New York, New York.
it’s a Helluva Town
Eight years ago I moved to New York. After about two weeks of living there, I vowed I’d never leave. It was my happy place. Every day was thrilling, exhausting and electrifying. There’s a hustle in New York that I haven’t found anywhere else in the world. Everyone moves there to be the best at something. Nobody moves to New York to chill at a mediocre job. You move there to excel. I believe that, with every fiber of my being. So 18 year-old Emily had a hard time watching 26 year-old Emily return to New York as a visitor, staying in a hotel, and leaving with all of the other weekend tourists, on a Sunday evening. Why had I left? Did I no longer want to excel? Why did I “give up” on being the best?
To be perfectly honest, in college I read about five different articles about why people fled New York, and how it didn’t make them weak, it made them stronger. “Yeah yeah yeah” I thought, as I silently judged those who “couldn’t make it work.” After graduation, I watched classmates and friends leave the city, and I felt sad, but mostly perplexed. Why would they ever leave? New York was the greatest city in the world.
Fast forward to seven years later, and guess who couldn’t wait to pack up her boxes and leave the concrete jungle? This lil’ lady right here. I’d found God, in the form of a European lifestyle, and booked a one way ticket out. I moved my belongings into storage, and prepared to sever all ties with the place that shaped everything I knew about adulthood.
It wasn’t until a few months ago, that I thought about returning to New York, to get a taste of the hustle that I missed. I’d be visiting the United States, and it seemed downright wrong to leave out a few days with friends in the Big Apple. The excitement of revisiting the city flooded me with energy, but that energy quickly gave way to one big concern. I was now the girl who left. I was the girl who “couldn’t make it.” The girl who “gave up” on the broadway dream. How was I supposed to return to the city I’d abandoned and walk the streets with the same confidence I’d had at 18? When did my desire to be the “best” disappear?
“How was I supposed to return to the city I’d abandoned and walk the streets with the same confidence I’d had at 18?”
(hint: you can’t phone a friend)
These fears are real y’all. Friday night, as I sat in the audience of “Come From Away” on broadway with my family, pesky little water droplets started clouding my eyes as the show began. I was sad. 18 year-old Emily was back, not understanding why I’d left the city where broadway show tickets land in your lap at the perfect time, and actors pore their hearts out, no matter how much you pay for the seat. Well, the actors in “Come From Away” were outstanding, and I left the theatre moved, appreciative, and… still sad.
The next morning, after a quick run and breakfast with my family, I set out for my first of four dates with old friends. I was overjoyed to meet a few of my best amigos in Brooklyn, after quite some time, and hunker down on their living room couch to catch up on life. It was a lively conversation about everything from subway stops to visas, and it felt like I’d never left. The subsequent friend dates went the same way. There was so much to catch up on, from both sides, and we had nothing but curiosity and admiration for one another. Nobody asked why I’d left. Nobody asked why I’d “given up.” And nobody asked why I “couldn’t make it work.” In fact, everyone commented on how happy I seemed.
You’d think I’d have picked up on this a bit sooner, but it wasn’t until a walk in central park the next morning with a good friend, that I finally “got it.” Everybody moves to New York with a desire to be the best. I also moved to New York to be the best. But New York is not where I am best.
This city, brimming with opportunity and bursting with energy, stifled what makes me best. I have a never-ending desire to stay excited about life. I went into theater because it’s where I could explore emotions, and make something “exciting” happen from a piece of paper with notes and words. I moved to New York because, duh, where else is theater (and life in general) more exciting than Nueva York?
“somewhere during my 3,567th shift at my restaurant job, the excitement was 86’d”
But like any young, aspiring actress, I had to have a job to facilitate the dream. Lucky for me, I worked my way up at a great restaurant, with mostly decent people, and enjoyed my work environment the most that one can “enjoy” running brussels sprouts to a demanding two-year-old. The job paid my rent, and allowed me to make 99.9% of the auditions I wanted to attend. I had agents who were wonderful people, and they marketed me the best way they knew how. And it even led to some great gigs. I was doing everything I possibly could to live out the “exciting” life of a New York actress. But somewhere during my 3,567th shift at my restaurant job, the excitement was 86’d. I was exhausted. Of course I wanted to be the best performer, the best restaurant manager, the best voiceover actor, the best dog sitter, the best friend, blah blah blah blah that I could be. But it wasn’t happening. The best version of Emily Claire Hughes was lost.
Enter above agents scoring me a job in Europe, and that’s where this story changes. Of course, as with any new gig, I was filled with a sense of excitement again. The job wasn’t broadway, but it was professional, diverse, and, drumroll please, it was exciting. Waking up in Hamburg was exciting, even when I knew I’d spend the next seven hours being tormented by a scary Ukranian choreographer. I started learning a new language, which always stimulates the good ol’ brain cells, and my life in New York started to seem like a weird, distant memory. Also worth mentioning, life was so. much. cheaper. in Europe. I had ONE job! I could travel to a different country every month, including a weekend trip to Paris! I had a work-life balance! (ok, ok, before the cruise ship…) These little things, are BIG things for me. Big things that didn’t work for me in New York. And Lord knows I tried to be Tim Gunn and “make it work.” *See Note*
“When you leave New York, you are astonished at how clean the rest of the world is. Clean is not enough.”
So I made the decision to follow my happiness, I guess you’d say. The best version of Emily Claire Hughes started showing herself again in Hamburg, Germany. Wow, did I miss that girl. She’s currently taking her time to fully develop (again) in Portugal, but she’s assured me of one thing. She’s really freakin’ excited about life. She’s the best “me” I can be, and she’s made it very clear that she does not want to live in New York. But she sure does enjoy visiting.
I originally wanted to say thank you to New York, for shattering my insecurities within 24 hours of arriving. But I owe it to the people, not the concrete jungle. “Thank You” for being the hardest working people I know, and committing to the hustle, in your quest to thrive in the theater world, and beyond. And “Thank You” for welcoming me back with open arms.
It’s electric to be back in the hustle for a few days. But now it’s time to go home. And that is exciting.
*Notey Mc Note Face *
They didn’t work for me in New York, but they are certainly working for others. I think the reason I was able to have such positive conversations with my old friends in New York, is because they also moved there to succeed. Success happened to take us in very different directions, but the excitement of the journey is palpable for us all.