Pushing Past the Pages
Our personal journeys to “the next big thing” are often twisted, confusing, obscure and downright daunting. I met my friend Jordan when I was on one of these journeys while in between college and making moves out west. She too was on the verge of figuring out her next big leap, though for her, this leap would be to New York City. We were both in Baltimore at the time, and built a friendship on learning to find faith in our own creative abilities, following our individual paths to the beat of our own inner heart shaped drums, and trusting what then felt like a long and arduous process. Jordan has remained one of my greatest friends that often reminds me to listen deeply to what feels right internally, to stay truer than true, and heck: why not laugh a little along the way?
I greatly admire Jordan for so honestly digging deep and confronting some hard & heavy stuff here: Identity. Purpose. An absence of creative productivity. Insecurities. Uncertainties. Utmost realness.
In reading this, I hope you too can shine a light on these things from a new angle as it has inspired me to. -emidobz
I moved to New York five years ago to be a ~*writer*~.
Lucky for me, I had a tangible way of living my dream right away, which means I possessed the only thing that affords a type of magical ego-protecting buffer when landing in this city: I had a purpose.
Two weeks after moving and a year after graduating from my undergraduate program, I started attending a Master of Fine Arts program at The New School, where I blissfully studied Creative Writing with a concentration in Fiction for the following two years. I felt fucking awesome. I had just moved to New York (granted hometown Baltimore wasn’t that far) and was living THE DREAM.
During those two years, I attended writing seminars and workshops lead by amazing writers, received validating feedback about my work from my peers and professors, and met famous authors whom I looked in the eye and assumed a sort of vocational kinship with, imagining them encouraging my initiation into this holy creative community in the best city on Earth. I was in my early twenties with very little “real world” experience, and the sudden self-importance I felt was a pleasant shock: I was a writer, for real. Every day I suited up and experienced life through this identity, always keeping it extra close in any social situation that threatened to intimidate or challenge me, ready to wield it like the insecurity silencing weapon it was for me, for some time.
I don’t think I was alone in this reaction - reflecting back on it now, I see it not only as an obvious expression of immaturity from someone in their shaky early twenties, but also a very New York response to identity: this is who I am because this is what I DO. This is my WORK here. This is my PURPOSE.
So, what happened next? Why does this all sound so foreboding? Well, what happened next was indeed very devastating: I graduated. I actually handed in my final thesis two months late after being granted an extension; I wanted to take all the time I needed to revise and perfect my work. (A.K.A., I was terrified to leave the security of those institution walls and the purpose they had given me.)
After graduating, I entered the limbo zone, but I was defiant. I dug in my heels, friction on that tough NY pavement, and was determined to ride the wave of creative momentum the writing program had given me. I had a rough idea of the collection of short stories I wanted to write. I could visualize the final physical copy emblazoned with the title I had already chosen with artful care. The tangibility of the final creation was paramount. This thing needed to exist, and it needed to exist soon if I were going to continue to exist in this city. It was my lifeline. It was the bedrock of my identity here, my only perceived relation and relevance to the inspiring people around me.
Three and a half years later now, still no book. I don’t even have one particular story I feel proud of, that represents me and my vision accurately. I know any wise old fiction writer would laugh at me like WELCOME TO THE LIFE, THIS IS IT! But it has been a perplexing ride. I smile now thinking about it all because I can finally understand and appreciate the subtle, transformational, arguably more important gifts this strange time has given me. Namely, you aren’t who you think you are. You are more. Identity boxes hamper life and creativity, and like our Buddhist buddies suggest, pay attention to your attachments - the harder you cling to something, the more likely the removal of it will lead to your own greater personal growth.
I’m not giving up on writing...far from it. I just have a healthier relationship with it now. I don’t need it to define me, but I want it to express myself. I can see now that my only true roadblock is discipline (duh), but I’m thankful for this absence in creative productivity because it laid my insecurities bare, and only then could I actually see them and ask them to leave. They are terrible lingering guests, but the more I flash the blinding light of my attention on them, the less room they have to hide.
There are a lot of things I want my generation (and self) to rethink and do better. One of those things is this need to perform our value, in order to prove it even exists in the first place. Get up outta here with that hullaballoo. YOU ARE MORE THAN WHAT YOU DO. -Jordan Dependahl