New York C(yn)i(c)ty

It happened much swifter for her than she had wanted to admit. There had been the initial romance in jettisoning the Subaru, the entertaining chaos of relying on Mandarin-chattering drivers and their mysterious ticket-taking men to transport her between her college nest and “home” home, and the hubris of internalizing subway traffic patterns.

The commutes, while onerous during her first year, fluctuated and did not hold steady for longer than four days. She messed around with every grid formation she could arrive at between 43rd Ave. and Junction Boulevard and when the weather was fluffier, hopped off at earlier stops to gab on the phone under the trees.

Maybe she’d lasted so long because at the beginning half her travels had always sent up into the air, with views of vibrantly tagged warehouses and brick and stone apartments and when the doors had bolted open, the stale oxygen of the 7 Train car received a mild infusion of the smog outside. Maybe.

Maybe it the glamor. The narcissism.  She’d perused dozens of articles by enlightened 30-year-olds–and novels and autobiographical sketches penned 30 years ago–and all of these writers could magically bless grit into youth and transform dirt into history. She knew now that her story–all of its pretentious thought patterns–had first stood its wobbly legs on the backbone of the literary genre.

Part of what she clung to now, one year, five months into the New York City Fast Life, had been that the belief that the context, like every previous one , would take its Michelangelo knife and reveal another layer of tenderness, cleverness, and prestige in her soul. It would not have been for the first attribute that she might have picked law school but it was a world to attain the others. Of which she had little now.

She had not come here just to learn how to dislocate her shoulders squeezing into stuffed commuter cars. But nor had anyone.

There’d been a friend–of the type that she’d hugged but twice six months–who’d recently confessed she thought the city was tarnishing her character–“making her a worse person.” What a sorry lie to believe. What an overwhelming statement to see manifest in yourself.

Her underground commute, her office stasis, her sideline stalking of the city’s cool crowd (at least one of the cliques sparred on Twitter daily so she knew who They Were,) why go to New York City just to meet the city’s quota of romantic brunette former liberal arts’ degree holders? No.

But yes.

She felt more aware of the internal conundrum that it took to be a transplant New Yorker. It was almost a prerequisite to carry a certain level of cynicism. It could manifest through several mediums: flirting, Twitter, and guitar-laced lyrics.

But there was a danger to bringing it close to the heart because of the gumption and wherewithal mandated for thriving. And how much she wanted that–because in this city everyone shoved their cards up their sleeves, their shirts, their bras, their teeth, aspiring to bury their vulnerability yet feeling it uncomfortably chafe against their skin.


Study Your Politics Damnit

The gist of a letter that I crafted in 2011 for would-be undergrad devotees of one of the universe’s critical majors.

Politics is a major for the curious and the restless, the wrestling and the questioning. It is for those who build biceps raising their hands over the course of the semester and those with passport pages replete with stamps. It is the one who loves to learn in Boyer Hall and facing the Terra Cotta soldiers in China.  It is for those who examine and inquire, who shout and who march. It is for the activist and the pacifist and more than anything, the life-long inquirer. It is beyond an area of study, a classification and a field. It has been my way of life for the past thirty months.
I left high school weary of the dull stares of the timid, apathetic and sleeping, eager to find myself lost in a classroom of edge-of-the-seat participants and pacing professors. I was hooked on Politics after my first class. Much to my glee, student after student arrived prepared, eager to discuss and critique Plato, Hobbes and Locke, even as the professor interrupted assertions and forced students on the spot to defend their arguments. A perennial participant, for the first time in my life, I felt nervous about lending a voice to the discussion, my head spinning over the speed and level of concepts. At the same time though, I was mesmerized. The entire class was gripped in the content, the ramifications, thoroughly entertained and thoroughly engaged.
The next year and half that I spent at Messiah, I soaked up Politics classes, constructing mnemonics for Supreme Court case titles, discovering the ins and outs of local government from a state representative, and using the SPSS program to crunch numbers analyzing immigration sentiments. Simultaneously, during these preliminary months, I bonded with my classmates and my professors. Encountering likeminded academic peers tremendously enhanced my learning. Nestled in the booths in the student union we discussed the merits of globalization and the complexity of the Muslim Brotherhood’s leader Sayyid Qtub while constantly drifting to tangents about impassioning the student body about the injustice of blood diamonds. We appreciated our regional diversity –California, Minnesota, Washington, China and Ghana and drove each other to explore familiar concepts in different lights.
The relationships with the professors have perhaps been the most enriching. I am tremendously excited that I feel as though each professor in the department knows more than that I am California, but also has heard me speak passionately about the complexities of Chinese communism, the frustrations with immigration in Europe and my own dreams to work overseas someday. They have also been my strongest advocates by counseling, consoling and encouraging me when I am underwhelmed by my performance and overwhelmed by work.
I left Grantham academia in 2010 for the Orient and the Iberian Peninsula. In my spring semester, I ventured around in China, trekked the Great Wall, wrote for a Chinese-English local newspaper, read firsthand accounts of life under the Mao dictatorship and gnawed on chicken feet in a Hmong village. Just eight weeks ago, I packed my bags in Barcelona after a semester of studying in Spanish, sorting out the power diagrams of the European Union, interrogating locals about the region, Catalonia, desire for statehood, staffing UNICEF fundraisers, and teaching computer classes in a second language to immigrant women.
As I’m just now starting the spring semester, after a year abroad, my absolute favorite reason why I am grateful to be back is because the expected spiritual stimulation. Messiah completely gets Jesus’ core values of peace, compassion, reconciliation, truth and action. Every semester I have been on campus, I have volunteered off-campus in Harrisburg non-profit and just this past summer I worked at our service learning arm, the Agape Center, organizing an orientation service project for all 700 first year students. This semester, as Human Rights Awareness Director, I hope to educate more of my peers about our Christian responsibility to learn about international issues and injustices.