I first understood the sway Alysa Salzberg has on people when she reviewed my book on Open Salon a year and half ago and several fellow bloggers noted that if Alysa recommended it, it must be worth their time to read.
Since then, I’ve watched over and over as Alysa has donated her time and talent with words to spotlight and encourage countless writers who share their work online, all while managing to spearhead a literary e-zine, Beguile, build a life for herself in a foreign country and—most recently—launch a new freelance writing career.
Alysa’s talent, passion and generosity inspire me. But as a dream chaser myself, I’m particularly in awe of her courage and strength to make her dreams happen: starting with leaving behind her friends and support system in the United States to create a new life for herself in Paris.
I decided it was time to turn the tables on Alysa and find out how she started down her dream path and discover what inspires her to keep going.
IR: Where are you from originally?
AS: I was born in New Jersey and grew up there and in the Atlanta suburbs. I went to college in New York City, and, in a way, that’s where I feel most at home in the States: I’m fast-talking, fast-walking, neurotic, a bit odd. I barely sleep, I’m obsessed with my pet, and I love good food. A perpetual New York state of mind….
IR: How long had you dreamed of moving to Paris?
AS: Since I was 12 or 13. I was an ambassador with the People to People Student Ambassador Program and travelled to a few European cities. When I got to Paris, I felt different – it was like, this is where I belong. I felt so connected to history, and at the same time, just…me. Just comfortable. From that time on, I did whatever I could to be able to live here.
I’ve always had this love of travel in me, and I’ve always been fascinated by Europe in particular. I think it’s because I loved history and fairytales as a kid (and I still do, today!), and so much of what we learn in history class takes place in Europe, as do most fairytales. I would read books with foreign settings, and watch TV shows like “Globe Trekker” and “Travels in Europe with Rick Steves,” and just dream of going to those places.
IR: When did you make the move?
AS: From the time I started college, my life was kind of back-and-forth for a few years. I would go to Paris for as long as I legally could. Without a special visa, that’s three months, but I often found ways to stay longer—like studying abroad, or participating in a government-sponsored English teaching assistant program. In 2006, I met a man who had started a Paris tourism website. We decided to collaborate – I’d write the English-language articles, content, and newsletter. I came back to Paris and waited for him to get the papers together to hire me, as planned. Only…things didn’t go as planned. He had what I think was a sort of nervous breakdown and just stopped doing the site, leaving me without money or the promise of a job. Luckily, by then I’d met my future husband, and though we’d only been dating for two months, he asked me to move in with him so I wouldn’t have to worry about paying rent. I wouldn’t have done that so early in a relationship (who knew how well we’d get along?), but desperate times call for desperate measures, and we were both aware of that. Now, nearly seven years later, we’re still together and still in that same apartment, which we share with our lovely cat, Ali.
IR: What has been the most challenging aspect of following your dream?
AS: The challenges have evolved over time. At first, it was just being able to legally stay and work here. It’s horrible when you know where you want to live, but you can’t because you weren’t born in the right place. Now that I’m able to stay here, the hardest thing is missing my family and lifelong friends. We’re thinking about starting a family, and I just panic sometimes, wondering how I’ll do things without that network of support nearby.
IR: What has been most rewarding?
AS: Just being here. Walking outside, and feeling that “right” feeling. This is really where I belong.
IR: What advice would you give to others dreaming of moving to a new country?
AS: My story shows that there’s always a way. If you really want to live abroad, no matter how hard it is, stick with it. Learn the rules, and learn how to use them to your advantage. Never give up.
AS: I’ve been writing ever since I’ve known how—it’s my passion. I’ve also been writing for other people, and proofreading, translating, tutoring and travel planning for about a decade—but just in small ways and often unpaid. Officially, for the past five years, I’ve worked as an English teacher for French businesses. I love teaching, and still do tutoring, but the stress of commuting and having a boss, as well as some health problems, made me realize I had to change things. In early February, I took the plunge and gave notice. I’ve dreamed of doing this for a long time, and had even taken small steps towards my goal. But I guess I’d just needed things to build up until I felt ready to completely dive in, despite my fear. My last day at my job was in late March. I officially launched my website, www.alysasalzberg.com, in mid-April.
IR: Do you have an ultimate goal or dream for your new self-employed life?
AS: I’ve always wanted to live by my pen and my heart. I hope for so many things. One is that I hope this experience will last. I’m happy with how it’s going so far, but freelancing isn’t the most financially secure career path a person could have. Money is absolutely not the only thing that matters in life, but I do want to continue to contribute to our expenses and to take care of myself financially. I’ve never made a lot of money, but I’m proud that I’ve never had to ask anyone to pay for my basic needs or little treats.
IR: What is your writing dream?
AS: My ultimate writing dream is to get my confidence back as a fiction novelist. It was destroyed about ten years ago, which really surprises me because I’m a pretty confident person. But this one thing is so sacred to me that I guess the wound went deep. There’s this Jack Kerouac quote: “Your art is the Holy Ghost blowing through your soul.” That’s how I feel about sincere writing that comes from the depths of you. While I still experience that sacred feeling when I write something personal or meaningful to me, like a short story or a post on my blog, to be able to have it for this prolonged period of time—and to be able to experience that long-term escape into another world that is novel-writing—would be wonderful beyond words.
IR: What inspires you and keeps you going on those down days?
AS: My therapist once told me that she thinks that chocolate might be keeping me from being even more anxious, and from falling into depression. So now I have the perfect excuse to have a little chocolate after every meal – it’s like medicine! Another thing that helps is reading funny websites and celebrity magazines. If I didn’t have a way to escape and just laugh, I don’t know what I’d do. I think that I’m sort of like a sunflower: I naturally turn towards the sun, towards brightness and joy. I can get discouraged, or anxious or sad, but once I’ve gotten the immediate reaction out of my system, I look for comfort; I look for the light. On another note, when I’m faced with a task that seems overwhelming, a very wise friend once gave me some advice that helps immensely: “By the inch, it’s a cinch”.