Tag Archives: New York City

On Returning Home and Missing My Family

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We took so many group photos, it was kind of hard to choose one. But here’s the family in Brooklyn Heights.

So, I can’t say this better than Lindsay, but writing a last post is difficult. And this time, perhaps thankfully, I didn’t have a 36-hour train ride home for meditation. Instead, I’ve taken these last two days in Georgia to tune out and think about what this CSU NY Arts Immersion trip has meant to me. Back at home, I found myself sort of immediately bored without somewhere to walk on Saturday evening and then sort of immediately maladjusted to the truly “free” Sunday that I had without a trip or meeting scheduled—without the buzz and hum of the city in the background. So, I do miss the city with all of its stimulation, all that it offers. But, of course, I’m going to talk about “family” for my last post…because, like the last trip taught me, it’s about the people that accompany you on a trip as much as the place you travel to.

From the beginning, this group referred to us as a “family” and insisted that we take a group photo for nearly every outing. This was quite a contrast to our last group in 2012, who ditched us as often as they could to go out exploring. While that group was interested in discovering the city on their own, this group wanted to experience it together, which meant a certain kind of openness to just about any event that was planned. They put serious trust in their professors to show them the city, and then they could reflect for themselves. For instance, when I suggested a theatrical reading of Russian literature at Joe’s Pub, almost everyone came along—and even though we were all lost because we hadn’t read Nabokov’s Pale Fire, this group made the best of it. They used humor to get through it, seeing who could laugh the loudest at a show that none of us could really understand. It might have been a dreadful event, but this family made it memorable anyway.

From what I could tell, when this group was disappointed with something, they talked through it. This, again, suggests an openness. Instead of a quick dismissal—an “I hated that”—they talked amongst themselves and then with us about what left them curious, questioning, or uncomfortable. For instance, after a visit to the MoMA, Rylan and I discussed postmodern art with one of my English students, which led to an interesting debate about works like those of Jackson Pollock and the significance of visual art as political and meaningful versus that same significance in literature. After our tour in Harlem, many students felt uncomfortable that our tour guide took us into the housing projects; they discussed this together and then with me a little, which led to some of the most honest conversations about race and class that I’ve ever had. Another instance: one art student pulled me aside at the International Center for Photography to talk about the composition of a certain series of photos, which she felt looked poorly Photoshopped. Even though she disliked the series, she was engaged with trying to understand why the photographer would use such techniques. And, of course, in my class meetings where we discussed literature, we inevitably drifted away from the actual texts and spoke about our own experiences in the city, whether good or bad.

Even if we all felt homesick and tired and maybe even tired of each other at some point in the trip, we remained a “family,” as the students put it. Family, to me, means sharing experiences in honest and open ways–unafraid to question, to engage, to make decisions about what we value in art and life, or even our values and how they change. To just know that you can trust someone else with your true feelings about what you’ve just experienced. That is the real purpose of this trip in my mind—to establish that kind of rapport. It’s not to try and cram in every artistic and historical event in New York City into three weeks time, so that students can dance through them and later talk about their experiences like badges or trophies (“I saw this; I went here; I’ve done that before”). Instead, the purpose of this trip—and I think travel more generally—is to form lasting bonds with your travel mates, to reflect together on what you are seeing and learning, to miss the people more than the place when you get home.

Like the authors that we read for this trip, who were all searching for connections with others in places far from their homes, that’s what we seek when we venture to new places out of our comfort zone. I’m glad to have found that with my 2014 New York family. We talk so much about the importance of family in the South, about how family sustains us and keeps us grounded in place. But after this trip, I know that the concept of family extends beyond the bounds of our blood relations and our region. I know that, despite all the depressing literature Southerners may write, those connections forged are very real, and that perhaps, in contradiction to some of my earlier posts, home is transportable if you are with your family.

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A Southern Girl Says Goodbye to New York

Alas, it is our last evening here before an early trip home to Georgia tomorrow. I didn’t blog as much as I wanted this trip–my students put me to shame (probably because they receive grades for their posts :)) There was so much more I wanted to reflect on: how the South might just reside up in Harlem; how Coney Island always restores my soul; how I seem to always reconnect with old friends in this city; how I think I may have learned how to interact with New Yorkers on my very last evening here; how this Southern girl (unlike hometown girl Carson McCullers) ain’t ever leaving her region, not even for the cultural capital of the world. I’m going to use this excuse for my lack of posts: we’ve just stayed so busy, which means more experiences and less time to write about them. Instead, I’ll offer you some photos and let you see through my eyes what this trip has meant to me…(after all, this isn’t only a literature trip but a photography and arts trip, too).

Carson McCullers' Home in Nyack, NY.

Carson McCullers’ Home in Nyack, NY.

Sometimes the worst aspects of the South show up everywhere.

Sometimes the worst aspects of the South show up everywhere.

And the best ones also show up (at Sylvia's in Harlem).

And the best ones also show up (at Sylvia’s in Harlem).

I've dreamed of seeing Minton's ever since I read Ralph Ellison's "The Golden Age Time Past," one of my favorite jazz essays of all time.

I’ve dreamed of seeing Minton’s ever since I read Ralph Ellison’s “The Golden Age Time Past,” one of my favorite jazz essays of all time.

These are the "stars" that matter to me.

These are the “stars” that matter to me.

Catch the group in the glass  as we step into the Apollo.

Catch the group in the glass as we step into the Apollo.

The South lives in Harlem.

The South lives in Harlem.

Coney Island get-away.

Coney Island get-away.

An accidental walk back across the Brooklyn Bridge let me catch a little AG reference.

An accidental walk back across the Brooklyn Bridge let me catch a little AG reference.

Minetta's,  a site in the Village where Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dylan Thomas, and e.e. cummings frequented.

Minetta’s, a site in the Village where Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dylan Thomas, and e.e. cummings frequented.

My job is so cool that I get to take students to a pub--the White Horse Tavern, Dylan Thomas's favorite watering hole.

My job is so cool that I get to take students to a pub–the White Horse Tavern, Dylan Thomas’s favorite watering hole.

The end of our literary tour...with the beginning of great American literature.

The end of our literary tour…with the beginning of great American literature.

The sweetest end to this trip: a gift from a student. This means the most of anything I've gained here.

The sweetest end to this trip: a gift from a student. This means the most of anything I’ve gained here.

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On Coming Home

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

A final look at New York City

 

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Why?

Whoa.

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It is day two of our return from the big apple. I still cannot believe how quickly time flew by.

I have been thinking about my first day. I have even thought about my first blog post, my first written record of my city adventure. I remember how I struggled with New York Universities wifi, annoyed by the fact that not only I could complete my work, but I could not post images on Facebook. I finally connected and became tremendously excited. However, even though I have written several posts over the last three weeks, I failed to mention something that has developed in my mind since the beginning.

I began the trip with everyone believing I was an English major because I was taking both the ITDS class (which my fellow peers thought was English) and the photography class. All of the students who joined me on the trip assumed my major to be English. They soon found out I am an Exercise Science major and an Art minor.

Throughout the journey I began to think about my “why” for Exercise Science as a major. I compiled a list of reasons in my head.

• I want to become a Physical Therapist.
• Physical Therapy is a stable career choice.
• There is a high calling for individuals in the medical field.
• I enjoy helping and serving others while making their day.
• Stable income.

I believe these reasons are genuine and honest. I remember breaking my ankle in 10th grade. I was at a friend’s birthday party and landed wrong after trying to catch a football. I went through surgery and months later began my venture into physical therapy. After my first visit I could not wait to go back. The people there were amazing and I could see the progress in my ankle after every visit. I went from a weird feeling of never being able to play sports or participate in active activities again, to running cross country and playing soccer the next semester.

My inspiration grew and I dove into this new found career headfirst.

I had second thoughts about my major when I found decided on an Art minor. I became (and still am) more excited about my art and photography classes than any other class.

Throughout the trip I have really thought about whether to change my major to art or not. I love being creative and photography is my greatest passion. I believe what is holding me back is the risk of taking the leap into something unknown. However, sometimes, it is the leap of faith that provides the greatest success.

Much Love,
Nathan

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Trespassing

Seen at the 9/11 memorial

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.

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Conversion Narratives and Cultural Confluences, Part Two

"No Day Shall Erase You From the Memory of Time." -Virgil

“No Day Shall Erase You From the Memory of Time.” -Virgil

I’m a humanities scholar, which to me, means that I have to look at issues from all perspectives—that I can’t just accept one answer and that I’m consistently making connections between my experiences. This is the nature of critical thinking for me. So, when I visited the new 9/11 Museum and memorial, I couldn’t help but think again about religion—this time in a somewhat different context.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure I wanted to see the new museum because I wasn’t sure this was a tragedy I wanted to relive. So it wasn’t on my list of must-do while in New York, but my friend Casey wanted to visit, so I was ready to tag along with her and one of our students. First, we got a little lost trying to get there. It’s still confusing in that area because of construction, which makes it feel more chaotic than normal walks around the city and probably also lent to my feelings of being overwhelmed when we finally arrived. The memorial itself, free and open to the public, is beautiful and peaceful: two deep ever-flowing fountains, where the bottom isn’t visible, inscribed with the names of the dead, in the same spots of the Towers. To view this scene of loss and to know that the acts of 9/11 were sparked by the misinterpretation of religion already had me thinking about my church experience the previous day. When I stepped into the museum, my meditation on (I’m going to say this quite plainly) the evils of religion continued. I was thinking about religion in absolutely different terms than I had just the day before.

Once in the museum, I was—like my experience at Judson—blown away. I don’t know what I had expected, but it wasn’t this. The first space was a bit sparse, with large artifacts like the last column, the survivor stairs, bent pieces of steel, a fire truck, select screenings of the missing person posters that emerged after 9/11. It was somewhat quiet and immense, perhaps like the parking garage that had once stood there. As we entered the areas representative of each tower, the experience was different. I walked through images (moving and still), voices telling their stories, television screens full of reports, more large artifacts like those in the entryway and then much smaller artifacts in glass cases. The walk through the North Tower exhibit was sort of circular, allowing one to get lost in the overwhelming exhibits about many different aspects of the attacks: from pre-9/11 to post 9/11, from the perspectives of those who perished, those who survived, those who served and rescued, and even those who committed the attacks. Wandering (sort of aimlessly) in an exhibit like this brought manifest feelings of awe and disbelief, sadness and sympathy, frustration and anger.

Yes, of course, anger. Anger directed at the terrorists that committed these acts, that were the cause of this memorial in which I stood. Now I could go back to my earlier dismissal of organized religion, even religion generally, and say, “Look what happens when the wrong people appropriate, manipulate, misinterpret, and misuse religion.” I’m not singling out Islam or contemporary religion either—there is, of course, a long history of the Christian religion and violence going hand-in-hand. For instance, in the history of my own region, slave-owners beat their slaves during the week and worshipped God on Sundays, reframing biblical stories to justify their violent ownership of other people (see the narratives of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs). It would have been easy for me to quickly forget my Sunday experience at Judson and return to my pessimistic view of religion.

But the 9/11 Museum did more than just document the event and stir up my emotions; it also brought people together to think about this tragedy. While the museum was crowded, this crowd didn’t seem to be there for simple spectacle. They moved through the exhibits slowly, they lingered, and most importantly, they shared their stories with each other. As a practiced eavesdropper, I overheard many stories about where people were during 9/11 and what it meant for them to come to this site. Upon our entrance to the museum, a man was telling the security guard that he used to park in this garage everyday for work. My student and I shared our stories with each other, too. Afterwards, we all shared more, discussing what we had seen and what had been particularly moving to us. It occurred to me, as I sat outside listening the ever-flowing fountain and watching folks exit the museum with drawn hushed faces, that this memorial isn’t about the evils of religion—although I felt so angry, so sad about the intolerance that generally accompanies extremist religious perspectives and that led to the loss of so many people on 9/11. In the end, the nature of the museum and memorial (which encourages overwhelming immersion but also thoughtful emotion) brought me back to my conversion at Judson—to an affirmation that a faith in humanity–and humanity itself–will triumph over violent extremism in the end.

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Conversion Narratives and Cultural Confluences, Part One

I should start this post by saying I’m not a religious person and that even my spirituality is rooted very much in the human world. When people ask me about my religious or spiritual beliefs, I always answer that I put my faith in people—and in the artistic creations of people. Literature. Music. Visual Art. All arts, really. While I normally avoid organized religion, that faith in literature is what drew me in to a real church on Sunday. When I saw that a sermon about Eudora Welty was offered at Judson Memorial Church just around the corner from our lodgings at NYU, I was intrigued. My friend Casey, a graduate school colleague who also studies southern literature and culture, visited, and we decided to brave the sermon together—along with two of my literature students. It just seemed too good, too serendipitous: how could we pass up a church service about a Southern writer in New York?

When we arrived, we were, perhaps, unpleasantly surprised to learn that it was children’s day, which meant that the Sunday school class would be performing all of the music, much of the reading, and even some theatrical skits. We double-checked the program to make sure that the Eudora Welty sermon was still part of the service before climbing the stairs to the church space. Once inside, we were warmly greeted by a chaotic scene of diverse peoples roaming around, including the Sunday school teacher who would deliver the sermon. (Just so you get a good picture of this place and its people, our speaker was a long-haired bespectacled hippie-type, wearing a Yankees jersey with “Grand Poobah” printed on the back). After looking again at the program, I noticed that the songs sung were not traditional hymns but instead Wilco, Patty Griffin, and Nick Lowe songs. I was a little astounded that this could be categorized as “church.” It seemed more like “fun,” which has never been my church experience (at Episcopal or Methodist churches, anyway).

When the service started, the children—age ranges 5 to 16 or so—took over. All of their performances were moving, from the piano preludes to the songs to the theatrical deliveries of significant first lines of literature (like Harry Potter, which apparently is not devil-worship material in this church!) and brief important scenes from the Bible (my favorite was Samson and Delilah: ask me about it when you see me). By far, the most meaningful was when several children of different ages spoke about what God meant to them. For instance, a boy in his tweens or early teens said that he didn’t really know how God fit into his life or if he believed at all, that he was still figuring it out. Another, a girl probably 10 or so, said something like this: “There are lots of stories out there about God and the Bible. Some of them I don’t believe. I don’t believe that God is a great big man looking out over all of us from the sky. I believe that God is love.” I was still astounded that a “church” would allow young people to express their beliefs so openly—mostly, to question their beliefs so openly. By the time our guest preacher stepped in, I was pretty much converted—converted to the idea that religion can reflect the best parts of my faith in humanity and the arts. Certainly, this place was challenging all of my previous beliefs about the nature of God.

But, going forward, the sermon absolutely opened my heart in ways I had not expected. It was more than a nod to Eudora; it was the life story of a southern ex-pat from Alabama who lived his life in New York. It was the life story of our guest preacher, who told us about his love for the city, but also his love for his birth place—who spoke to the discomfort of being asked to explain (and perhaps apologize for) a southern region characterized by ignorance, violence, and prejudice. He talked about college football as a sort of religion. He talked about sweet tea. He led us into Eudora Welty with pride in his home region, suggesting that, although the South may be a region historically associated with tragedy and trauma, it is also home to the best American writers of the past 100 years. He must have listed at least 50 writers (including all of the writers on my syllabus—our own Carson, too). We Southerners in the audience pretty much clapped—we pretty much clapped out loud, happy to hear our region being discussed in positive terms in this Northern city. In a church. Surrounded by people of all walks of life. I now knew I had been converted to thinking about religion in a different way.

But let me get to Eudora Welty’s significance in the sermon. First, he acknowledged that Welty might roll over in her grave, that it might be a stretch to include her in a Sunday sermon, and then he read bits from The Optimist’s Daughter. He kept discussing Welty’s use of the word “confluence”—of her descriptions of confluence. Of course, he related it to his own experiences in New York and to the congregation itself. And then, as so rarely happens to me in church (but often happens in a good class with a good teacher), I understood. Sitting in this peaceful space with my friend and students, surrounded by a diverse group of open-hearted folks, listening to a man tell me that the meaning of Welty’s confluence brought us close to something spiritual (what he referred to as God), I believed it. I was converted by his discussions of confluence, what I viewed as the confluences between North and South, literature and religion, the cultural confluences of the people in this great city. But really, I was simply affirmed: he affirmed that my faith in humanity and the arts does not (perhaps should not?) have to conflict with Christianity. It’s about embracing our confluences—not dwelling on our differences in hateful ways—which, not surprisingly to me, is something that we Southerners work hard at, despite our history.

This is the cover of the Judson Memorial Kids' Day Program, where "God" can mean and be many, many things, including love.

This is the cover of the Judson Memorial Kids’ Day Program, where “God” can mean and be many, many things, including love.

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