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Freedom That Benjamins Can't Buy

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As a style writer for a major New York City newspaper, I traveled the world, dined at trendy restaurants, wore trendy clothes. I was a regular on the fashion circuit in Paris, London and Milan. In New York, I occupied front-row seats and attended black-tie balls. To family and friends, I had a bad-ass life.

Today I'm unemployed. I live out of a suitcase -- at least much of the time. As a freelancer, I spend a lot of time waiting for "Dollar Bill" to call; sometimes I don't know where the next check is coming from. And I wouldn't have it any other way. To borrow an Oprah-ism, I'm on a quest to "live my best life."
All the best tables and private Chanel sales weren't enough. I had an unfulfilled yearning that my face on a weekly column and shopping trips to Barneys couldn't quash. I wasn't living my truth.

I was five years old when I brought home the first-ever painting that my mother proudly stuck on the fridge "gallery." It was of a brown house sitting on a brilliant green patch of grass, with a tree covered in juicy red apples ripening under a yellow sun. The memory of that first artistic effort followed me to high school, where art teachers became my running buddies. Their guidance led me an internship at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and, later, to apply for a scholarship to The Cooper Union, the city's top art school.

Despite my father's doctor-lawyer-accountant ambitions for me, I pursued painting with gusto, turning works of art into slides for my application. I waited for the acceptance letter, but it never came. My guidance counselor, overwhelmed by other student matters, forgot to send it in.
My spirit crushed, there ended my career as an artist.

Instead I found a career where I used words to express other people's creativity. I could admire other people's work from the sidelines, always with a critical eye. But I found that what I really needed was a serious critique of my own life, and living vicariously through someone else's artistic endeavors wasn't getting it.

"You always come back to your truth," said Julia Cameron in her groundbreaking book, "The Artist's Way." When the Universe has a plan for us, you can run and hide, but it'll catch you. It took quitting my job and moving to Paris to paint to restart my creative life.

Today back home I still paint during my travels—and write about them. My work's brought me to Maui, where I've taught silk painting at the Art School at Kapalua, where Vanessa L. Williams and family have taken ceramics classes. I've seen Queen Latifah, Daisy Fuentes and author Harriette Cole wearing my hand-painted creations.

Now, you're as likely to find me hunched over my laptop at my desk or some exotic beach. I've found "my crazy self" (as my siblings affectionately dub me) in New Zealand covering the Eco-Challenge Expedition Race (which airs on the USA Network starting April 21). On the job, I've learned to scuba dive, and donned purple ostrich feathers to "play mas" in at the U.S. Virgin Island's Carnival. And the only "designer" labels I wear are my own.

I'm single, and blessed with the freedom that Benjamins can't buy. But status doesn't matter. As that awful day last year showed us, life is short and it's time to open up and fly. As the philosopher Goethe once said: "Whatever you think you can do or believe you can do, begin it. Action has magic, grace and power in it." So go to it: the Universe is waiting. And just in case, do keep a bag packed!

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