Monday, April 29, 2013

i meant to go to the grocery store, but stopped to buy shoes instead.

Rainy day at a subway platform--but with a new pair of shoes!
I buy shoes when I'm sad. It's the most superficial thing about me, next to the dozens of bottles of nail polish I keep with me as a security blanket.

My favorite pair of shoes are entirely unwearable these days. They're red pumps from Nine West that made the top of some "best shoes" list on The View back in 2006. They were comfortable until they suddenly weren't, but I took them to college anyways, wearing them a few times my second year before deciding the smashed pinky toe and sore soles weren't worth it. And, yet, they traveled with me from apartment to apartment, city to city, coast to coast--and now they sit in my closet here in New York City where they will inevitably collect dust until somebody stages that "shoe-tervention" that everybody jokes about from time to time.

Anyways, those shoes were the first frivolous pair of shoes I ever bought for no real reason other than just to have them. Every other pair of heels I'd bought before then were for recitals or dances or weddings, and so owning a pair of shoes that didn't already accompany an outfit in my closet was a big deal. Whenever I would feel sad about something, I would take out those shoes and put them on, and somehow I'd feel better--prettier, more confident, whatever. You know that Kellie Pickler song, "Red High Heels"? That was my soundtrack.

And then I started discovering that I could have the same effect on my psyche with a chic pair of flats or a pair of really awesome boots. My first job in college at Albertsons had me wearing the same pair of practical, boring black sneakers every day, and so when I quit, I got a pair of stiletto boots that made me feel like I was moving up in the world (it worked--I got a great job two months later).

So even though I know it's a fairly impractical obsession, and a pair of shoes will never cure me of a cold or sadness or a broken heart, there's a very shallow part of me that is convinced otherwise.

I also bought three pairs of shoes yesterday, so there's that.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


The D had just pulled up to the station when Zoe fell. I heard her cry out before I saw her at the foot of the stairs. Her maroon hat was on the ground, and her gray hair was a tangled mess. The Fairway groceries in her hand landed beside her, and she was grabbing her ankle in pain. Around her, people rushed up and down the stairs--the Dance of the Commuters, some have called it before. But I broke choreography and turned away from the train.

When I dropped to my knees to help her sit up, I noticed Zoe's face was obscured mostly by a large pair of sunglasses. She told me she had just come from the hospital where she had her eyes dilated because of an infection. She said she knew she should have taken a taxi, but she thought she could do it on her own. "I don't want to go back to the hospital," she said. "I'd be so embarrassed."

I asked her a few basic details, and sent a young man in a tie up the stairs to retrieve the station manager. A minute later, an MTA employee arrived with a chair. She settled into it and her breathing returned to normal. Zoe then looked behind me at the second express train that had arrived and pulled away. "You missed your train again. I'm so sorry." I shrugged and told her there were plenty of trains.

It turns out that Zoe lives a block away from me. She repeated that she knew she should have waited to get groceries and go about her life, but she was impatient and wanted to be at home. I imagined my own grandparents, and could see them doing the same in all their stubborn glory. In fact, six years ago, hadn't that been what happened to Grandpa? A stroke at a bus stop, and I could only pray that there were people who would stop to care for a stranger.

Zoe asked me what I was doing in New York, and I told her I'd come from California and worked at MSNBC. "Stop," she said, her jeweled fingers reaching for my hand. "That was my career."

She told me about her years as a news producer at NBC, and the few years she also spent as a production manager for Saturday Night Live. Her eyes lit up behind her sunglasses as she talked about "the old 30 Rock" and how much she had loved her career and her coworkers. "Oh, but you wouldn't know anyone I knew," she said. "I don't even know who's there anymore."

The station manager reappeared with emergency responders at the ready just as another train arrived. Zoe insisted I catch it. I gave her my number and email address, and asked her to let me know later if she was okay. She thanked me and I got off the floor to rejoin the dance.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

in the history books.

"Journalism is the first rough draft of history." -Phil Graham, publisher, The Washington Post
(from the Newseum in Washington, D.C.)
I first noticed the books in the fall of 2009, half hidden behind the orphaned couch and obscured behind trinkets and gag books received via mail. I'd been working at the New University for eight months, and until that point, I'd never bothered to look too closely until, one Friday while I waited for dummies, I finally did.

When I asked the then-Layout Editor what they were, she said they were old copies of the newspaper, but that we didn't really look at them unless we had a layout question and needed to consult the previous year's issues. I remember the then-Editor-in-Chief chiming in to suggest we move them into storage because the layout of the newsroom was awkward and we could use the extra space.

But we left them, and I didn't think twice until five months later when someone tossed me a pen and it dropped behind the couch. When I reached for the pen, I saw the bottom shelves of books that dated back to 1967, when the New U used to be The Spectrum, and then at one point also The Anthill and The Tongue. Over the next week, I stopped into the newsroom between classes to look through the older archives, marveling at the stories of a campus and city that no longer exists in the same way. Even the national news coverage was unique because it told a story from the UCI perspective. After all, what good is a newspaper if it isn't going to give you your community's take?

As I leafed through the pages, I noticed an evolution that was documented with care and concern for a campus that rose up in the middle of nowhere, and a city that would close in on it within a decade of its inception. It was in those pages that I learned how different UCI once was, with a chancellor who led the campus' first walkout protest and a radical student body that sent a delegation to Berkeley's People's Park protest that ended up being arrested and bailed out by the university itself. Those stories led me to my own year-long research into the failure of the Master Plan, along with the rise and fall of student activism at UCI, but it also led me to realize what was missing from the New University in the 21st century, and it motivated me to apply for Managing Editor to try and bring the vision of the old New U back.

I wanted the editors and writers and photographers to be inspired by the rich history of UCI, to understand that the story of the campus before the Irvine Company painted everything beige, and to know that there was still so much more to be told. I didn't want people to just clock in and clock out; I wanted them to be passionate about the community they reported on. I wanted them to feel the weight of what it meant to contribute to this documentation of history that nobody else was really documenting anymore.

I'm proud of what we accomplished by the end of the 2011 school year and, returning to campus yesterday, I'm even more proud of what's been accomplished since. There was nothing but praise and admiration for the current staff, and although I've been removed from campus happenings for two years now, I can see it is well-deserved based on a single whirlwind visit. I know that voting is over to try and save the New U, and results will be out in just a few hours, but I hope everyone who's worked so hard is proud of themselves for all they've contributed to the paper's success. The New U may not have always printed what people wanted to hear, but it's always printed the story that needed to be told. I hope 50 years from now, there'll still be proof of that.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

the way i see it: you show up (no matter what).

Don't stop reading because I'm beginning with a Sex and the City quote, but...
Carrie: Will we still be friends when we're this old?
Miranda: Sure.
Carrie: What do you mean "sure"? l could barely get us together for the weekend and we're all mobile!...How are we gonna make it to 70 if you've already zoned me out?
Miranda: l'm listening. Talk fast.
Carrie: Friendships don't magically last 40 years. You have to invest in them. lt's like savings. You don't expect to wake up when you're old and find a big bucket of money. My point is, we need an emotional retirement plan. This is important, making time for each other and taking trips like this. As we can see, at the end of the line, it's gonna be us ladies riding a bus.

Near the end of the night, my coworkers and I were discussing--among many topics--the real, true importance of having friends to vent to when things in life are rough. I was surprised to hear them state a concept I had tried to articulate before, but to no success: "I don't need someone to fix my problems or tell me exactly what to do. I just need someone to be there."

That concept of "being there," of "showing up" when the time calls for it. I always thought it was intuitive--a friend needs you, so you're there. That's what I was always taught, but maybe there was a part missing: don't get taken advantage of either. I learned this from my mom, but sadly the hard way. My mother, the most caring and wonderful person I know, always showed up when people needed her. She made sure she was always there. She's reliable, dependable, and she always tries to do her best because she loves people--that's just who she is.

And she would never tell me this (because I think it hurt her a lot), but my dad told me that somebody whom she loved made a comment about the fact that she never got a four-year college degree. The context is a long story, but the basic fact is that somebody my mom was trying to help was frustrated about something, and basically called her stupid in front of a lot of people.

Which infuriates me, but that's another story for another time. The point is: despite all that, I think that my mom would still show up for those people, no matter how hurt she is, because she's never been the kind of person to make her life about herself; she's spent her life nurturing and loving people, and doing her best to lift them higher when they fall.

I've been wrestling with this idea lately, though, because in all of my attempts to show up for others, I hadn't really sat back and wondered if those same people would show up for me. Over the last few months, I'm afraid I've gotten my answer, and so I'm learning to set the boundaries I guess is necessary to make sure I don't end up spent.

But I think, at the end of the day, I am my mother's daughter: I would still show up for the people I care about. I don't like cutting people out of my life, and so I almost never do it. Maybe that makes me weak, but if I could spend my days nurturing and loving people, and doing my best to lift them higher when they fall...well, I think it would be worth it.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

'you throw the sand against the wind, and the wind blows it back again.'

There is still sand in the navy blue
flats I wore to Long Island the day the three of us went to brunch and ended up on the beach.

"I don't know if you know this," I said, "but I'm a Californian who doesn't like the beach."

That's not entirely true--some of my best memories come from evenings on piers, and watching the waves from the sand. The beach is unavoidable when you spend four years in Orange County. What I hated were crowded beaches in the daytime and sunburnt bros and the sand that followed you home and appeared for months in clothing you never even took to the beach in the first place.

But hopping on that train last October and heading out to a beach, the first I'd been to since moving to the East Coast, was refreshing, rejuvenating. It wasn't just the fresh air and the empty sidewalks; it was being with two amazing people while close to the ocean again, and laughing over torn cardigans and spilt ketchup.

That was only six months ago. It feels like it's been years. I don't remember much about the city or the streets there, and I can barely recognize the friends I fell asleep next to so comfortable on the train.

This French novelist once said, "The more things change, the more they stay the same." I used to scoff at that notion because if things were always changing, how could I hold onto the love and the dreams and the optimism? You feel certain things when you're 16, 18, 21, 22 in new and different ways. I couldn't imagine being who I am today with the same thoughts and feelings of a 16 year old.

But what I think that saying really means is that there are memories you hold inside of you that don't ever change, and that sometimes it's the insecurities you may have felt as a 10 year old on the playground or the mistrust you've held in your heart since you were 18 that remain so deeply engraved on the cover of your life. There's a part of you that is built on all of the things you've never forgotten--whether they be good memories or bad ones--and even as you grow up and learn more and become somebody new with each passing year, you can't ever really distance yourself from memories and from the past. Maybe sometimes that's a good thing, maybe sometimes it isn't.

The person I am today is built on the foundation of every experience I've ever had. Those beach-filled memories of bonfires and boardwalks and little bottles of alcohol tucked into a crevice between us in the sand don't just disappear. No, perhaps they became painful to see all around, and it was best to leave it behind, to move forward onto new memories and a new chapter, but it doesn't mean they're gone.

I've been in New York for over a year now, but it feels like less because I didn't really start that new chapter until it was almost too late. I guess I didn't expect those old memories to follow me 3,000 miles east, and I think that's why I'm not done with New York yet, even though the chance to leave it could be just a phone call away. Perhaps I don't love things now the way I did six months ago, but I know I loved them once. That didn't disappear. I still have the sand to prove it.