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Becoming a “real” literary person…or a really literary person? Whatever.

Since this is my first “real” post in awhile (the last had been sitting nearly finished in my drafts folder for ions), I feel like recapping.

In the last few months since I’ve blogged, I’ve:

-Gotten friendly with the J-train.

-Gotten very, very mad at the L-train.

(…and the rest of MTA for that matter)

-Considerably reduced my coffee intake (somewhat. I went TWO whole days without a cup. It only went that long, but knowing I was capable and still friendly to customers was inspiring).

-“Created” a new favorite summer drink (lemon syrup, seltzer, crimson berry iced tea, NO CAFFEINE).

drink

-Watched The Jinx. Realized I would love to make a documentary sometime. Especially one involving murder.

-Realized how fantastic the show “A Different World” is.

-Visited Asheville, NC for the first time and saw my beautiful friends from UNC.

-Gotten a tattoo (!).

-Started an internship.

-Finished an internship.

I will pause at this last one on the list. And since the one year anniversary of my college graduation is coming up, I think some reference to the hurdle that was undergrad deserves to be made.

So let’s say you’re about to graduate from college. You’ve finished your finals–dotted your I’s, crossed your t’s–and from now until the day of graduation, it’s smooth sailing. You’ve bought your gown, you’ve secured your graduation tickets, you’ve gotten drunk at senior bar golf, and at a random bar in the daytime, and on a Tuesday, and on a Tuesday at a random bar in the daytime, just because you finally see freedom on the other side. Stress? What’s that! Troubles? Who are they? Troubles are for silly underclassmen who haven’t worked nearly as hard as you did for those four years of undergrad! They can suffer. You’ve paid your dues.

But then, once you finish your impromptu musical number down the street (see: 500 Days of Summer), you learn that you have one more task: Suddenly, whomever was originally picked to deliver the commencement speech (Oprah, Bill Nye, Kim Kardashian, Left Shark from Katy Perry’s Super Bowl performance) has fallen ill, or tripped over a rake and poked their eye out on the handlebar of a rusty bicycle that  was inconveniently missing its rubber grip…so now you’ve been selected to deliver the Big Speech. Suddenly, you have one more hurdle to hop over before you can be done. You want to cry, or at least a bowl full of Reese’s peanut butter chocolate chip cookies.

This happened to me earlier last week, on a much lower scale, in a much less terrifying way, because I like to exaggerate. I am far past college graduation (almost a year to the day, even), and neither Oprah nor Bill Nye nor Kim Kardashian nor Left Shark have poked their eyes out on random bicycle pieces.

Last Tuesday morning, when I was heading to Gowanus for the last day of my internship at Ugly Duckling, I was ecstatic. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy my time at my internship; in fact, I really appreciated everyone I met and had a great time. It was only a few blocks away from my pie shop, which meant I didn’t have to learn about a new part of Brooklyn, or a new transportation system. Or buy coffee on my way in.

My reason for happiness was at how crazy this semester has been. The extra class through which I got the internship in the first place was a lot more work than anticipated, and my four day work weekend shifts were physically exhausting. When I realized shortly after I started the internship that it would mean literally not having a day completely to myself–internship Mon/Tues, class Tues/Wed/Thurs, work Thurs/Fri/Sat/Sun, rinse and repeat–I grew perpetually anxious. When I could finally go to sleep I would toss and turn, thinking about all the things I needed to get done the following day. Then I thought about all the things I needed to get done the following week, and the following month, then in the year, and I found myself resetting my sleep timer over and over again. Four hours later I would have to be up for some reason or another.

I also tend to stretch myself a bit thinner than I probably should. I came up with the idea, at the last moment, to interview three of the writers who were going to be reading at an annual UDP reading at the Brooklyn Public Library. It was a hassle, but my “purpose” of having this internship for class was to have one project that we start and complete in the duration of 4-6 weeks. For weeks I stressed about what this project would be, hoping I would just be given one. But after a while, I realized that I would need to take the initiative. After all, the presse had been great enough to welcome me in randomly, without really applying to be an intern. They treated me like all the other interns, even put my name on their site. They even offered me coffee, for Pete’s sake! The least I could do was find a specific project to do for them.

So I did. I assumed the task of reading three books by UDP authors, coordinating interviews, and coming up with questions to ask them about their work and then post online. Reading three books is nothing, unless it also means reading poetry, an idea that has made me feel a bit uneasy since undergrad. I’ve never been a poet. In undergrad, I struggled with Sir Walter Ralegh and Keats and that woman who always wrote about her dead children (I think her name was Katherine something?)

I really appreciate Gwendolyn and Langston and Edgar and e.e. and even Emily, but modern poetry does not seem as “easy” to understand as those poems were (although Emily Dickinson was no walk in roses, either…). So many things that I had peeked at from UDP, albeit beautifully printed and beautiful sounding, had left me scratching my head. I didn’t feel like I “got” it.

How was I going to read these books of modern poetry, come up with coherent thoughts on said books of poetry, come up with coherent questions regarding said books of poetry, build Rome, save those kids from that burning building, and keep up with school and work in the span of two weeks? It seemed like an impossible feat, one meant to be narrated in the Rocky & Bullwinkle narrator voice.

‘Twasn’t.

But it got done.

I ended up loving all three of the works, and I ended up learning what modern poetry can actually be. In all my prosaic bliss, I assumed poetry had to be in verse. I unlearned this from each of the writers I interviewed, although I never blatantly mentioned this to any of them. The things they were doing with the form were new and refreshing, in ways that apply not just for poetry but for writing in general. They also sometimes ended up drifting into nonfiction, too–something I personally appreciated.
My interviews came out pretty darn well if I do say so myself–particularly the one that I did on the phone–and by the time I finished the last one for their Tumblr page, I was feeling pretty dang good. I could finally cross one more thing off my list, and I would get to meet all of the writers in person the day of the event, and everything was blue skies and sunshine and rainbows. On to the next project, so to speak.

I walked into my internship gleeful and grinning on Tuesday, the morning of the event, feeling pounds lighter. I thought I’d crossed my t’s and dotted my i’s. Then one of the editors casually asked me if I would be willing to introduce one of the authors at the reading later on that evening, and boom, I felt my face fall, down through the old creaky floorboards of the third floor of the Old American Can Factory. It fell so far and so fast that it probably had time to skitter through heavy incoming heavy traffic and eat some chicken tikka masala in the Whole Foods across the street before I finally answered him.

Sorry, what?

I felt as though I’d just been asked to step on a Brooklyn-bound L-train naked. My first instinct was heck no! In fact, every single bone in my body screamed it as I flashed that smile I reserve for people who ask me for money on the street, and for regulars who ask if we have any more whole salted caramel apple whole pies left at the end of a busy day at the pie shop. It’s my I-really-don’t-want-to-say-no, but, well…”no” smile.

The UDP editor who asked the question, probably one of top ten genuinely nicest people I’ve met since moving to the city (and I’ve met a ton), could sense that I was a bit uneasy. “…Or not,” he said, going into damage control mode. “We can go over it, maybe, and discuss what you’re going to say? We’re just in a bit of a spot. You totally don’t have to if you’re not comfortable. I know it’s a stretch and it’s very last minute.”

I kept smiling that aforementioned smile, then said, “Uh, okay! Yeah! I’ll…think…” and sat down to finish what I had thought, ten minutes earlier, would be my last internship task.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if I didn’t already have one of those weeks where I would be stressing about stretching far beyond my comfort zone: The following day I had an interview with a documentary series that I’ve been hoping to intern for this summer, and the day after that was literary agent night. In three different instances, one day after another, I would have to play the role of someone who was a charming public speaker, someone who was competent and intelligent and perfect for your documentary internship, someone whose book you would fully get behind. I would have to play the role of someone who was wonderfully well-grounded in the literary field, someone with a cultivated literary presence. I would have to play the role of someone who was both witty and well-spoken.

I would have to play the role of someone who…I actually would like to be? Hey, wait a minute!

After I came to the realization that I would have to get used to these sorts of things if I wanted to be a writer, a “real” person, literary style, I grew a set of literary cojones and decided to write the sh*t out of that introduction speech.

“One of the most important things about an introduction for an author is honesty,” a UDP editor told me. “So be honest.”

So I was. I gave myself up to the audience in the very beginning of my introduction by telling them that I didn’t know what half of the words the writer had used meant in our interview. To be fair, the guy works for Google and has been a taxonomer and lexicographer (i.e., a person who compiles dictionaries).

Anyways, this advice on behalf of one of the editors was precisely the creative inspiration I needed to write a short speech that I thought was pretty funny and felt confident enough reading to an audience…up until a few minutes before. As I waited for the first poet to finish reading, my heart pounding fast, I felt that same feeling I felt during my English literature graduation ceremony last year, the one where I pictured myself walking up a flight of stairs to the stage and falling and hitting my head on something, over and over again, in one of those terrible meme loops that never shows the end result, just those seven seconds of disaster. When it was finally my turn and I stood up and climbed the stairs (didn’t fall), suddenly I didn’t feel like I was in my body.

No, I felt like I was Kevin Arnold in The Wonder Years.” And not “felt like” as in one of those “wow, this is just like one of those coming-of-age epiphanies Kevin Arnold had, when he realizes he has to finally grow up.” But I actually felt like I was Kevin Arnold because for some reason I heard Grown-Up Kevin Arnold’s voice in my head. Not Zakiya Harris’ grown up voice. Kevin Arnold’s.

It was very bizarre.

Then I was off, telling my little jokes, not sure if anyone was laughing, for going for it anyways. Apparently, the audience found funny in a good way; the writer did, too. It ended up going really well, even though I couldn’t make out any of the faces in the audience and even though I almost knocked the podium off the stage mid-speech (yet ANOTHER THING in this post that involves “falling”). The night only got better than there. I was given some goodbye gifts, hugs were exchanged, and promises of future interviews with more UDP authors were made. My literary cojones swelled with pride. With that night, I truly realized that I’m not just a student anymore–I have to be so many other proactive things as well. I make my own success I suppose.

I ended up having to reuse this mentality a couple of nights later at agent night, a much more daunting feat than everything else I’d faced that week. There were roughly ten students to every one agent. It was dog eat dog. When a classmate and I both gave each other somewhat quizzical looks after discussing how we both wanted to speak to the same agent, he jokingly said, “So this is what being a contestant on ‘The Bachelor’ must feel like.”

Bottom line is, I survived, and made some new contacts, too.

Oh, and I ended up getting that documentary internship. SCORE.

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Ginger Candy

Last week I made a new friend at the Bushwick branch of the Brooklyn Public Library.

It was a Tuesday afternoon, and it was my first time visiting the library in my own neighborhood. (I’m surprised it took so long–it’s rather convenient, and there are outlets at every single table, and it’s very neat, and relatively quiet. And a seven minute walk away as opposed to a nearly hour-long subway ride to the main Brooklyn Library. But I digress.)

I don’t know this woman’s name or where she lives, but I do know she is quite old, very little, and walks with a cane. She is Asian, but I am not sure where she is from. When I first met her she was bundled from head to foot and her glistening, smooth cheeks were touched with cold.

“Aren’t you hot?” she asked as she plopped down in the seat diagonal from mine, catching me off guard before I understood. I was still wearing my fuzzy brown head wrap–a wrap that I have convinced myself, due to the icy wind that has essentially worn me down to the core for the past few weeks, also doubles as a fashionable headband. Very rarely do I take it off. I think I have even started basing my outfits around this one fuzzy brown head wrap, consciously or not. The winter struggle is real.

I shook my head no, that I wasn’t too hot, then smiled, trying to get back into what I was working on. She giggled and began to unwrap herself, muttering brightly to no one in particular.

Feeling I hadn’t said enough in my reply, I added: “Just wait–you come in feeling very hot, but after sitting for a while, it gets very cold.” I gestured “hot” and “cold” with my hands, partly because I was trying to keep my voice low, and partly because I wasn’t sure if she understood what I meant.

A few seconds later she popped open one of the library’s loaner laptops that a lanky high school kid (if he was maybe fifteen years-old, am I old enough to call him a kid?) with a hi-top fade had carried over for her. She’d thanked him profusely, bowing her head as if he’d carried her across the library.

The high-schooler had simply grinned at her bashfully. It was nothing at all, I’m six feet tall, he seemed to say, but she’d kept thanking him even after he had already returned to wherever he had been when this little woman had voiced her concern about transporting her laptop to a table.

After this first interaction about being cold, part of me wondered if she would be a chatty person. And I will admit that I was somewhat frustrated–in the nicest way possible–that I wouldn’t be able to do what I needed to do because she would keep speaking to me.

I was partly right about the chatty part, but the frustration part quickly faded away. The woman spoke to me a few times. Once was about the Love Chapel Hill sticker on my laptop (she liked the way the word LOVE looked, but I don’t know if she knew of the place in particular). Another time, she spoke to me for assistance.

“Can you help me?” she half-whispered, half-sang. In rough English she explained she was trying to figure out how long it would take her to walk to a particular address in Brooklyn. She turned her loaner laptop around to face me.

Google Maps filled the screen, but that was all about all I could decipher. The rest was freckled with what I was 90% sure were Korean characters. I hesitated, then told her I would look the addresses up in my own computer.

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“When I come home feeling tired and beat/I go up where the air is fresh and sweet”

“After almost eighteen years of The Letter People and cursive lessons; miles and miles of parental signatures on permission slips and report cards; passing notes and barely passing chemistry; faux graduation ceremonies and real graduation ceremonies; cool first days of school in CT and hot, sticky mornings in NC; searching for familiar faces in cafeterias and classrooms and eventually campus buildings, I’ve found myself here, in Brooklyn, New York, sitting on a roof.”

–Me, two days ago, trying to be poetic

As seen on Instagram

As seen on Instagram

Yeah I just quoted myself, which is pretty pretentious. And I’m not sitting on a roof right now, not anymore. But I felt like I should keep the quote anyway because that’s what finally made me sit down and start writing this.

When I first went up on the roof a few nights ago, the Drifters’ song “Up on the Roof” started playing in my head. It had been a long day at work, an even longer evening doing laundry, and there were so many things I wanted to do but I didn’t feel like I had the time or energy. Writing was one of them.

It wasn’t until a roommate of mine decided to show one of her friends our roof, and I decided to join, too. It was a long walk up (and a painful reminder that it’s been too long since I’ve jogged) but it was totally worth it.

So I went back. And now, whenever I get stressed about living paycheck to paycheck for my first few months here, or about wondering whether or not I’ll ever write a novel, or whether or not I’ll be able to stand on the L train without holding onto the railing as it travels between the Bedford Ave & 1st Ave stops, I know I have the roof.

When I don’t have the roof, I have this blog. This blog will be my roof, and I shall climb to it whenever this old world starts getting me down.

If I stop writing in this blog, it will be the equivalent of throwing myself off of the roof and onto the ground below, which would be stupid. At least, that’s what I’ll tell myself.

Write or die, right? Always works.

So, onward then. I have many things to document from my past three weeks living in Brooklyn and working in Manhattan, but it’s kind of difficult to do so without feeling like I’m trying to simultaneously eat four different tubs of newly opened Ben & Jerry’s without them melting all over the place. (Painful analogy, but this kind of happened to me earlier–minus three tubs. One of the most wonderful and most dangerous things about living in a city is the fact that anything you want is always only a few minutes’ walk away…)

Therefore, I’ve been trying to split it into somewhat coherent chunks.

Chapter 1: The Bed Bug Blues

Actually, the title is pretty much all I’m going to say about that part of the moving process. I don’t wanna talk about it.

I will talk about the way it feels when you write your first check for your first apartment. It feels damn good, especially when you spent 80% of your summer trying to find a job in the first place.

It’s not a temporary on-campus apartment that someone else is paying for and is known to be located in the “sketchy” part of campus, where there aren’t many sidewalks and the laundry is at the bottom of a black hole. It’s not on a beach in Brighton, hugging the English Channel just a few seconds away from a delicious fish and chips joint but surrounded by drunk British people.

It’s in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn. (Although that may even be questionable; I’ve already gotten into a few verbal scuffles with strangers who love to insist “East Williamsburg” doesn’t really exist.) And while it isn’t a two-minute walk away from both an emergency room and a Starbucks, and it isn’t overlooking the ocean, it’s in an area with the best Thai food ever. And that’s really enough for me.

I’m not a religious person by any means—I believe this is where the word “blessed” would go if I was—but I do believe in fate and some kind of order out there. I am so fortunate to be here, in a place with which I’ve become familiar thanks to my sister’s hospitality over the last few months. I’m also fortunate to have really great roommates that I didn’t have to find via the internet.

I could go on and on about how fortunate I am, but that’s kind of obnoxious for someone to do in something like this (just like it’s obnoxious to quote yourself, goodness gracious who does that?), so I’m just going to leave it at that.

Fighting the Good Fight

During the two-week period of commuting from my house in Connecticut to the my job in the city every day due to the invasion of those-creatures-that-shall-not-be-named, I learned many things about myself.

One thing is that I am capable of doing a six a.m. to nine-thirty p.m. day if it means I am getting paid. Barely breaking even? Perhaps. But getting paid nonetheless.

Another thing is that even while I was certainly making the most out of my last few weeks at UNC with college friends I love very dearly, I still had the foresight to work as many hours as I could manage before graduating. Otherwise, my pockets would have been completely empty when it came time to fund my $40-day commutes and I would have to make my money through questionable services–you know, selling hemp bracelets and selling homemade Cinnabon rolls on the streets.

Finally—and most importantly—I learned how lovely having a routine can be. True, going to bed at a certain time so I could wake up at six a.m. and feel somewhat human, then making sure my dad and I left for the train station by seven a.m. so I could take the 7:27 out of New Haven to Grand Central Station, then catching the 4 or 5 subway down to Fulton Street to get to work by ten a.m. was a bit tedious.

But if there was one thing that I loved about the grueling process, it was the little surprises. Like the two or three times the newer, shiny red-and-white upholstered 7:27 trains were replaced by the old ones—you know, the ones with the purple and blue seats that are too shiny for their own good.

I would shake my head and sigh along with the rest of the platform dwellers when the old geezers lurched onto the Grand Central-bound track, but when I sat down (after checking my seat for any suspicious stains, of course), it felt like a new adventure.

Even better were the random interactions I had with people who liked to talk to other people.

Once, a woman on the platform complimented me on my shirt. It was one of the ones I’d gotten on an Express shopping spree1 when I’d learned that I’d gotten my current job and I felt so fancy.

I thanked the woman and told her that there had been a sale going on, otherwise I would never be able to afford to shop there. Before I knew it, we were exchanging our life stories. I told her it was my second day of working at my new job, and in the span of five minutes I learned that she had two daughters and their life stories. One daughter was maybe twenty-three, and loved Express, even though her mom said she couldn’t really afford it. The daughter was a single mother and a waitress, and not really sure what she was doing with her life.

Her other daughter older, had like five million children2, held some profession that had similar caliber to that of a doctor, and was happily married. The woman described this second daughter’s life seemed so much “better” than the first one’s, it was incredible.

Almost to point out how true this was, one of the star-child’s daughters (the woman’s granddaughter, just to clarify) sat patiently on the other side of the woman, probably singing “Kumbaya” in her head. I hadn’t even noticed the three year-old before cherub before, she was so quiet. She was so well behaved that she didn’t need anything to entertain her. I smiled when the woman told me they were spending the day in the city.

The train arrived. I wished them a happy day in the city. They turned left into the car; I turned right. And I wondered about the younger daughter. I couldn’t help but wonder how she felt whenever her mother explained her situation to others, if whether or not her single motherhood had come from a one-night stand or from a long-term boyfriend who had changed his mind or some other way. Funny how life turns out.

 

 

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1If buying five shirts counts as a shopping spree. it did for my wallet.

2Slight exaggeration, but it was more than two.