Do It Again
They were the best of times, and they were the worst of times. Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
When I got home from my trip in January it took me a couple of weeks to wrap my head around the decision I was making. My life was going to take a new direction and I came to the understanding that despite how difficult it would be, I was moving forward with it.
A couple of friends in LA advised me to get an immigration lawyer so I researched and took consultations with different law firms. I learned that the particular visa I needed was the O1-B, also known as the "extraordinary artist visa." One of the criterion was to be published in the media, so I started contributing to articles.
In the following few months I barely saw my friends and family as I worked away on my visa over my lunches, late in the night, and on my weekends. Romantic relationships were out of the question entirely. Whenever the hurdles seemed like they were too tall to overcome I looked to a little post-it note on my bedroom door that said Don't Forget About God.
I've found that following God these last couple of years has proven itself over and over again for me, and I know how that can sound. When I was growing up, no one - not a single one of my friends or any of my family members believed in God.
The best way that I could describe this new found faith is that I sometimes feel I'm being pulled so strongly in a direction... That regardless of the warnings and setbacks that come up, I feel drawn and compelled to follow. It's like there's a hand pulling me along.
After I was able to get a few articles published and had spoken to different lawyers I officially hired one on in March. Once I paid the fees was when I knew that I was really going through with this plan. I started to collect supporting letters from industry leaders with my lawyer's guidance and then I had to find someone to sponsor me.
I mentally decided that I would move in November. November, I had calculated, would give me enough time to compile all of the documents, get it approved through immigration, and get out of dodge before it became frighteningly cold in Canada. As things started coming together one visa requirement at a time, I felt as though I was really achieving what I had hitherto thought impossible.
Once I gathered everything that I could, the "evidence," I sent it to my lawyer who then compiled a case and submitted it in August. I was tremendously relieved. The feeling didn't last long, though, because then it was time to start preparing for the next step, the move.
I allotted a couple of months to sort through all of my life's belongings and decide what to take with me, what to ship and what to get rid of, and then move out of my apartment.
Falling Down and Getting Back Up Again
Shortly after I gave notice to leave my place in Toronto, I saw a notification on my USCIS case status online. While I had been confident about my case (based on the ongoing feedback from my lawyer) I wound up with a request for further evidence, aka an RFE, rather than an approval.
A request for further evidence meant that they needed more information; Either about me, my past accomplishments, or my future employers to determine whether I qualified for the visa. What had been a time of excitement and anticipation quickly became full of fear, doubt, and uncertainty.
In that moment it didn't look like I was going to get that visa after all. After I told everyone I knew that I was leaving. As much as I wished that it wasn't really happening, I remembered a line from Ray Dalio's Principles, which said to "embrace reality and deal with it."
When I looked over my initial file I noticed that my lawyer had made some mistakes when they were presenting my case. I knew that I only had one more shot at it so I decided to hire a different lawyer to respond to the RFE. It was tough to stomach the additional costs at that stage but I couldn't risk it.
I no longer had a home in Toronto, I didn't have a job, and I had to dip into savings that were meant to get me by the first few months in LA to pay for the lawyer and to upgrade to have my case expedited. But what were my other options? I had pictured for myself none. Other than perhaps to quit the business and go live in a monastery in Nepal. So I kept on.
My therapist likened it to running a marathon and falling down and badly hurting myself in the last two miles, and scraping my knees along the pavement. She said, "...it hurts, and you can't believe that just happened, but you know that you're going to get back up and you're going to finish it."
The funny thing is that I was just about to run a marathon, and two days before the race I did fall and badly hurt myself. On my last morning run before travelling to NY state, I had been thinking so much about the visa that I fell and skid across the sidewalk. It left me limping and wounded before the race but with everything else that was going on, I just had to laugh at it.
I was still really excited to run. I was looking forward to four hours unplugged, just me in the countryside, forced to focus on nothing else but my body and my place in the universe. I've found in the past that spending time like that has allowed me to enter a beautiful state of consciousness, what some might call a flow state.
In that state, especially when faced with a tough decision, I've felt closer to God and able to gain clarity and guidance. Then more than ever I was looking forward to that chance to spend time with God and ask WTF was going on.
To my delight, I did get that opportunity. When race day arrived I felt the rush that came with the thought that I was really running my first marathon, and that I was surrounded hundreds of courageous people setting out to do the same. The onlookers in the small towns of upstate NY were radiating with love and support, standing at the end of the well-kept lawns of their country homes that were adorned with American flags.
And then, at around the third mile, as I was taking it all in, I didn't even so much as ask before I heard it come down to me, Don't worry, it said. This is your country, too, and everything is going to work out.
Where that voice came from or whether I was just experiencing a runners high didn't matter. I thought back to that message in the weeks that followed as I was stuck in an increasingly cold Canada waiting for the visa determination. It comforted me and restored the faith I needed to continue on my journey.
Now everything about the marathon didn't go as swimmingly as it did in those very first moments. It was definitely one of the most difficult things I've ever done, and finishing it reminded me that I could do hard things. Every step after the first 12 miles was painful but God was still there.
When I got home I continued to move out of my apartment and started working on the case again with a new lawyer. He wanted me to resubmit all of my past evidence with more information. That meant once again reaching out to all of my past employers and having them write new letters. My lawyer felt confident that we could win it but didn't want to take any short cuts.
The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times. Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
Now, as I finish writing this, I'm sitting in my new bedroom. It's December, and I can walk outside free of my winter jacket onto streets lined with palm trees. I'm living in a 1920s Spanish style home that's walking distance from the museum, cute coffee shops and little restaurants with a backdrop of the Hollywood Hills. I started going on my morning runs again, and I've been running to the top of Runyon Canyon on the weekends.
When I got the official document in the mail back in Canada, my car was already packed. I was staying at my friend's house in Toronto and had just gone out to pick up some food. I went in the afternoon to Fresh thinking that just maybe, if I were to receive the news, I could take it with me in the car and eat it on the road for dinner. I got the email containing the document I needed as I was walking back to her place and I got into my car and drove.
It took me three and a half days to drive from Toronto to LA. All of my personal belongings were strapped on top of my car in a soft storage compartment from Amazon, and all of my bins of makeup were stacked inside. I drove through Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, Utah, Arizona and Nevada before I got to California.
I didn't think that I would ever find myself in Kansas. I've never seen so much vast open space. There was nothing for miles... no advertisements, except for ones for Jesus, and tumbleweeds drifted across the road in front of me. Before it became dire an unnamed gas station materialized, and a man with a walking stick unlocked the door and came out to pump gas for me and got my credit card to work in the old machine.
It was frigidly cold most of the way across the US and it didn't start getting warmer until I was a few hours from the California border. When I was travelling on the I-15 South from Las Vegas my roommate called me. She said, "I have bad news."
The living situation that I was moving into was with a lovely girl named Lauren, who would be my new roommate. I was going to take the second bedroom over from her prior roommate, who on the day that I was arriving, decided that she wasn't going to leave.
There I was, approaching Los Angeles on the highway, with all of the contents of my life inside and on-top of my car, but no place to arrive to and rest. I had just spent the last couple of months in transience. I was longing to be able to set myself up again in a secure home so that I could focus my energy on finding a job.
I reached out to all of the other people who I had spoken to when I was first looking for a place, but it was already December 1 and it was 9 pm. I must have sounded like a crazy person reaching out to these people asking them if their place was available for me to drive to and move into immediately.
I thought about reaching out to the makeup artists that I knew in town. I am sure that they wouldn't have been thrilled at me asking if I could come and unload all of my belongings onto them, but they would have helped me out in a time of desperation. Instead I decided to wait.
I turned on the Christian radio and I tried to remind myself that God had already lead me all this way, and had pulled me out of every mess I had ever been in before. I got closer and closer, until I was one hour away, when Lauren called me again and told me that they managed to get the girl to leave.
All of her neighbours had been there trying to help and ultimately it was Lauren's friend that came over who was able to get her out. The police helped her remove all of her belongings and then in the last hour before I arrived Lauren cleaned the room so that it was ready for me when I got there.
At 10 pm I got to LA and it was raining. I brought everything into the house, thanked my car for carrying me there, and by midnight I went to sleep. I wrote in my journal the next morning,
Thank you for this day. I know that I am exactly where I am meant to be...
At this point I can't not believe in God, and I want to be candid about that. The role that faith plays in my life now has been so important that it wouldn't be right to leave that out of my story.
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28