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.