Monthly Archives: September 2014

Dear Man I Almost Just Pepper-Sprayed (Or, Another Day in My Life as a Minority)

Tonight after class, I was walking home from the bus stop. This is about a two block or so stretch along the river. It’s normally not so bad; the view is pretty and there are usually the occasional stragglers around walking dogs. I went to cross from the Hudson side of the road to my side, and heard people yelling. A quick pivot revealed a man a woman arguing on the corner about something in a book they were looking at. I turned back around to hit the button for the traffic signal, and there was a man directly in my face. He grabbed my arm, and told me how attractive I looked. (Trust me, I have worked all day. And then school. I am sweaty, I’m sure my makeup has melted off, and I am in no way attractive at this point in the day.) I had the pepper spray out before he could get out another word. Had he not let go, I would have kneed him. The plan was in my head without me making a conscious decision to create it. I crossed the street outside of the crosswalk, not bothering with the signal button. Walked up my steps after making sure he was not behind me, and then locked myself in the house. All is well and fine.

I’m surprised this hasn’t happened before, quite honestly. One night when I was coming home from work, walking down 6th Avenue, a man jumped out a doorway and tried to “ask me for directions.” I kept walking. Another time, a weird man came up to me when I was in line for the bus, but he walked away when I ignored him. There have been creepy things like that before, but I’ve never been touched, let alone grabbed. And I was, legit, with a few steps of my house.

One of my greatest fears in coming to the city was things like this happening. What surprises me most about it is that I really wasn’t afraid when it did. I don’t remember grabbing my pepper spray, or clicking off the safety. But I did it. PTSD be damned. I’m sitting on my bed now with tea and my cat replaying the entire brief encounter. Part of me wonders if he really did have good intentions, if he just wanted to introduce himself. In the dark. In not fantastic clothes. With crazy eyes. Smart me knows this probably wasn’t the case, though I still wonder if I overreacted. Had I not had pepper spray, would I still be on my bed right now with my cat?

My brain has programmed me to think differently. To be suspicious of the things in the shadows, to bolt when someone approaches me in the dark, especially when they’re unannounced. And for a while there, I forgot that I am naturally suspicious. I forgot that I am a white girl in a neighborhood where NO ONE else is white. (Minus the nice elderly lady next door.) I forgot that I used to be afraid. Of everything. But now I know that I’m not afraid anymore; and I know that there’s a different between fear and preparedness.

I think what I learned tonight is that I am stronger than I give myself credit for, a lesson that needs to be driven home for me again and again and again on repeat. I’m not going to fall apart anymore just because something happened. I, more than anyone, know this could have turned out incredibly differently. My life has prepared me to be on alert in a society that has forced me to be. Fuck this world that tells a man it’s okay to come to a strange woman after dark. Fuck this world that treats women like they are objects that can be touched by anyone. Fuck this culture that tells women we have to be afraid. I’m not going to be afraid. I’m going to kick ass.

I like this me much better.

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The Funk

“I won’t regret the lives I didn’t lead. I knew you, I loved you, and let that be all that I need. Say that it’s fate, say it’s foretold. I’m through with fighting it–I’m much too old. What the gods have to give I’ll take, and I’ll live, and be bold. If we’re always starting over every brand-new morning, then we’re always starting out with the end in doubt. We can leave life for tomorrow, or grieve all that we thought we’d do, or make each moment new. All that has happened is happening now. All that might happen is here, somehow. All of the choices that made me, me, all of the accidents yet to be. All that’s ahead, and all that’s behind–it’s all in the moment I make up my mind and open my heart and start … cause we’re always starting over with a brand new story.”

I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine tonight that made me ponder life, as conversations with her often do. Specifically, I pondered my life and where I place myself within it—generally lower than most everyone else. I tell myself I don’t do this, but in reality, I look at everyone else in my life and think, This person is prettier or This person is smarter or This person is a better writer or This person is so much more confident. But, in reality, what does better mean? What is the standard with which we compare to, and why do we make ourselves so much lower than everyone else?

I am currently in what is commonly referred to as “the grad school funk.” AKA, “where the fuck am I and how did I get here when I can even write and I’m forever and a half away from the only home I’ve ever known and I’m not good enough to be in grad school and nobody likes me and I want to go home now.” I think back to a conversation where D mentioned that if I didn’t cry every day in grad school, I was doing it wrong. I think back to another conversation with T who told me I needed to figure grad school out on my own. I think back to still another conversation with N who told me that I would be unhappy for at least six months. I’ve been thinking this week how I don’t know how to tell what is normal and what isn’t. Which is scary and unnerving, and makes me quite unconfident. I feel like I’m faking; I feel like I don’t belong here, like I’m an impostor.

The funk.

My realization tonight was that everyone is unconfident in some area, when they don’t need to be. I look at all of these beautiful people that I know, (okay, look is a strong word as they are all 1000 miles away), and I realize that we all have things. And maybe that means it’s okay to cry, but I don’t have to. I need to let myself be confused and dissatisfied for at least six months before I officially decide if I do or don’t like grad school. And I figured this out myself.

We really are always starting over with entirely brand new stories, each and every day. And we make a choice on that day as to who we will be and what we will feel. I keep telling myself that there’s something missing, that I need something else. But the truth is, I’m getting too old to still be searching, to still be bouncing off the walls of the past, too scared and uncertain to face what is to come. 

I regret enough in life that I don’t want to regret anymore.

If every day is a choice, then it is my choice to how I approach the past and which walls I bounce off of. Fuck the funk and impostor syndrome and everything in between. I came to this place to write a story, and for the first time in my life it is the story that I myself want to write.

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On Living in a Food Desert

I sat in the window, watching as the grocery truck pulled up outside after an hour of counting boats sailing the Hudson. Watching as the driver unloaded my bags. Watching as a case of soda and plastic bag after plastic bag filled with goodness that I would soon be able to eat appeared on the sidewalk. I’m not ashamed to admit that I squealed a little watching from my third story picture window as the grocery man walked up the stairs to my front door. I’m also not ashamed that I totally jogged down to meet him.

I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, going hungry. But, I’m hungry.

When I lived in Wisconsin, it never occurred to me how exciting groceries could be. And then I moved to New York. One thing that I never expected was how bloody difficult it would be to find groceries—and to get them home. I’ve found a Whole Foods (and apparently there is a mythical Trader Joe’s in that vicinity), but they are several train stops and a bus ride away from my house. Much too far for groceries. Then there are the bodegas in my neighborhood; the ones where the shopkeepers only speak Spanish and only take cash. Most of the products in these places are in Spanish as well, which makes it doubly difficult to figure stuff out.

It’s impossible to get bread anywhere that I’ve found, at least, bread that’s not wheat. I can’t eat wheat bread—it dries out when I chew it, literally solidifying the desert illusion. My neighborhood is literally flooded with tiny restaurants. Miniature oasis’, filled with the most expensive water this side of the Hudson. But I can’t eat out all the time. I’m a graduate student. I’m poor; there is rent to be paid. Plus, the neighborhood gets scary at the night the farther away from the river I go. I refuse to leave the safety of the street lights. I could bring takeout food over the river from the city, but it’s cold by the time I get it home. And, again, expensive.

It is because of these things that I now call this city the food desert. A physical desert is a region so arid because of little rainfall that it supports little to no vegetation; a food desert is a region that is completely dry of whatever food it is I happen to want. Bread. Fresh meat. Normal juice. Necessities.

My Peapod order this week was a total cave in, out of sheer desperation. I used to laugh at physically capable people who had groceries delivered, but I totally understand it now. It’s so bad in this area that I couldn’t even get a loaf of decent bread. I spent at least a month living on Ramen noodles and mini-cheeseburgers, which while not terrible to taste, get a little boring after a while. I now have frozen chicken and various types of pasta, as well as bread, bagels, and soda. They came in a little green truck, rather than me having to go out and fix them. But I still don’t have what I really want. I also highly suspect these food related wants that exist nowhere in my personal desert are a way of trying to fill the holes of all the things I have left behind. But that’s another piece all together.

I would kill for a pork steak. Bacon. Or any meat, really. Quite possibly literally—which is hilarious, because I’m not really a huge meat eater. I think that, at this point, I would be willing to go out and slaughter the pig myself. I am used to a society where I can just go out and get what I need, and this place requires me to figure out bus maps, condense my purchases so they don’t have to buy their own seats, and transport stuff without it melting before I can eat it.

I am writing this from the middle of the food desert, 1000 miles from home. If anyone gets this message, please go out and spear me a pig. If I don’t answer when you drop it off due to either working or being inundated with grad school and NOT writing, the cat would be glad to assist you. Thanks in advance.

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Writing Process Blog Tour

I was nominated by Kelsey Hoff to do the lovely Writing Process Blog Tour. I, in turn, nominate The N Weekly, for one because I think she should write more, and two, because I lack writers on here that I actually know. I also nominate Creative Imaginations, because it another blog I quite enjoy.

What are you working on?

I am currently working on two different profiles for my grad school writing workshop—one is a profile of gender, the other is a profile of sailing. While I am interested in both of these ideas, I am having a hard time latching on to either one of them. I would rather be writing memoir, which is evident in the very cool memoir essay I wrote while I was trying to work on my gender profile.

I am also working on getting the draft of my full length memoir to publication the end of this year. I’ll be doing some local readings and such for it in the near future. I think that, because I’ve had so much success with memoir, it’s put me into a box writing-wise that I don’t really know how to get out of. I worry that I can only be good at one thing, so I am trying to force myself to be different.

How does your work differ from others of its genre?

In terms of my profiles, I’ve been told that I have a very unique way of approaching a subject, and that I’m good at drawing the reader in and making them as interested in that subject as I am. In terms of memoir, I think I have a gift for dialogue. I can recall important conversations that have happened in my life almost word for word, which allows me to include them in my nonfiction without worrying about getting something wrong. I believe that my ability to work in accurate dialogue is a large part of what makes my writing interesting. But the further I get into the world of writing, the more I realize that my story is similar to the stories of many other people—I just tell it differently.

Why do you write what you do?

I think that part of the reason why is that I want validation for my experiences. I want people to tell me that it’s okay, that’ll it get better. Or I want them to tell me “yay!” when something good happens. But I think that the main reason is that I just don’t know any other way to handle some things. The only way I have found to successfully tackle and get over certain experiences is to write about them. I can write about things in a way that I can’t talk about them. I think I also have a tendency to get stuck emotionally, and then wherever I’m stuck is what I try to write through.

How does your writing process work?

I’ve been struggling with the writing process since I moved to New York. Because everything around me is different, so too is my writing process. I find that I actually write better now with distractions—in the grad student lounge, in front of the television, in the park—than I do writing in silence. I have a shoebox of quotes that I keep in the closet; I pull from those a lot to include in my writing. Lately, I’ve started carrying around a Moleskine that I write down random ideas in, or things that I see. That way I can pull it out later and weave those ideas into new pieces.

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On Being Still

I met a man today in Washington Square Park who was a literal bird man. He was dressed entirely in black, long sleeves and heavy pants, with a bandana around his forehead. A belt ensnared his waist that was filled with bird snacks—and a cell phone, which came close to being a bird snack. While I watched, he stood in the middle of the brick path and let the birds land all over him and the squirrels shimmy up his legs. After watching for a while, I asked him how he got the birds to land on him like that, how he taught them to be so comfortable. He told me it was all about being still, waiting. Patience. When he first started, the birds wouldn’t come to him. He was new. But because he was patient, he managed to convince them that he was safe. Eventually, he became a giant bird feeder.

I have never good at any of those things—patience, waiting, stillness—when it comes to new experiences. When things go wrong, or don’t go how I imagined they would, I want to run away before they get worse. So I never have the pigeons of life land on me.

I will never be a bird girl.

This bird man conversation came about on the same day that I met with an old friend for lunch. He said to me, over bites of amazing pad thai noodles and beef, that he was loving the city. And then he asked me how grad school was. And the truth? I’m not writing. Not like I used to. I’m working full time hours at a part time job; I go to class twice a week, and I spend the rest of my time at home with the cat. Staring at a computer that no writing is coming out of. He asked if I’d met my advisor yet—I haven’t. Not unless you count orientation, which was fifteen minutes of introductions followed by two hours of wine-influenced mingling. And while I love grad school, I do not love it in the way that I thought I would. It just feels…different.

This bird man conversation also came on the same day as a text conversation with another friend of mine. I wrote her because, at least it seems to me, like I’m the only one of my friends not fitting in at grad school. I watch E, going out with her cohort for food and drinks, to movies, shopping. I watch L’s happy posts about the different things she’s doing. I’m not doing that. I look around me and I realize that everyone knows somebody else, and nobody really knows me. I wonder how much of that is my fault. My resistance to being still.

A mere six months ago, there was a magical pile of acceptance letters for graduate school. (Along with rejections, but those didn’t bother me once I obtained the acceptances I had coveted). I was put in a place where I was forced to choose between programs, and I chose this one. A program that I liked for the people in it; for the ambiance of the school; for the close-knitness I ascertained from long distance interviews and observations.

I have found none of these things. My roommates and I are radically different. My workshop is filled with people who already know each other; a large group of second years that all have someone else to talk to. My lit seminar is a mash of existence, placing first and second years together and ringing around the drain whilst actually saying nothing. I’m older than almost everyone. Plus, many of them have been in New York for much longer than I have; several grew up here. When they go out to the bar after class, they don’t invite me. I don’t possess the social skills to know whether I should go home or go crash the party, and besides, I’m scared to get drunk—drinking is not, and has never really been, my thing.

The worst thing though is that I, who considers (considered) myself to be a writer, am not writing. Not well. Not like I used to.

I wrote the following in my personal statement while applying to graduate programs: “I’m a writer. What I want most is to pursue a literary life that allows me to flourish in an occupation that I love. And I want time. I write as much as I can, nearly every day, but I never feel like I have enough time for my work. Graduate school will give me the professors, the peer community, and the time that I need to take my writing to a place where I can use everything that I have learned and apply it in a manner that will help others.” But I’m not writing now. I don’t have time; I have less time than I had as an undergrad. Rather than writing, I’m working at a job I hate. I’m riding to and fro on transit. I’m unable to form any kind of attachment or learning bond with my professors. I don’t know how to connect to my peers.

I told myself that I was open to new things, but I don’t think I am. I don’t know how to handle them. I liked my little world where I was a good writer, where I was a tutor and a teacher and anything but someone who counts cash for a living. I liked working for a lit magazine—I haven’t figured out how to do that here—and I definitely liked knowing what I was doing. I do not know how to be still, how to be like the bird man and let those birds come to me. I want everything to happen now, and the way that I want. The way that I know.

This, unfortunately, isn’t life. And if I keep looking for life to be the way that it used to be, I will never have any birds. So this week I have ordered groceries online (to replace the grocery store I cannot find), made myself write three pieces, and let myself be social with another student in the hall at school. Tiny, tiny birds that will hopefully, someday, turn into the flock of pigeons that I saw on the bird man. If I have learned anything by being in New York, it’s that I need to be more flexible. I need to let the world in more. I need to embrace the change.

I need to stop, be still, and let the birds land.

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On the Quality of Education

(Disclaimer–I am writing this on the bus.)

Tonight in my literature seminar, people were beginning to freak out about the first paper–a whopping 1500 words of analytical glee. The professor asked how many of us were confident in or had a strong background in writing analytical papers. The number of positive responses was dismally small.

As I sat in class and listened to her talking about how to analyze, one thought stuck in my head–I got a DAMN good education at Parkside. I wish everyone could realize just HOW good it is.

One thing I have frequently gotten asked since coming here is where I went to school for my BA. I tell them, and I hear “Where?” Yup. It’s this middle of nowhere school that no one here has heard of. At first I felt really weird about it–like I was a poser who doesn’t belong here. What I’m realizing now is that that’s okay. I didn’t come from a big name school. It’s nowhere near the top ten of anything, because no one has ever heard of it. But I know what an analytical thesis is. I can create one and support it. I can structure a paper that makes sense and present a solid, coherent argument. I can craft a topic sentence. I can analyze. I couldn’t do that before my time at Parkside. I look at my first analytical papers, and I laugh at how much I’ve grown. Suddenly, timid me who thought I would fail my first Literary Analysis paper (I got a 92) is in a position to teach other in my cohort what analysis means. Some friends requested I send out a paper; D says I will scare the crap out of them. I say that’s only fair; that first paper scared the crap out of me. But I grew from it. They will grow too.

I’ve been researching for a piece I’m writing on gender, and I’ve come across some interesting things about the different “tiers” of university. There’s the big leagues–school like Harvard and such that are top notch at what appears to be all the things, focusing largely on research. There’s the middle tier, which is schools that also seem to be research-focused, but are not as well known or prestigious. And then there’s the bottom tier. That’s the liberal arts schools, like Parkside–and these are the schools that focus largely on teaching. This system creates a problem where the professors in the lower tier can teach the SHIT out of their subjects but not advance, because the teaching load is too great and there is zero time for research. However, in the upper tier, there are professors who are so research focused that they delegate everything to TAs and can’t even tell you a single student’s name. Which of these things is better? Which is more important? There’s a lot to be said for the imparting of knowledge, and while research and publishing are also important, to me at least, it is the quality of teaching that will always win. And I had amazing teachers.

I guess what I’m trying to say is simply thank you. Whether I had you for one class or many (I’m looking at you, D), I learned something from you that I can’t translate fully to this page. I’ve grown up brain-wise, and I’m in this program because y’all helped me to get here. What you do is important, research or no research, high course load or low, crappy students or good ones. It’s about that moment where a student gets it, and what coming to New York and being in graduate school has taught me thus far is that I, most definitely, get it.

So, thanks. :).

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