A few months ago, my husband and I sat in the tiny living room of our two-bedroom apartment in Harlem, and the idea of moving to Austin, TX was introduced. Without hesitation, without even the slightest flinch, I responded, “Yes. Let’s do it!” I’m sure even he was not expecting this response. We fell in this quiet trance for a few minutes as I looked around the room. At the boxes of picture frames I ordered the previous week from West Elm. At the new artwork my parents brought me from their last trip in Haiti. At our plants sitting on random corners of bookshelves and windowsills. I had just really begun to settle in. There was so much work to do. So many rooftop dinners I had planned. The sunset, our friends, laughter, empty glasses that were once filled with delicious wine or colorful cocktails. I had plans, you see?
The apartment was everything I dreamt of when I first moved to New York City. It sat on the top floor of a new-ish ten-story complex with new appliances, a washer/dryer, two balconies, and access to a beautiful rooftop. It came also came with a window in the kitchen… A big step up from my first apartment, a tiny three-bed/1-bath nestled on the first floor of a walk up in Washington Heights, shared with three complete strangers and a peculiar fat cat. My room was really an awkward, triangular shaped closet equipped with a heating pipe that would burn my arm occasionally in my sleep. I still have a scar from that thing.
At this new apartment, I was going to get rid of our old couch, a comfortable brown fluff, I managed to buy when I moved to my studio apartment when I could finally afford to live without roommates. At that time, my husband was still in grad school in Bethlehem, PA, and we would see each other almost every weekend. That couch was the first big piece of furniture I’d ever purchased at a store. Everything else from that apartment came from Craigslist, including the bed I slept on. At this new apartment, I was going to redecorate everything. Really settle in, you know? And just like that, I encouraged the idea of moving away from it all. I said yes to moving from Harlem (the first place I discovered my creative voice), my office, my friends, my family, and my team. I’m not really sure what came over me, but I did.
The months moved by quickly, and before I could even blink, the move happened. Random men from a moving company dressed in distressed denim came and went, equipped with boxes, tape, and saran wraps. I heard rolls of tape screeching, giant boxes I would climb in to scare my husband banging, and an occasional, “Hey ma’am? Where do you want this?” It all happened so fast. I flew in from Austin yesterday, and now I’m sitting my small hotel room in New York City in a hotel in midtown as if I am a stranger to the city I call home. Now I find myself traveling here on business to visit my office once per month, and attend a few events.
Why Austin? That’s what everyone keeps asking me. I get it from the people who know me well. People who just got acquainted with me. And people who don’t know me at all. Why Austin? And I had no answer at all… at first. I just found the idea of moving intriguing. It was a challenge I was willing to take. Then I started to really myself the question. Why was I willing to move from somewhere that was so close and dear to me? What about Austin made it so easy for me to say yes to the move? The Sinatra song, “If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere…” started popping up. And I’d chuckle every time.
Maybe I found my creative voice in New York City. Maybe the voice was always there, and it took living in uncomfortable circumstances, meeting a shit ton of people, although I’m convinced some of them were just shadows living in the dark corners of the night, and really finding myself. That’s where Finding Paola came from. I started the blog when I first moved to New York in my tiny bedroom in Washington heights, where I made friends with mice, and tried to stifle the loud bachata, salsa, and Spanish hip-hop music blasting from the walls at strange hours of the night.
I’d walk from Washington Heights all the way down to Soho in the summer time, taking in every New York City neighborhood that I’d stumble upon. I’d notice how quickly the fast food restaurants disappeared into vibrant supermarkets with elaborate flower and fruit displays. I’d notice how clean some streets were compared to others. I’d glance at windows barred with tiny metal gates, decorated by mismatched dirty curtains, and how they would change to floor to ceiling architectural delights. I’d peek at the bookcases and the chandeliers hanging proudly, and I would get a quick glance of what a glamorous New York City life was. I’d walk past kids playing with water from a busted fire hydrant. And I’d also walk past doormen, standing in their dark blue linen suits hosing down the sidewalks. I’d even smile at some of them, but my smile was really an inquiry. “Sir? How does it feel interacting with some of the most elite New Yorkers on a day to day basis?” Of course I never had the courage to ask. To me, it was all a dream.
Now I’m truly living my dream. I used to say I was living my dream from the very first day I moved to New York City. The tagline for my blog changed from “A Haitian girl from a small town in Haiti lost in New York City” to “A Haitian girl from a small town in Haiti living her dreams in New York City.” It felt like I was living my dreams even when I would get on the subway at 2 AM after a long sixteen-hour shift standing on my two feet. I still have a giant callous under my left foot to prove it.
It felt like I was living my dreams even when I’d get yelled at by angry customers solely because the persons who worked above me were incompetent nincompoops. It felt like I was living my dreams when I danced the night away with my eyes closed in the racist downtown nightclubs. Where sketchy promoters would kiss every girl on the cheek for a second too long, and always made it their goal to place their hand on every woman’s lower back even if they’d just met them. It felt like I was living my dreams when I’d fantasize about some random magical person handing me everything I desired because maybe they’d see my potential and my work ethics. They would hear my story, and they would tell me that I had what it took to accomplish everything I would ever want. And just like that I’d just get everything I would ever want. That person never came, and I felt like I started getting sucked into this deep hole. Where everyone I met, no matter how well we connected, was not really there. They were there to jump out of taxi cabs with, and strut the streets in mini skirts.
And then one day, I decided to really start living my dream. I decided to be in control fully and truly. I decided to see beauty where most would just rush by. I decided to stop and inquire, and talk, and explore. Every corner I would find interesting, I’d stop and immerse myself within its walls. Bright or dark. Because even in the dark, magical things happen. I decided to listen to my instincts. I decided that magical person who would come to hand me everything I would ever desire would be me. I decided that the person was here all along. And maybe I suppressed her because she scared me.
And so, when my husband proposed the idea of moving to Austin, Texas, I said yes. Yes, because I really like the city. I visited a few times, and each time, I wanted to prolong my stay. Yes, because my husband could work for the same company around people who were really close to him. Yes, because we already had a few friends who also decided to settle there. Yes, because I secretly wanted more space to spread my wings creatively. Yes, because New York City started to become too small. And too familiar. Things slowly started to all appear the same. Nothing really impressed me anymore. Yes, because I also love Austin’s food, and it’s so much cheaper. Yes, because everyone I’ve ever encountered had been incredibly nice. Well, there’s a lack of diversity, but maybe that will change soon too, and maybe I’ll have something to do with it? Yes, because it made more sense for us financially. Fanm Djanm is expanding, and Finding Paola is blossoming. I thought it would be great to be based between two cities for now. And before you ask. Yes, being based between two cities is ridiculously exhausting, but I’m optimistic that I’ll get the hang of it.
I thought maybe being away from New York City would refresh my perspective. The love would be deeper and stronger. We’d feel close again, and the excitement would return. And when I go back to Austin, I’d be inspired by the things I would see and find back in the New York City I fell in love with. The people I would meet, including the cab drivers. When I tell them I’m not really visiting, and that I kind of live between two cities. That I decided to recently move to Austin with my husband. They all seem so confused. They go in this deep thinking mode and would ask me, “Why would you leave New York?” And I would respond, “Why would I not?” And they would have nothing to say. Then they would ask me a lot about Austin.
Why Austin? Because that’s where my heart wants to be. Because if I can make it in New York, I can make it anywhere. Because the love of my life also happens to be there. Because where love exists, there’s a home. Why Austin? Because...