After a couple weeks of relaxation in Uruguay, coming to terms with the fact that I’d be starting over once again in a new city, officially letting AUR know that I wouldn’t come back to teach in the spring, I climbed onto a plane six hours before the New Year. (With time differences, though, it’s hard to say exactly when my true New Year happened.) I landed in Washington, DC, in a sleepy haze, going through customs and then boarding a train to take me to Baltimore’s BWI airport. A last minute deal my mother had found for me on Expedia, now that I would be returning not to Rome but to London, with the (slightly unrealistic, as usual) hopes of hearing back about a job interview the minute I got back. I drank and read and talked with friends online as I waited for what felt like eternity until the evening finally came, and then I boarded another flight on the fabulous WOW airlines to Rejkjavik. Around five hours later we landed, and then I began the final leg of my journey.
And then, finally, I was back in London.
Climbing up the stairs to my new flat (which I’d technically had since December, when I’d made the impulsive decision of moving in with Stephanie and Kara when their flatmate moved out), unlocking the door, walking into my very own room, which was full at the moment with half of my things. The rest were in Rome, waiting for me.
It all seemed to happen so fast after that.
The day after I arrived, I got an email, from—ironically? aptly?—Expedia, saying they wanted to interview me for a PR position, one that required knowing Spanish. I forced myself to relax yet again another day, recovering both from my journey and preparing for the interview, and when I sat down the next morning during our phone call I felt so nervous as I spoke with the recruiter. I talked to him about my experience writing for Romeing Magazine in Rome, how it had surprised me so much, enjoying the act of creating something not only for myself but for someone else. I’d missed that kind of creative work. Teaching is creative, too, but I wanted to try something different, something new.
“Listen,” he said to me at the end, “I don’t really think you know much about PR, but a lot of things you said resonated with me and with our company. Do you think we could interview you again next Monday?”
I was thrilled. It felt like such cause for celebration. I’d applied to almost a hundred jobs at this point, and hadn’t heard from anyone, but it turned out many of my friends, and my parents, too, had been right—no one was going to get back to me during the Christmas holiday. They just weren’t. Friday I got another message from a travel books publisher saying I was just perfect for them, that they wanted me to come in immediately—so we set up a time for me to come in on Monday. Now I’d have two interviews just a week after arriving in London. I felt so affirmed in my decision to move there, and every day felt full of promise. One night, Kara told us about some friends she’d made at a pub, who were going to a comedy night (The Freedom Fridge), and I ended up performing, totally unexpectedly, and getting a slot schedule for the next week, too.
I started to research open mics near me. There were so many, because I had the luck of living in Kentish Town, just twenty minutes walking distance from Camden, one of London’s musical center. It was more a matter of being selective, not of having to scrounge the internet to find a place to perform. Everything felt right. It was all going how exactly how it was supposed to. Moving to London—it was the right thing for me.
But then it happened, as it does anytime you move somewhere new: culture shock. Well, maybe not exactly culture shock, as England is more like the United States than the last two places I’ve lived, but more like emotional displacement. I was living with friends, sure; I was interviewing for jobs, sure (though neither of them had worked out, with Expedia being the winner in telling me I was ‘too creative’ for the position); I was playing my music at open mics, sure. But sometimes at night I wondered if I’d done the right thing, and it was hard for me to believe that I had moved yet again to another city. And the fear of not having a job yet, spending the majority of my savings on pricey London rent, started to eat away at me slowly. I’d had this whole plan, where I’d write songs and learn new ones and apply for jobs without worrying about if I got them or not, all the while managing to explore London and live a rich life.
But before I knew it, I couldn’t even apply for a job without a side of a beer with my coffee. I managed to get interviews, about two a week, but I wasn’t getting an offers. When it came to writing new music, I felt so stuck. I’d play and play and nothing sounded right. Sometimes, little beautiful moments would glimmer in the dark, like when Stephanie and I forgot about our worries for a moment and shared a laugh (she’d lost her job and was hunting too), or like when I talked to musicians at one of my favorite open mics in London, Redrock Jam, making new friends and bonding about the power of music.
But it was getting dark early those days, around 4 or 5pm, and that made it even harder when it was impossible for me, mostly because of drinking but also because of the state I was in, to get out of bed before 11am. I knew I had to believe that something would work out—that was the only way it would. How could I do that when each day I felt more scared, anxious, depressed?
I knew I had to fight it. That was the only way I’d get out of the mood that was taking over my life and fight long enough that I’d get what I wanted. But luckily, I had a couple trips planned to Rome in January, to go back to get what was left of my things—and to see my friends. I know I rushed through it because I was so behind in my blog, but in Rome, that was where I learned to be happy with my own life again, and to share that happiness with others. To treat myself to the sunshine and long walks on the cobbled streets, to drink an aperol spritz after work and go to the center to listen to some music at an open mic. And then I made a group of friends, all musicians and writers, and when one of them moved into an apartment with a terrace, we made it all our communal home. We’d spend days in a row there drinking and talking, of music and philosophy and the challenges of life in your twenties and thirties—our ages spanning from 20 to 34—and formed bonds that will last forever. At the end of 2016, many of us chose to make 2017 the year when we went forward with life, moving to new places, working on making our dreams come true, knowing that this group of people would always be there with us, cheering us on.
The Terrace, we called it, that place where Glenn and Brian lived and where many of us spent nights sleeping on the pull-out couch, in Glenn’s bed, on the reclining chair. So when I got back on a Friday night, boarded the bus to Termini, then made that walk I always make to The Terrace, stopping by the shop nearby to pick up some Peroni beers and crisps/chips, it felt like coming back home. I was getting sick, had been coughing myself to sleep every night, but it didn’t matter—I still wanted to stay up all night with my friends. So it was one of our chill nights, with Gabby cooking caccio e peppe, Jordan rushing off to buy alcohol before the shops closed, all of us catching up. I was stressed about the job search, and so were Jordan and Glenn, so we talked about that a bit before reassuring each other that soon we’d all find what we were looking for. A Skype call to Kacy, one of our group who had left for the US after she’d run out of money and time on her tourist visa, and then a few people went to The Yellow—and if it gives you any idea of how ill I was, I chose not to go.
(My poor friends who did spend the night in the living room had to suffer my never-ending coughing, poor things.)
The next day was spent taking taxis back and forth between my old place on Gianicolo Hill and The Terrace, moving my things out of my old place, leaving the key on the bedside table for my landlord to pick up later. It cemented the move even more for me, as I sat on the floor of the Terrace choosing what I wanted to keep and what I wanted to give away, keeping only a fourth of my things and giving the rest away to friends or the refugee center nearby. That night we stayed up again, talking and drinking, and there was nostalgia in the air that would only grow with time, as each of us left one by one, and Rome became less in my heart a home but a place I used to live. The weekend ended with me getting drunk, much drunker than expected, and heading off to San Belushi’s Sunday night open mic and singing and dancing with everyone. The next day, hungover, I took a couple giant bags, and so did Rikki, one of us who was leaving Rome too, heading back to Hull (in England, for the American readers) before she figured out what she wanted to do after having quit her terrible teaching job in Rome.
We flew together, our bags packed for the move, and then parted ways upon arriving at Standsted Airport. I boarded the train, then a taxi—the bag full of only books was much too heavy for the tube, with the electric guitar over my shoulder too—and exhausted arrived home, cleaning up a bit because a guy was supposed to come over. (I wrote a song about him, called ‘The Best Sex I’ve Ever Had,’ so check it out here!) But then he was an asshole at the last minute, which I had completely expected but hopelessly hoped would not happen, and I rescinded my invitation. It was so much easier to get laid in London when I wasn’t living there. It’s always easier to get laid when you’re traveling. When you’re at home, there’s something that feels pathetic and lonely about swiping through tinder; when you’re traveling, it’s an app that leads to adventure.
I found myself missing Rome desperately after my visit there, and it was hard to remember why I’d moved to London upon arriving. The days were dark, Stephanie and I spent them applying for jobs at the nearby pub the Camden’s Daughter, and even when I got interviews I always came away from them feeling like I still wasn’t good enough. But when the nights came my spirits would lift, as I sang at music and comedy open mics, and made new friends. Friends visiting London—David, one of my oldest and dearest friends from my time abroad, who is one of the fundamental reasons I’m a musician now—made it easier too, and it was with him, along with Kara and Stephanie (we had time, we were all unemployed, us ladies of Rosemary House), that we went off to the Women’s March to protest Trump in central London.
It was being outside in the cold, and the heat suddenly no longer working in our apartment, and the endless cold and rain and my staying out late far too often, that led to my darkest period in London. I got so ill I couldn’t do anything anymore—couldn’t apply for jobs, couldn’t write, couldn’t sing, couldn’t go out. I found myself sinking deeper into that depression and anxiety that’s so natural when you’re unemployed and an artist. It always felt like I was starting over, in this city, like whatever I did was building toward something, but I didn’t know if I’d be successful. What if it had been a mistake, after all?
It was with this attitude that I returned to Rome again, for my second visit of the month, but it’s so easy to let go of problems when you’re traveling and surrounded by friends. I was finally starting to feel better, after pressing my face to a hot water bottle for five days straight to battle the freezing conditions of our flat, and it was going to be my last visit to Rome (or so I thought) before Glenn and Brian moved out of the Terrace, onto greater and bigger things in their lives, things greater and bigger, but perhaps not as beautiful, as what Italian life could provide them. So I showed up late at night, as always, with crisps/chips and bottles of beer, and we sat at the table eating pizza. I was feeling good that weekend—after a bunch of failed interviews, suddenly some jobs I was actually interested in, creative writing jobs, were emailing me to ask me to come in; another job I thought I’d totally fucked up the interview for had asked me to come in the following week for a second interview.
I suddenly felt free, I don’t know how it happened, but I did. Maybe it was just that almost a month in London had finally gone by, and I was finally beginning to accept my London life. I wasn’t guilting myself anymore for not applying for enough jobs or not writing enough songs, and now they were suddenly happening. I made up my mind: if I didn’t have the kind of job I really wanted by the time I got back from New York mid-February, then I’d just suck it up and start working at a cafe or a pub, just like Kara and Stephanie were now that they’d faced rejection after rejection for jobs they really wanted. Making this choice meant that I wouldn’t feel so guilty enjoying my time in Rome, going for long walks in one of the most beautiful cities of the world, spending maybe a little too much on my credit card to have a good time this last time with a group of people I wouldn’t see again for a while, for months or even maybe years. And when I got back to London, I went to open mics as much as I could, stayed up at every pub until closing.
Because soon, I told myself, I’d have a job, and I wouldn’t have this period of unemployment that, though full of anxiety, is also full of time to do the things you want to do.
So upon returning to London I began to open up even more, becoming friends with the hosts of the open mic Redrock Jam, Aimee and D, and the guy who hosts the Freedom Fridge comedy night, Andy. I met up often with my cousin and her husband, who after over a year of living here had found a life that suited them; I Skyped with my friends and family back home—after all, all I had was time. For those who are interested in the whole Jim situation, yes, we met up a couple of times, but it doesn’t seem like anything that’s going anywhere, other than the fact that if he actually writes the autobiographical novel he wants to write (I told him he should call it ‘Tales of a Privileged White Male,’ which he did not much appreciate), I’ll be a featured character*. Interviews started to happen once a week, way more than before, after I buckled down after getting over my illness and refocusing my job search on the jobs I only really, really wanted.
And then, suddenly, it was mid-February, and I was hungover from a night of drinking and suffering from a UTI I’d gotten from one of my random tinder dates that seem to never fruition into anything other than UTIs—and I was on my way to the airport. The plan was this: suffer the flight in my sickness and pain; sleep as much as I could if that was possible; land; get through immigration and take the train to Manhattan; get the keys to my friend’s flat from my other friend; take the subway down to Brooklyn; take a nap; take a shower; change into my nicest clothes and do my makeup best as I could to hide the bags under my eyes; head back into Manhattan to Columbia University, where I’d meet with agents all night hoping to find a novel from a promising author who had attended (or was attending) Columbia’s MFA in writing program.
Maybe it seems exhausting. But maybe it’s not like I’ve done crazy journeys like that before. And this journey—it was me chasing a dream, one of my many dreams, and however hard life was at the time, I wouldn’t trade it for anything else. Because the struggle means that you’re fighting for something you really care about, something you really want. And as I boarded that plane, and encountered one of those great fortunes of travel—a four-seat row all to myself, which meant I could sleep as much as I wanted once the sleeping pill set in—I knew that there was more fortune that would come my way soon. I didn’t know what kind of fortune, but it didn’t matter.
All that mattered was that I had moved to London, because it was a place full of opportunity, and soon that opportunity would appear, manifested in forms both wished for and unexpected.
*The title of this post is something he said to me in December, when it was officially happening and we were clinking glasses at the beginning of a night of drinking that would end in sex: “Welcome to London.”