I left New York City two days ago and am only now writing my last blog post about this trip. The reason for my procrastination can be narrowed down to two things: general laziness and a reluctance to write a conclusion. I have often found conclusions to be difficult to write. They have to sum up the entirety of the narrative without seeming redundant while also offering a new perspective on the subjects mentioned. My mind is blank when I try to think of how to finish this blog series. I want the end to be perfect, like a neat little ribbon tied around a well wrapped present. How will I wrap this all up? Should I write out a laundry list of all the places I visited while in New York or should I discuss the overall theme of the trip and the lessons that I learned there? Both choices sound rather cliche but what other options do I have?
Earlier this evening I stood on my porch, watching Piper (my dog) investigate the yard as if she’s never seen it before. As the sky darkened and the fireflies awoke to illuminate the night, I mused about the trip and my thoughts drifted to the city of New York. The night was quiet here in Lawrenceville, Georgia, which is something that hardly ever happened in New York City. There were no sirens blaring every twenty minutes or people hollering in drunken merriment. The only sound here was the distant rumbling of thunder, a warning of an approaching summer storm. I couldn’t help but smile to myself for I was finally home, but a sadness lingered in my peripheral.
It didn’t take me long to realize that I missed New York City, or rather that I missed being away. When I was there the only thing I wanted was to go home, but now all I want is to leave. It’s funny how we are never satisfied with what we have. My homesickness got pretty bad when I was in New York City, but now that I am home I feel a sort of restlessness creeping ever closer. People are full of contradictions and I am in no way exempt. I posses a strong desire to travel, but at the same time I feel more comfortable at home. I despise being idle, yet I tire easily. All these contradictions and more are just part of who I am, and they help explain my conflicting emotions that I felt while standing outside that evening.
I am unsure as to where I am going with this. Maybe before I just type blindly I should plan out what I want to write, but that’s never really been my style. Writing whatever comes to mind has always been easier to me. I tend to forfeit coherence and structure for ease and authenticity. There will be no perfect ribbon to tie up this blog series, I have come to terms with that now. I have nothing else to say except that I’ve never been very good at wrapping presents. Like my writing, I prefer to just wing it.
A final look at New York City
Seen at the 9/11 memorial
I was seven years old when the tragedy of 9/11 occurred, and just like most people I remember where I was on that day. When the towers fell, I was at school and had no idea what had happened until I came home. My parents had the television on to the news and I remember standing in the living room watching the towers collapse in slow motion. For several days afterwards I listened to the panic speculations of further attacks. I remember hearing someone worrying that the CDC in Atlanta would be the next location for a terrorist attack. Rumors and conspiracies spread like wildfire as information regarding the attacks were slow to come to light. During all of this I was able to understand that something terrible had happened despite being only seven years old, but I was too young to understand what it all really meant in a broad, universal sense. Even today I am unsure what 9/11 meant in the grand scheme of things.
Today I accompanied some of my fellow CSU students to the 9/11 memorial. I felt an obligation to go, not only as an American but as a human being. It only seemed right to visit the memorial while we were in New York City for three weeks. So we went to ground zero on a depressingly grey and cold day. After weaving through construction sites and throngs of traffic, we eventually made it to the memorial site. The ever-flowing fountains were stunning in their enormity and sleek appearance. I was awestruck by the beauty of these two fountains located in the exact spots where the twin towers once stood.
It didn’t take me long to break away from the group in order to view the memorial on my own. I felt like it was meant to be a solitary experience. As I walked alongside the barriers inscribed with the names of those who perished, I felt like a trespasser on some sacred space. I have no direct connection to the tragedy of 9/11. No one I know witnessed the event firsthand or died on that infamous day. Here in this place of remembrance I was just another tourist and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I didn’t belong here. I looked at each name carved into the black marble and felt a pang of sadness for these strangers, which was immediately followed by a sense of guilt. I tried to imagine how it would feel if some stranger cried over the death of one of my loved ones. What if my grandmother’s grave site was made into a memorial that attracted hundreds of tourists everyday? Is this a reasonable comparison or am I stretching the connection?
I don’t have many answers to the questions that 9/11 and other global tragedies inspire in me. I suppose there are some questions that you can never answer.
Creepy street art? Seems relevant to my post…
I am afraid of many things. Merging into traffic on the expressway, bulbous shaped spiders crawling out of dark crevices, and being trapped in the suffocating folds of a massive crowd are just a few things that give me anxiety. They’re not phobias though. I don’t go out of my way to avoid these things (well except for the spiders) and my day-to-day life is not completely derailed by experiencing them either. Life goes on even if creepy crawlies ruin the day.
The reason I bring this up is because fear is one of the major subjects of Karen Russell’s novel, Vampires in the Lemon Grove. We read two short stories from the novel for our southern writers in New York class, and I instantly fell in love with Russell’s ability to weave classic horror elements with a contemporary writing style. I wasted no time in reading pass the required amount and now I only have three of her short stories left to digest. They’re fairly easy stories to read, but the ambiguous endings will drive you crazy with curiosity. It’s a real shame that I can’t just call up Karen Russell and ask her all my questions that her stories pose. I suppose that’s part of the brilliance of her stories. They keep you guessing right up to the end and even beyond.
Out of the stories that I’ve read, the one that has really stuck with me is the fourth in the collection called “Proving Up”. The story is set in 1860’s Nebraska and revolves around a small family of settlers hoping to finally get their land deed by meeting all the requirements of the Homestead Act of 1862. One of these requirements is the nearly impossible act of possessing a glass window, which the central family happens to own. The youngest boy of the family sets out to loan the window to another family hoping to prove up, but on his long trek through the prairie he encounters a freak blizzard and a terrifying stranger who may or may not be human.
The story is a study in the effects of guilt, made worse by the alienating environment of 1860’s Nebraska, on the human psyche. We observe the foolishly optimistic father, the sorrow-stricken mother of three dead daughters, the potentially violent eldest son, and the youngest son, eager to prove himself a man, interact with one another in an isolated wasteland. Struggling to deal with their own inner demons, these characters (along with a few others) fall victim to the personification of their fears. The story is chilling, tragic, and teaches us all an important lesson that sometimes the monsters are spiders and sometimes they are our own troubled minds.
I wasn’t sure how to represent my writer’s block, but hopefully this wasteland environment does the job well enough.
I am homesick. I didn’t want to admit it but it is a reality that I can no longer ignore. It’s a shame really. Most of New York City remains unexplored but all I want to see is the familiar faces of home. A part of me wonders if the stomach ache that I’ve had for the past few days is really just a manifestation of homesickness. Heartbreak and rejection often have physical symptoms so it isn’t a big stretch for a longing for home to turn into an upset stomach and general fatigue. We only have six more days left on this trip and all I can do is eagerly wait for the flight home. It’s a complicated feeling because I honestly want to explore every nook and cranny of this city but the comfortable familiarity of home is just more appealing to me.
I shouldn’t feel guilty about these feelings but I can’t help but regret not wanting to go out on an adventure everyday in New York City. While the others in the group plan long trips for everyday, I feel more inclined to just sit in a coffee shop and rest. I have yet to adapt to the fast pace nature of this city and I feel like I never will. All the hustle and bustle of the city can be overwhelming. Perhaps it’s the southerner in me that finds this endless movement exhausting. I can’t keep up with it, and so when people in the group go off on day long excursions, I remain back at the dorm.
What a terrible blog post this has turned out to be. I took a break from writing last night and returned to it the next day in the hopes that I would have more inspiration to write. I’m not sure that that inspiration is there. This isn’t a new problem for me either. I’ve been struggling with writer’s block for a long time now and I’m starting to wonder if it’s more of an excuse than an actual problem. What I really need to do is just sit down and write whatever pops into my head no matter how stupid it sounds, but I have yet to follow through with this plan. Every now and then I get struck with inspiration to write but I never fully explore these ideas. I write maybe a page or two but then I lose interest and stop writing for weeks on end. At least with these blog posts I am forced to write whether I want to or not. The post may not be the best work I have ever done but they are better than nothing.
The number of 100 dollar bills on this shirt probably equals the shirt’s cost.
I love fashion. I don’t know why I feel a bit of shame admitting that; as if it’s a big deal that a young girl could like clothes is a shameful thing to admit. Maybe I hesitate to admit this about myself because I fear people will view me as shallow. I would be just another empty headed white girl who fancies clothes more than anything else, but it’s not like that for me. I just love clothes simply because they are pretty. If that makes me shallow then so be it. I honestly don’t see a difference between admiring clothes and admiring art. Some would even go so far as to say that fashion is art and to some extent I would have to agree. Fashion embraces some of the same elements that art does: form, color, movement, and texture. Avant garde fashion with it’s flamboyant style and outlandish designs resembles the experimental nature of modernist art. Minimalist art can be seen in color blocked clothing and graphic tees exhibit the same characteristics of pop art. If art and fashion have such a close connection than why is one viewed as a worthy subject to be discussed in intelligent debate while the other is scoffed at as being superficial?
These are the sorts of thoughts that passed through my mind as I walked the streets of SoHo. Luxurious high end boutiques lined the streets and illuminated the evening with their vivid fluorescent store lights. I was in awe at the finely dressed mannequins and the equally polished store clerks that manned these boutiques. Most of the stores I did not recognize but a few were familiar: Tiffany & Co, Chanel, Burberry, and Michael Kors. All of these shops had one thing in common and that was their ridiculous price range. A single dress from one of these shops would cost me my entire college tuition. I admit that my statement is an exaggeration but the sentiment still stands. These were undoubtedly the kind of stores where if you had to ask the price then you couldn’t afford the product.
After seeing all these shops I had to wonder if their products counted as art or was there a more cynical motive behind the Burberry coats and Michael Kors purses? Money obviously has a hand in SoHo. To deny that would be unreasonable. Those who shop in SoHo have the income to afford the overly priced clothing and accessories while the businesses reap the benefits. What is happening in SoHo and in many other shopping districts is consumerism at work. Purchasing designer named products seems less like artistic self-expression and more like materialistic desire. I have the suspicion that those who buy Chanel purses do so not because of the quality but because of the name. They spend the money because they can and because possessing these items acts as a status marker. It’s a cynical opinion of the fashion world and a lot less of a romantic expression of art, but it’s the realistic truth. Is it a bad thing? I don’t know, but it is a good debate for another time.
I wasn’t sure what sort of picture would best represent my anxiety. This picture of the old drugstore floor that Carson McCullers once visited seemed good enough to me.
Fear is a terrible emotion. It has the ability to completely engulf you, blind you and bind you to its will. You can become paralyzed by fear, struck dumb by the sheer intensity of this primal emotion. There is nothing worse than being afraid, except when you do not know why you are experiencing fear. For several years I have suffered from generalized anxiety disorder and clinical depression. I do not know which came first and frankly I do not care. It probably would not make a difference either way. I have sought help for my condition; talked to therapists and taken antidepressants on a regular basis. Since the dark day in May 2010, when my mental stability had suffered the most, I have steadily been getting better. I have learned how to manage the depression and calm myself down during panic attacks.
It should be noted, however, that I have not been cured of my depression or anxiety. There is no cure, or so I have been told. My depression and anxiety have a tendency to go into dormancy and then when I make the mistake (which I often do) of thinking they are gone for good, they reappear and dash any hopes of being free of their oppressive grasp. I knew ahead of time that going on this trip could prove difficult if my anxiety and/or depression struck. A part of me felt reluctant to go and another part of me was defiantly determined to live my life the way I wanted to. The latter side won out and here I am in New York City. Unfortunately, the anxiety stowed away on the plane somewhere.
The anxiety came out of nowhere. I was walking out of Urban Outfitter’s with two other girls from the group when all of a sudden I felt the unmistakable pang of fear in my chest. The dark, stormy weather undoubtedly added to the dread of another panic attack. I tried ignoring the heart palpitations and the tension in my muscles, but while pretending the physical symptoms do not exist is somewhat easy, doing the same for the mental symptoms is not. How do you ignore thoughts that are not entirely clear, that reside on the peripheral of your conscious and invoke trepidation with every passing minute? I have yet to discover an answer to this question of mine.
There is some comfort in knowing that I am not alone in my struggles with my own mental health. I have met several people who face the same challenges that I do and who offer advice on how best to handle the situation. In my darkest moments I must try to recall their kind words for they offer some solace from the storm inside my mind. I must take refuge in a cave of reason and remembrance in hopes that these two elements will help me weather the storm and enjoy the rest of my trip in New York City.
Today I asked the impossible: a moment of peace and quiet in New York City. These past few days have been a hectic rush to experience everything that the city has to offer. My feet ache as if I have walked a greater distance in a span of seven days than I have in my entire life. Every night I flop down onto my bed and immediately fall into a deep slumber. I am pass the point of exhaustion. Having dealt with suffocating crowds, ridiculously long lines, and a dash of infantile drama, I greeted the free day with a sigh of relief. As much as I wanted to explore the city further and see everything that I could, my body and mind needed a brief repose.
Finding sanctuary proved to be more difficult than I imagined. Originally I had planned to wake up early and drink coffee in the park, but after waking up late and scrambling outside just fresh from a shower I discovered to my dismay a huge festival underway. The streets were packed with families visiting the World Science Festival. Children squealed with joy as volunteers demonstrated the merits of science, and food truck vendors cried out their wares in hopes to draw in hungry parents. I managed to squeeze my way through the throngs of people and buy some coffee, but finding a quiet place in the park to sit was clearly not going to happen.
My next attempt at finding a quiet place to relax was an excursion to Central Park. In spirit with my visitor naiveté I thought a trip to Central Park would be a mellow experience in comparison to the other trips we have taken in the past few days, but I was sorely mistaken. The park was as crowded as any other place I have seen in New York City. With the beautifully clear weather and the date happening to be Sunday, it should have been obvious to me that the park would be busy. Call it ignorance or wishful thinking, but my dreams of a peaceful trip to the park were immediately dashed upon walking through the main gates. I managed to still have a good time exploring the park. We ended up going to the Central Park Zoo and while I didn’t get my peace and quiet I did get to see a multitude of animals. Watching the sea lions jump and swirl in the water brought a smile to my face and momentarily eased the tiredness that seemed to cling to my bones. For a moment I thought I reached my goal but even that hope was ruined after a rather ridiculous argument broke out between me and another classmate.
I decided to leave the group to their merriment in the park and made the long trek back to the dorms. While riding the subway back to Washington Square Park I came to the realization that the one thing I truly wanted was to be alone. Every now and then I desire solitude, a break from social interaction in order to gather my thoughts. So with that revelation in mind I left the subway, bought a sandwich and a coke, and ate my dinner in the park. It was still busy in the park but not nearly as much as it was in the morning. The atmosphere was calmer and I was able to enjoy my meal while the sky slowly darkened from a brilliant blue to a more subtle shade of gold. While it wasn’t exactly what I wanted, this solitary meal was the closet thing I experienced to sanctuary and that will have to do for now.