Finding Happy Things In Unhappy Places

Most people think you’ve already made it when you move to New York City. “New YAWK!” they would exclaim when I returned home to North Carolina for the first time since my move. “Don’t you just looove it?” people would coo before offering up their own favorite part of the city, which usually included a department store trip or a Broadway show or some “cute little restaurant” in Soho. “Best city in the world!” I’d nod with gritted teeth. I didn’t just love it. And I wasn’t going to Soho for anything, ever. Because in 2008, my New York City revolved around a miserable job, an isolated apartment on the Upper East Side (that might as well have been in New Jersey) and a $5 a day spending cap for food. Which is totally doable, as long as you like ramen noodles and hot dogs.

I graduated college in 2007 with little-to-nothing figured out about my life. Aside from waiting tables, my only work experience was a short gig as an intern for a local indie record label my sophomore year. My bosses there were dudely dudes who wore jeans and holey shirts and cursed like truckers and listened to CDs on hi-fi speakers all day long. SWEET, I thought. Best job ever. Where do I sign up to do this for real? I spent my post-grad summer working on the Warped Tour with a non-profit that was based out of Colorado, and walked away feeling totally convinced that the music biz was for me. The Warped Tour was like summer camp for grown-ups. The industry itself was not.

The non-profit couldn’t afford to make me full-time, but I ended up spending a year in Denver anyways with two emotionally unstable roommates and a job in fine dining. It was admittedly, not awesome, save for a few really solid friends that kept me afloat during some super dark times — like when I left the looney bin and lived out of my car for a week while I was looking for a place of my own. “True Life: Everything I Own Is In This Xterra.” Dark times, my friends. If you’re wondering where this is all going and how I ended up in New York, I swear I’m getting there. Besides, this is the long-story-short version anyways.

Long-story-short, while I was goofing off in Denver, I met a guy that lived outside Manhattan and we dated long-distance for about 4 months before I decided to move back home, save up some money and start my “adult” life in the Big Apple. Nothing had really clicked for me in Colorado, so I figured it was time to get my rear in gear and pursue the music biz for real.

Flash forward to ramen and hot dogs. Let’s call this chapter of my life, “When It Rains, It Pours.” Here are some things nobody told me about moving to New York:

#1. The Upper East Side is not Gossip Girl: I lived with a friend from college on East 83rd between York and East End, which is basically IN the East River. It took me 20 minutes to walk to the nearest subway and another 30 to get to my office in Chelsea. There were lots of strollers and old people. Fancy parties and pretty dresses for me to wear? Not so much.

#2: Being able to wear jeans to work does not a fun job make: Within two weeks of arriving in the city, I scored an admin job at a music booking agency. (On Craigslist. I found my job on Craigslist, which should have been a red flag, but HELLO! I had a salary for the first time in my life.) I typically worked 10-hour days, dealt mostly with the minutia of artist contracts and Staples orders and got yelled at a lot.

#3: NEVER TRUST BOYS: Just kidding. But I did go through a horrific break-up with my long-distance dude four months into my new life, and what no one bothered to tell me was that New York, especially during the winter, can be a very lonely place.

I cried and I cried and I cried and then I cried some more when we split. For months. On the way to work, at work, during my lunch break, to my co-workers, on the LONG trip home from work. You get the gist. I was full-on blindsided by the break-up and pretty much just shut down completely. When I wasn’t crying, I was drinking. When I wasn’t drinking, I was crying myself to sleep.

I wore the same hooded sweatshirt (see above) and knee-high rain boots to the office 3 days in a row one time. Showering? Forget it. Ain’t nobody with a broken heart got time for that. My sadness was translating directly to my appearance, and it was not pretty. I wasn’t taking care of myself, and instead of trying to take pride in the one thing I could easily improve (me), I got stuck in the mindset that everything was just always going to be bad forever. Years later, a former co-worker at the booking agency would tell me that he begged our boss to let me go because I was SUCH a bummer and seriously like, no help at all. I’m sure I probably smelled too, but he was kind enough to leave that part out.

Then one day, it stopped hurting so much. And the next day, it hurt a smidge less than the day before. And then on a warm spring night, Parry got her groove back with a little help from her friends. I showered, put on make-up, cut my hair, got my nails did and made the DJ at the club play “Single Ladies” ad nauseum. Which seems like SUCH a cliche, but honestly, feeling pretty for a few hours for the first time in months really helped me turn things around. I was all like, I AM WOMAN, HEAR ME ROAR IN THESE FIERCE NEW SHOES! My parents floated me some money so I could join a gym and I decided to save my sweatshirts for the couch. (Side note: No one is more excited than me about sweatshirts now being “stylish.”) I started pinching pennies for cheap, healthy food instead of heading straight for the street meat. My friends and family provided support when sad memories crept back in, the gym relieved my anxiety, if even only for an hour and the makeup (and more frequent showers) really helped me feel good when I walked out the door. It helped me feel comfortable in my own skin again and would eventually turn into *GASP* full-blown confidence.

But guess what? My job still sucked. The atmosphere was super-negative and the work was incredibly tedious. Then, two years after moving to New York, I had an epiphany. An epiphany that I don’t think would have happened if I hadn’t started taking pride in myself and rebuilding my confidence in ME. It sounds SO cheese-tastic, but I swear its the truth. I decided it was time to make a change and that I was going to finally try to make a career out of something I’d once only considered a hobby: writing. At 26, I quit my job in music, took an editorial internship with Rolling Stone, started writing album reviews for free at another indie music mag on the side and spent 6 months babysitting 30 hours a week to pay my bills. Truth be told, starting over like that with a bunch of 22-year-olds nipping at my heels was a major blow to my ego. But since I’d spent the last two years rebuilding my ego, it was prepared to take a little abuse. (FYI: Babysitting is a pretty cushy way to make cash if you can handle boogers and tantrums and diapers.)

The payoff from my internship was almost immediate.The contacts I made there helped hook me up with freelance gigs, and before I knew it, I was contributing to places like New York Magazine, Us Weekly, iVillage and (duh) HelloGiggles. For another two years, I scraped by as a full-time freelancer: I wrote and I fact-checked and I researched and I said yes to every opportunity I was given, no matter how small the paycheck. And it felt good. And I felt good. And now, less than a month away from my 29th birthday, I’m in my fourth week as the new Associate Editor for MTV Style. And it still feels good. I’ve got a ways to go and its not perfect, but I finally feel like I’m on the right track. And it will always pour when it rains, as far as I’m concerned, but I’ve learned (sometimes the hard way), that at least I know now to carry an umbrella (ella ella ey ey ey).

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