A bit lonely here

Photo from Mark Sebastian (Flickr: mark sebastian).

Photo from Mark Sebastian (Flickr: mark sebastian).

I know how to be alone. As a third grader battling crippling shyness, I’d usually sink into a bean bag chair during recess time and read while my classmates played kickball outside. I felt somewhat safer being by myself; I lived on a separate and imagined plane, where there was no noise but the sound of words trickling through my brain.

This preference for solitude stayed with me years later; in college, my friends knew when I wanted to be alone. They understood that I’d want to stay in instead of going out. But they always invited me anyways—a gesture for which I was grateful.

Right now, I am lonely—and I’m not afraid to admit it. I’ve returned to Simon and Schuster, so it’s not an entirely new environment, but it’s apparent that I am new. People see me and ask if I’m an intern (of course, I can proudly say that I am not). The editorial assistants on my floor have worked together for awhile, so I sometimes feel like the outsider. I know that this loneliness will eventually fade into the occasional solitude, but I’d like to ponder how I perceive this isolation. Am I feeling this way because I am so separated from the familiar? The friends I saw every day are spread out and busy with their own lives. My parents are back in Cheshire—experiencing, for the first time, true empty-nest syndrome, because while my siblings and I returned home for school breaks, we will not return to Mayview Avenue, but to our own homes. I talked to my parents yesterday (they call all the time), and I couldn’t help but miss the sound of their voices.

I think I’m feeling uncomfortable because I am constantly aware of this loneliness. Loneliness comes with danger. After getting off the A train in Brooklyn, I have to walk about two blocks to get home, and I cannot deny feeling intimidated by the shadows and by the group of men lingering in the park across from my townhouse. I feel exposed.

Loneliness definitely creeps up on you in times of transition. I’m not at Fairfield U anymore. I’m not in Cheshire anymore. I’m not sure where I belong just yet. As I’ve told a friend, recent graduates have to essentially start over and find new places and friends—and friendship is much like an awkward dance. I’m the one wondering if I have two left feet.  In these moments, I wish I could go back to junior and senior years, when I felt most at home.

But I also know that this feeling will eventually subside, and it’s up to me to make that happen.

I forget about myself when I keep busy. One day, I ached for something familiar—like my night-and-day blanket I’d had since childhood, like a bowl of my mother’s heartwarming phở–and I didn’t want to go home right after work, so I looked up things to do. I found a reading event at the Center for Fiction, and thought, “Why not?” I thoroughly enjoyed this experience, and picked up a few books from the used bookstore (two dollars for paperback and four for hardcover!). I’m also working through my loneliness by writing, my scripturient habit that will never go away; after all, that’s how I started writing in the first place—conjuring make-believe characters and instilling some realness into them to comfort my lonely self.

I’ve also been open about my feelings. I used to think that loneliness needed to be inflicted. I guess it’s true if it results from alienation, which everyone has experienced once in their lifetime. However, you can also feel lonely if you dwell in your dark thoughts and think that you have no responsibility or no will to fight this loneliness.

Eager for familiarity, I reached out to people. I went to dinner with my sister one night and then had lunch with my friend Stephen who’s also working in Manhattan. I spoke to my best friend Ali on Google Hangout (she’s in Italy), and I instantly felt better upon seeing her face. I hung out with friends at a recent graduation party. I’m hoping to explore Brooklyn with a good friend this weekend.

I think it also helps to speak to someone who looks approachable—maybe just smile at them. I went to a Laundromat for the first time on Saturday, and was waiting for my clothes to dry. A Jamaican woman sitting next to me was rocking her adorable baby to sleep in the stroller. She looked at me.

First time here?

She must have seen how out of place I was.

Worked out though, didn’t it? She smiled.

In this small moment, I felt like we were lifelong friends.

 

 

 

Subway stories

Before moving to Brooklyn, I had to stay with my sister in Washington Heights because work began before I could sign my lease. I rode the 1 train downtown. Being in a new environment, I felt my senses go haywire. I felt and saw everything that I’d normally tune out if I was in a familiar setting: personal spaces being invaded; seated people staring at crotches and asses of standing people and rap music blaring from Beats—so loud that its bass causes your arm’s hairs to tingle.

I looked around and focused on the most inconspicuous people—the ones without bright red lipstick, an Armani suit, or glistening dress shoes. I searched for the faded people; they’re the ones trying to get through the day. And then I played a game: Who belongs to whom? Not in the possessive sense, like property, but rather the sense of belonging a couple acquires after twenty years together. That belonging a baby exudes when he is balanced on the hip of a doting mother. I attempt to identify pairs and groups by the way they stand and by the clothes they wear. There are no wrong guesses in this game.

I spotted a disheveled man wearing beaten sneakers, tattered blue jeans, and a gray wrinkled nightshirt. His oily auburn hair was mussed and the bags underneath his eyes were pronounced. I immediately composed a story based on this man’s appearance. Obviously he argued with his wife last night about a boys’ night out where he spent too much money at a questionable establishment occupied by skin-clad young woman. The fight that ensued landed him on the couch instead of the bed. In the morning, he had said he was going to get coffee, but instead ended up walking past the local Dunkin Donuts. He saw the subway and mindlessly went down the stairs, finding a temporary escape. I named him Barry.

Because I had my eyes solely on this man, I failed to notice a little girl standing next to him. She wore a multicolored book bag and her hair was in a loose ponytail. She tugged Barry’s shirt. The man looked down at her and she handed him her book bag. He complied. After catching that simple movement, the story changed. His name is Jackson actually. He is a father, taking his daughter to school, perhaps at the request of the mother at the last minute because she had to go to work early. That was why he didn’t have time to get ready. Well, my initial story could still apply, but what do I know? I am just a writer. New York has always inspired me to write, and I’m glad to be surrounded by inspiration every day.

The subway near my place is far less crowded. I wouldn’t call it serene though; the train’s wheels skidding against the tracks sound like screeching babies. Or banshees. Same thing. I usually tune the noise out by thinking about writing, about my story-in-progress, about the characters who need to come alive at their own pace. Ali, a wise friend who’s finding herself in Florence (not a bad place to find yourself!), recently told me that being in New York will definitely help me develop my characters. And I can already feel that happening. I see bits of Asher, my novel’s protagonist, in the teenage boys who stay hunched over as they walk—as if they’re bracing themselves against high-speed wind. I see Saffron, Asher’s kickass lesbian friend, in the girls with cropped hairs, tights, and ankle boots. I see David, another one of Asher’s pals, in the sullen boys outside of delis who light up cigarettes at night and watch the smoke fade.

More stories are coming. I can feel it.

 

Correction: Ali’s also working in Florence, not “Julia Robertsing,” like I suggested in this post 🙂

 

 

Moving to Brooklyn

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While moving into my apartment in Brooklyn today, a wedding was happening outside. What a coincidence—two monumental events, two new beginnings. As I unpacked my things, the groom and the bride (Mr. and Mrs. Carlisle Clark) danced to Chris de Burgh’s “Lady in Red.” Now, as night takes over, wedding goers are dancing to salsa music, which, as my friends know, sparks in me an infectious desire to dance. I may or may not have done a few 1234567s in my room, alone.

My new home is in Bed-Stuy (pronounced ‘bed-sty,’ not bed-stew as I have told many people already) and I am living with an older woman who’s renting out her townhouse. I live in a room next to her on the first floor, and there are four people living upstairs. My housemate works at the United Nations. She reminds me of my mother, so when I met her I instantly knew that Mom would like her. They were chatting about their childhoods (hers in Indonesia, my mom’s in Vietnam) while my sister, my father, and I tried to make my room feel more like home.

As a kid, I would always imagine what I’d buy once moving into my own home. I remembered putting Yankee Candles, a box of crayola, and a bookcase on my list. Now I get to cross off the last item, because GUYS, I BOUGHT MY FIRST BOOKCASE FROM IKEA (see the picture!). I have already started filling it with my favorite books and books I have yet to read. I can’t wait to see my collection grow (free books at Simon & Schuster!!!).

I’m still getting used to the neighborhood, but I’m told that I can find quiet on my street, but if I want some noise, I just have to walk downtown to Atlantic Avenue and Fulton Street. I feel like Brooklyn is known for being a creative, hipstery hub, and I am definitely eager to explore more. My first move? I just bought a Groupon for salsa dancing classes. Who wants to join me?!?

If anyone has some suggestions for things to see and to do in Brooklyn, comment below! I’m always looking for new adventures.