Category Archives: Film

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.



Filed under Dance, Film, Food, History, Literature, Music, Neighborhood Fun, Photography, Popular Culture, Theatre, Visual Arts

Popular Culture and Fiction v. Reality, NY Style

As someone who studies southern culture, I’ve recently written a lot about depictions of the South in television and film. Usually I’m arguing that outsiders get a skewed perspective of the South. But now it’s time to turn the tables and admit that most of my perceptions of New York City come from television. I’ve only just started thinking about New York in terms of popular media, and I know my views here are limited because I haven’t searched for films or series about the city in the ways that I sometimes seek out popular media about the South. But generally speaking, what kind of skewed perception has this outsider consumed?

It started when I was a teenager with the movie Kids and the television show Friends—two very different depictions of the city. Kids’ bleak narrative charts destructive teen behavior and the dire consequences of that life; the city is portrayed as a place that nurtures the corruption of youth. On the other hand, Friends portrays the city as a lovely meeting place for twenty-somethings to imbibe giant cups of coffee and laugh about their misadventures. For me, NYC on the screen seems to be “either/or”: either beloved portraits like Party Girl, Sex and the City, or How I Met Your Mother or slightly darker (and perhaps deeper) depictions like Mad Men or the new HBO series Girls. However, one thing that all of these series or films have in common (at least for the most part, perhaps Kids excepted): they focus on mostly privileged white people. If I were only judging from what I saw on television (and I’m purposefully leaving out Spike Lee here), I’d believe New York to be a haven for rich, hip, young white people who occasionally get into serious life troubles. Maybe this is reality?

But of course the opposite is true when you’re visiting: the diversity is incredible—diversity in ethnicities, classes, ages, sexualities (much like my home region, which on screen is often portrayed as dumb, poor, and white). New York City is not filled with only Don Drapers, Caspers, or Hannahs, which makes it a true global melting pot, a city identity full of varying identities. While the big screen often makes this city look like either a friend-filled utopia OR a haven for destructive types, the reality is much more diverse and complex, as is often the case when considering fiction v. reality. Still, I’m left wondering: why can’t we build a little more of this complexity into our entertainment? Does mainstream pop culture have to be flat and “either/or”?

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Filed under Film, Popular Culture