Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Standup Layover: New York

So here's me this morning.

This is me after a Salt Lake-Denver flight, a Denver-Boston red-eye flight, and several hours of waiting for a Boston-New York flight. I actually slept a reasonable amount, for a three-flight night, and arrived in New York (somewhat) rarin' to go.

So after doing several loops around the (extremely large) airport, I managed to find the Bagbysitter, where I left my backpack and suitcase for the afternoon. And for the Zero of you out there who are interested, here's a shot of said bags:

I post this because I am absurdly, unreasonably proud of my ability to pack for trips. And there's nothing more satisfying than winning a game that nobody else knows they're playing.

"HA! I only checked ONE bag, and it only weighed 35.5 pounds! Beat that, losers!"

"I swear I put my boarding pass right here, in this pocket . . ."

"Bet you can't beat that. Bet you couldn't in a million years."

"Um, yeah . . . where is it? . . . Sorry, RoseE, did you see me put down my boarding pass anywhere?"

"You could find it if you'd packed better, like me."

"Did I leave it at the ticket counter?"

"It's super easy to pick up, too. Look. Easy to carry."

"No, I already checked under your suitcase, it wasn't there . . ."

It's all about life's simple joys.

So anyway, bereft of my bags, I took a stroll through the parking lot of the airport and over a creepy viaduct where Serena and I once had a near-death experience in the middle of the night.

I wouldn't call it non-creepy by day, but nothing, living or dead, tried to do me any harm as I hopped on the subway and headed for the Lower East Side.

Riding the subway in New York is always an adventure for me. It's so . . . real. So dirty. So old. Salt Lake has a public transportation network, of course, but it's all very shiny. It's very much like a network of Disneyland rides. MTA has the battered, retro, "bite-me" appearance of a real workhorse of a transit system, one that doesn't care if you're having fun on the ride or not, because people gotta get to work, so shut up and hang on.

It may be a bit creepy, and quite possibly haunted, but it's sure as heck easy to navigate. I made it to my destination and back again without any trouble at all. And what was my destination, you ask?

The Lower East Side Tenement Museum.

This turned out to be a pretty cool place. This one particular building just got blocked up and abandoned when it was no longer up to fire code, leaving the old, fragile building pretty much untouched after about 1930. The museum folks have left some rooms as they were, crumbling and peeling and full of creepy, and restored others to what they might have looked like when being lived in by various families. I toured the apartment of an 1890s Irish family, the Moores. In addition to the re-creation, the tour also had reproductions of the Moore family's relevant documents: their census records, immigration records, and the death certificate of their littlest girl. I loved how very specific everything was, and how neatly all that specificity was documented.

While I was waiting for my tour to start (it was a few hours; New York's kinda packed today. I don't know if they've got something going on later tonight, or what), I had a very nice stroll around the honest-to-goodness Chinese parts of Chinatown. I grabbed a panini for my lunch from a random grungy grocery-deli, thought about getting some squid at the fish market but decided not this time, and waved to the Empire State Building, which popped up to say hello whenever I crossed the street.

New York is so odd to me. It's kind of like living on an aircraft carrier. Everything's so tiny, so wedged and crammed and jostled in amongst everything else. Things that my brain just knows are supposed to  be free-standing, like grocery stores and museums, are suddenly in narrow slices of 1910-era row houses, because that's the space there is and so darn it, that's the space we'll use. I always flinch at how dirty New York is, and then I remember the sheer volume of the people here . . . to say nothing of their dogs and their cars and the semi-trucks bringing in their food along tiny one-way streets made even tinier by the cars parked all up and down both sides . . . and think to myself, "Yeah, there are some bits of litter lying around, but it's a miracle this city even functions, and another miracle that it functions so magnificently. What a crazy, fascinating place to live. Maybe someday."

But today is not that day, because right now I need to pack up this computer and get on yet another airplane. So here's one last shot of Chinatown on a biting gray New Year's Eve Afternoon.

You may have to print it out, tape it into a circle, and wrap it around your head to achieve the full effect.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Between Worlds

It's going to sound odd and melodramatic, but it's true, so here goes . . .

Traveling alone is kind of a mystical experience.

I first noticed this when I was about fifteen and started flying on my own. In an airport, after your ride has left, you . . . change. All the defining qualities that grow from your relationships subside, and you are one woman, alone with her thoughts in a sea of other people alone with theirs. You mean nothing. You are a tranquil, nameless entity drifting through the universe.

This transformation is more tangible when driving. My annual drive from Salt Lake to Bemidji really makes this clear to me, because I travel not only out of my home city, but out of my very name. I stop being RoseE when I veer off the I-15. When I arrive in Bemidji, I don a new name: Arianne. In between, in the wide-open silence of Wyoming, I am no one. I am the thing that holds the gas pedal down and hits 'Play' on the audiobook. And that's very peaceful.

I'm sitting on the floor in the Denver airport, waiting for my red-eye flight to take me to my next port of call: Boston. I don't need to communicate with anyone. I have a name, of course, but it's on my license which is tucked away in my purse. I sit beside it, disconnected from it, placidly enjoying the unbearable lightness of being, without being anything or anyone in particular. Just being, without all the baggage and stress of defining what kind of being I am or ought to be.

I am in the liminal space. The Wood between the Worlds. The non-story that exists in between the back cover of one book and the front cover of the book next to it on the shelf. King's Cross Station. Sleeping Beauty's dream. Like The Moment, I am unsure if the images in my head are products of my past or my future. When I reach my next story, all that will snap into place. It always does. And I'll be better able to face the new adventure for the timeless rest I've had here, in this mystical, unearthly nowhere-space that is The Airport.

Plan B

So, plan A (fly free out of Salt Lake) has turned out to be a bust, which is why I'm typing this from my parents' sofa and not from the A line in New York.

It was just one of those things that happen, particularly when you fly standby. However, I rather blamed myself and my mum rather blamed herself and we were both being guilty AT one another, which was uncomfortable. I wrote a whole blog post about it, but then the computer ate it, which actually made me feel better.

And all is well. It really is. I'll be leaving with my dad in a few hours to drive to Denver, where I'll catch a red-eye flight to New York via Boston. So my already elaborate Salt Lake-New York-Dublin-London trip has become an even more elaborate Salt Lake-Denver-Boston-New York-Dublin-London trip, but elaborate is by no means bad. Gives me a chance to see my Denver cousins, who are some of my favorite cousins (sorry, South Carolina cousins; you've been upstaged). And one of the things I was planning to do in New York (visit the UN) turned out to not be selling tickets today, so no loss.

So instead of whinging about the stress of unpredictable travel, I shall include for my first journey photos a picture of my sister and niece, as well as your first view of my spectacular traveling hat:

and one photo of how I slept last night, underneath 67% of my parents' household's cats, namely the Dowager Princess Soxie and the Honorable Miss Pangur Ban:

And you know, all things considered, it is no bad thing to go to sleep covered in cats. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

An Adventure

"Indeed for your old grandfather Took's sake, and for the sake of poor Belladonna, I will give you what you asked for."

"I beg your pardon, I haven't asked you for anything!"

"Yes, you have! Twice now. My pardon. I give it you. In fact I will go so far as to send you on this adventure. Very amusing for me, very good for you--and profitable too, very likely, if you ever get over it."

The Hobbit

I woke up this morning feeling kind of excited for the first time in a good long while.

It's been a rough semester. I took on too much, then had to find the time and energy and willpower to complete all of it. And I managed. I didn't always manage well, which makes me sad. There's nothing I dread more than disappointing people, and I think I managed to mildly disappoint a lot of people over the course of the semester. But I worked hard all four months. I accomplished a lot. I created a plan of attack and at least one paper of which I am very proud. And it's over.

The last official day of the semester was Friday. And here I am, on Monday morning, finally realizing that yes, I am free. I did it. It's over. And I can finally spare the time and energy to be excited about my next adventure.

I'm really, in the immediate future, going to London.

It's the day before Christmas Eve today . . . December sure does fly past when you've got deadlines looming. Christmas with my family is, in my opinion, the best thing in all the world. My parents never actually grew up. They fake it pretty well most of the time, but in late December the charade breaks down. (My mom claims that she misses the years when all us kids were small and cute, but I've observed her to be much happier and less stressed now that we're all old enough to not knock over the Christmas tree or throw fits in public or otherwise cause Christmas chaos.)

It's really Christmas. I can really breathe again.

So I have roughly a week to wallow in doing nothing but enjoying myself with my family and my friends. And then I'll take off on the first stage of my four-month saga: a standby flight to New York City, where I'll have some time (anywhere from one to three days, depending on when I actually fly) to kick around the Big Apple at its loveliest season.

Over the course of my adventures (which will include AT LEAST adventures in NYC, Dublin, London, Edinburgh, and Paris), I'm hoping to use this blog to allow all my dear friends and family the chance to live this vicariously. So expect lots of stories and pictures. Hold me accountable to my New Year's Resolution of working on my thesis for 15 min. every day. Give me recommendations and requests. And hang on, because this is gonna be CRAZY cool.


Thursday, December 19, 2013


So . . . I came into money yesterday.

Not much money, in the cosmic sense of things, but a startling amount of money for a poor grad student. The English department was under budget for the semester (good job, folks) and divvied the surplus up among the grad students as a tuition  benefit for next semester. (It honestly blows my mind that they think this is a good idea. They could remodel the professors' offices or have a giant party or send the entire staff on a ski vacation . . . but instead they decide to give it to the grad students. It's so goshawfully nice it makes my head explode.) Anyway, since I've already paid next semester's tuition, the funds just got dropped in my checking account. Bang.

When I saw the transaction in my online banking yesterday, I had a knee-jerk reaction of which, I now admit, I was not proud. The first thought that went through my head was "Wow! God has blessed me. I must have been really righteous this semester."

Really righteous. Like God works on the Santa Claus principle.

I think lots of people struggle with this idea of wealth=righteousness. It's logical. If you do good things, God will bless you. Ergo, anyone blessed with wealth has been righteous enough for God to bless them. It's a nice idea. Or it would be, in a perfect world that actually worked that way.

Because the truth is, I haven't been more righteous this semester. I've worked my butt off, true . . . but so have my housemates, and I didn't see any tuition reimbursement magically appear in their bank accounts. So have my sister and brother-in-law, and they're still fighting through the cost of higher education and small children and still managed to make me a beautiful little snow globe for my birthday, even though I'm kind of a jerk to them sometimes and probably didn't deserve that kind of effort.

It would be so easy . . . it would be so nice . . . to believe that this money is a reward for my goodness. But that's not how it works. I've been bad. I've been prideful, I've been snarky, I've been selfish. I've been lazy at times, and gluttonous at times. Just like every other semester, really. And I've had to return to God again and again, not with cheers of "Did you see how good I was? Good enough that I shouldn't have to pay my own tuition, right?", but more like "Dear Lord, I'm being a snark again. I know I shouldn't. I wish I were sorry enough to stop, but I don't know how to change that about myself. I'll try. I'm sorry. I'll try again."

This windfall is NOT a reward for my goodness. It is a thing that happened, the reasons for which God alone knows.

I think my friend and carpool buddy put it best. When I told her about this money, her response was, "Wow! It looks like going to London [where I'm studying abroad next semester] is what God wanted you to do, since he's helping those plans fall into place."

That I like. That I can accept. It's hard for me to believe that God would reward me for my flimsy and inconsistent goodness, but easy to believe that he would smooth my path in the way he needs me to go. And it's up to me to follow that path to the best of my ability, looking out for the reasons he needs me on it.

I'd love to say that, after this realization, I resolved to spend my new money in a completely selfless and Christian manner. I didn't. I paid off a chunk of my student loan (that I took to cover the cost of London) and went on a bender that involved filling up my car's gas tank, getting my hair trimmed, and splurging on five bucks' worth of Chinese food. I felt like a complete hedonist. (I'm not kidding. I really did. I was all like "Chinese food! Woooooot! Living the dream, right here!" and only later did it occur to me that this might be kind of pathetic.)

I may not be a saint, but at least I'm a very small-scale sinner. And that's something to start with, right?