It’s a bit strange for me to write this article. And as a reader, if you’ve read the first two articles of this series, you’ll likely find my decisions to be strange too. In early 2022 I made the active decision, on my own terms, to move back to Los Angeles at the beginning of April from Valencia, Spain. In this final article of the push/pull series, I will detail my experience living in Valencia, its pros and cons, and what led me to return to Los Angeles — where this whole push/pull journey began. I’ll also share the unexpected twist which I could have never predicted or planned for — moving from LA to Jerusalem, Israel — a mere five months later.
I hope that readers take away from my experience that sometimes when life seems like it’s moving backward, it can actually be moving forward. On the surface, my journey has surely been quite confusing to many people in my life. Why would I return to LA if I dislike it so much and love Spain so much more? Allow me to explain.
Here’s a reminder of my timeline for more context:
- August 2020 — Was feeling pushed away from LA and pulled toward Spain. Moved to Castelló de la Plana. (part one)
- August 2021 — Was feeling pushed away from Castelló and pulled toward Valencia. Moved to Valencia. (part two)
- March 2022 Was feeling pushed away from Valencia and pulled back to LA. Moved to LA. (part three, current article)
- June 2022 — Was feeling pushed away from LA and pulled toward Jerusalem. Moved to Jerusalem in August 2022. (part three, current article)
The Return to Valencia
First, I’ll pick up where I left off in part two. In August 2021, I moved to Valencia, Spain — the place I had long dreamed of returning to. I found an apartment with a close musician friend of mine — four bedrooms and two bathrooms for just the two of us, and a total price of a mere 1000 euros per month. It was great — I had plenty of friends close by, a 10‐minute walk to the beautiful City of Arts and Sciences and a 10‐ minute walk to the popular Russafa neighborhood. Our two extra bedrooms served as music recording studios and guest rooms when we had friends from out of town visits. There were some small issues with the apartment, but nothing outweighed the amazing price, location, and space we had.
In September, my parents came from LA to visit for a few days, and we spent a weekend at a beautiful Airbnb in one of my favorite beach towns in Spain — Benicàssim. It was a wonderful trip. It was particularly special because my dad had never been to Spain before and finally got to experience what I had fallen in love with. They left, and the beginning of my second year as an auxiliar de conversación was about to begin on October 1. My life felt perfect. My social life was great. I was starting to compose my third album for the US-based label I’m signed to. I knew that my upcoming commute to Almassora was going to be a bit brutal, but I was ready to give it a shot.
The Start of the School Year — A New Routine
When the school year started, my days immediately became much more exhausting. I’d wake up at 5:45 AM or earlier to bike a mile to Estació del Nord to catch the nearly 1.5-hour train ride to Almassora, followed by another 15‐minute walk to the school. The school days were short. I’d be on my way home by 12:30 PM to get home by 2:30-3 PM I’d normally eat a late lunch and take a nap because of how tiring the commute and elementary school children were.
At 4:30 PM, I’d wake up for the second half of my day. I’d try to keep this half a bit more balanced, going for walks around the city with close friends to clear my mind, playing music with my roommate, and, when I had the energy, working on my album. I also had other freelance projects with some pretty tight deadlines in October. This meant I’d normally be done with my day around 8-8:30 PM I’d cook dinner for myself, watch an episode of a show, and go to bed by 10 PM.
I had Fridays off from school, so my three‐day weekends usually involved at least one day of rest and mostly doing nothing. I’d spend the other two days going grocery shopping, going on mini adventures with my friends, going to my friend’s concerts, and working on my album. During the week, I usually didn’t end up having the energy or time to work on it. That meant Saturdays and Sundays usually were my recording days.
Feeling Pushed from Valencia — Burnout, and Lack of Momentum
After a couple of weeks, I found a carpool in the morning to school, which meant I’d wake up at 6:30 AM instead. I still had to bike over a mile in the very cold mornings to the place where I’d be picked up, so the extra hour of sleep didn’t make up for much. By November, I was already feeling a bit burnt out. I was under-rested and starting to feel like I didn’t have enough time for professional development. I even got sick a few times.
Aside from being a composer, I’m also a documentarian. Over the last several years, I’ve been developing a series of documentaries that focuses on culture and music festivals in parts of the world like the Middle East that are typically disproportionately represented negatively. This project had been on the back burner because of Covid, but I was starting to feel antsy since travel was starting to reopen. As great as my life was in Valencia, it didn’t feel like I had any forward momentum toward the eventual production of this project. I felt like the development of my career was on pause.
The Unexpected Becoming a Reality
I planned to visit LA for the holidays. However, I was having an extremely frustrating experience dealing with the slowness of Spanish bureaucracy. My residency card was in the midst of a six-month-long renewal process. It was also beginning to look like I might not have the required documents in time to travel home. By mid-November, I started to consider what had never even crossed my mind in six years. “Should I move back to LA for a while?” The idea of not having the freedom to travel to see my family when my work schedule allowed for it felt like a dealbreaker. At best, living in Spain only allowed me to see them two or three times a year. After a stressful bureaucratic nightmare, I finally received the document just two days before my flight to LA in December.
Importance of Family
While spending time with family, especially my nephew, who was soon to turn two, the decision became clear I was going to return to LA either at the end of my contract in May or even sooner, depending on how burnt out I continued to feel. As much as I hate LA as a place, it was a temporary compromise I knew I was making. I had two clear and simple priorities that would be my focus upon returning — spend time with family and start pre-production for the documentary series. My plan was to stay in LA for two to three years maximum. That would give myself ample time to enjoy family, break my streak of moving cities every single year, and get my project funded and started.
Being in LA meant I didn’t have to deal with bureaucracy to live there like I had to in Spain. And more importantly, I could take advantage of my connections in one of the biggest film capitals in the world to give myself an edge starting off my project. I knew I’d be back in Spain afterward, so I didn’t need to worry.
The Return to LA
After a few weeks of being back in Valencia in January 2022, I finally realized. It was not conducive to my mental health and professional development to continue my exhausting routine until the end of May. I decided to leave my school three months early, so I could have the opportunity to enjoy March in Valencia (especially the Las Fallas festival) before flying back to LA on March 31. This decision definitely shocked many people in my life.
When I arrived back in LA, I spent tons of time seeing family for the first month and a half. I went to my brother’s wedding in Sacramento, visited my grandma in Palm Springs, and also flew to Toronto to visit one of my best friends for a week. At the end of May, I traveled to Israel for free for 10 days through the Birthright program. The plan was to come back to LA after that trip and finally start on my documentary project.
When I returned from Israel, another curveball was thrown at me. I was invited to an informational call about a 10-month-long fellowship in Jerusalem. The fellowship would cover the cost of an apartment, public transit pass, insurance, Hebrew lessons, and even paid a stipend. My main responsibility would be to assist an English teacher part-time. It is similar to what I had done for a year and a half in Spain. Aside from that, I would be connected with any organization I’d like to volunteer with for five hours a week. The rest of my time would be free to work on my project and do what I wanted to.
An Opportunity Which I Couldn’t Decline
This fellowship was the perfect opportunity. Rather than spending two to three years in LA trying to pitch my project and consult with producers, I’d be living for free in the place I wanted to start the project — in the Middle East. I’d be able to make connections with filmmakers and organizations in the Middle East that would be essential in making my project a reality.
At the end of the fellowship, I’d have great material, connections, and proof of concept to be able to pitch my project even more effectively to get more funding. I’d be able to use the free time to compose a fourth album. And eventually, I will have the income needed to return to Spain with a different visa. Having one of these visas would be the ultimate goal for me, as it would allow me to live more permanently in Spain while having the freedom to visit my family whenever I wanted to.
Thinking About the Fellowship
I learned about this fellowship in early June 2022 and quickly realized that I would almost inevitably do it. It felt like the universe had offered me an “out” from what could have turned out to be much worse than I initially expected. Being back in LA, it seemed, was likely not going to work out with the two to three-year plan that I had originally decided on.
The difficulty of maintaining a fulfilling social life that I wanted, the cost of living, and the necessity of a car to get around would have likely burnt me out all over again and even made me depressed again. I probably would have actually felt like I had taken a step backward in my life and tried my hardest to raise money for my project and make it feel like it was moving forward. I would have spent as much time as possible with my family. But at the end of the day, I realized that staying in LA wouldn’t have had the same forward momentum and progress as the fellowship in Jerusalem.
Sometimes Moving Forward Looks Like Moving Backward
This wild two‐year journey starting in August 2020 from living in LA to Castelló to Valencia to LA to Jerusalem has been one clear straight path forward. It might seem like a series of disjointed movements, but it really is all forward. The most recent move from Valencia to LA may have seemed like a step backward, given that living in Valencia more permanently is my goal. However, it was more like the pulling back of a slingshot — a motion that, without it, would make the forward motion of the projectile impossible.
I am like the projectile in the slingshot, being launched forward in my professional life as a documentarian completing a fellowship in Jerusalem. I am also being launched forward toward a more permanent life in Spain. Each of the moves I’ve made has been like dominos falling. Without each individual one, the whole chain would break.
At the time of writing this article, just five days before my flight to Israel to start the fellowship, I have no idea if I will actually land back in Spain immediately after it ends. If there’s anything my experience has taught me, it’s that plans help give me direction and purpose, but they stop being helpful when they become unchangeable. I will continue to take the lessons I’ve learned of flexibility and constantly re-evaluating my life situation to ensure that it is as enjoyable and fulfilling as possible.
I have now lived in a different city every year for almost eight years. As much as I want to break that streak and have genuinely wanted to for the last two years, I also realize that it might turn into nine, or even ten. I certainly want a more permanent community and stability. But at the same time, I know it will be that much more fulfilling when it finally happens. I’ll know I’ve finally “landed.”
By no means do I intend to “settle down” in the more universally understood way. Rather, I hope to have a home base from which to travel, compose music, and produce documentaries. I also want to come back to the same place, same community, same friends, etc. I hope that after reading my series of articles, especially if you’re similar to me at all, you take some solace in the knowledge that we’re in this together. Living life on multiple continents can feel like living multiple different lives, but in reality, it’s one cohesive experience. One path forward.
by Eli Slavkin