29 January 2014, 10:11
Sometimes, being an international playgirl sucks. Sure, you’re constantly meeting new people, having wild adventures, and challenging your own comfort zone, but it’s not all triumph and passport stamps! When you pause for a second, sometimes an overwhelming feeling of sadness and loneliness can sock you right in the guts.
Below is an excerpt of an email from a Kiwi babe named Danielle, who is battling with exactly those emotions. Instead of replying to her directly, I wanted to share my thoughts with you.
“I was hoping you might have some insight/tips on how you handled making the move to the U.S. being from New Zealand. I know you have a great support system there now in the U.S. but was it always like that and do you know many people who don’t have a stable home but still manage to stay in tune with themselves? After traveling a lot I feel like I have acquired so much but am struggling with being a nomad and having no roots. For some reason I thought of you to ask. Maybe because you took a chance and you come from a great southern land like I do. I know you are busy being fab and whatnot. Just feeling a little lonely in the big U.S.A right now. Maybe your Love Letters will do me some good.” (Danielle)
Even though my biggest dream was to move to New York City, the way it happened was an accident: I came over for a party, and decided to stay. My boyfriend and I packed a suitcase each, flew over, and stayed at the New York Palace for a week. At the end of the week, he had to go to London for work, and instead of heading back to Melbourne immediately, I decided I’d stay in NYC for a week or so.
That week became three months. By the time I boarded the plane for Melbourne, my relationship had completely fallen apart, but I knew that New York City was where I was supposed to be. There was nothing keeping me in Australia anymore.
On May 19th 2008, I moved into my first New York apartment. It was spring, and the city was full of sunshine and blossoms. I remember ecstatically walking to Ricky’s and choosing soap for my shower, and the huge thrill that would surge through me when I walked to Wholefoods to get my groceries at 10pm on a beautiful warm night.
When I first got to NYC, I didn’t have a single friend in the city. But that changed quickly.
A street style photographer shot me on my roof. I became friends with a fashion blogger named Gilda who worked at Patricia Field, and we’d go to parties. I met a stylist who took me to bubble battles and we’d eat midnight snacks while magicians performed card tricks. I went to New York Fashion Week and laughed with Yuli when we snuck into Betsey Johnson’s show. My friends Jess and Felicity came to visit. Molly Crabapple emailed me, and introduced me to the world of tawdry burlesque, as well as many of her friends. After years of knowing each other online, I finally met Shauna when she came to the city for a visit, and we started talking all the time. (We also threw a huge public birthday party in Central Park.) I met one of my heroes. I delighted in the halloween parade. I visited Las Vegas, Paris, Los Angeles and Missouri. And I had a couple of romances, which opened up new social circles.
Some of these people are still in my life; some aren’t. It’s all part of the journey.
Even though I was making friends, I still spent a lot of time alone. My explorations of the city and of myself ran parallel; I may have been getting lost in Soho, but I was also rediscovering who I was. I flew cross-country in headphones, thinking about my life and what I wanted to make of it.
When I felt lonely, I would listen to sad songs and buy myself flowers, or sit on my fire escape, watching the city below. I wrote in my journal and spent hours Skypeing with my friends. I would meditate, read books, and walk for miles. Sometimes I would go and get a massage or a pedicure, not only to help with stress, but to feel human contact.
The hardest time was before I got my visa, and could only spend a few months at a time in the USA. It was that feeling of impermanence, of not having any roots; of that suitcase in the corner that I knew I would have to repack soon enough. The thought alone was emotionally exhausting.
But all of those things strengthened my resolve to make it in New York City. I knew I wanted to live here, and nowhere else. There was absolutely no way I was going to go back to New Zealand with my tail between my legs. And when you set your mind to something, you make it happen.
When I think back on that period of my life, I don’t really remember feeling sad or lonely. The main thing that sticks out in my mind was the overwhelming feeling of unlimited possibility and opportunity. The world was full and rich and it felt like there was a new adventure around every single corner.
I am so glad I had that time by myself to get acquainted with — and fall head-over-heels in love with — New York City. It helped me to figure out who I was, to get comfortable with myself as an independent woman, and to discover what I was made of.
The truth is that you can just as easily lose touch with yourself whether you’re living with your parents or in the wilderness, in Nowheresville or New York City. Getting reconnected isn’t complicated; it can be as simple as just committing some time to meditate, journal, pray or exercise, and to do it regularly.
We are what we continually do, so if you feel like what you’re doing isn’t working for you anymore, do something else!
Moving to the other side of the world is not easy. It’s scary, difficult, and extremely challenging, and that’s why most people die in the same town in which they were born. You are to be commended for having the guts to up sticks and take a risk.
The world may seem scary and you may feel lonely right now, but over time those fears will abate, and your loneliness will transform into a sense of comfort. You will begin to feel more at ease with yourself. You won’t be so petrified of being alone. And of course, that’s when your life will start to fill up with wonderful things, people and experiences.
Chin up, playgirl,
Blast from the past photographs taken by Craig Arend, Sean, and Chloe Rice.
29 January 2013, 09:32
Just before we ticked over to 2013, I received this email. Going back to school is always a tricky decision, so I wanted to share this one, just in case you’re going through something similar…
I moved to the city a few months ago to attend an acting conservatory program. It had been a dream of mine ever since I came to the city in 2009. I’ve always thought that I wanted to act, I felt that the stage was the one place where I could have a voice, where I could matter.
After three months of this very rigorous program, I feel beaten down and more confused than ever. Acting is nothing that I thought it was.
I’m back home now for break and debating whether I want to go back for another semester or not. I’ve been trying to make this decision for a month now, and it is eating me alive. I can’t seem to make a decision and stick to it.
I don’t feel like I belong back home, but I don’t feel I belong back in the city, so where does that leave me?”
There’s a mindset floating around that if everything doesn’t effortlessly slot into place, then it’s “not meant to be”. I want to stand up right now & call this out as total nonsense. This kind of thinking makes you a pawn of so-called fate & destiny, leaves you powerless & encourages laziness. When we start to think that “if it’s hard, it’s not meant to be”, we can end up on a path of slack.
Yes, some things do seem to transpire as if by magic, but not everything.
Even when things do come together, they rarely do so seamlessly. For example, The Blogcademy has been a raging success. We sold out New York in a week, & London in a day. Our classes have been an over-the-top exercise in fun, passion & living what you love. By all accounts, our students go home thrilled.
But that doesn’t mean it’s 100% perfect! At our first class, the middle leg of the couch snapped clean off! The bathroom door-handle detached from the door itself! We had to make an emergency dash to Best Buy to buy the right kind of projector cable! There were all kinds of silly muddles & mishaps… But we laughed our way through it, & it was okay.
We all wish everything was a doddle all the time, but if it was, we wouldn’t appreciate it when we succeed.
As an actor, you probably have heroes & idols, people you look up to. Do you think everything was easy for them all the time? No, definitely not! They have all worked with directors who made their lives hell, they have all taken roles that they regretted, they have all given performances that felt like the end was nigh. Plenty of them took classes & courses that made them feel like their soul was being systematically chewed up.
Working in the arts isn’t easy. People who work in offices might think that being an actor, a writer or a photographer is all glory all the time, but those of us who are in the trenches know that this is absolutely not the case. When you see a piece of incredible acting, you have no idea how much sweat & grit went into making that happen.
The things that matter don’t come easily. I have said time & time again that when we really want something, the universe tests us to see how hard we’re willing to work for it. I mean, JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series was rejected 37 times. Can you imagine if she’d decided that she was done after just one “thanks, but no thanks”?
What I’m saying here is that maybe this “very rigorous program” is exactly what you need. Even Walt Disney once said, “You may not realise it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”
Getting good at what you love is an ugly, bumpy road. Don’t be one of those people who is adverse to hard work. That’s where all the good, juicy stuff happens!
I don’t think all of this is the real issue, though. I don’t think you’re lazy, & I don’t think you expect everything to fall in your lap.
One of the most telling things you said in your email was “I felt that the stage was the one place where I could have a voice, where I could matter.” I get the feeling that maybe you are looking at acting as a way of solving some of your issues with self-esteem & your perceptions about your life.
No matter how great your career, if you don’t feel that you matter in your everyday life, your job isn’t going to change that. The stage is not the one place where you can have a voice. You have a voice right here, right now. All you have to do is use it.
You will not magically transform into somebody who counts, or is valid, or is important, when you complete your acting program. You may think that the when you walk through those doors for the last time, you will be a different person… But you won’t. It is no more definitive than your last day at high school. Your routine may change, but you won’t be a new person.
The crux of radical self love is in realising that, as Henry Miller said, “Life is here & now, anytime you say the word, anytime you let her rip.” No one is going to hand you a permission slip to go out & live your life the way you really want. The only person who can do that is you.
If you love it, keep at it. If you don’t, move on. It’s as simple — & as difficult — as that.
With love from Paris,
16 August 2012, 10:19
“I hate my nose so much. Like, really REALLY much. It’s huge and has a very noticeable bump on it, it’s probably the only thing ruining all of my pictures and the reason why I try not to turn my face profile for people to see. I have never felt pretty. I know this may sound stupid, and it probably is, but I keep wanting for a small, beautiful, narrow nose, but, of course, I can’t help it. The only thing that I could change is my perspective, but then again, nowadays all of the articles on a “love your body” topic are based on weight, not one of them mentions anything about a “problem” like mine, and I’ve been surfing and searching for something that could help me all over your blog, but my search was useless.
Please Gala, can you help me with that? This could literally change my outlook on physical beauty and myself, and be the change I needed for a long time.”
I received this email on Wednesday, from a girl called Sophie in Lithuania. All I can say is, Sophie, you wrote to the right girl! You & I are like two peas in a pod, ‘cause you might have noticed that I have a big nose too.
Want to hear something funny? I never knew I had a big nose until someone told me I did! Before that, I just thought it was a nose. I didn’t give it much, if any, thought. It wasn’t until someone felt the need to point it out that I started to look around & notice that not everyone had a nose like mine. In fact, most people’s noses were much smaller. Maybe — horror of horrors — their “normal” noses were cuter than mine!
I can’t lie: I have had my periods of insecurity about my snoot. I have wondered if I should get it “fixed”, googled “nose job before & after”, & pondered if I could really stay shut up inside the house until the swelling & bruising went away.
But then I think about the cosmetic surgery industry, a business which literally profits from our insecurities, & I reconsider. To be clear, I actually have nothing against plastic surgery: I believe our bodies are our own to do with as we please, & it’s all too easy to judge or dismiss anyone who goes under the knife. I do, however, think the whole area is a very slippery slope. There’s a difference between having surgery, & expecting that surgery to change your life or how you feel about yourself. One of these things is not like the others.
Plus, choosing to accept yourself as you are is so much cheaper!
Sophie, if you changed your nose but not your attitude, I’m willing to bet that six months down the track, you’d find something else “imperfect” to fixate on.
No matter who you are, there is always going to be something about you that is not “model-perfect”. Maybe, like us, it’s a nose that demands attention! But perhaps you have a round tummy, or uneven boobs, or ears that stick out. Maybe there’s a part of your body that your average cosmetic surgeon would love to “fix” or “improve”, but would that really add to your quality of life?
Your nose is part of who you are, & I think that with time, you will come to appreciate it. If it helps, you’re not alone! Cleopatra had a big nose too, & she was one of the most devastating beauties in history! Other ladies with sizable snoots include Barbra Streisand, Sarah Jessica Parker, Gisele Bundchen, Penelope Cruz & Sofia Coppola... & they’re all gorgeous, talented, brilliant women. Anyone will tell you that their noses add to their character, not subtract from it.
In the Pensées, Pascal remarks “Cleopatra’s nose, had it been shorter, the whole face of the world would have been changed” (180). Ironically, what he means is that, had her nose been smaller, she would have lacked the dominance and strength of character which, in the physiognomy of the seventeenth century (or, indeed, the nineteenth century), a large nose symbolized. (Source)
The idea of what it means to be beautiful is changing all the time. Right now, we’re all expected to fit into this extremely dull cookie-cutter ideal of big eyes, a small nose, long hair, stick-thin legs, huge breasts & plump lips, not to mention white & young. God forbid you show your face in public once you have some expression lines; once you have, as Clayton Cubitt says, “earned your beauty.” What a yawnfest! Whenever I go to Los Angeles, I’m totally freaked out by the masses of women who have the same face!
I have come to the conclusion that being perfect is boring. It’s a yawn, a snore; tedious & tepid & tiresome. It lacks imagination. The pursuit of perfection is essentially an appeal for acceptance. It cries out for validation. Pick me, pick me! Accept me! I look just like you.
The quest for perfection is a way of flying under the radar. It idealises the unexceptional. It is such a dull way to spend your time… & money!
Realistically, there is nothing you can do — with the exception of surgery — that will change your nose. It will always look the way it does today. But you have the power to change your MIND about your nose, & that is the most fantastic thing! You can decide to love your nose, decide to see it as an asset! View it as something different & wonderful. It’s something that separates you from other people. It’s something that makes you look unique.
A big nose can be just as beautiful — if not moreso! — than a small or average-sized one. It’s all in the attitude: in how you carry yourself, whether you hold your head high or try to shrink into the background.
As for me? I have my good days & I have my bad days. On good days, I see my nose as something that is regal, unusual, distinctive. Sometimes I think it makes me look like an eccentric European countess, & I like that. Mostly, I am able to see my nose for what it is: just a part of my face.
My nose might not be what a plastic surgeon would craft for you, but I have slowly come to appreciate it. Most importantly, my nose links me to my family, & to my father, who I love. That’s good enough for me.
A question for you: What about you or your body have you learned to love, & how did you do it? What are you still struggling with? We’d love to know!
Super-love & super-noses,
25 June 2012, 12:13
I loved getting your letter, because you sound exactly like me when I was 14 years old!
I have been obsessed with NYC for as long as I can remember. When I was about 13 or 14, I started to realise that when I was an adult, I had the ability to live wherever — & do whatever — I wanted.
After school, instead of catching the bus home, I would go to the Wellington Public Library, pillage the travel section for books on New York City, sit in a big leather armchair & read them. It was through doing this that I first heard about NYU, & I decided that going to school in America was my best escape route. I sent off for an information package, & waited on pins & needles for it to arrive in my mailbox in little old New Zealand.
When the oversized envelope finally showed up, I thought my heart was going to burst out of my chest. I remember touching it & smelling it, just marvelling at the fact that it had come from New York City! To me, it was a magical, mythical place.
“I have decided that I am going to go to university in New York City,” I said, presenting the envelope to my parents.
Unfortunately, the cost of attending, especially as an overseas student, was prohibitive to say the least. Families in America save their entire lives to send their kids to college — it is no small thing. If I had “applied myself”, as my teachers were so fond of saying, I could have tried for a scholarship, but I wasn’t interested enough in schoolwork to try. So I didn’t.
I first visited NYC in 2006. I turned 23 years old in Times Square, & stayed for a week at the legendary Chelsea Hotel. Even though our room was crawling with cockroaches, being in the city was incredible. I immediately felt at home: the frantic energy matched mine, & it calmed me down & excited me all at the same time. My boyfriend & I flew from the USA to Melbourne, our new home, & I was so disappointed. It wasn’t where I wanted to be.
I moved to New York City when I was 24 years old: I came over for a party & decided to stay. It was totally unplanned & I was completely unprepared, but by that stage I would have done pretty much anything to live here. I had lived in New Zealand & Australia, & it never felt right.
NYC is a catalyst for change. It will turn you upside down & shake all the change out of your pockets, both literally & figuratively! When I got here, I was staying with a girl I (vaguely) knew, but after a week, she told me I had to leave. My boyfriend was in London & couldn’t help me. It was in that moment that I realised I was 100% by myself, & if I wanted to survive — let alone thrive — in NYC, I was going to have to take control of my destiny. Even though I had no idea what I was doing, I stayed in a hotel for one night while scouring Craigslist for an apartment. I was lucky: the first place I went to see was gorgeous, & they told me I could move in the very next day. I remember walking around the city, buying home essentials like soap & shampoo, & being so excited!
Truth time: New York City is a hard place to live. Everyone here is on a mission; without a strong sense of purpose, this city will swallow you whole. Rents are exorbitant — $2500/month is the going rate for a hideous studio apartment right now — & a one-way subway ride costs $2.50. It adds up quickly. This is hard to deal with. Some people feel exhausted by this, think, ‘Why bother?’ & decide to live somewhere else. But some people choose to let it motivate them, push them hard, & turn them into the person they never even dared to dream they could be.
Even though this is my favourite place in the entire world, it’s not perfect. Nothing is. NYC is not all rooftop picnics & flowers from the bodega. There were plenty of times when I thought I wouldn’t be able to pay my rent, or when I walked around the city with a sad, lovesick heart. But through all of that, I never doubted one thing: New York City itself. The idea of leaving never crossed my mind. I had chosen New York, & it had chosen me — for better or worse.
There is a lot of talk about “living your dream”, & some people think it’s balderdash. I believe in living your dreams, of course! But when we think about “living our dreams”, we make the mistake of thinking that everything will be easy, or that there is no effort required in making your dreams come true. That’s not always the case, & it sets us up to fail.
This can be very discouraging. Sometimes when we realise that what we really want isn’t going to be easy, we want to give up. When things don’t turn out the way we want them to, we lose hope. We think that if it didn’t work the first time, it never will. One of the most wonderful things about life is that there a million different ways of reaching your goal. There’s truth in the old (& somewhat disgusting) saying, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.”
It’s very common to suffer from a kind of problem-solving myopia where we fixate on one outcome. When we do this, we essentially blind ourselves to all the other potential solutions, which narrows the likeliness of success.
You might not get to NYC on your first, second or even third try. But if you’re hungry for it, if you fall asleep dreaming of thundering subway trains & long, hot summers, & if you’re willing to scrape together every ounce of gumption & ambition you possess, you’ll get here. We’ll be ready & waiting for you.
15 May 2012, 11:20
Wander Postcard Project: No. 26 / Lin Mei.
FROM A READER:
“I am a 20 year old theatre major studying abroad in Florence, Italy with a group of 15 of my friends and fellow theatre majors. I am lucky enough to be in a beautiful city for a month and I should be having the time of my life, right?! Wrong. Since I left, I have not been able to stop missing my boyfriend Chris… I don’t want to wreck my relationship by clinging and begging Chris to email me every second. Most importantly, I want to enjoy the time I have here! This is an amazing opportunity for me and I want to grow and become a strong, independent young woman. I don’t want to be afraid of doing things by myself, and I would hate to waste my trip feeling miserable. Please let me know if you have any suggestions!”
Trust me, I relate! When I was 15 years old, I was fortunate enough to go to Germany for a month with a group from my school. It should have been a dream come true, but it felt more like a nightmare. Why? I had just started dating my first ever boyfriend, & anything that involved me being away from him was like, THE WORST THING EVER.
We started dating just before Christmas, & when I went to Australia with my parents for New Year’s Eve, I spent almost all of my time in an internet cafe, chatting to him. My level of obsession didn’t wane at all in the next six months, & in fact, when our plane took off, heading for Germany, I remember sobbing in my seat. Very dramatic!
Our romance happened in the days before everyone was super-connected. The host family I stayed with (in Karlsruhe — represent!) didn’t even own a computer; it was like torture for my super-internet-addicted self. The only way we could communicate was when I would take a box of Lucky Strikes to the pay-phone down the street. I would smoke cigarettes while I dialled a million numbers (which, of course, I had memorised) & we would talk.
It probably went like this…
Me: How’s Wellington?
Him: The same. How’s Germany?
Me: Totally not like Wellington.
God, what a waste of air-time!
Everything about the situation was pushing my buttons like mad. I couldn’t be online, I couldn’t see my boyfriend, & I wasn’t super good friends with anyone else on my trip. I didn’t really have anyone to talk to, just a Discman & a notebook for company. I felt totally out of my depth & really uncomfortable, but looking back, this was incredibly formative for me. In fact, it was GREAT. It forced me to participate in what was happening; I had no choice.
Instead of obsessing about my boyfriend, I was concerned with lugging my 25kg backpack across a foreign city, or stringing a sentence together in another language. It taught me the importance of good chocolate, & that Germans make some of the best sandwiches in the world!
It meant that when our bus pulled up at Schloss Neuschwanstein, with the turrets peaking out of low cloud, it took my breath away. I wasn’t staring at my phone, hoping desperately for a text message from my beloved.
It gave me time to browse record stores & buy Dig Me Out by Sleater-Kinney & Richard D. James Album by Aphex Twin. Even today, whenever I hear those albums, it transports me right back to a train in Germany, the soundtrack to an ever-changing view.
From Berlin to Baden-Baden & the Black Forest, I was immersed in all things German… & I loved it. My experiences when I was 15 years old cemented Germany’s place as one of my favourite all-time countries, & taught me a different way of seeing the world. Sehr gut!
What can you learn from my (mis)adventures in
homesickness boyfriend-sickness? As with everything, the very best way to deal with it is to jump right into your present reality & embrace it with everything you’ve got. All the crying & long phone-calls in the world won’t change the cold hard fact that right now, there is an ocean separating you.
When you think about it, what do you have to gain from obsessing about your beau? Nothing. What do you have to lose? A thousand fabulous memories from the opportunity of a lifetime.
Even if this experience doesn’t strengthen your relationship, it will certainly strengthen you as a person. Travelling is one of the best things we can do for our spirit & our confidence: it shows us what we’re really made of in a way that we can never experience if we just stay in one place. It’s when we’re out of our depth that we learn to swim, & it’s in unfamiliar situations that we really blossom.
Don’t forget about him completely, of course — & I know you couldn’t even if you tried. Write him postcards or put together a scrapbook of memories which you can show him when you get back. But don’t spend this month in Italy — one of the MOST beautiful places in the world — wishin’ & hopin’ for something that is out of reach. Try to limit your contact, too. You won’t regret this!
Don’t let love-sickness stop you from going out there & experiencing the world! Aim to come back home with a glut of stories to tell, about summertime Vespa rides & great conversation in the Piazza della Repubblica. Return with stories of your favourite gelato place & the espresso you drank which kept you up all night, toes jittering.
I once knew a girl who was so excited to leave New Zealand & move to Europe; it was all she talked about. When she got there, though, she decided she missed her boyfriend too much. She came home after less than a week. They broke up, & she never went back to Europe. Yes, this is a cautionary tale. Don’t be that girl!
Travelling is sublime: a way of escaping the everyday & launching yourself into a new reality. It teaches us about the world as much as it teaches us about ourselves. It always changes you & provides new perspectives. Sometimes it even provides you with new shoes!
Get out there & earn your international playgirl stripes!
Has this ever happened to you? What advice would you give to this girl? Let us know!
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