Noticing New York

Some people notice the buildings. They look up, the backs of their necks wrinkling like old men’s foreheads, and they strain their eyes and get dizzy with vertigo. They notice the heads carved above the windowsills on lower Broadway. They notice the snazzy designs on the Flatiron and the dials on the elevators going from the lower tracks to the main concourse of Grand Central.

Some people notice other people. They notice the variations in skin color and, for the first time, stare at their arms encased in black coats and gloves and their chest wrapped in scarves and realize that on the crowded bus where the windows are all blocked they cannot see any reflections of themselves. They notice the possibility of their skin being any color at all; they could blend with any of the races siting around them or be a mix of any or all of them. They could be green or blue or polka-dotted and it wouldn’t matter in this moment.

Some people notice the reactions, the connections, the bizarre randomness of people finding one another in lines for coat checks, on street corners, inside corner delis, before entering a taxi, upon exiting an elevator.

Noticing everything in New York City is impossible. Noticing as much as possible is the constant, ultimate goal. It is a city evolving and living up to and through every stereotype it has ever had while building new and unique traditions for itself at the same time. Things are old and new, familiar and strange at the same time. There is a sense of having been everywhere before and seen everything, even as the unfamiliar shadows of taller buildings than those ever encountered before fill the streets and avenues. New York is a city of unnoticing lives being noticed by noticers.

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Weirdos of the World: Unite

fruit loop.

Read the post above, if you’d be so kind. Mckenzie, the writer of The Unabridged Girl is an incredibly talented writer. I mean it, she is. Whenever she’s posted fiction in the past, I’ve hungered to read more of it. In the post I linked, she talks about how she’s always been considered weird. I can empathize.

In elementary school, I was picked on a lot. The boys hit me, and even a couple of the girls. That was okay with me. It was better than the alternative. You know that old adage about sticks and stones? Well, If somebody hit me, I could at least try to hit back. Not the most peaceful or responsible way to deal with a problem, but self-defense was something I could do. It was the teasing that I didn’t know how to handle. My face would begin to redden, spurring on more lovely comments, and my brain would go blank as I tried to think of something witty to say. I tried the whole “ignoring” trick; I really did. But since I blushed furiously and teared up whenever anyone would tease me, I think that they realized they were getting to me no matter how hard I kept my head down.

I was called weird a lot. I wanted to fit in so badly that it hurt. I still get those moments of wanting to be popular, confident, blonde and skinny and pretty and perfect. I still get moments of wanting to be someone else, someone entirely different, and the urge to jump out of my skin in those agonizing minutes is overwhelming. It feels like there is literally something inside me bubbling furiously and wanting to erupt out of the flesh I live in and prove itself to be the person I should have, could have, would have been if only this, if only that.

But the thing is – I like being weird. I like the fact that I read while I walk. I like the fact that I have lip-piercings but don’t wear any makeup usually and don’t care about how I dress most of the time. I like the fact that when I do dress up, I sometimes do the goth thing and sometimes do the classy, white blouse and nice pants thing. I like the fact that I’ve read the Harry Potter books so many times that I remember that Nearly Headless Nick’s real name is Sir Nicholas de Mimsy Porpington. I like the fact that I play computer games but am still a hopeless romantic. I like the fact that I find pleasure in being on my own with my books, curled up in bed.

Are there things I regret about being weird? Sure. Of course. Do I still have issues? Oh my goodness, yes. If you could hear the inside of my mind, the extent to which I feel guilty about things that aren’t my responsibility, and the amount of time I spend judging myself, you might just go crazy yourselves. And yet… And yet I’ve come to accept that I wouldn’t give up the joys I get in my weird pleasures in order to be “normal,” whatever that’s supposed to mean.

I also realize that I’m incredibly lucky to be going to a university where being weird is encouraged and that I live near New York City where being weird is a much coveted quality. Maybe there are places where I would feel much less secure in my weirdness.

Have you been called weird? Do you embrace, shun or hide your weirdness?

Big Apple, Small Room

It took me a while to convince my mother that our apartment wasn’t twenty-five square feet. I needed to remind her that if it was, that would mean it was the size of my aunts’ terrace.

Nevertheless, the space is small, the bed slopes, the internet is having issues, the shower-curtain smells suspiciously of new plastic (was there blood on the previous one? Is that why it was changed so recently) and the air-conditioning not so much hums as grunts and complains loudly that its back is hurting. We shut the poor thing off and slept with the windows open.

Does it sound like I’m complaining? Oh, dear me, no! Part of life in the big city is the itty-bitty one room apartments that make up those jigsaw puzzles of lights-in-windows that can be seen anywhere, always, because it never goes completely dark here. I heard something about some legendary blackout that happened sometime, but I can’t imagine it. How would people so addicted to their machines function?

Friends, good food, and fun awaits. Oh, yeah, and then school starts in a couple days. But until then, I’m going to make the most of this place.*

*By that, of course, I mean I’m going to go with my mom to read at the Highline park. But hey, that’s pretty dang adventurous for me!

Book Review: “The House of Mirth” by Edith Wharton

Hard as it is to picture New York City’s 5th Avenue lined with houses, it is much more difficult to really grasp the way American high-class society functioned a mere century ago. When I read Jane Austen’s female characters’ trials and tribulations, I remember that she and they are some two hundred years removed from my world of tank-tops, flip-flops, cougars and boy-toys. The names of pastoral English counties and villages, if they still exist, echo in my ears as from long in the past.

Wharton’s Lily Bart, however, inhabits a world that includes Central Park, 59th Street, Madison Avenue and Long Island. These familiar names resonated within me as I read of Mr. Trenor’s crude flirtation with and near-rape of poor Lily, and reminded me that a hundred years is not so very long. It chills me to think that the same streets I walked just a couple of weeks ago used to be inhabited by a society that excluded women like Lily Bart if they were whispered about and tainted by the slanderous tongues of their so-called ‘friends.’

Lily is not an innocent by any mean, but to be fair, she is painfully honest with herself. She’s manipulative, shallow, wasteful and sometimes tactless, and knows herself to be ornamental rather than useful. But she’s the heroine of this beautiful book, and despite her many shortcomings – or maybe because of them – I loved her from the first chapter. Her fall from grace is described gradually, through a series of events that are seen by her social-circle as indicative of her ‘fastness.’ In truth, she’s not fast at all – she’s rather picky, and though she intends to marry someone rich enough to support her gambling habit as well as her wardrobe, she never manages to follow through on these base instincts.

Wharton’s language is subtle, but any reader attuned to the nature of witty word play that floods novels of a certain era will be able to pick up on the truth behind the niceties: the couple having marital difficulties are clearly cheating on each other, Mr. Trenor is asking for physical and not monetary repayment of Lily’s debt, Gerty Farish represents what Lily might have been under different circumstances. So much of this is between the lines, however, that a reader trying to ignore the hints will lose a lot of what is being conveyed.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of the book is the way Lily’s change of outlook affected my own opinions. The odious Mr. Rosedale and the gossiping Mrs. Fisher became my favorite characters by the closing chapter – their knack of speaking the blunt truth rather than beating around the bush was refreshing in Lily’s world of careful conversation and venomous whispers. Wharton’s ability to change a reader’s mind is to be admired.

I highly recommend The House of Mirth, although I daresay you won’t find much to laugh at in its pages.

In NYC

Dear Blog, Dear Bloggy-Friends, Dear World,

I’m in New York City, and it is fabulous. Last time I was here, I was extremely thin, painfully thin, and I’m told that I actually looked ill. In that state, I was absolutely terrified of the cold, since it seemed to penetrate every pore of my body and froze me to the bone.

Now, however, I’m managing to enjoy the cold like never before. I leave the apartment I’m staying in well wrapped in a new coat, new gloves, an old scarf and a very old hat (it was my older brother’s baby hat, apparently) and I feel snug as a bug (and where does that expression come from, anyway? Who ever said that bugs were snug?).

My spirits are high, higher than they’ve been in a while. I bought three classics today, as well, and having these books in my room (Howard’s End, Pride and Prejudice, Vanity Fair) makes me happy.

So. In a week, I move into my dorm room. Over the next few days, I’m enjoying my re-immersion in the city. I’ve also experienced some lovely interactions in the past few days with random people, so I’m hoping to find some time to write little tidbits about those.

I hope you all have had a fabulous weekend! Did anyone else spend the weekend walking about a city? Has anyone bought new books?