Monthly Archives: July 2012

No Place like Home

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 We arrived in Penn Station at 12ish on Saturday afternoon for our train at 2. I had lunch with Courtney, Dr. Norwood, and Professor Steel(e)? I don’t know (he wasn’t my professor but he was really nice). Anyways, we got on the train and it took us 10 hours just to reach and then leave Washington D.C.

These posts…y’all know how much I missed home while I was gone. Knowing that 10 hours out of a supposedly 18 hour train ride had passed and we weren’t even halfway home was beyond irritating. The staff on this train was way ruder than on our way up. Courtney was my seat mate and she spent most of the time asleep, lucky her. Anyway the train was supposed to arrive in Atlanta at like 8 something in the morning on Sunday. I’m not going to go into a ton of detail here, so I’ll keep it simple. Between leaving Washington D.C. and making it to the Amtrak station at some point the bathrooms in our car went out (so we had to use others), our A.C went out and it was hot as mess, and we spent over an hour like 5 seconds away from the Amtrak for kicks and giggles and then once we got there they made us wait again for about that long just to get off the train.

There were people on this trip who loved New York, but I don’t care how much you loved that city. Once you were on the train and heading home you were ready to be home. Not spend 32 hours on a stupid train with stupid people. Courtney did point out that we did get lucky in one respect though. The little kids in our car were remarkably well behaved for having been on the train just as long as us. I have to agree considering I was about to lose my mind. We had a wager going on too about when we would arrive. That the 10pm bet won made me mad.

I was frustrated too because I was counting on the train arriving somewhere near on time. My mom was really excited that I was coming home, just like I was excited to be home so she had planned a movie and dinner with my stepmom, brother, and his girlfriend. Needless to say it didn’t happen. We’re going to dinner tonight instead. Anyways, I was hungry so my mom, even though it was already past midnight by the time I got home, had made food and heated it for me while I took a quick shower and stuff.

32 hours on a train and a shower was very high on my priority list. It was exciting. She stayed up with me and chatted while I ate and then we both went to bed. I slept past noon today. My bed was amazing. If y’all remember my first post, about my dorm room being blank, then I should probably say that not having any real story was kind of sad, but it’s nice to be home, where my story can continue on. I have my room, my dog, and my mother. Even though it took longer than I would have liked, there really is no place like home.

That train staff is going to have tons of complaints and refunds to hand out. My Aunt asked me yesterday what I would do if they offered me a free ticket to anywhere. I said that maybe I’ll use it in 50 years. If ever. 

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The Last Stop

This is not nearly all that is leftover from my trip. Some things cannot be counted.

When you’re trapped on a train for 30+ hours, you have plenty of time to think and reflect. When will my next hot shower be? Next hot meal? Will I ever see my dogs again? My friends and family? Who will panic first: me, one of my students, the four-year-old sitting five rows up? What did I forget? Who did I forget to buy a souvenir for? Did I lose any weight from all of that walking? Was this really the right time to quit smoking? (Turns out “no” on that last question, so don’t get too excited). But of course, as a writer, I was mostly thinking about what my last post would look like—how I would sum up this trip, how I would convey what I’ve learned and experienced overall.  And this is how it turned out—a return to an old lesson again.

I was nervous about this trip when we started talking about it last August, but by May, when everyone had paid his/her money and it was absolutely official, I was physically ill with anxiety. There was the planning: excruciating for someone as disorganized as I can be. There was the fact that I had never spent more than three days in New York City, and now I was going to have to navigate it…with 21 other people. 21 other people that I didn’t know that well: 19 students, 2 faculty members. It turns out that this is the lesson. It’s never about the place; it’s always about the people. No matter where you are, people have the potential to ruin your experience or to enhance it. I’m not talking about the helpful (and sometimes rude) strangers I encountered. I’m talking about our group—our family of 22.

I was also privileged to catch up with two old friends while I was on this trip, one that I hadn’t seen in months and one that I hadn’t seen in several years. Sitting on a rooftop in Williamsburg, I confessed to one of these friends that I didn’t feel very open anymore—that maybe this inability to be “open” was dragging down my self-esteem a good bit. She calmed my fears by telling me that this was common with folks our age—she’d heard plenty of people in their mid-thirties and forties express this sort of anxiety. I was still thinking about that conversation, along with the rest of the trip, as I struggled to survive the long road home. I sort of knew that, once I got back to Georgia, I was going to realize that I now feel more open. And that this wasn’t only because of three weeks spent immersed in the arts in New York City, but that this was actually mainly because of three weeks spent with an open and endearing group of people.

Let me tell you about them. On our second day there, one student expressed that her favorite thing about the city was that she didn’t feel like a minority there, that no one asked her “what are you?,” that she felt accepted and a part of something. On the third day, one faculty member laughed the entire time we had to pay INDIVIDUALLY for 22 Metrocards, which saved me from a near-panic attack and taught me not to worry so much about the details. Another student—of legal age—remarked that he had been to only one bar in his life before this trip and now he was out with his peers every night. My other colleague researched and led us on a lovely tour of Greenwich Village and the East Village, reciting poetry to us at nearly every stop (my favorite was a recital of the Ramones at the old CBGB’s). More than once at a museum, I overheard an art student explaining the significance of a painting to an English student. On my own, I conversed with art and English students about the importance of Jack Kerouac, the real “story” of hip hop, the experience of eating Ethiopian food and soup dumplings. We talked about music, about writing, about reading, about art and photography, about shoes and shopping, and sometimes just plain old life B.S. I did plenty of eavesdropping, and on their own, this group talked about relationships, their families, their goals and pursuits, their adaptability to what was around them. The students seemed to fall in love with the city—or at least certain aspects of it. They seemed to fall in love with each other, mostly metaphorically, and treated each other with respect. Then one of them literally fell in love with a New Yorker, and I wondered if he’d get on the train with us. And then two of the students didn’t. They didn’t get on the train. They found an apartment in two days. They stayed in New York City to pursue life dreams (or just some summer fun), very Carson-esque, even if they don’t realize it right now. All of this—ALL of it—comes with openness, an openness to the place and an openness with other people.

It occurs to me that, in 1940s Brooklyn, this is what the February House was all about. A grouping of artists that lived together, discussed life, became inspired and reflective because of these discussions. Sure, there was competitiveness, disorder, arguing, even some loneliness and some lostness, but as author Sherill Tippins sums up, each of them had been inspired either to create or did create some of the greatest work of their lives. And they formed lasting friendships, lasting memories. So, now, left to look at the trinkets brought back with me from the great city of New York, I am most moved to consider the people that lived with me for three weeks and inspired me to cultivate their openness. To lose the anxiety and just adapt. To live fully with curiousity. Thanks, y’all.

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And I forgot to mention…

If you want to keep following my indefinite stay in New York subscribe to my personal blog: Ashleyellipsis

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One Last Thing.

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Last night around 3 a.m. Rachel and I asked Sysco, a security guard at the NYU dorms, about his opinion of where we were moving today. “It’s a death wish,” was his response. “Are you kidding?” According to him some of the worst gang activity takes place there: murders every weekend, and rapes. Our hearts sank. There was no turning back. What was going to happen? Do we do it anyways? No. Of course not.
Sysco said that it was no problem. We call one of these shared room agencies, and get placed in a room today. So, we stayed up all night, worrying and packing, figuring out a plan of action. It was terrifying, but we both had faith a higher power would take care of us. That by the end of the day we were going to have a safe place to lay our heads.
We met first with Diego, the guy who would put us in touch with rooms for rent. He was incredibly attractive and personable. We ended up talking for half an hour about the city, and how it was all going to work out. The fee he was supposed to charge me was $150, but he said that he’d let it just be an even $100. He put us in contact with Atlantic Plaza, “Se Rentan Cuartos.” The woman laughed when we said that we didn’t speak Spanish…but at this point what you’ve did we have? If anything, we just needed a place for the night.
She called several people, and all I could understand of what she was saying was that we were Americans and didn’t speak Spanish. She gave us two cards. “this one you can see now…this one you can see at 7:30.” The one to see at 7:30 was a good room. “This one is now…this one is good.” But what if it didn’t work out? We’d be stuck with no place to stay. So, we went to look at the room available now.
We get there and the building looks like an old abandoned apartment. The paint is peeling, the stone floors are cracked, and the apartment is on the fourth floor of an un-air-conditioned building with only stairs. We knocked on the front door of 4 E and a woman answered the door. She didn’t say anything, but smiled. “We’re here to look at the room.” No response. “Sorry, do you speak English?” she shook her head no. “is there a room? For rent?” She lead us back to a room where two small children were playing. It didn’t look like a spare room at all. Rachel asked the little girls if they spoke English, and when they said yes, she asked if this room was one of theirs. “No. We just play in it sometimes.” the bright pink walls told a different story.
We left a little more Uncertain. Do we bank everything on the 7:30 room? We still had to get our things out of the NYU dorms. Starving and running off of two hours of sleep we opted yes.
We took a cab with all of our belongings to the address on a hand written card, unloaded three weeks worth of clothing, souvenirs, and donated supplies from the long departed group. There were women outside the building speaking Spanish, and I asked them if Marian lived in the building. The first woman I asked didn’t speak English at all, but a woman next to her said she wasn’t home. It was only 7 p.m. Marian wouldn’t be home for another half hour at least. Luckily, the lady said her son was upstairs, and buzzed for him.
Chris walked down the stairs and asked us if we were wanting to rent the room. “My mom wont be home for a while, you could come back later?” I said we’d just wait and told him our situation. After that he offered to show me the room. It was amazing. Everything about it…yellow walls, clean bed, no one living in it. (See Pictures.)
…We’re staying here. Talked for hours with Marian about her family and the apartment. About how she was praying for the right people to rent from her, and we prayed all day as hard as we could to have a decent place to sleep that night. We order chinese food, and I shared mine with Chris. Apparently Sesame Chicken is both our favorite. Marian told us how to save money, where to eat, why her panties would always being hanging in the bathroom. “I taught my granddaughter at three years old how to wash panties in the shower.” it made so much sense that I did it tonight. Although, my panties are hanging on a old radiator in our room instead.

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