I’m back home in the Midwest for the holidays, and as the year wraps up, I keep thinking back on how absolutely insane this year has been.
A snowy (and cold!) afternoon in Nebraska
2022 was a shitshow. A beautiful, creative, motivating, exhausting, challenging, anxiety inducing shitshow. For every moment where I felt like I knew what I was doing, there were at least 20 moments where I was taking steps based solely on a mix of blind faith and gut instinct. I suppose that’s life- lots of opposing forces and emotions all wrapped up in one big experiment.
2022 started with me moving to New York, to do the Teaching Artist Training Program with Mark Morris Dance Group. If you’ve never moved to New York on a budget, it’s not for the faint of heart. It’s a host of logistical challenges and lots of anxiety, mixed with the feeling like you might vomit any second because it’s all too damn stressful.
To make things more interesting, two weeks before I was set to leave, I sprained my right MCL while attempting to figure skate (not my finest hour), and developed a cyst on my hand 24 hours after the accident. Basically, as I prepped to move across the country (for a program at a dance company, nonetheless), I had one defunct leg and one alien hand. #winning
As all of this happened, I was also working my “day job that pays the bills,” as a remote admin assistant for a travel agency. As I quickly found out, 2022 was a bad year to work in the travel sector. Everything was behind and over budget, everyone suddenly wanted to travel at once, and no one was really able to keep up with the demand. For context, my day job is normally very manageable: I work with nice people, I have a fantastic boss, and it’s smooth sailing overall. Then 2022 happened, and seemingly overnight, that job became a nightmare. I remember very clearly working the admin job the day before I left for New York, because that day involved getting screamed at by a customer over the phone for something way beyond my control. That incident sums up how the next 6 months went at that job: every day, a new fire, or sometimes multiple new fires, constantly, with no let up. I felt like no matter what I did, I was failing. Every single day, failing. And that it didn’t matter what I did, or how hard I worked, because the fires weren’t going to stop coming. And try as I could to compartmentalize that part of my day, the constant chaos and sense of failure quickly wore me down.
Then, there was adjusting to New York. Of all the advice I was given leading up to this move, one thing stood out because of how many people kept saying it: the first six months in New York will likely suck. They could not have been more right. Moving to New York, especially after living in a cute tiny Midwest town for most of 2021, was like moving to a foreign country. There’s the noise, the constant car horns, the grime, the fast pace, the rats in the subway, the random sirens at 3am, the realization that it’s going to take you an hour to get somewhere that’s literally only 7 miles away, not to mention the loneliness of realizing you’re far away from everything and everyone you know. It’s an all-out assault on the senses, especially in the beginning. Don’t get me wrong: there were lots of good things too. I am lucky to have a great landlord and nice roommates, a job to pay the bills, and the Mark Morris program and creative outlets. And still, with all of those good things, I kept finding myself thinking “What the f#&k am I doing here?”
All of this was happening as I was doing the Mark Morris program. To be clear: I LOVED the Teaching Artist Training Program, and am planning a separate blog post to delve into how amazing it is! But looking back, I’m not sure how I did the program, did the admin job, adjusted to New York, and made it all look like I was holding it together. The truth was, I was barely holding it together most of the time.
Somehow, the Mark Morris program went well, I survived peak travel season at the admin job, and had enough fuel in the tank to choreograph O Zittre Nicht and put that into the YouTube universe. But by the end of June, I was spent. I remember breaking down in tears when a possible performance opportunity popped up for July, because if I took it, it meant I couldn’t take a break. And I needed a break.
I ended up spending the last half of the summer at my parent’s house, working remotely from Nebraska, trying to get back to some sense of normalcy. If you listen to Dr. Brene Brown’s Unlocking Us podcast, you probably remember the episode she did right after she came back from her summer sabbatical? The one where she talks about her initial expectation for how the sabbatical would go vs. what actually happened? In her mind, she was going to figure all of her shit out, come back refreshed, and everything would be great. In reality, her sabbatical was her realizing just how burnt out she was, and that she desperately needed to unpack a lot of shit and figure out where to go from there. Let’s just say, Dr. Brown’s experiences hit real close to home.
When I went back to New York in August, I was still pretty wiped out – not really refreshed, definitely still exhausted, mostly still trying to figure out my next steps. But I did have one small ounce of clarity: I knew I wasn’t done with New York – but if I was going to stay in New York, I needed to cultivate a life and a pace that both challenged me without running me into the ground. I couldn’t run the same race that every other performer was trying to run and still be ok. I had to run at my own pace.
So, slowly but surely, I started to put one foot in front of the other, on my own terms.
I said no to a church job opportunity, because not having one meant I could count on at least one full day off a week.
Every two weeks or so, I started taking day trips on said day off to go hiking in the Hudson Valley, to get a reprieve from the chaos of the city. I loved these short day trips, and quickly realized some of my best ideas came to me during those long hikes.
Instead of taking every single possible dance class I could at Mark Morris, I backed off and only took a few select classes a week, so I didn’t run my body into the ground.
I started doing morning walks in Prospect Park, and committing to a more regular yoga practice (which went to the wayside in the first part of 2022). Just like the hikes, I quickly realized walking allowed me to work through almost any problem I was having.
I decided not to do the YAP (young artist program) opera audition circuit – instead, I focused on the repertoire I really wanted to work on, and focused on singing really well. Once I was at a really good point, I made recordings of rep I loved, and sought out opportunities I was truly interested in pursuing.
I started getting opportunities to perform, met more people doing the artist hustle like me, and started to slowly realize that it was possible to live in New York, be introverted, and also make friends.
In short: I took stock of what I really wanted, and in doing so, gave myself more of what I needed.
I’m not where I’d like to be yet. But, I am ending 2022 in a much better place than when the year started.
Photo: Christopher Boudewyns
So, what’s next?
I am interning with Alexandra Beller of Alexandra Beller/Dances, taking class from Alexandra Beller, getting feedback on my choreographic work, and being challenged artistically and technically in the best of ways. I’m grateful for Alexandra’s guidance and mentorship, and I get to continue that internship into 2023.
I am an Assistant Teaching Artist at the Mark Morris Dance Center, assisting in a few classes a week. So, I get to be a part of the Mark Morris community without taking on way too much at once. I’m grateful to have found a creative home outside of the traditional opera world where I can fuse all of my many interests together, and keep learning and growing.
I am also singing rep I once though would never be possible for me to do, which has been really exciting! I cannot yet tell you where all my opera/dance shenanigans will take me in 2023, but I think it’s going to be an adventure. :)
Thanks to Pilates, PT, and good doctors, I now have two functional legs and no alien hand! Ultimately, the injuries forced me to slow down, listen to my body, and take things one step at a time. I’m very grateful for the body I’m blessed to have, with all its abilities and quirks.
New York has slowly started to grow on me, and the longer I stay, I find myself falling a bit more in love with its unique energy and charm, in ways I did not expect. When the city starts to get overwhelming, I remind myself that this is an adventure I may never get another chance to pursue. I like to use what I’ve dubbed my “old lady on her deathbed” test in those moments: when I’m an old lady on her deathbed, will I be glad I’m doing what I’m doing right now? What would old lady Melanie tell her younger self in that moment? That always puts a lot into perspective, and usually guides me well.
Best of all: I get to end the year spending time with family and friends in Nebraska. Above all else, I’m grateful for them, and for the unconditional love and support we have. No matter what happens on this New York/dance/opera adventure, I know I can always come home.
I’m so grateful for the wonderful things that have come my way this year. It’s slow going with lots of bumps and twists, but I’m beginning to carve a creative path that feels real and authentic, and showcases my unique self in all my weird and wacky ways.
I’ll be back in New York in January. But for now, it’s time to unplug and spend quality time celebrating the holidays with those I love most.
If you’re reading this, I hope you have a wonderful, restful, and fulfilling holiday season.
Here’s to a wonderful, restful, and fulfilling 2023!