If I had moved to New York City last fall as intended, you would surely be referring to me in the past tense today.
I wasn’t ready—mentally, financially or emotionally—to give up my chill yet scatterbrained and spiraling life in Panama to write and power-walk for a living in the City That Never Covers Its Mouth When It Sneezes. But that didn’t stop me from telling myself, my family and the world that they should deck the halls and bring forth their finest celebratory hams and splurge on the jackiest of pepper jacks for thy macaroni and cheeses and prepare to chicken like they’ve never chickened before when I touched down later that year, which was the best-possible move to make and was certainly for sure going to happen. Absolutely. Of course.
Nonstop mental s—t show be damned.
Last spring, when I realized that life in Panama wasn’t quite working for me the second time around, getting to New York City to “reeeally get my writing career going” became my North Star of sorts as things went to s—t and the self-care avoidance got out of hand.
And so it was decided: I shall relocate to New York in September.
Why September? It felt far-enough away for me to possibly, maybe, perhaps scrape it the f—k together enough to transition back stateside semigracefully, without having to swan-dive into a snake-filled pit of anxiety and worry and attacks of the panic variety in the process. In New York, I could do more than write for the Internet from afar.
I could have guacamole and Zimas with the people who edit and read and fund my work. I could teach and be stimulated, eat delicious french fries with homies old and new, and be on hand for random chicken-based outings. Living abroad, I missed 30th- and 40th-birthday bonanzas, broom jumpings, the births of many tiny humans and countless live-ass parties. I looked on Facebook one day, and somehow, my nieces were women. When the f—k did that happen?
In 2013, when I moved back to Panama, my mother’s homeland, after five months in New Orleans, things never really came together, professionally or financially, as they had the first time around. Within days of my initial arrival back in 2011, I had a handful of clients for my private business-English classes, thanks to some ads in La Prensa, aggressively distributed fliers and a robust word-of-mouth campaign. And that was when I wasn’t teaching my poppin’-ass, hippity-hop/salsa/dancehall/aerobic cardio-dance situation to groups of classy and exuberant-at-7-in-the-morning ladies in a handful of gyms and studios around Panama City.
After a while, I hired a handful of American and Canadian teachers and formed Panamerican Languages, specializing in helping Spanish-speaking professionals feel comfortable living, working and conducting business in English. My squad and I taught Copa Airlines pilots, Spanish architects at Acciona, Citibank and HSBC executives, bored housewives, and even the CEO of one of Panama’s biggest phone companies.
I choreographed, performed and taught workshops with a dance company and learned to instruct and direct in Spanish. I occasionally doubted my abilities throughout my Panamanian life at first, but since nearly dying from lupus a decade ago, I vowed never to let my fear trump my curiosity. Amid the trial and error, I made some lifelong friends and helped a few-dozen people on their journey to English fluency. S—t was lovely.
The second time around, nothing really stuck. My clientele didn’t blossom like before. I showed up to oft-regretted early-morning classes late, exhausted or unsober. I struggled to balance freelance writing and dazzling verbally for a living with being a dynamic, planning, focused teacher. I stopped dancing. Teaching became a chore and a source of misery. I gained weight. I just couldn’t make the magic happen again. After working way too hard and paying bills, I felt like I was starting from zero each month. The joy was missing the second time around. The passion had fizzled.
Thankfully, I picked up the phone one humid Panamanian July morning when s—t got really real and confessed, through sobs, to my parents, after assuring them daily for months that I was cool: “I’m not OK. I need to leave Panama.” I left two weeks later.
I was in bad shape when I arrived in Virginia from Panama in August 2014. Last November, I couldn’t see past the end of the week.
All I wanted was to feel “normal,” and not as if I were standing at the center of a 462-car pileup, engulfed in flames, as the sound of an Ashanti a cappella concert blared forever and ever from all 462 cars. The horror.
The clouds began to recede before Christmas when I karate-chopped an antidepressant dosage in half and could finally get up from the mud. Hello there, creativity. S—t, nigga, I forgot what you felt like. Welcome back, fool.
Some days it’s still hard to see the good in any of what I’m doing, but I am super damn glad to be here, alive and free to eat like hell and take risks and learn and leap and f—k up and flourish. Last November, I. Was. At. The. Motherf—king. Bottom and I struggled each damn day to feel. Something. Anything. I wanted more than anything to feel like myself and not like a worthless s—tbag, the Homeboys in Outer Space of humans.
After spending winter and spring getting my mind right in therapy, extracting myself from the mud and embracing all signs of emotional life, I needed más. One day during an exceptionally fruitful journaling moment in July, it hit me: I can’t take it no more. I have to get the f—k out of 1998.
And so, hours after my final therapy appointment, I leaped for my life and landed in New York this summer. This time: less planning, more uncertainties, more urgency. And more anxiety. My prior moves to New York, Los Angeles and Panama each followed about six months of strategizing and vivid dreaming. This time? I didn’t know what the f—k I was going to do, but New York struggle tops Virginia misery any day.
After a handful of visits, I officially relocated to New York at the end of July with a few suitcases, a duffle bag and a book bag full of dreams, ready for whatever the city had in store. I go back and forth about the wisdom of the decision, but I axed my two antidepressants a few days after arriving. Initially, during a dearth of self-care brought on by a small emotional valley, my daily dosages started slipping.
Soon, I stopped bothering altogether.
By then, I felt much better all around. Teleporting out of 1998 did wonders for moonwalking out of that valley. I was no longer log-rolling through the mud, though I often battled to decipher how much of this progress, like last fall’s abject f—ked-up-ness, was because of my own doing and daring and how much was drug-related. Thankfully, I went into this chemical romance knowing that it would be a short-term one.
Ultimately, I wanted to try New York on my own, without that chemical aid. I felt strong enough to take off the life jacket. And, well, I haven’t back-flipped into an oncoming D train, so I’d say I’m doing mighty motherf—king fantastic.
Shout-out to living and what-not.
This summer I taught a personal-essay and memoir writing workshop at the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center in Harlem. I hosted three literary showcases and no longer hate all of my creative output. Since landing in New York, I’ve written a trio of pieces for Courvoisier.com and just completed my first print assignment for Ebony, which was on my writerly bucket list. I curated and hosted both the Summer Edition of Colored Boy and Friends at the Bondfire Radio Audio Festival and, as part of Hispanic Heritage Month, an event at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, called Resisting Limitations: AfroLatin@s and Radical Identities.
I just got back from Chicago, where I taught a workshop called “Literary Therapy: Writing (for) Your Life” to grad students and admins in Adler University’s clinical mental-health graduate program. The next day, I taught a creative-writing workshop for some awesome girls at South Shore High School as part of Polished Pebbles’ after-school program. I ate as if my life depended on it, and I got to dance and sing for my life in the front row at the St. Damita Jo show.
It feels good to feel again.
It feels wonderful to have stimulation again, to be challenged and inspired to act, and to be overwhelmed with options.
S—t ain't all sunshine, sweet tea and cheese grits, but I’m grateful to be alive for the adventure. It feels dope as f—k to feel worthy and capable of the beautiful s—t that’s happening in my life right now.
What a difference a year makes.
Alexander Hardy is an Afro-Panamanian writer, foodie and teacher who divides his time between plotting meals; running his blog, the Colored Boy; and slinging words across internet land on sites like Gawker, Saint Heron and Very Smart Brothas, where he works as a senior writer. Follow him on Twitter.