MFA Dispatch

In a half hour I'll meet with my workshop professor, the one who had called some of my writing a "trick," but who, when I met with him a few weeks ago, was also curious to know where I wanted the writing to go.

It changes week by week, but last week I turned in something about high school, attempting to answer the main questions people have for me every time I write about relationships, both mine and others'.

Mostly, "Why were you single for so long?"  

Not that weird. It's a combination of things. Timing. Family background. Pop culture and media. Traveling. Being stuck up and unapproachable. Being too self-deprecating and available. Or spending too much time obsessing with people who are either a.) unavailable or b.) unavailable, though perhaps not in the conventional way.

Anyway. I wrote it not feeling completely inspired but thinking, "Okay, let's get all this down and lift out the usable parts later," because Monday, when my workshops are, always roll around faster than I expect. I titled it, "Why I was Single For So Long," mostly because I couldn't think of anything better.

The result was not really a result, but the mere first step in a long process. For as long as I've been writing, it amazes me how little I know about the writing process - about the energy and investment it takes to not just write something - long, short, in between - but to see it through, in all its permutations until it's complete. And then you realize, it's never complete. But it can be comfortable.

I submitted it and some people liked some parts, were confused by others, but in general, they wanted more, which is a good sign. I even made some of them laugh. The professor wrote very few comments on the back of the paper, which in general is a good sign coming from him.

"I'm delighted to see you diving into this material," he said, "Proceed!"

So now I'll meet with him and discuss coming attractions. Goal setting, all that stuff I love reading about but never implement in my life.

Noodle Soup

I scrolled all the way down my Instagram today to some thirty-five weeks ago, when I still lived at home. I stopped at this photograph I took of my grandfather, probably on a Monday or Wednesday afternoon, since those were the days I went and had lunch with him. He's reading a newspaper clipping with a magnifying glass and though I'm taking a photo of him, I was probably reading something too.

It's summer - Grandpa is wearing a frayed white undershirt and an old oatmeal colored windbreaker. His silver Rolex, a gift from his kids some twenty years ago, hangs loosely from his left wrist. Because of the photo's angle, his left hand seems larger than his head, swollen almost. His right hand holds the plastic magnifying glass and if I were a single character peering up at him from the printed page, I'd see a man well past his prime, eyebrows bordering on unruliness and fluffy white hair. Lips pursed, corners turned down - not because he's unhappy, but because he's reading. Thinking. Large ears, sunspots. Too many moles and birthmarks to count.

I stood in my apartment having just come back from dinner with a friend and without removing my shoes or coat or hat, checked my email then Instagram. Perhaps I was still warming up from the cold air outside. It had just begun to snow as I emerged from the subway and my expression mirrored those of the people around me.

"We are sick of winter," our faces said.

"And I," I glared at the sky, "Am sicker of it than most."

I had walked stiffly up five flights to my apartment and letting the door slam behind me, stood by the stove and scrolled. I scrolled through this morning, the ongoing relentless winter in Vermont and New York, three spaced-out bouts of sunshine in Miami, India and California, and the fall, which seemed to stretch on forever because I was new to New York then and wanted to document everything. Fall gave way to the bright photographs of summer, in which I seem ten shades darker than I am now. I smiled my way in shorts and sundresses through Taiwan, Hong Kong, Vegas and at home in California, where I swam and walked and read at my grandfather's kitchen table. And somewhere in the middle of last summer, thirty-five weeks ago, I found my grandfather. Summer colors are warmer anyway, but the filter I applied makes that day almost golden.

I called my grandpa tonight. I had promised myself I'd call him at least once a week after I moved to New York, but that didn't happen. At best, I called him once every two and a half weeks. And often after my mother asks me, "Have you spoken to Grandpa lately?"

I hate being reminded because it means I broke my promise, but I am also glad to be reminded because otherwise it would be much longer than two and a half weeks between our short, shallow conversations.

They always go something like this:

Two rings, maybe three, if he is sitting in front of the TV. 

"Hello?"

"Hi Lao Ye!" I always make my voice sound cheerier than I am, because this is how one is supposed to sound when talking to their grandfather's. Also, louder. 

"Betty? Hello!"

"Hello!"

"I'm fine, I'm fine, no need to worry about me."

"That's good. I wasn't worried."

"Good, you needn't worry. Everything is fine. Your mother/Aunt Joannie/Uncle Jin is here and we've just finished dinner."

"Was it good?"

"It was not bad. Have you eaten?"

"Yes, I ate a while ago."

Here he will look at his watch and be reminded of the time difference. 

"Oh it's very late there!"

"Just 10PM, grandpa, not too late."

"So you're getting ready for bed then?"

"In a bit, grandpa. I still have some reading to do."

"Ah yes, reading. That's easy for you though."

"Yes."

"I know it is."

"Yup."

"Well, there's nothing more to say. I'm fine and you're fine. Thank you for calling."

"Okay, Grandpa. Okay."

"Bye-bye."

"Bye-bye, Grandpa."

Tonight my uncle Jin was with him and they had noodle soup. My aunt brought beef broth to grandpa's house last night and tonight, Uncle Jin brought the noodles. When you're just one old man, a large pot of beef broth goes a long way. Father and son eat simply and quickly. Both have bad teeth and a medley of health problems, but both prefer McDonald's breakfasts, In 'n Out Burgers and Costco hot dogs and pizza. Occasionally, Grandpa eats a banana.

"Noodle soup, eh?" I say.

"Yes, yes," Grandpa nods.

"Come and have some beef noodle soup!" my uncle calls from the background. I know exactly where he's sitting: on the low chair opposite Grandpa in the small living room. I can hear the Chinese news - or is it one of those cheesy variety shows? - playing in the background. Uncle Jin is watching with his father's frown playing on his face. I smile.

"I wish I could," I say, "Tell Uncle Jin noodle soup sounds wonderful. It's just started snowing here again."

Grandpa chuckles, "Noodle soup is very good for a cold day. It's too bad you're so far away."

"Yes, too bad."

I tell him I plan to go home sometime in the summer, but that I'm also looking for a job to occupy what might otherwise be an expensive, unproductive summer in the city.

"Yes," Grandpa says, "You should work while you can. A summer job is a very good idea. Don't worry about coming home to see me if you have a job."

I don't worry, I tell him, but I want to see him and the rest of the family. The babies are growing up. My mother and father are slowing down. Even if I got a job I would make time to go home, I say, "At least for a week."

"Oh that would be good," Grandpa says, "But you know, I'm not going anywhere."

There's the silence that always comes before Grandpa's blunt truth: there really isn't too much to report. He's fine, I'm fine, let's just hang up now.

"Okay," I say, "Enjoy your soup. Tell Uncle Jin I said goodbye."

"Good night," Uncle Jin calls out.

"Bye-bye," Grandpa says, "Good night."

Monday Musing: Workshop, Writer's Block

Since I started this blog a little over three years ago, I've written here at least once a month until this past February when I did not post at all. The point for me, as a blogger, has always been to get older, wiser and document that growth however it manifests itself. The point has always been to write regularly; to find a balance between quality and quantity.

I started to write longer and longer posts, and then series (most of which I have yet to finish), and it seemed that by the time I felt ready to apply to graduate school, I had what some might consider a substantial "body of work," the bulk of which was all here on my blog.

I applied to graduate school by pulling some of my favorite pieces from my blog and during my first semester, workshopped other favorite pieces, all copied and pasted onto MS Word documents, reformatted and turned in with minor if any editing. For the first four months of school, I wrote little else aside from what you read here, which is written mostly for the only "target audience" I've ever known: longtime friends and family. This saves me from having to do too much exposition or fleshing out of characters. Laziness ensues and like an old foot injury you didn't notice, you slowly change the way you walk over the course of three years until one day: "You have scoliosis." 

"What?" 

It wasn't apparent to me that I'd settled as a writer until I took something from the blog my friends and family had loved, to a creative writing workshop filled with people about whom I know little else aside from their names and their preferred neighborhood coffee shop but who seem to take writing and this writing program much much much more seriously than I do; who might have blogs of their own but would rather blog about movies/food/sex/etc. and save the big-gun themes for their passion projects which they feel very protective of but understand how rare it is to have so many different eyes on your piece - hence the point of workshops - and take advantage of it by bringing in the stuff they work hardest on and want to develop.

They read this piece which I was pretty confident about and asked like an X-Factor panel (or perhaps an American Idol panel comprised only of Simons), "Why so thin and flat? Who are these caricatures you've drawn? Where are you? Why are you? What are you?" 

The professor was most straightforward. The director of the non-fiction program, he had been the one who called, informing me of my acceptance, and before we even met, when I was still hemming and hawing about whether to enroll, asked financial aid on my behalf to increase my scholarship. He remembered my application and though intrigued by the writing I had submitted then, saw something too familiar - tired, almost- in the writing I turned in to his workshop. 

"It's a trick," he said to the class, "I understand what she's doing here - Betty's leitmotif - but the writing is lazy." 

Then looking at me, "A lot of your writing is like this, opening with some kind of judgment but also some sort of naivete and in the end you do a little turn to say, 'Oh but it's not like this, see.' But you don't do the work, and the work - what you do to fully form your characters, including your 'I' character and understand their motivations and ask about your own - is what will make it more than just a trick." 

I was somewhat prepared to hear these criticisms. The week before in India, POI had gone through the piece with me and pointed out similar issues he'd had with it. He was direct, (though almost sweet compared to my professor) and was curious to know if my classmates would agree with him. They did, in one way or another. In workshop, I didn't protest, complain or rebut, but sat there nodding, suddenly feeling very tired and confused. 

I was jet-lagged too, but that's never stopped me from writing before. I gave myself a week to think about my writing and what direction I wanted it to go in. I thought about this blog, and what it means to me and the suggestions I've gotten from the day I started it, to give it structure and identity - something both expected (because people want to hear my voice) and unexpected (because people are easily bored) because that's what makes blogs successful. Incidentally, those things are also what makes writers successful. It was a lot to think about. So I took another week. And another. And another. And then February was over and March is now halfway through until I decided today, on the plane home from Miami, "Enough is enough. You can think and write at the same time, can't you?"  

Yes. 

Anyway. I'm working on it, is what I wanted to say. If you have scoliosis you know it can't be fixed in a day. 

Writers, Copywriters 2

Fifth Avenue Bridge  Martin Lewis  1928. Drypoint. 
My coworkers were so different from my classmates. I thought about my workshop from last semester - a group of misfits who oddly enough, when arranged together around rectangular tables in a small classroom, seemed to fit perfectly together. There was the failed actress turned sex columnist; the former (and probably current) meth/crack/heroine addict, the spastic magazine writer with an unidentified eating disorder; the pretty but awkward Brazilian sportswriter who'd slowly gone in a downward spiral until she underwent gastric bypass and discovered that she was actually a genius and joined MENSA ("You know what we do in MENSA?" she said to me over lunch one day, "We compare medications.")

There was the old woman who sat defensively with her shoulders hunched nearly to her ears and whose hair was so dry I feared it would burst into flames at the slightest friction. I detested her at first because her first essay sucked, and then I sort-of-kind-of reluctantly admired because she took the writing teacher's advice and made it much better when it was workshopped again. There was the Indian girl who had, back in India, been in an abusive relationship. She had fought with her parents until they agreed to let her come study in the States and was now, according to Facebook at least, in a loving same-sex relationship. And there was the professor, in her late thirties and beautiful in a devil-may-care way and slightly aloof. A winning combination for any professor or woman, for that matter. Everything about her I learned from the sex-columnist and other classmates who adored her and wanted very much to take another workshop with her, though I felt distanced from her, partly because she didn't seem, most of the time, to want to be in the classroom. She was an adjunct and had another real, full-time job as the editor of an online magazine. I went to visit her once at her office and we had a short conversation (“I’d like you to speak up more in class,” she said. I nodded. “Anything else?” I shook my head. “Okay then.”) before it became clear that she had to get back to work, real work. The kind that paid the bills. 

And there were my counterparts - the girls like and unlike me - who had grown up in loving suburban families, who had never done drugs (until they did finally do drugs), who had held a string of odd part-time jobs (strip club waitress, 9/11 archivist, Costco cashier assistant), who had traveled and who wanted to continue traveling but who, at the same time, wanted some sort of internal anchor to keep us centered even when we were in the air. We could write well about a few things, but weren't sure in the long run if that's what we could do without running out of words or energy.

Suddenly, with birthday pizza on my lap in the copy room of Company X, I felt like I was in class again – Introduction to Real Life...?- surrounded by the corpses of English majors past that had now been repurposed into living breathing copywriters, all dressed almost exclusively in Madewell and J. Crew (the higher up you are the more full-priced items you can buy!). I got a weird sinking feeling that I and my thrift-store wearing, Brooklyn-living (except I live in the Upper West Side), part-time job-holding, chain-smoking classmates were fooling ourselves in thinking that writing for ourselves could somehow bring us the emotional and material life we wanted. It seemed that these girls, even that damned playwright who seemed to fit in so well despite his side job (though seriously, which job did he consider his "side" job?) must have, at some point, had similar dreams. Until the morning they woke up and turned uncomfortably onto their sides, seeing through the open window, "Oh! Reality."

I wasn't depressed, not quite, not yet, but I left the office feeling like a new cog in a giant, though much more fashionable, start-up-ish wheel. It didn't help either that the walk home that night was bone-chillingly cold. The sounds of the street, usually welcoming after spending an entire day cooped up in my studio, seemed abrasive. I was now one of the hundred thousand people walking home from a tiring day at work. The wind hit my cheeks in sharp, icy slaps. I wasn't underdressed, but was cold to begin with because I had sat and sat, staring at painfully cheery copy until my innards froze from physical inactivity and my right hand, on the mouse, had turned blue as it usually does when I leave it in that position. The light above my work desk had gone out so my corner had been a monotonous grey except for the blinding glow of the computer screen. 

I frowned about these things as I went down into the subway. I frowned as I stood waiting with other people just getting off work, most of them also frowning or bearing no expression at all. In the subway, a man played Spanish guitar and several people frowned a little less as they walked by, deciding after a few steps to return and drop a dollar or two in his open guitar case. On the train, I frowned as I was shoved to the left side doors, then to the right side doors, then towards the middle of the car. I frowned too, when a dirty old homeless black man boarded and began to sing, "I've got sunshine on a cloudy day," informing us that he was in fact, "singing for supper." I looked away, still frowning. When he left for the next car, I looked at the young men and women and at the not-so-young men and women around me, most of them tired, all of them trying to make a living in various fields. I guessed that most too, had more responsibilities than I, to children, to wives, husbands and parents. To themselves.

I wasn't being fair. I didn't have to be, but I ought to try. Especially with former English majors who had read the same books I read, loved the same authors and poets and used, when they could, the same language. Their jobs didn't define them anymore than an MFA would define me, than the sour smell of the homeless man defined him. They had merely gone a different way and I was passing through, looking. 

I stopped frowning, but I didn't smile either. I was dreading the stairs up to my apartment. I held my keys ready as I came out from underground and walked passed the two bums, one of whom was already fast asleep, himself undoubtedly having gone through a trying day and the other still "working," though he shivering, stomped his feet and blew onto his hands. His gloves were thin and filled with holes. His sign was crumpled, but I could make out the two words that seem to appear in every homeless man's message: "Help...God."

"I get it, God," I thought, looking up, "I get it."

In the dark chilly skies above my warm apartment, God shrugged. He hadn't said anything. 

Writers, Copywriters

On my second day at work, we celebrated my supervisor's birthday. She's a tall, quiet vegetarian, a year younger than I and was one of the two who interviewed me. On screen she'd reminded me of certain British actresses, pretty in that romantic English rose way (though she's from Vermont), with bright eyes, dark lashes, flushed freckled cheeks, thick brows and curly hair that she keeps in a low, messy but elegant bun. She's slightly more expressive over our office instant messenger than in person, but only slightly. She's very polite. Wears chunky sweaters and jeans, worn boots, simple jewelry. Her legs are strong and I wonder if she took horse-riding lessons when she was younger, or if she still does. She’s from a good, probably privileged family, but I’m guessing her father is a stern man who doesn’t believe in treating his daughters like princesses. When she sits, she keeps her hands folded between her legs and rubs one thumb with the other. One gets the feeling that she's waiting for something better - a better job, a better guy - but also that she doesn't know what she's waiting for. One gets the feeling that she is, at her core, a very patient young woman.

At noon, the smell of cheese and tomato sauce filled the cold air of the copy room and in unison, a handful of girls yelled, "Surprise!" I turned around to find that a few senior girls from the copy team had ordered pizza, beer and Ben and Jerry's and had quietly arranged it all over a giant round table in the center of the room. We pulled our chairs up around it and ate with plates on our laps.

“Any fun birthday plans?” we asked the birthday girl. She shrugged, her face flushing. She embarrasses easily. 

“Just dinner with my parents,” she said softly.

"How's it feel to be 26?" asked a 24-year old. 

The girl groaned, as though she had been thinking all morning how to answer, "I don't know," she said, shaking her head, "It feels the same." 

"It's all downhill from here," someone said jokingly, and the half of the room that was older than 26 (but only slightly) turned to glare. 

A few of the girls began inane conversations about old jobs, of which there had been just one or two, or none at all. I'm one of four new hires and on the older side of the copy team - 27 going on 28 – while most of the other proofreaders are 24, 25 and one new hire being just 23. 23 is the only black girl in the copy room (and so far, the only black girl I’ve seen in the company). She is exceedingly bubbly and, despite her obvious hurry to accumulate the markers of adulthood, seems childish compared to the more reserved, reticent copywriters. For one thing she joked twice in one morning about needing coffee ("Sooo much coffee. It's so bad, I know. So bad,") though she was just drinking it because she imagined real adults did so. She was clearly still running smoothly on the fumes of youth. She started working a week before I started; not long enough yet to tire of her commute from her parents house in Westchester County, which is about an hour and twenty minutes by train, her last transfer being the one, the same line I take to get downtown. Though judging by how fresh faced 23 seemed coming out of the subway station compared to my morning death mask (and my commute was only half the time of hers) I felt she could and would handle it for as long as necessary.

On my second morning we had exited the subway station together and I said hello at the crosswalk. She tugged out her headphones and smiled, “Oh hey!” and we walked into the building together. In the elevator she learned that I lived on my own in the Upper West Side.

“That is so cool,” she said, clasping her hands together, “My goal is to move out and have my own place in the city by 2015. I wanna move out here so baaaad.”

23 loves the job more than it will love her back - genuinely friendly people, according to disenchanted employees on the company's GlassDoor profile, don't make it far at Company X's New York office, which is run at all levels by competitive, high achieving and mostly female staff– but 23 is well, 23. She's starry-eyed. Optimistic. All the things a 23-year old should be. And she's especially enthusiastic about the company's perks, which include a gleaming kitchen filled with healthy, organic free-for-alls, unlimited soda, fresh fruit, tubs of Greek yogurt, a beer tap (yes, you heard that right. A beer tap. On my first day I filled a mug thinking it was hot water. "It's beer," someone said. I nodded, looking into the foam and then quickly dumped it), bagel Fridays followed by a weekly company-sponsored happy hour, discounts to high end gyms and team outings and plenty more - though admittedly, my gluttonous self is happy about these things too.

At the birthday lunch 23 was the most voluble and gushed about how much she was liking it so far at Company X.

“So different from my old job,” she said, telling us she'd worked at a textbook publisher, “You guys actually celebrate birthdays here and that’s awesome.”

She proceeded to share several more things about the company she found "awesome," and I sensed the senior copywriter, the one who had probably hired twenty-three, doubt the 23-year old's vocabulary.

No one asked me about my last job, which seemed very long ago. Instead, a few of them had heard through the grapevine that I was a grad student.  

"English?" one of them guessed.

"Creative writing," I said. Then it occurred to me to ask, "Was everyone here an English major in college?"

They looked around at each other at first, hesitating as though I had accused them of something embarrassing, until one by one they began to nod. All the girls save for two said yes (we are all girls except for one guy, a part-time copywriter whom I can't decide is gay or not. He's an actor and-playwright and is currently starring in a Fifty Shades of Grey parody called "Cuff Me."). The exceptions had studied psychology and art history ("But with an English minor," she said with a conspiratorial smile).

I nodded, "Oh cool."

They too thought it was "cool", that I was studying creative writing, but I got the feeling they meant “cool” in the way things you used to want were cool, until your priorities shifted and you decided that having a stable job with health benefits and a retirement plan were cooler. I don't blame them. Security and a sense of direction (up, up that ladder!) can be pretty cool. I sensed that to this particular, well-dressed group, being an English major and all the fleeting little hopes that came with it (wanting to be a writer, maybe getting a PhD and teaching or working as an editor at a publishing house or magazine) had fallen away as the realities of making a living anywhere (and especially in New York City) manifested. 

It was like a dress they used to love but couldn't bear to part with, so instead they kept it in the back of the closet. They still took it out to look at from time to time but either couldn't fit into anymore or simply had no place to wear it.

Monday Musing: On Working, Again

Somewhere in San Francisco a hand-painted version of this waits for me. 




The grass is always greener on the other side.
You always want what you don't/can't have. 
Be careful what you wish for. 

Terrible, these maxims.

Towards the end of last September, I decided to get a part-time job. Not sure what I imagined, but naturally something creative and flexible, that paid well and was preferably, with a reputable company in a bright, downtown office teeming with cool, young coworkers. Room for growth. That sort of thing. I reached out to a few staffing firms, met with a handful of headhunters, (all of whom were gay for some reason), and while they hunted I continued to apply for jobs up and down the internet, casting my resume again and again into the same black hole databases.

Headhunters trump black hole databases, despite their telling me early on that I shouldn't keep my hopes up. Part-time creative jobs abound in New York City, but they are also actually full-time and unpaid. Does that make sense? Not really, but... Anyway, I'll keep you in mind but just know students are really hard to place because your schedules are so weird and a lot of companies just want someone to come in on a regular basis for whole days, but not everyday. 

But something always comes along, doesn't it? The first headhunter I met with at the beginning of October called me a few days before New Year's Eve.

"I think I found something," he said in his Southern drawl. He was from Georgia and had moved to the city hoping for what, I wasn't sure, but he seemed chipper every time we spoke.

"Ooh," I said, not thinking about maxims at all, "Do tell, do tell."

"Proofreading for Company X," he said, "It's flexible, part-time, fifteen dollars an hour."

I thought about the "tutoring" job I'd interviewed for at the beginning of the semester: thirteen-year old girl needs someone to go over her reading and writing. $40 an hour to read with a little girl. But she was also the daughter of a hedge fund billionaire and model-turned-doctor mom, a power couple whose lives were coordinated by a small team of pushy personal assistants who thought giving me advance notice meant emailing an hour before they needed me to show up and tutor. They lived in a 5th avenue penthouse that faced Central Park and when I visited, I felt as though I were walking through the pages of Architectural Digest. I stopped responding to their emails because sometimes billionaires (or more accurately, their assistants) need to know that the world doesn't revolve around them or their children. At least not my world.

I ticked off the things I liked about Company X: it was creative (from a consumer's perspective) and they were willing to work around my class schedule. It could always pay better, but I was guaranteed a hip downtown office and cool, young coworkers. Room for growth? Probably, the headhunter said. They often turned proofreaders into full-time copywriters. I was interested, failing to consider the actual physical strains of proofreading (trust me, they exist) or the fact that I hate, hate sitting in front of the computer for long hours (at home I at least have the option of standing while writing) and a few days later, found myself smiling into my webcam over a Skype interview. I spoke with two young women around my age, copywriters bundled up in scarves and sweaters (it was around the time of the Polar Vortex) and we traded thoughts about the weather. They envied my sunny room in California and the 80-degree temperature. I wore a striped collared shirt with the sleeves rolled up and had even considered wearing shorts, then thought better of it in case I had to stand up for whatever reason. But on my end there was not a scarf, sweater or snowflake in sight.

"We like you," they said after we'd spoken for about twenty-minutes, "How about you start the Monday you come back?"

"Wow, great," I said.

We began to say awkward Skype goodbyes (how do you close this window?) and bid each other Happy New Year.

"Enjoy the rest of your time at home," they said, "And take advantage of that lovely weather!"

I nodded, smiling because everything was falling into place. New year, new job, new class schedule. And all in New York! I imagined a semi-adult life balanced across schoolwork, work, and play. The chickens hadn't even hatched and I'd counted them all. Premature, premature.

One Photo: New York 2014


People can't seem to agree on how long it takes to become a New Yorker. 

I like this (now defunct) blogger's response: 

"Someone once told me that you know you’re a New Yorker when you reach this breaking point: As much as you may hate the city on any given day, you hate the thought of living elsewhere even more.
I know that there are certain things that lead to the jaded, New Yorker mentality. You stop questioning the cost of rent. You’re on a first-name basis with the neighborhood bartender, coffee guy and dry cleaner. You give cabbies specific directions. You stop to argue with delivery cyclists and cabbies when they nearly-hit you in a cross-walks. You say “hi” to routine street performers and homeless people. You pre-walk the subway platform to the car that will be nearest your exit when you arrive at the next subway platform. You can’t help but smile and feeling resentfully cheesy whenever Empire State of Mind plays. These are the things that develop over time and make one a New Yorker."
I can see my own New Yorker-ish changes developing in the short time I've lived there. Every morning I walk by and say hello to Junior, the doorman of the building next door. He's got a young face but silver grey hair. Regardless of the weather, he wears a black fleece pullover and grey slacks, sometimes jeans. We nodded and smiled at each other for two months until one morning he said, "Hey, what's your name?" 

I told him.

"I'm Junior," he said. 

"Junior?" He was kind of a big guy.  

"Yeah," he smiled, "Junior." 

On the same route there are two "regular" sedentary bums. I smile at them in the apologetic way I smile at less fortunate people. They nod back. Sometimes, when he's not sleeping on plastic crates, one of them holds the door open for me at Zabar's. I buy a bagel or sandwich, paying with cash, and give him the change. 

I've finally figured out how the express trains work, I think. I've learned I can leave my house at exactly 9:44AM, walk to the far right of the platform and get to class exactly two minutes before 10AM, though by then the only seats available are those along the wall. I know now not to wait for the "walk" signs because I could easily waste whole days' worth of time that way. At night, I've noticed the squirrels turn into rats. 

I'm not sure the label "New Yorker" is something I'm striving for. The first time around I loved and hated the city, but the hate was misdirected. New York had disappointed me like a good-looking boy you eventually summon up the courage to talk to only to realize he's dumb as rocks. But that's not only unfair, with New York, it's untrue. At eighteen, I expected much from the city and not enough from myself. Now, I still expect a lot from the city. But I expect more from myself. 

I'm from Orange County. I'm from Taipei. I'm from everywhere I've ever been and loved and lived. Including, eventually, New York. 
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