NYC Week Fifteen: How New York City Beat Arson

Read last week’s post here or view all other New York City posts.

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.

It begins:

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.

Read more.

Bringing you up-to-date:

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.

Collage

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.

NYC Week Fourteen: 10 things I miss about home and school (aka rural America)

Read last week’s post here or view all other New York City posts.

I’d just settled on the bench, purse and my bag of leftover food from work on my lap, one per leg. Done with work, time to wait for the F train and go home.

“Meredith?”

I looked up to see a familiar face, soft round features I recognized but couldn’t place. Danny’s, I knew that’s where I knew her from but . . . I felt my brain sputtering to find a name. None came.

“It’s Kyle,” she said.

Kyle. Yes. That’s right. The name I was trying to remember was wrong — I was thinking of her doppelganger who’d worked nextdoor.

“Is this for real?” she asked, half smiling.

“Yeah.” My only word. Still in shock.

“Do you live in the city?”

The M train screeched to a stop. The doors opened.

“Yeah.” Again, all I could manage.

“All right — me, too. I have to get on this train, but it’s good to see you.”

“Yeah.”

She climbed aboard. I stayed where I was, smelling tbsp on me, thinking of Danny’s, and trying to soak in what just happened.

In a city of 8 million strangers, I’d run into someone I knew from home.

Growing up in small town America — “small town” meaning a town with two main intersecting roads and no traffic light — running into someone I knew required only that I step out the front door. Or the back door. Neighbors, even if I didn’t know them well, I always greeted with a “how’s it going” when I passed them in their driveways on my way to the library, bank, post office, or park. I only didn’t vocally greet neighbors if I was running or if they were the creepy ones. But I took for granted that I’d see people I knew — even if I traveled 45 minutes to the nearest Walmart, I expected to run into a familiar face.

It’s not like that here. There’s one older short, black man I end up on the same bus and train with every once in a while. We nod our acknowledgements and occasionally shrug our shoulders at each other in response to weirdos on the F. But that’s it. And my not seeing people I know isn’t just because I don’t know anyone — even New York natives are surprised when they run into a friend on the street.

There are a lot of things I miss about home and school, living in the City. Most of them have to do with fundamental differences between rural America and urban life, and most of them I rarely thought about before living here. Running into familiar faces is one. Below are nine more.

1. Going “the back way” on quiet dirt roads canopied by trees.

There’s nothing like following a long day of work with a quiet drive through the hills. The roads are narrow — I typically pray the whole time that no one will come the other way — but the silence, the scenery, and the dirt and stones your tires kick up as you ride over hole after hole is well worth it.

2. Air that smells like water, dirt, and trees — not exhaust fumes, smoke, and dust.

Because even the exhaust coming out the back of your little 2001 Corolla doesn’t ruin what the trees and creeks are giving back. And let’s face it — people, even when they try to smell good, still smell bad.

3. Local food that’s actually local, as in you picked it yourself in your backyard or your neighbor’s field.

If it’s not in season, it’s not fresh and it’s not local. Strawberries are one of the first crops to ripen. Then raspberries, then tomatoes, then blueberries, apples, corn, potatoes. Picking, processing, and freezing things yourself is the best (though labor-intensive).

4. Backyards with enough room to play volleyball, soccer, and run through a sprinkler — all with their own space.

This would be my backyard at home. And a lot of my neighbors’. Plus, there’s a park two blocks away with basketball court, playground, baseball diamond, and enough grass for casual soccer and football games to take place simultaneously. When I’m home for less than 24 hours in a week and a half, I’m going to find some grass and roll in it.

5. Fresh roadkill venison you don’t think twice about eating because you know who hit it and when.

I grew up eating more deer meat than beef, and I miss it like crazy. It’s a meat you eat and still feel healthy afterward. At least, I do. And yes, a lot of what I ate was hit by someone’s car. These things happen on dark, curvy roads at night. No reason to let the animal go to waste.

6. Open fields, open roads, and open roads next to open fields.

One of my favorite views is driving home south on 205, where the road runs along the hillside and the valley lies spread out beside it, trees, fields, a barn here and there. You realize how big this one corner of the world is, and then how big the world must be in comparison, and how small you are. And you quiet.

7. Quiet.

No trains rumbling past. No airplanes or helicopters flying low overhead. Cars, but few buses, little honking, screeching brakes typically belonging to teenagers or a tractor-trailer or that guy nobody likes. Sirens, but not constantly and always making way for a crew of emergency personnel you trust, because you know them. They live down the street.

8. Trees. Good for climbing or just sitting under.

Maybe an evergreen or a maple. And if it’s maple, best if someone taps it in the spring for sap — thus, real maple syrup. Trees are everywhere: the front, back, and side yards; the edges of the park, all over the hills that border you on every side. In the fall, they’re the best: orange, yellow, red, evergreen. In the winter: snow-tipped, the pines looking like frosted shredded wheat or something equally sugary and delicious. In the spring: new leaves, like a new page of a new life, budding from thickening branches. In the summer: green, green, green. All shades.

9. A clear, cool creek you can wade in barefoot and follow under the road and into town in one direction, or up the hill and into the woods the other way.

Toward what we like to call “civilization” or away from it, into what actually looks more orderly and less chaotic than anything people put together. No honking bus drivers or swearing cabbies, no swerving around or weaving through slow-but-not-really lanes of traffic, no derailing trains or flooding subway stations — because there aren’t any. Just you and creation. And the reality that, yes, this is good.

M3367S-4504205

Bringing you up-to-date:

Sunday: Church. Worked out (my route in 10:38 plus sprints and various other things).

Monday: Internship. Worked out (included 51 push-ups).

Tuesday: Work. Worked out (sprints with my housemate, plus core).

Wednesday: Internship. Worked a catering event for Spoon.

Thursday: Work.

Friday: Work. Made a specific goal of applying to writing jobs this weekend. Ran into Kyle while waiting for the train to come home.

Saturday: Mother’s Day brunch at church (always a weird thing to be part of as a woman who’s nowhere near motherhood). Choir. Worked out (highlight: box jumps on the front step). Did laundry. Read narrative nonfiction/longform articles (reading recommendations coming tomorrow). Wrote this blog post.

NYC Week Thirteen: The fight to stay fit

Read last week’s post here or view all other New York City posts.

It’s a battle I’ve been losing.

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:

Sunday: Church.

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.

Squats TMIRCE

(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.)

Tuesday: Work.

Wednesday: Internship. Work. Choir. Church.

Thursday: Work.

Friday: Work.

Saturday: Worked out with my housemate. Choir practice. Grocery shopping. Paper bag scheduling.

NYC Week Twelve: A conglomeration of thoughts

Read last week’s post here or view all other New York City posts.

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

“Your art is a gift to people.” ~ Will Smith

“Like a muscle, creativity is a ‘use it or lose it’ capability.” ~ Barbara Diane Barry, “How Painting Helped Me Overcome Life’s Roadblocks“, Greatist.com

“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

 

Best thing I read this week (outside of the Bible): “In Deep: The dark and dangerous world of extreme cavers” by Burkhard Bilger. This, folks, is what I want to write.

 

Bringing you up-to-date:

This week sapped me of energy and kept me occupied.

Sunday: Easter. Church, lunch with the landlords. This precious moment.

Monday: Internship. Interviewed a Harvard professor, as well as a founder of one of Brooklyn’s community development organizations.

Tuesday: Work.

Wednesday: Internship. More research at the Brooklyn Historical Society’s library.

Thursday: Work. This:

Screen Shot 2014-04-27 at 10.56.28 PM

(If you’re thinking, “What’s Parkour?” here’s an example.)

Friday: Work.

Saturday: Work.

When the perfect job becomes a total nightmare

Some things shouldn’t change. My first job was one that did.

Last week, I posted this piece on Medium. I wrote it last semester for Advanced Creative Writing and have been holding onto it, waiting to be sure I wasn’t returning to my old job and wanting to be careful about where I shared it and how.

Names have been changed, but those who know me know the place and the people — all of which still mean a lot to me. Read and feel free to comment, keeping in mind that this story is close to my heart.

When the perfect job becomes a total nightmare: Some things shouldn’t change. My first job was one that did.

I miss the dragon kite. I miss the picnic table in the back parking lot, the neat stacks of Coca-Cola trays, the recyclables organized next to the green dumpster with April’s butcher paper note forbidding residents of the Ironclad Building from putting their trash in Benny’s dumpster. I miss the parmesan bread twists, the peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, and homemade Focaccia bread. I miss the muffin-offs, setting Brett’s strawberry cheesecake muffins against my blueberry lemon poppy. I miss the fresh produce: crisp and tart apples, blueberries the size of your thumbnail, peaches whose juice drips down your arm and off your elbow.

I miss Benny’s Market as I first knew it. I miss the Benny’s that was all of this.

I only know Benny’s from behind the counter. The first time I stepped inside, I was job-hunting with my best friend. I’d never been there before and our 90-second stop furnished me with only . . . READ MORE.

NYC Week Eleven: False fronts

Read last week’s post here or view all other New York City posts.

The Ironclad Building on Main Street in Cooperstown looks well-kept from the outside: two clean, windowed storefronts on the ground level, second- and third-floor windows surrounded by if not fresh, at least not peeling paint.

The Ironclad Building

You would never guess, from looking at the outside, that the Ironclad Building has an uneven staircase made of raw, unfinished wood with holes allowing sunshine, shadow, and all matter of dirt from climbers’ shoes to fall through onto the equally uneven, possibly more treacherous staircase below. You would never guess it has a slight bug problem, seeing the types of hairy creepers that prefer hanging out in dusty corners of old buildings.

Down the street, the building housing the Village Library, Police Department, and Art Association has kept up similar appearances.

Ctown library
Looks can be deceiving.

 

Grand columns flanked by low balustrades, double doors taller than Goliath, seemingly flawless stonework. No wonder the bad roof — collapsing over books in the library, forcing the Art Association to close its main gallery — came as a surprise: it looked fine from the outside.

In New York City, many buildings are similarly old and grand, but the fact that they need reconstruction is made obvious by the scaffolding set up in front of building after building after building. No street is scaffold-less; something is always in-the-works. But the construction is mainly on the front, the first impression, the facade.

What comes to mind when you think of a city?

I think of appearances. Appearances and everyone obsessing over their own because they have something to prove — to themselves, to the strangers in the subway, to the world. They have to make an impression, and a unique one in order to be memorable. So they dress in strange patterns, clashing colors. They pierce their noses, lips, and eyebrows; gauge their ears, shave their heads, dye their hair, paint their eyelids, lips, fingernails. 

They can’t just rest in the body they’re in, accept what they look like when they wake up. They won’t. Because that person isn’t them. They want get as far from that person as possible.

I hate appearances. I hate that others define us by ours and that we turn around and define ourselves the same way. I hate the constant pressure (especially on women) to look good, have it all together — skin flawless, every hair in the proper position, clothing perfectly matched, fit, and situated — and the guilt and self-consciousness that settles in when we don’t. I hate the fact that makeup exists and people feel ugly without it. And I hate that people use their appearances to conceal who they really are.

In the Christian community, we have a lot of conversations about the expectation of perfection, which brings us to church on Sundays and keeps us there pretending our lives are perfect, we have it all together, and whatever we don’t have all together we’re just waiting on God’s timing for — when in reality, our lives are falling apart, we’ve been crying ourselves to sleep at night, and we haven’t prayed since last Sunday. This is an unfortunate reality for many Christians in many churches, but it’s at least talked about and those conversations typically bring participants into genuine conversations about what they’re struggling with and what they need prayer for — outside of Christendom, a call for genuineness leads to whining and unwanted advice — confrontations, really. And we all love those so much.

But there’s a deep-seated need to be real.

“Don’t you get tired of this?” I asked a co-worker earlier this week, in reference to his constant just-kidding-but-only-sort-of badgering. His favorite toward me is, “Could you just work for five minutes?” which anyone who’s ever worked with me knows is just too funny.

“Don’t you get tired of spewing it out? ‘Cause it’s exhausting to deal with,” I said.

Not a beat later:

“Come on, Meredith, just work for five minutes.”

“Really?” I said. “I was just being real with you.”

He shook his head at himself. “I know. I’m sorry.”

What do we lose when we bury our problems deep inside and gloss over our surfaces so nothing seems wrong? What are the consequences of allowing issues to burrow deeper into our beings while we pretend they’re not there and promise others we’re just fine? What staircases are we eroding, what books are we damaging, what galleries are we closing?

If the inner man is more important than the outer man, the answer is probably those that are most important, valuable, and beautiful.

To remember:

The Lord said to Samuel, “Look not on his countenance or on the height of his stature, because I have refused him: for the Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

 

Brooklyn 1

Bringing you up-to-date:

Sunday: Church.

Monday: Internship.

Tuesday: Work.

Wednesday: Internship. Went to Brooklyn for the first time in order to do research in the Brooklyn Historical Society’s library.

Brooklyn street He is risen

Thursday: Work.

Friday: Work. Good Friday service — went straight from work, sang with choir. Truth brought to life.

Saturday: Slept in. Budgeted. Went thrift shopping for kicks and giggles. Got groceries. Chilled. And (as usual) spent too much time on this blog post.

NYC Week Ten: Welcome to the real world?

Read last week’s post here or view all other New York City posts.

From all I’ve heard about the real world and what life’s like there, I don’t think New York City is it.

At my college, we talk about the “Taylor Bubble” where we’re sheltered from anti-Christian influences, shepherded by faculty and mentors of mostly the same convictions. We (the students) talk about this bubble and how in the “real world” our reasonings for our beliefs won’t cut it, people won’t be interested in what we think, and we won’t have the same support for our thinking from those around us. In the “real world”, we’ll have to approach life, faith, and people completely differently, because the real world is not Taylor and Taylor is not the real world.

Reality Check

Everywhere people go, they seek out others like them: creatives pursuing dreams; others of the same moral/immoral convictions; people who like the same sports teams, coffees, exercise regimens, books, movies, music. (Soccer enthusiasts hold a particular pride about their sport, because they can go just about anywhere in the world and find others like them.) In doing this, we create community, communities that form towns that grow and flood into each other and form cities, economic and literary centers with great diversity because of the many communities contained within its boroughs.

But city-dwellers don’t necessarily have greater diversity of experience than those from places of far less “diversity” and more simplicity. Because the communities formed — not necessarily by geographic location, but by social groups, favorite eateries, and activities — bring alike people together far more than they do those who have nothing in common.

Whether by accident or design, every person designs his own bubble to live in, his own sphere of existence, where he blocks out things he doesn’t like or agree with and pads himself with things that make him feel good or challenged, but only in comfortable ways.

The real world? He stays far away from that. Because the real world would required him to admit he doesn’t know as much about it as he thinks he does. And the real world would force him to interact with and respect people with whom he has absolutely nothing in common and who give him nothing in return.

The fact is, no matter where we go, we’ll live in a bubble if we refuse to put ourselves in somewhat uncomfortable situations (ex: conversations with a co-worker who loves getting drunk as much as he loves the F-word, about why you don’t drink at all and why you listen to mainly Christian music). It’s not the “Taylor Bubble” or any other “them”-created bubble that keeps us from the “real world” — it’s ourselves. Ourselves and our refusal to recognize that the real world is where we are, right here, right now, if we’ll engage with it, learn new things, give time to those who are nothing like us.

With this, naturally, will come conflicts — cultural, moral, of opinion — but, hey, welcome to the real world. Those conflicts aren’t a detriment to understanding; they’re encouragements, challenges to grow. With each conflict will come an increasing understanding of life and others.

“You have to leave what you know,” one of my co-workers said yesterday, as he was telling us about moving to New York from California, road-tripping across the whole country and seeing the diversity of landscapes, traveling Europe. “It gives you a greater appreciation and depth of experience. It makes everything mean more.”

To stay in one cloister — whether geographical or ideological — is a failure to engage with the real world, and it boxes you in while blocking everything else out.

 

Bringing you up-to-date:

Sunday: Church.

Monday: Internship. Began drafting my article for City Limits. Interviewed the founder of the soccer organization I mentioned last week.

Tuesday: Work.

Wednesday: Internship. Continued research. Church. Brief sprint workout with my housemate.

Thursday: Interviewed a woman who works at my school for an article I’m preparing to pitch to a publication I’m not going to name (no counting chickens before they hatch). Work. Ran.

Friday: Work. Worked out with my housemate.

Saturday: Work. Went with my housemate to her friend’s birthday celebration.

Again, no photos. This is what happens when I’m pretty much settled in. =) But my writing is picking up and, as you may notice, I’ve been pursuing pieces on my own to freelance which is a good sign.