the last six months

So! Now you know where I stood as of August 2011: broke and jobless. I'd long known that going back to dancing was a sort of back-pocket option - I'd banked on it, in fact - so it was no surprise to myself or anyone close to me when I walked through that door again. My friends and family weren't thrilled, and some of the newer people in my life just plain didn't know what to say, but no one was negative or critical. The consensus was something like, "You're doing what you have to do to. You're surviving. Just make it short term, ok? We want better things for you."

I never considered working in LA. If I was going back, I wanted to be in the place I knew, and was comfortable - the same club I'd worked in for years, in Tucson. My boyfriend agreed to watch Chaucer, so I booked a cheap hotel and flight, used my remaining $60 to buy some shoes in Hollywood, and headed to Arizona.

My first trip out, I made about $5k in two and a half weeks. It was intoxicating. Not only was it the first money I'd earned in years, but it was a shit ton of it, and it came fast and easily. I paid bills and got my head above water. I even had enough left to buy clothes for the first time in nearly a year.

A few days into my stay, I got in touch with a friend who has a home in Canyon Ranch. He spends his summers in the northwest, so his house sits empty for months at a time. He let me stay at his house and use his car for the rest of my visit in August. This was a huge, huge help. Instead of slumming it in a crappy hotel and blowing cash on taxis, I had a luxury home and car at my disposal.

Monsoon season had started, and every day I'd wake up to stunning views of the clouds rolling in. There are no sunsets more beautiful than those in Tucson, during the monsoons. In fact, let's take a break from imagining a near middle-aged Ellie tottering around on 7 inch acrylic heels to enjoy a few:

Ok, where we were?

I missed my dog terribly while I was gone. In fact, it was how painful it was to be without him that made me realize I needed to break up with my boyfriend back in LA. Because I didn't miss him. He was - he is - an awesome, incredible person. But I had rebounded straight from my husband into a relationship with him and it wasn't the real thing. We both knew it, had tried whole-or-half-heartedly to make it work, but it was in its death throes by the time I boarded my flight to Tucson. The independence and confidence boost of making money again - of realizing I was going to be ok - was the last nail in the coffin. I was ready to be on my own.

Or so I thought.

Because then I met someone else.

Before I knew what I was doing, I was walking straight into yet another relationship. With zero downtime in between. Zero. I know: incredibly fucked up and stupid, for myriad reasons. This ended up being one of the worst decisions I've made in recent years...but with a huge silver lining.

The relationship I had with this man nearly killed me. It finally imploded just after Christmas. It started out as a long-distance thing, as I was still living in LA and he lives in Tucson, but very quickly became full time when I (and Chaucer) stayed with him for weeks at a time in the fall. He paid all of my bills while we were involved, because I was not allowed to dance while I was involved with him. Yes. I said "allowed". At some point maybe I'll do a post-mortem on my relationship with him (or maybe I won't - he's consumed more than enough of my time and attention), but suffice to say, he's abusive, controlling, and dangerous, and my time with him damaged me badly. ETA: here. This is my time with him, in a nutshell.

But, as I said, there was a silver lining. Here's the best way I can explain it: I left that relationship completely shattered, broken into a hundred pieces. I was bewildered by what had happened to me, by the fact that I'd allowed someone to hurt me so terribly. It forced me to take a good, hard look at my life, and to ask some very difficult questions of myself. So as I picked up each of those hundreds of pieces, I looked at them very closely for clues and answers.

I'm still in the process. It's the most intense self-examination I've done my whole life. It's made me exponentially more self-aware and conscious of what I want from life. My time with him broke me down to almost nothing...but it gave me the opportunity to rebuild myself exactly in the way that I want. And so I'm strangely grateful for the experience. But very, very, very glad it's behind me.

As soon as that relationship ended, I threw myself into the process of trying to find a real job, here in LA. The week before February rent was due, I faced facts: I still didn't have a job. I was broke again. I did NOT want to go back to Tucson anymore. It just wasn't feasible - the travel costs, the expense/hassle of boarding Chaucer or sticking him at a friend's, the time and energy lost in the back-and-forth.

The same three choices I'd had last summer were staring me in the face again. I knew that if I gave up the ghost, left LA, tucked my tail between my legs and went home to my dad, my chances of getting stable, long-term professional work would be diminished hugely, if not thrown out the window entirely. There's just nothing doing in the small town where my father lives.

So, I did what for me was much, much scarier than sneaking of to Tucson to dance in a place I knew well - I decided to suck it up and try to find a place to dance, here in LA. I figured that if I made enough to survive short-term, I could start pursuing other work. Real work. Something that could sustain me professionally and financially, beyond the non-solution of dancing.

All I wanted, and I wanted it desperately, was to find a way to make it work. I was more than willing to work my ass off, if it meant I could stay in a place with vast professional opportunity, have a second chance at adulthood, and keep close to the things I'd come to love in Los Angeles: my friends, my beautiful apartment, access to incredible resources of transportation, culture, work, and education.

And that's how I started dancing again, at the age of thirty six, with nothing but a promise to myself to get my shit together once and for all.

And that's why you're reading this story: accountability and motivation.