new york

Do I Overthink?

“I used to live right over there, on that corner!”

“I made it very very clear…!!!”

“Someone take over, I can’t do this, I don’t know where we are!”

“Who is watching Billy?”

“Excuse me, is this Christopher street?”

I have a moment in which I am at home in a city that likes to remain a stranger as I tell a stranger that she is, indeed, on Christopher Street. It’s really a fluke that I know that, as this is my first time in this area, but I had just checked which street I was on, and what do you know? I can blend into the world, act like a local, tell her “yes! You’re on the right track.”

I’m in this part of town because I’m in a bad mood, and I hate bad moods. I’m not talking about a bad mood that is there for a reason, and therefore gives fire to my writing, or inspires me, or pushes me to be better. This is a bad mood that just sits in me, causing me to get irritated more easily, and feel generally low about how little I’ve been able to actually accomplish so far in my life.

I woke up in this bad mood, and I don’t have time for it. This week requires creativity and joy and excitement, and I can’t make time to wallow in self-pity, or whatever the bad mood required to allow me to slip out of its clutches. So I do something that usually works. I take myself to a part of the city I’ve never been to, and try to lose myself in the unfamiliar.

What initially attracts me to the area is a park that I found on google. They call it a secret garden and it looks like the perfect place to undo this bad mood and take deep breaths and realize that no matter what, life is going to be more than okay. I find the park, I find a seat, and I sit. I read my book, but I begin to feel antsy. I move to the other side of the park, yet deep in my stomach, I feel uneasy and uncomfortable, and I’m getting frustrated.

The park is silent, other than the squawks of birds who have the liberty to not care what humans think of them, and the occasional buzzing bee, yet the peace I’m so desperately seeking is refusing to settle in.

After trying to force it for all too long, I turn on my google maps to check out what else is around me, and I see that I am only a few short blocks from the water, and it’s like my legs know where to go before I realize it.

As I get closer to the water, I feel my heart begin to lift, and I wonder why I ever thought a silent park would be the perfect place to release the tension that was building up inside of me. I sit down near the water and take a deep breath and feel the tension ease out of me at last. I stare into the depths of the churning sea, and I feel the calm I had been seeking begin to enter me.

The other day, one of my students and I had a discussion about what calm is. I argued that calm is when you can find a place that is quiet, distraction-less and peaceful. She argued that calm does not have to equal that, that you can find a calm amidst the chaos.

I don’t truly grasp what she meant until I sit near the chaotic sea and feel a depth of calm I haven’t felt in a while.

It’s true.

As the waves slam themselves into the walls of the pier I sit on, I’m not sure precisely what it is, but I know that there is something so magical about the waves that keep returning to the shore, with the same intensity every, single, time.

I sit at the water, and breathe, and think, and cry a little because that’s how all of my bad moods finally leak out.

I leave, and I get on the subway, and I’m standing because I always stand.

A man, homeless, walks on, muttering intelligibly, about to walk past me, but then one man looks him in the eye and asks:

“What’s going on, man?”

They start to have a conversation, human to human.

It’s beautiful.

I don’t know if this man is a real man in all parts of his life, but today, right now, he is, because he isn’t afraid to talk to someone that everyone else avoids eye contact with.

Maybe beyond money, beyond medical intervention, beyond anything this homeless man needs is a human to look at him as a human.

“Excuse me, is this Christopher street?”

“Yes!”

“Thank you!”

But wait, I’m not a local, I’m as lost as you are, maybe more because I’ve convinced myself I know my way around, but I don’t, and that can be taken literally or metaphorically, but either way, I like your dress, and we probably have so much more in common than we think…

The thing is, either you can read this sorry-excuse-of-a-blog-post and pull a thousand meanings from it.

Or you can read it as my very detailed account of my day that may seem meaningless.

Or you can read it like I wrote it, as someone who sees meaning in every encounter, but is trying to come to terms with the fact that I don’t always know the meaning, and some moments in life can be taken at face value and appreciated and remembered, and not everything has to be the life-changing moment I wish it was.

Sometimes, bad moods come, and they go, and that is that.

 

10/52


Photo by Oscar Keys on Unsplash

This Week

This week,

a cashier complimented me, after months of my complaining that New York cashiers walk around as if the world slapped them – which in fact, in a way, it does, through entitled customers. A cashier complimented me, and the sun was shining, and I was surprised as I said thank you, taking my change, but receiving much more.

This week,

i sat on the subway with my sister, as we speculated about other passengers, their life stories, their destinations, and I realized they might be looking at us, and for a moment, I was burning with desire to know what they saw. Two girls, on the subway, heading towards an adventure that would last a day, with flowers; and coffee; and too much dinner.

This week,

i boarded a bus alone, traveling by myself for the first time in months, among strangers, my head bent as I avoided eye contact, hoping for my own seat, finally winning, and then wondering why someone who loves connection finds isolation so dangerously sweet.

This week,

as i waited for my second bus, sleep heavy on my eyes, I observed two homeless women, having set up camp in a bus station in a city, but as they prepared for bed, they laughed together like schoolgirls, perhaps denying the truth of their middle aged homelessness, perhaps not denying anything at all.

This week,

i drove for the first time in a while, preferring the quiet NH streets to the wild ones in NYC, and my windows were down, and my music was loud, and I was all alone, and I was happy.

This week,

I laughed with a cashier, back in my hometown, and as I paid her I realized that people in this part of the world didn’t look like they were slapped, and that was pretty cool, and that being alone is great, but connection is all that sweeter.

6/52.

Seeking Silence in the Concrete Jungle

I had some time off this week, and I’m traveling next week, so I decided to make the most out of this week without leaving New York.
I spent most of my week itching for isolation. A spot I could call my own, not surrounded by chatter or other people and what they bring with them.
A spot I could pull out my book or stare off into space without feeling like was taking up room or not noticing something I should.
I started my search with the library. I figured, in middle of the day, how busy could the library be?
It was packed.
There were so many people, it was hard enough to find a seat, let alone find a private spot to curl up.
I chose a seat, as away as possible, with my randomly chosen book.
The book was about Nigeria, a young man who had grown up there, left and returned. It was a look into a life I have never given any thought. Into a culture I have never been face to face with.
I finished the entire thing in one sitting.
I hadn’t looked up or spoke to any of my table mates, but as I left I felt a kinship with the people I just had spent a couple of hours near.
The next day, I headed out again, on my own.
This time to an area I knew would be wildly populated. But I needed to go shopping, so I spent my day in a mall. Alone, but again surrounded by so many. So many that I exchanged a smile or two with, but nothing more.
I wandered around the city afterward and ended up at the 9/11 memorial. I read the names of hundreds in my head, imagining the family behind the name, the real-life human who had been cut out of their story.
Today, I got on the subway with no destination. I took out my book as I got on, and only got off when my book no longer kept me enthralled.
As I stepped onto the street, I found myself slightly disappointed. I have never gotten off at this stop, but I’d barely know it. It looked the same as every block in Manhattan. Starbucks on one corner, CVS on another, skyscrapers towering, and crowds of annoyed people. I set off down one block, searching for anything that caught my interest. Eventually, I ended up at Barnes and Noble’s, slightly defeated. My day of exploration could not have been less adventurous.
I chose a book, sat myself down and got to work – once again, trying to be alone in a room full of people. Without even noticing, I began to eavesdrop on the phone conversation behind me – a tutor was discussing math problems with his student. They began talking about college, and as the tutor would pose a question and then fall silent, I imagined the little person inside the phone, maybe sitting on their bed, maybe at their kitchen table, filled with dreams of their future. A human that I could not see nor hear, yet was now a part of my life in this tiny tiny way.
As I turned back to my book, I heard three little girls begin to sing a song together. Their moms, suddenly distracted from their coffee and conversation, startled by their daughter’s loud reminder that they were still there, quickly tried to shush them. The girls laughed and sang louder, running around the quiet readers. I smiled at their enthusiasm, I smiled at the mother’s desperate attempt to get them to stop singing their sweet song.
The tutor left, the girls left, and pretty soon I was bored of reading a book I had no intention of buying, so I headed out.
I figured before I called it a day, I should just walk a few more blocks.
And there it was.
I finally chanced upon a place that was empty.

A New York City location empty of any tourist, residents, anyone.
There was only one other human, far enough away to not count.
I sat down, blissful.
I was finally alone.

The spot I had found was filled with all kinds of weird sculptures and things that I analyzed as I sat there, in the sweet silence.

I suddenly found myself wondering about the person who had designed these, created these and placed them. Did he wonder why his little park was empty? Was he thrilled that this was a place someone could find isolation in the busiest city, or did he envision children running around, families spread out?
After a good half hour, I finally stood up, ready to not be alone anymore.
Humans. They are the most complex creatures of the universe. The little girls in Barnes and Nobles. The Nigerians in my book. That one other guy in the park. The tutor, and the person he was tutoring. All the people on the subway rides I ignored. The artist.
In all my attempts to run away from people, I kept running into them.
I spoke to so few people during my field trips, yet I had learned so much about them.
I’ll never stop being fascinated by people, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop writing about them.
It was a good week. I learned about myself, I learned about NYC, I learned that there are very few places in New York that you can be all alone.
But I also learned that if you live in NYC, it’s best that you learn how to be alone while surrounded by people, and that sometimes, that’s the best kind of alone you can be.

Blog Post 20/52 (20! that feels like a milestone!)

Featured Photo by Christopher Burns via Unsplash.

Autumn in the City: A Snapshot

I’m making my students write a vignette tomorrow, a snapshot. I haven’t written one in a while.

So. Here goes:

Like most things in the city, the beauty of autumn doesn’t linger very long. When I awake, I pull on my thick, warm socks, over my leggings, and tie up my scuffed boots, feeling the chill inside of my bones. Over my heavy sweater, I start my morning off with a scarf, picking the widest coffee mug so that my cold fingers can warm up against the hot coffee inside. It’s fascinating how after a summer of 80’s and 90’s, a morning in the 50’s feels like the icy cold depths of winter. Just like us humans, consistently ungrateful, always forgetful. Without a doubt, autumn is when I feel most alive. Ironic, for as the world slowly dies around me, my heart feels lighter. I crush the leaves beneath my feet, the wind snapping at my hat. The warmth of my scarf heavily outweighs the consistent irritating itch it lends my neck, and so I always wear one. This year was the first time I made the commitment to a fall coat, and just weeks in, I realized why I never bought one before. Autumn is just a whisper, a quick peek and then it’s gone. The city turns on its fairy lights and it’s jolly tunes, running towards winter with a speed you can only find in New York City, and I stand on the busy streets, leaves beneath my feet, clutching my coat made for autumn, wishing it would just stay around, for just a little bit longer.

Blog Post: 8/52


Feature Photo by Karla Alexander on Unsplash