouncing stopped being motivational fears and started being inevitabilities. I knew eventually, I’d have nothing to lose because I’d have nothing left, so I might as well shed a light on the struggle and go out swinging. I didn’t realize just how big a bomb this would be but once it exploded and my status quo was blown to smithereens, I stopped being afraid of the little grenades I’d been tip toeing around.

I mean, I lost my job and it totally obliterated my fear. I’m not afraid of putting all my chips on my passion instead of convention. I could wind up living in my car and I wouldn’t mind as long as I can write and pursue comedy. Losing my job or a roof over my head aren’t threats anymore. I know what it feels like to have my worst fear realized and it’s really not as bad as I expected.

I’ve done standup comedy — open mics, more specifically — only a handful of times. Each time, I was a nervous wreck to the point where I can’t even remember the sets because I was too focused on not making eye contact and finding a way to hide my shaking hands and quivering voice. I knew that I’d never felt more calm than the first time I had a microphone in my hand, but I also knew that my body was physically terrified. That fear kept me off the stage. It kept me convinced that I should just get a normal job and treat comedy like a dream.

Last week, I went to a showcase show just to meet other comics and tiptoe my way gently into “the scene.” I figured if I hung out with other comics, maybe it’d make me more comfortable with doing comedy. I introduced myself to the host. “Hey, I’m Talia. I’m super new to comedy and I just wanted to introduce myself!” He told me they were light on comics and asked if I wanted to do a short set. I said sure, but I’m certain there was no sureness in my voice. The shaking, the quivering, the memory blindness of my past stage experiences reminded me that I had no business saying sure. He told me I could do three minutes and I breathed a little easier, because you can survive an anxious meltdown if it’s just three minutes long.

I went up on stage and…my voice didn’t quiver. My hands didn’t shake. A drunk audience member joked about how my name is Talia but I’m not tall and I went par for par with him and regained control of the room without breaking a sweat. The host didn’t give me the light until five minutes. When I got off the stage, another comic asked me if I’d be in his show next week, and the host of the show I had just dropped into asked if I’d be in his next show, too. I said yes and made five dollars that night.

Then I flew to New York and practiced the sets I was going to do in those two shows. I was terrified. I thought maybe that show was a fluke because I didn’t see it coming. Maybe I’ll bomb every open mic I go to. Maybe I’ll bomb the two shows I’m supposed to be in. But for some reason, I didn’t. I had the rug ripped out from under me, all the fear I’d carried along with it, and instead of falling flat on my face, I learned to dance.

So I’ve decided to move. I got my tax returns back and it’s enough to book a room and a one-way ticket to New York, the city where I realized how little I had and how much I could have.

People are telling me it’s too fast. It’s too big of a decision to make. There’s no safety net, no certainty. And that’s exactly why I’m doing it.