Wednesday, January 29, 2014

the way i see it: be authentic.

Three pints later, and it was all about faith. I leaned against the cold tile wall under the Christopher St. sign and listened to him talk about community and God, and I told him about how sitting in a garage doesn’t make you a parked car. He laughed. “I like that.”

It was an uneventful event, and certainly nothing worth writing poetry about, but it was clear that the city had done something to our friendship in the month since he arrived. It's what the city always did to friends reunited after weeks and months apart: it changed things--at first for the better, then later for the worst. Somewhere along the way, it changed us as individuals too, and whether that effect was positive or not remains still to be seen.

I don’t think it takes much to feel shunned in a city of outcasts, but it sure takes a lot to feel part of the pulse that beats beneath Manhattan's soaring skyline. The city has a steady heart, and the more blood, sweat, and tears you pump into it, the more alive you eventually feel.

It takes everything in your soul some days to feel alive, but God—when you feel it, you feel it: that moment when the city feels as indestructible as your resolve to survive in it.

Authenticity is not elusive, but it sure is hell to find.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

my face is just a face.

My face is incomplete.

I've stared at magazines and television shows and familiar faces, up close in personal, for years and years. I know what haircuts work for certain types of faces, where the peak of an eyebrow should be above the eyelid, how eyelashes should curl.

I've stared at mirrors long enough to know what's missing from my own face.

Backstage before every musical or play, I would sit captive in makeup chairs--the routine, always the same. The artist would pick up a mascara brush, and stop as she neared my face, realizing the eyelashes were gone. Then, she would move on to the eyeliner pencil and trace the lines of two brows. They never ended up looking quite right.

For every dance and every event that warranted a special trip to a hair salon in high school, I stayed home. All it took was one motion to put a wig on my head, and there was nothing fancy needed. For my high school graduation, I sat on the couch for half an hour with my hair on a styrofoam head and curled it. My sister spent more time getting ready for the evening.

Monday, January 20, 2014

getting better.

Wayne drove a dark red Toyota that so obviously had seen better days. You often heard the car before you saw it, whether it was because the engine was backfiring or because Wayne had some top 40 song blasting on the stereo--and sure enough, there he was: pulling up into the usual handicapped spot at the front of the store.

Wayne made a trip a week, but you never knew what day he would show up. But when he wheeled in in his tattered old wheelchair, you knew you'd spend the next hour listening to his voice as he went around the store saying hi to the employees while he picked up the usual items.

He knew all of our names because he read it on our tags, and whenever he left he would give a small salute and tell you to check out his YouTube page where he posted recordings of motivational speeches he'd given around the county.

Some of the checkout clerks found Wayne's visits a disruption, but as a courtesy clerk still fresh out of high school, I loved it. Wayne brought with him confidence and charisma wherever he rolled. Even on days when I'd ask him, "How's your week been, Wayne?" and he'd say, "You know, Traci, not good. But it'll get better," I knew he meant it. He was endlessly hopeful--and I needed that on days I was endlessly depressed.

Near the end of my time at the grocery store, I was feeling the most lost I had ever felt in my life. As withdrawn from the world as I had become, I still got myself up to work every day because I thought it made me useful--until, suddenly, usefulness was a trait I couldn't quite understand.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

the way i see it: around the corner.

The cell phone store across the street is now a pizza place.

Or maybe it used to be a nail salon. I can't remember. The neighborhood has changed so much over the last two years.

It shouldn't be too surprising to see the storefronts change so quickly in such a short amount of time. Life in New York City seems to happen faster than anywhere else. In one year, a building can be torn down, resurrected, and transformed; in one month, I've seen the corner deli change is name three times.
"People are always telling you that change is a good thing. But all they're really saying is that something you didn't want to happen at all has happened. My store is closing this week. I own a store, did I ever tell you that? It's a lovely store, and in a week it will be something really depressing, like a Baby Gap. Soon, it'll just be a memory. In fact, someone, some foolish person, will probably think it's a tribute to this city, the way it keeps changing on you, the way you can never count on it, or something. I know because that's the sort of thing I'm always saying." -You've Got Mail
I suppose there's something poetic in watching the outside world change: the idea that nothing is permanent becomes a real, tangible truth, and it reminds me that I, too, have changed.

Friday, January 10, 2014

you've got a friend in me.

"'T' is for 'Traci.'"

My father picked up a square stuffed tiger and handed it to me as a baby on an early shopping trip. If it weren't for the triangular stripes on his face and the black 'T' on his stomach, he would be mistaken for an oddly-colored mouse.

My parents laughed at how strange the toy looked, but I wouldn't let it go--no matter how many flashy toys they tried to make dance in front of my face.

Tiggy has 22 strands of orange yarn sewn to the top of his head for hair. I took him everywhere as a child, and would braid his hair or tie it in knots as I listened to my sister tell my parents about her day or as I tried to fall asleep at night. As I grew older and my hair fell out, I stopped tugging at the orange yarn in fear my tiger would be bald someday too.

"He doesn't look like a tiger," my sister said once. I shrugged. Tiggy and I were kindred spirits, comrades against a world of judgement. It would never matter how much hair either of us had--or didn't have--on our heads.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Glitter Hair Barbie.

Note: When I began writing about losing my hair as a child, I was surprised at how many detailed memories I had locked away in my brain. I think I got that ability from my mother (that, and my nose, apparently).

This is a new draft of an excerpt that I've shared online in the past. Writing is, after all, re-writing...right?

* * *

"That looks dangerous."

I watched as my sister climbed onto a small blue plastic chair and reached for a pair of scissors our mother kept on the kitchen counter.

Naomi didn't reply, but grabbed the scissors and jumped off the chair. Her feet landed softly on the linoleum floor and she motioned me. "Come on," she said.

I followed, as usual, and watched my 10-year-old idol swagger from the kitchen to the living room--scissors firmly in hand, confidence radiating from her small frame.

She bounced toward a bin filled with dolls and accessories. The only dolls we played with as children were Barbies (and her friends). I was fascinated by their delicate, plastic features, and the variety of shoes available for her oddly-shaped feet. It didn't bother me then that none of the dolls looked like real women, and there were certainly no dolls that looked like me. All I cared about when dressing the dolls were if their evening gowns matched their purses.

Na put the scissors on the living room end table and reached into the bin. She pulled out a brunette doll in a yellow skirt and orange shirt.

"What are you going to do?" I asked.

"Cut her hair."

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

roots before coat racks.

I bought a coat rack.

This is a big deal for me. I've been terrified of buying furniture since moving to the east coast. When I was in college, it didn't seem like that big of a deal. We bought cheap items at IKEA or off of Craigslist, and my boss at one of my jobs gave me a couch for free she was looking to replace. When my roommates and I had to move, we were lucky to have friends who helped us (also, we bribed them with beer).

When I left Irvine, I sold everything with little hassle and began the next chapter of my life as a nomad. I bounced from furnished room to furnished room--in Maryland, then DC, then back to Maryland. In five months, I lived in four places, and I didn't have to worry about a single piece of furniture at all.

But New York, I knew, would be different: I didn't want to move every month and I didn't want to worry about hauling furniture across town. I was lucky to find a furnished place in the first few days of arriving in Manhattan, but I still didn't want to "settle in." I didn't think I would be in the city longer than six months, and even if I was, who knew if I'd be in the same apartment?

By the time I got all of my belongings in one place, it was three months later. Three months after that, when it became clear I would be staying in New York, I finally unpacked everything from my suitcase.

Then life got kind of messy, as did all of my shoes. I was already tripping over a pile of boots and heels and sandals every time I walked into my room and, every time, I would think to myself, "I should get a shoe rack." Then I'd shrug and move on, and do the same thing the next day. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Monday, January 6, 2014

out of sight, out of mind.

Whenever I lost a tooth, the Tooth Fairy generously left a dollar and a note on my Spottie Dottie stationary under my pillow. The notes were simple ("Wow!" and "Cool!") and I never thought my parents were behind it--not unlike Santa Claus, who I figured out fairly early on did not actually come down the chimney to leave gifts in the stockings.

I kept the notes after every visit, along with the detached tooth. "Why doesn't the Tooth Fairy take the tooth?" I asked my mom once. My other friends at school said the Tooth Fairy always took their teeth, but was there something wrong with mine?

"Parents can ask her to leave the teeth behind," my mom answered. "That way you can keep them as a little memory."

And we did: every little tooth was stored in a tiny plastic cup. Every time one fell out, I'd run to the cupboard where the teeth were stored and compare the size and shape, and think about which ones hurt when they fell out. But long after I stopped losing teeth, I looked back at the cup and didn't think about the pain of losing them. I only remembered the thrill that came with a visit from the Tooth Fairy (who, by the way, I was a true believer in until all of my baby teeth were gone) and how much fun it was to reflect with my mom about how fast I was growing up.

My mom is the kind of person to collect and cherish mementos: letters, photos, awards, etc. When my sister made her first art sale in high school, she framed a copy of the check and a dollar bill withdrawn from the bank the day my sister deposited the check.

It's sentimental, but it was a nice way to grow up: to be surrounded by memories that made us laugh, smile, feel loved. Even now as I look around my room in my apartment, I smile whenever I see the small incense set Christina sent me from Thailand two years ago, and I still laugh at some of the more ridiculous postcards on my packed postcard board that Cortney sent me from the road during her many travels.

Friday, January 3, 2014

asteroids vs. comets.

We'll get to the point someday where I don't need to tell you about the time I got on a bus with two suitcases and no place to live and ended up in Manhattan on a Tuesday afternoon--I promise. Here's the one thing you should know about me: I'm terrible at being spontaneous.

I'm terrible at doing anything without a plan, really, which is ridiculous considering I gave my commencement speech on how it's ok to not have a plan every time you think you need one. And I believe it--but isn't it the case that our own advice is always the hardest to take?

But I think I've always been like this. During my kindergarten science fair, I was part of a demonstration/skit where a bunch of us wore brown paper bags with holes and held hands to represent the asteroid belt. We spent the week practicing our cues--when to step onto the asphalt stage of the playground, where to walk, when to exit--but on the day of the fair, a teacher asked me if I wanted to be a comet instead.

So I got dressed in a white sash and hat and prepared to stand with the rest of the comets as the show began. And then I looked around at the rest of the comets and suddenly realized I didn't know what I was doing. The teachers told me to just follow what the others were doing, and it wouldn't be difficult at all, but I panicked. I didn't know how to be a comet!

I ran to my teacher and started to cry. "I can't be a comet!" I said while she tried to calm me down. "I'm not a comet!"

Thursday, January 2, 2014

an open jar.

I mentioned before that I started filling a jar with positive thoughts last year in hopes I would stuff it so full with paper that it would explode with joy when I opened it to read in 2014.

Of course, as I also mentioned, I was terrible last year at finishing personal projects. I'm one of those people who buy journals and diaries and puts it down in ink that I'll write "every day," only to abandon it three pages later. It's horrible, and something I know I need to change.

But in the meantime, it is 2014 and time to open this jar to see what happiness the first half of the year brought, despite that feeling of discontent that permeated much of January through May.

In the dozens and dozens of notes, the most common theme seems to be gratitude--for people, for places, for the moments in life that remind me why I'm here.
01.04.13: Listened to these guys with accents on the train earlier planning their NY sightseeing weekend and it struck me: I live here.