This week, after a long, drawn-out research process that often had me missing the forest for the trees, I finally finished my internship piece to my editor’s satisfaction and he published it on City Limits’ web site.
It is by no means the best thing I’ve ever written, but I wrote it. I did the work (with direction), mapped out the piece, and wrote the 2,000-ish words.
On June 14, 1974, an apartment building at 180 Central Avenue in Bushwick, Brooklyn, went up in flames and took the lives of Carmen Molina and two children who, with the rest of their family—the children’s father and another daughter—were preparing to move out of the building.
The Molinas lived on the building’s third and top floor. The fire escape was gated and locked. The father, Miguel, jumped from the third floor to get help, but on impact, broke multiple bones.
Sonia, 9, the middle daughter, was spending the night in her grandmother’s home not far away. At dawn, she and her grandmother woke to pounding on the door. It was Sonia’s aunt, come with news of the fire.
Sunday: Mother’s Day. I talked to my mom for almost three hours.
Monday: Finished revising my piece for my internship. Worked out.
Tuesday: Work. Worked out.
Wednesday: Internship over, so I stayed home and worked my creative muscles.
Thursday: Work. Worked out.
Friday: Work. Wrote and read before bed.
Saturday: Read longform articles in preparation for Monday’s post in my new series of blog posts. Choir practice. Ran and then took a walk, because the indoors are confining and, guess what? It was beautiful outside!
Next week, I’m traveling to Indiana for my college commencement, so most of my week won’t be spent in the City. But no worries — I’ll still post for Week Sixteen, the final weekly NYC post. After that, my Good Reads posts will continue and, hopefully, I’ll have some freelance work to link to.
Thanks for reading! Feel free to share related thoughts below.
Sure, I ran 1.4 miles today in 10:38. Sure, I followed it up with sprints and crunches and pushups. Sure, I got my heart rate up and didn’t feel awful. But I am not where I was three months ago, when I was working on getting to a pull-up, doing weighted squats, deadlifts, going hard for an hour at least three, if not four or five, times a week.
I felt my muscles begin to atrophy months ago, when I was here in the dead of winter with snow piled on the ground and no gym membership or free weights to get me moving indoors. Transition periods are always tough for me; the things I love — music, creative work (i.e. arts and crafts), Bible time, physical activity — typically fall to the wayside, even though doing those things keeps me healthy and functional.
Yesterday, I decided, with the arrival of May and nice weather (even when it’s raining), excuses for not working out are no longer an option. So in the evening (after a pre-afternoon workout with my housemate, choir practice, and grocery shopping), I sat down on my bed with the one permanent marker I brought to the City and a paper bag I’d brought home from work (the only blank paper I currently have). After unfolding the bag and flattening it out, I cut off a piece, brought a desk drawer over to use as a platform, and drew lines across the paper, dividing the space into a graph of the days of the week and the hours of the day, from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Then, I filled in my known schedule — internship, work, church, choir — and started eyeing empty space for working out.
I realized, in this process, that working out isn’t the only thing I’ve neglected over the past three months: I haven’t made a single thing since I came here. Cutting up that paper bag and writing on it is the closest I’ve gotten to a craft. I’ve saved things — brochures, clippings from newspapers, programs — but I haven’t even attempted a collage, because . . . I don’t have glue.
Arts and crafts are a natural pasttime for me. My family sees potential where others see trash. It’s part of living cheaply, and it’s also just part of who we are. My mom collects postage stamps and uses them for decoupage on homemade boxes. My little brother makes stuffed animals and dolls out of random pieces of fabric. I used to make bags out of hole-y jeans and, just last summer, made an apron out of two pieces of discarded clothing. Scissors, glue, needle, thread — that’s really all that’s necessary for any of this and, yet, I haven’t made a single thing. I haven’t even touched the knitting I brought with me.
And that’s not all: Yesterday, after choir practice, I sat down at the piano to try and play a song I’m singing with another girl for special music. My fingers were stiff and clumsy — nowhere near where they were in January, after finishing a semester of piano lessons that had me playing Chopin, Bach, and Beethoven. I realized: I haven’t played piano since I was at Taylor, and now I feel like a true novice.
Weaker, weaker, weaker . . . that’s how I feel in all of these areas — even writing, unfortunately. The only place I feel stronger is my faith, and that’s because I’ve actually been reading my Bible on a regular basis. But all of these other areas, they’re important, too. They’re part of me as a multi-interest individual who thrives on new experiences, learning, growing. They keep me in tune to the possibilities around me and aware of the potential in random inanimate objects, as well as people. They improve my brain function, rhythm, coordination. And they keep me healthy, confident, and strong.
Looking at my paper bag schedule for this week, I’m realizing it’s not just working out I need to work on. It’s also creativity, piano, and wordsmith-ing.
The battle I’ve been losing isn’t over, yet. There’s still a chance I can turn things around, regain some core strength, pick up the pace, have something to show for these four months other than bitten nails, worn-out jeans, and poor posture. This week — and the rest leading up to May 24 (my college commencement) — that’s the goal. Improvement.
Bringing you up-to-date:
Monday: Internship. Work. Worked out again with TMIRCE. This time, it was their track workout, which I was hoping would be more up my alley. Turned out, they still run the track for distance: we did long intervals adding up to three miles. It killed me.
(Note: My squat stance is a bit wide, but it was literally the only way my exhausted legs could pull off the motion. That’s how out of shape I am.)
Wednesday: Internship. Work. Choir. Church.
Saturday: Worked out with my housemate. Choir practice. Grocery shopping. Paper bag scheduling.
Time is currency. And this week, mine was spent — in research and at work. With it went my energy, so rather than sitting at my desk for three-plus hours, badgering myself to write something worth reading, I present the following: a conglomeration of thoughts, quoted and original, that I’ve written down over the past three months. Enjoy.
“There’s never anything new about death, to be sure, except its improved publicity. . . . Getting old is the second-biggest surprise of my life, but the first, by a mile, is our unceasing need for deep attachment and intimate love.” ~ Roger Angell, “This Old Man“, The New Yorker
“You can’t make any sense of any fact without putting it into any sort of narrative structure.” ~ Tim Keller
“Is there any meaning for me in life that the inevitable death does not destroy?” ~ Tolstoy
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” ~ Jesus, Luke 21:33
“Ain’t nobody can write down in a book what you worth.” ~ Sue Monk Kidd, The Invention of Wings
Start a story in the middle of action, but not with the heart of the action. Let that come later.
“Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” James 4:17
“God gives us scary stuff sometimes, but He doesn’t make us do it by ourselves.” The world is full of people who don’t know God and, thus, in the face of eternity, panic. “We should not look like that.” ~ Dr. Aaron Housholder, Taylor University chapel message
“Stay with me; do not be afraid, for he who seeks my life seeks your life. With me you shall be in safekeeping.” 1 Samuel 22:23
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:21
“God has not given us the spirit of fear: but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord . . . but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the Gospel according to the power of God.” 2 Timothy 1:7&8
“If I don’t have jack, my eye still be on the sparrow.” ~ KB, “Be All Right”
“Pride always has shame and ruin at its heels.” ~ Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame
If New York was London and chimney sweeps were still a thing, the sweeps would have turf battles on the rooftops with graffiti artists. (Ride the 7 train to Queens and look out the windows — you’ll understand.)
“We have been approved by God to be entrusted with the Gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.” 1 Thessalonians 2:4
“If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Galatians 1:10c
“The law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.” Galatians 3:24
A person in a library containing all the world’s books would never sit down and try to write his own.
“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt
“If your salvation is by grace alone, it is kept by grace alone.” ~ Vincent Sawyer
I rose early this morning, beating the sun by a hair. Crawling out of bed, I shut off my alarm, turned on my desk lamp, and paused, sighed.
6 a.m. Day has broken.
A quick trip to the bathroom, splashing water on my face, and then back to my room, on with another light, dig in my shirt drawer for the second of two new t-shirts: charcoal gray with sky blue text across the chest, reading “spoon-fed”.
Look out work — here I come.
Oatmeal, scrambled eggs, and a full glass (well, mug) of milk. Wash, dry, put away. On with the boots, scarf, coat. Double-check my pocket for my phone and MetroCard, my bag for my sneakers, wallet, keys. Button, button, button, button up. Unlock the door in front of me; step into the waking world, sunbeams tinting the sky; lock the door behind me. On to the bus stop. On to the subway station. On to Manhattan. On to work.
This past Thursday, I filled out tax forms for my new part-time job as a counter person at tbsp (pronounced tablespoon), a restaurant operated by Spoon Catering on 17 East 20th Street. (Apparently, tbsp’s tables came from Cooperstown.)
For the first time in a long time, I’m the new kid on the block, the one who has to ask questions about everything from “what’s in the frosting” to “do we have more of these” and “what should I do with this”. It’s tough going from a system you know inside-out to a brand new work setting that’s similar to where you’ve worked before, but different in the way it runs.
I’m used to Danny’s Main Street Market, the place where if you’re behind the counter, you not only take orders and ring out customers, but you make bagels, come up with sandwich specials, wash dishes, mop floors, sharpen knives — and you answer questions based on your knowledge from doing everything behind the counter. I’m used to a place where, by being hired, you’re expected to do it all. And I’m used to knowing exactly what “all” is.
Now, I’m the newbie, the one who busies herself with straightening paper bags and stocking soup cups because she doesn’t know what else to do — only to find that it’s actually the paninis that need to be restocked, meaning the cold sandwiches need to be transferred to the grill. And, yes, the cold sandwiches are right here, on a tray in the rack under the counter. Be sure to put on gloves.
I’m used to being the one who’s been there for years, seen the place through ups and downs, multiple owners. Now, I’m the new kid who knows nothing and knows nobody, but knows, for sure, that she doesn’t agree with multiple co-workers’ choices (no surprise here) and knows she doesn’t want people who barely know her to write her off as a hater — especially since she actually loves people, loves getting to know them, learning their stories, and figuring out what they’re into and what makes them who they are.
Right now, getting to know the other people is what I’m focused on. I may already have some favorites.
Introducing (some of) my co-workers
Ashley: One of tbsp’s managers, Ashley thinks I look like one of the cheerleaders in Glee. She talks super fast and went to a Catholic school somewhere in the City.
Drew: Flamboyantly gay and super particular in all things regarding the new espresso machine. He recently received training in cappuccino art and, just this past week, I witnessed a girl Instagram one of his drinks. Excitement ensued.
Jenay: Full-time tbsp staff who’s working on a fiction book about the impact of generational abuse. She found out I studied writing and immediately launched into an introduction to her own thoughts and research on writing and publishing. She’s pointed out one literary agent who comes in regularly with a stack of manuscripts under his arm, and I’ve since seen at least one other person carrying binder-clipped, size 12, double-spaced, Times New Roman piles of paper.
Yordana: One of those people who’s so cool, you don’t know what to say. Studying criminal justice and psychology at one of NYC’s many universities, Yordana is barista for weekend brunch and works shifts during the week as well. You can tell just by looking at her and hearing her voice — low, confident — that she’s smart and she’s tough.
Brianna: Born in California, raised in Dublin, Ireland, Brianna has lived in New York since last September. Her accent is delicate, not always obvious, and Brianna is hard to read. I’m never sure if the look on her face is because I did something majorly wrong or because something completely different is on her mind.
Then there are the Mexicans who work in the kitchen, Jen the pastry chef, the owners Melissa and her husband (whose name I hear and forget every day I’m there), the weekend brunch staff, the weekday delivery guys, and a couple others — a lot of people to keep track of. I don’t think I’ll ever know everyone’s name (but we have a staff meeting tomorrow, so I’ll at least hear everyone’s name).
I always start off quiet, shy, and gradually become more outspoken. At the beginning, Customer Service Meredith interacts with everyone — customers and co-workers alike. The drive-thru voice turns on, smile grows big, and the problem-solver, who deals with difficult customers very sweetly, runs at full throttle. As time goes on and I get to know the place and people better, more of me and the inner workings of my brain leak out and those I work with, along with a few select customers, get to hear what I think.
I’m not there, yet, with tbsp, but in the past week, I’ve started to crack open a bit — the amount of cracking directly related to the growth in my ability to independently recognize my duties and fulfill them. I expect, as time goes on, this relation will continue and the less I feel like a know-nothing newbie, the more I’ll feel free to let my thoughts fly. I look forward to that.
Monday: Dim sum (which I guess means real Chinese food) with a Chinese lady from church and Mara Burns. Internship.
Tuesday: I met fellow Taylor grad, Hanna Ryberg, at her aunt’s apartment building on the Upper West Side. We went for a run in Central Park, and then I walked a good bit of it myself (shorts weather!) before heading downtown to get my New York Public Library card.
Wednesday: Internship + 1.4 mile run in 11:15 + church.
Thursday: Worked at tbsp. Filled out tax forms.
Friday: Worked at tbsp. Called my family and talked to everyone except my 10-year-old brother. =(
Saturday: Worked at tbsp. Waited in a huge line at Trader Joe’s to get my housemate fancy salt from the Himalayas. Hit Aldi on the way back from Manhattan. Successfully resisted the urge to buy ice cream or chocolate or both. Ran 1.4 miles in 10:51. Ate chicken and rice soup for supper. Spent way too much time on this blog post. Oh, and I took this picture. Notice how what makes the buildings good are not man’s designs but God’s creation: the sun, the clouds, the sky.
Him. The man standing directly in front of me on the 6 train, dirt under his fingernails, clothes faded and filthy.
I wanted to give him my peanut butter sandwich, made with the last scrapings from the jar, stuffed in a ziplock, stuffed in a backpack with carrot sticks, an apple, my mostly empty wallet, and my $350 refurbished MacBook.
Only a cart of his belongings and entirely different goals of existence separated us. My goals: follow God, write stories. His: stay alive.
I wanted to give him my peanut butter sandwich, but then I thought it through:
It’s almost my stop. The sandwich will barely hold me over ’til supper. I’ll get so hungry on the ride home, I’ll get shaky. He’s reading that free newspaper very intently.
He got off the train before I did. I kept my sandwich and ate it for lunch, the cold, dry peanut butter making me feel cold and dry for keeping it.
Homelessness is a fact of life in New York City. As of January 2013, the estimated number of homeless New Yorkers was 64,060 — roughly 10 percent of the national tally and a 13 percent increase from 2012.
When I moved here, I knew I would see homeless people on a regular basis. I knew there would be dirty, sad, sometimes scary people wandering the streets because they had no place to go. But I was not prepared for how merely seeing these people would affect me. (I credit it to the work of a friend of mine on a documentary about a man who is willfully homeless in order to help the Indianapolis homeless population.)
Get up at six a.m. on a Saturday. Catch the bus to the train station and climb aboard. Switch in Manhattan to a Brooklyn Bridge-bound 6 train. Scan for a seat and notice someone wrapped in a blanket, laying on a bench at one end of the car, their cart of belongings — one vibrantly-colored hat among them — on the floor in front. Notice a puddle on the seat next to the woman you stand in front of. There’s a half-soaked napkin in the puddle. Urine? Quite possibly.
On a different day, on a different train. Another early morning. Quietly, take a seat with space between you and others, if possible. Scan those around you, and settle in for the ride. Watch a dirt-ridden man pass through the aisle. Smell the stench he leaves behind, a sharp smell, almost like something dying. Wait for the cologne-ridden to board and overpower the scent.
Walk a street. Or maybe just a block or two. Notice the scaffolding that seems to have a permanent presence in front of the grand old buildings that are — like most cities and, if we’re honest, people — more about appearances than genuine, inside-out authenticity. Quick, look down. Before you trip over the body, covered head to toe with a blanket thinner than the comforter on your bed. Remember how you checked the temperature this morning and bundled up: sweater, coat, scarf, hat, gloves. Twenty-two degrees. Your cheeks are red from the wind. Your eyes are burning. Imagine sleeping outside. On concrete.
I’m a Christian. I am convinced God has a purpose for every person on this planet and that, because He loves them, He is actively working in each person’s life, creating a story unique to them that will eventually come to the happiest ending if they allow Him work in their hearts. I believe that any life has potential to be beautiful, no matter where the starting point or what happens along the way. He turns ashes into beauty, coal into diamonds, and grime into gold, so any hideous parts of life, God can make beautiful.
This means not that I look at a homeless person and think, They just need to wait on God’s timing. He will provide, but that I have a genuine interest in the welfare of others and the specific narrative they’re living out.
When I see a homeless person, I want to help them in some way. But I’m held back by fear — sometimes for legitimate reasons; other times, as in the case of the newspaper-reading-man-with-a-cart, for no reason other than the idea of an empty stomach for an afternoon.
Sunday: Church. It’s practically a full-time job — show up at 8:30 or 9, don’t leave until 2 or later. Afterward, I handed a resume in to a coffee shop in the Queens Center Mall and got groceries with my housemate at a nearby Aldi (my all-time favorite grocery store).
Monday: Internship. I honestly don’t remember much about this day. It feels like forever ago. I think this was the day I made Pennsylvania Pot Pie, but that might have been Tuesday.
Tuesday: Two in-person job interviews with eateries in the Flatiron District. When I got home, I received a phone call from a third place in the same area and was interviewed on-the-spot. All three bumped me to the next round of the hiring process.
Wednesday: During my intern hours, my editor and I met with three CUNY journalism graduate students whom we’ll be collaborating with on our arson project. I explained my research findings and suggested several directions they could take their own project.
Thursday: Met a Taylor grad, who works in the publishing industry, for lunch. On the train back, I missed a couple interesting writing opportunities.
Friday: In the evening, I made chocolate chip cookies with Krystle, but she wanted to cut the butter in the recipe so they didn’t come out perfectly. In the morning, I went into Manhattan for a four-hour paid job trial at one of the eateries I interviewed for on Tuesday. They asked me to come back Saturday to learn how to host, so . . .
Saturday: I worked nine to a little after four, hosting a restaurant for the first time in my life. I’m on the schedule for next week at this place, but I’m not officially hired, so I’m not naming names, yet. =) When I got back to the house, I ate dinner and then made muffins (with Danny’s recipe) with Lili. Three kinds: strawberry, apple and — my specialty — lemon poppy. On the subway ride back, I saw this ad (shout-out to my home region):
So I didn’t meet any writing goals this past week, but I’m a big step closer to accomplishing another: getting a job. This week’s a test round with one place, so next week, I’ll update you on my employment status.
How do you find stories in a city of eight million? Where the default safety feature is zero eye contact, and you’re more likely to hear a person talking to himself or yelling at someone to “back off” than you are to overhear a friendly conversation?
How — in this place — do you find someone willing to open up and share his story with a complete and total stranger so that stranger can turn around and share it with the world? Does it help to resemble a beagle, with big brown eyes and floppy ears, or will that just cause them to make things up, because an innocent person like you will believe anything?
Are they thirsty for human connection, or am I the only one?
Whenever I go to Manhattan, I stand or sit in public transportation for at least an hour and a half and barely say a word. Being quiet is normal for me: I’m only talkative with people I know or am trying to befriend, and then only sometimes. It’s not unusual (at least, it hasn’t been in the time I’ve been here) for me to go more than half a day without saying anything — because no one else is around. I’m in my room (or the kitchen or the bathroom) by myself.
But going for lengths of time without speaking when I’m surrounded by people? That’s a little strange. It’s like I’m an animal being herded here or there, only grunting when a neighboring cow knocks into me. No words, no laughs to lighten things up. Just grunting moos.
Only unlike cows, I’m faintly aware that literally every person I’m smushed against in the sardine can of a bus or train is living out a narrative all their own. Their lives are tracing the pattern of story — each pattern so unique that no other person in any of the City’s other sardine cans has a story anywhere close to theirs.
What these stories are, though, I can’t know, because to ask would be crossing an uncrossable line and the only accepted sound is a grunting moo to the sardine on your right.
But I’m a writer, a storyteller — I can’t spend four months in the same place as eight million people and never write a single true tale.
This week, the ache to tell someone’s story kicked in, and with it came a number of realizations.
Third, if I want to find stories, I have to go out and do something — go somewhereinteresting and actually talk to people.
It’s not that I’d never thought any of these things before (let’s emphasize the “re” in “realization”), but in my third week of unemployed intern-ment, they hit me a bit harder — square between the eyes.
I’ve been applying to jobs-to-make-ends-meet almost constantly. Mostly food service jobs that will schedule me long hours, pay me decently, and send me to bed each night more than ready for my pillow. I’ve had a couple interviews — in person, over the phone — and I have another scheduled for next week, but nothing’s worked out, yet, so this week, with the ache to write growing stronger and stronger, I started thinking about freelance opportunities. (Something I should think about anyway, if I truly want to write for a living.)
But I don’t know this place — how can I find stories to pitch?
My mind started working, thinking back to my Echo editor experience, remembering how I found local stories, analyzing my tactics. My curiosity, I realized, worked in my favor. My curiosity and my boundless desire to learn — they were what allowed stories like “Dallas, the bull-riding cowboy”, “Bibles on the bar counter“, and “Flying free” to reach print.
Granted, I was also working with an incredible staff who never lacked feature ideas — “Gloves on, fists up” came via a tip from the News section editor — and writers who were willing to chase after my un-checked ideas (namely, Paula Weinman who, as a freshman, made cold calls, set up her own interviews, and pitched her own stories). But even with the help of Echo staff, the Features section would have been incredibly boring — had it not been for my over-involvement on campus, my radar for the unique, and my interest in just about everything: sports, fitness, art, airplanes, food.
“That’s what I have to do now,” I thought, the pieces connecting in this ball of spaghetti we like to call a brain. “I have to tap into my interests, channel my inner two-year-old and set out to explore . . . everything.”
Or (to give my mom peace of mind) choose a direction — topical, not cardinal — and go with it. See what I find. Stories don’t usually end up being what you anticipate pre-research anyway, and some of the best stories I’ve written started with feeling around in the dark. Exhibit A: “Gloves on, fists up“.
Topics I’m considering right now include parkour/free running, rock climbing, and graffiti. My current strategy is to find places where those things are semi-institutionalized (e.g. Bklyn Beast and Brooklyn Boulders) and use them as a starting point to gain contacts, learn about the topic, and get leads.
I’m up for additional topic suggestions, but I also need to be held accountable so why don’t we use the power of the Internet for both. Please fill out the form below to let me know by what day this week I should have investigated (in person) at least one topic and what topics you think I should consider pursuing. (Please take into consideration that my internship is all day Monday and Wednesday and I have a job interview on Tuesday.)
Bringing you up-to-date:
(This week seemed to revolve around food.)
Sunday, after church, I went with my housemate, Lili, to a mall in Flushing, Queens, where I applied to jobs and Lili explained everything in the Chinese supermarket.
Monday, in recognition of President’s Day and the United Charities building being closed, I worked from home for my internship. More arson research.
Tuesday, I worked on job applications basically all day (started looking into writing jobs, too), received a call from a Starbucks, and taught my housemate how to make pierogies, while making them myself for the first time.
Wednesday, I interviewed two arson experts, one interview lasting a full hour, the other thirty-five minutes. I got a lot of information, learned a ton and, as usual, stumbled upon something unrelated but interesting.
Thursday, I applied to a few more jobs, but was mostly a lump on a log until Lili came home and we made three loaves and two muffins-worth of banana bread. (I’m not huge on banana bread, but this stuff is awesome. Let me know if you want the recipe.)
Friday, I went job-hunting in two different malls, got side-tracked in Target’s book section (added thesebooks to my reading list), went home, did a quick semi-workout, then hopped back on a bus to get to a train to get to church for youth group — which was interesting from the perspective of a 21-year-old college graduate. I also snapped this fuzzy photo of the Empire State Building from the aboveground subway station in Corona.
Saturday, I went to a lady’s fellowship at church (where Lili and I gave up some of our banana bread), came back to the house, did a full workout including running outside in shorts (in February!), and read all of this Greatist article. I also watched the following video of a human running a loop-the-loop — something I’d always thought was impossible.
Everyone wants a “Friends” apartment, to live with BFFs or favorite (read only) siblings and figure out life together, with a few fights and whole lot of fun along the way. I have yet to experience anything close to that.
Over the past three and a half years, I’ve been plenty willing to live with strangers:
my freshman year, because I knew no one at my school
sophomore year, because I had no desire to move off my wing
senior year, to make a friend happy by sharing an apartment with her (and two strangers)
now, in a house in Queens, because I didn’t know anyone in the City who had space.
I’m convinced in order to go anywhere new, you have to be willing to share close quarters with someone you’ve never met before.
Living with strangers isn’t easy. There’s a testing-the-waters period, as you figure out how the other person operates, what sort of things bother them, and deal with whether or not you’ll be able to sleep in silence or have the shade open enough to let in the morning sun. When you share an apartment or a house, you have to learn how clean to keep everything in order to avoid conflict. It’s not like home where conflict is a natural thing you deal with, because you’re with strangers and confronting (or being confronted by) strangers can be worse than awkward. Your insides tense up, indigestion ensues.
Beyond cleanliness, there’s relationship development, learning if your roommates are interested in friendship or if all efforts on your part will go unrewarded (what did she do with the gift I spent an entire month on? That was the best I ever made). I always go into living situations planning to befriend the others, so I’ve gotten hurt when the desire for friendship wasn’t reciprocated.
Thankfully, everyone I’m living with now is willing to live in community with each other, but we have a few strong personalities, so conflict now and then is inevitable.
Let me introduce you:
Dick and Mara Burns, the owners of the house. A couple in their sixties who have one adopted son with a wife and daughter. The Burns eccentricities are evidenced all over their house, with their rhinoceros collection on the untuned piano, their house collection in a glass cabinet in the dining room, all the nice pitchers lined up on the dining room fireplace, the rose pillows in the living room, rose lamp on the wall in the kitchen, and the random plastic rose stuck in the kitchen wall. Dick and Mara live in the third floor and basement of the house, meaning at least twice a day they must travel the creakiest stairs I have ever experienced. I never hear them go up or down.
Lili Leung, a 32-year-old Chinese renter who grew up somewhere in South America (either the Dominican Republic or Venezuela), works as a companion at a nursing home, and is very involved at church. Lili has an extremely fast metabolism and, when she leaves for the day, brings a bag of just food to keep her stomach satiated. She makes her own laundry detergent, dish soap and, most recently, ice cream.
Krystle Morrissette, a 29-year-old African-American who’s from New Jersey but has roots in the South. Krystle got engaged last week, so in my two weeks of knowing her, I’ve seen her go from being in a relationship talking about marriage to beginning to plan a wedding and all that entails. Her fiance is a Japanese-American from Hawaii. Krystle prides herself on proper grammar, and corrects me on a regular basis. She also likes to give things away — mainly things she can’t fit in her bedroom or kitchen cabinets. Within days of meeting her, I helped her go through her belongings, sorting into categories: keep, donate, chuck, store, and give-to-Meredith.
Coming to NYC, I was concerned that I wouldn’t meet anyone, that I wouldn’t make any friends, that my life would consist of eating, sleeping, and working. That isn’t turning out to be the case. I’ve already had really good, deep conversations that have brought me to tears. I’ve already joined in prayer with others and shared concerns very close to my heart. In my two weeks here, I’ve already been real with people more than I’ve been fake or passive. I’ve found that one shaky step out, not knowing what to expect, can bring more good than standing back for fear you might slip.
Speaking of stepping out and slipping, above is a picture of what happens in Queens when it snows like crazy: garbage trucks, retrofit as snowplows, leave the trash where it sets and put their backs into shoving other accumulation out of the public’s way.
Bringing you up-to-date:
Sunday, I went to church and had dinner at the pastor’s house with the church cleaners. I made the salad; it was beautiful.
Monday, I returned to City Hall Library to research for a few hours, this happened, and then I finished my day at City Limits’ office.
Tuesday, I applied to a lot of jobs. I don’t know how many. I also did a minimal workout, enough for sore obliques the next day, but not enough to feel like I exerted myself. Physical activity has really gone downhill.
Wednesday, internship day. I found people to interview to learn more about arson and fire investigation. I also looked up convicted NYC arsonists and where they’re imprisoned. In the process, I found these gems:
Thursday, I interviewed for a job at Panera. To kill time beforehand, I explored the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue and 42nd, and saw from a distance one of my favorite NYC skyscrapers: the Chrysler Building.
Friday, I learned the difference between hearings and court appearances (a court appearance is any time a convict appears in court; a hearing is a trial involving witnesses and evidence), had a great conversation with Krystle, and ate noodles and tomato sauce for dinner, with so much sauce it may as well have been soup.
Saturday (today), I updated my writing resume, wrote a long letter, converted my leftover sauce and noodles into tomato-basil soup (with oil, milk, and seasonings), and spent way too much time on this blog post.
God understands your need for community — it’s part of being made in His image. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. You have to be a friend in order to have friends, and strangers aren’t always dangerous.