Born “Sarah” (pronounced [zaːʁa]) in Northern Germany, “Alex” became my brave alter ego when my childhood best friend and I decided to be a duo of world-class performers. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t an artist, although it would take me 30 years to finally say I’m an artist out loud. I’ll be in my mid-thirties soon (2019), so I’ve spent a very long time not being true to who I am.
I’ve always loved and often practiced both fine arts and performing arts, with writing being my greatest passion. But as is so often the case with childhood ambitions, mine got crushed. “You’re smart. Get a REAL job,” they said. A three-month design course after finishing high school as an A- student turned out to be my last attempt at being a professional artist for a while.
From playing it safe to becoming a serial expat
After completing my formal education in leisure management (tourism), I migrated south and started a music blog with my then-roommate, leading to an interesting summer hanging out with musicians and becoming infatuated with an Italian rapper. I was already heading to Italy, so I took that summer romance as a sign I was traveling in the right direction.
A new years resolution to learn Italian led me to the language class that introduced me to my future partner in life, love, and adventure. Three dates and seven months later we eloped and moved to Ireland, where I studied business and later on geography and environmental science. But nothing got me as excited as making art. I’ve made more use of my short design course than I ever did of any formal education. To this day I’m grateful for learning graphic and web design because those skills have led to many interesting projects over the years.
In 2012, I moved to California, finally graduating college at age 28 (as the first person in my family to obtain a college degree). The following summer I started interning at an international think tank, where I held a number of positions over the following three years.
From conceiving a brainchild to conceiving a human child
That internship was the best thing that could have happened to me. My boss was a veteran author and became my mentor, encouraging me to finally write a book and thus realizing my lifelong dream. I initially thought I’d be writing nonfiction, but instead conceived my first novel in just three months, shortly before I turned 29. And then I started writing another novel, and another, and another, all in one year. Yet I didn’t have the guts to try and publish even one.
Because I’m not a native English speaker, I needed to get an editor. In 2015, I finally worked up the courage to contact one, who wasn’t interested, so I tried another one and found my match. While we were working on taking my novel to the next level, a few unforeseen events delayed completion. Most notably, the cyst I thought I had turned out to be a human growing inside me. Sadly, I didn’t get to have the Hollywood-esque pregnancy, blinding people with mama glow. It was hard and scary, and I was so relieved when it was over.
From feeling the fear to doing it anyway
When my baby was six months old we decided to spend three months in Europe. Most of it we spent in Italy, which is probably my favorite country to live in (if you can see past the politics and slim job prospects). I published my debut novel on March 6, 2017, at San Francisco International Airport, because I couldn’t bear the thought of dying in a plane crash without having at least published one book. I didn’t tell anyone about it, and I didn’t magically sell any books overnight.
It took me almost three months to tell my friends I published a book, and only then did I start promoting it—lightly. I made some sales, but nothing particularly remarkable. The biggest success to date was when I made my novel available for free and it hit #34 in my genre on Amazon. But best of all, it brought fellow romance author Lynn Turner into my life. Sharing this journey with someone I admire not only made it more fun but also taught me the value of having an accountability partner (or on a larger scale, a supportive community).
From self-resentment to self-care
2018 was one of my worst years, bringing a lot of illness and loss not only to me but also my family and friends. On top of it, I got severely homesick for the first time in my life. Eventually, I ran out of energy and willpower. I still managed to drag myself forward by the gums of my teeth for another six months—which is nothing to brag about, but shows you how stubborn I am. Toward the end, I couldn’t breathe anymore without medication. And, as they say, something had to give.
I started my very own Self-Care/Self-Development Experiment in mid-August 2018, with the help of my little sister. She was visiting for a few weeks at the time and became both my accountability partner and sounding board.
I strongly believe that the right books will find you, and so it happened that I stumbled upon Julia Cameron’s The Complete Artist’s Way, probably the heaviest book I’ve ever held in my hands. And also the most life-changing. I was skeptical at first, as I am of anything spiritual and religious. But because I like to think of myself as open-minded, I decided to give it a try and do all the exercises even though they seemed rather silly in the beginning.
From helping myself to helping others
The Artist’s Way in combination with all the things I’ve tried as part of my experiment really shook something loose. My breathing problem disappeared within a few days, and by Day 4 I no longer needed any medication at all. As I’m writing this, October 2018 is coming to an end. I’m feeling so much more calm and optimistic and full of ideas, which is why I decided to make my experiment public, so others can benefit from it as well.
If a skeptic like me can do it, so can everyone else who has a willingness to change their life one day at a time. But this willingness to change is key. You need to know why you’re doing this, and you need to remind yourself of it constantly, because there will be roadblocks, and you need to keep going anyway. The Finns call this quality sisu. You don’t have to swim in icy water like they do (though if you can do it, you absolutely should), but you’ll definitely need to push past your comfort zone.
Putting myself out there is far past my comfort zone, but I want to build and be part of a supportive community, and people usually don’t just conveniently appear at your doorstep. So there you have it: a glimpse into where I’m coming from, who I am, and where I’m planning to go. If you’re interested in joining the community, get in touch. Seriously. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.