Nobody

One is enough.

xx

“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”

Tim Keller

xx

An overwhelming number of my subway rides have been solo. Me and my nose buried in The Goldfinch. Me and my chin grazing Ta-Neishi Coates’ latest on my iPad mini-keyboard configuration. Me silently bequeathing names to my fellow passengers and whispering lines of prayer for their ambitions and losses, troubles and joys. Me on my third train platform in a 40 minute evening commute home from the Upper West Side.

Nobody knows me at all.

xx

Almost every semester and summer I dwelled in Messiah residence life housing, I ponied up my $300 and enrolled in piano lessons. Without the accountability of an instructor and the sacrifice of an amount of money I might have used on a distant weekend away, I prioritized music. Forty minutes. Solo. Rarely spontaneous drop-ins. Me and the grand piano in a white chapel with high ceilings and voluminous, windows with rounded top edges.

Running around all day with a blue backpack, red leather purse, green book bag, and tripping over folks I like, love and delight in and 40 minutes of me and the piano and the sunlight on the ivory keys.

xx

I had my hands in the proverbial copious social honey pots at Messiah and kept my group of friends mostly isolated from my 1-1 “go-to’s” and never felt intimidated attending guest lectures without a buddy. (Though finding two partners in crime the first day of school set the tone for a warm Messiah four years.) But I was never that person that lived and studied and danced with one tribe.

On a small campus, close friends of mine remained ignorant of one another and I found that comforting.

xx

I’ve felt more than a little unnerved at the prospect of evolving into an introvert. Like a intrinsic part of what it means to live as Morgan Pomaika’i Lee will have to molt. And I’m not entirely positive as to the validity of this transformation. For instance, when I arrive home to a living situation where everyone has turned on his or her own television set behind closed doors, I wilt in the solitude rather than having a late-night Eureka moment.

But I won’t pretend that I don’t thrive on some level of anonymity. I wonder if I’m almost threatened by the idea of someone picking apart my lifestyle and locating a trope in which to place me. Sure, I’ve kept very few vulnerable thoughts completely within my head. But I maintain a large pool with whom to express those grave thoughts and it’s accurate to acknowledge that for the majority of processes in my head that I wish to share, I’ve intentionally sought out some, deliberately excluded others.

There’s another twist too–though, let’s be real, it’s a little hubristic to assume that my life has ever warranted such fascination that one would seek out a play-by-play of my days, in dreams of a grand reveal–and that’s the fact that even beyond my commute, much of my New York City life, I’ve never disclosed to anyone. As someone who prefers to the discourse of ideas and grows weary of recaps and as one who often adventures with one only companion or wholly alone, there’s much to which so many are ignorant.

And what’s confusing to me is the solace I find in this privacy. That I practically viscerally react when considering how much of me guardedly treasures this sense of “MINE” towards my New York experience.

xx

Last month, Chelsea and I toured Wave Hill Park, an estate-turned-paid-attraction in Riverdale in the Bronx. Our trip to the grounds was my first time there since I made my way up there by myself a-year-and-a-half ago. As one of my closest friends in the city, whom I have cherished like none other, I had no way of knowing how much it felt that she was intruding into my personhood.

Why didn’t I feel like I was letting her into one of the most gorgeous green spaces in the city? Greater still, how had the city become something that was not just a land mass but a part of what it meant to be? How could I emote such a such a strong reaction of “mine” to something that belonged to the public and was touched by the masses?

xx

New York will not be won. No one can own New York: test this city, and it will slap you down hard. The city does not belong to you, the joy of New York is that you might make it so that you belong to her. 

Place yourself on any street corner in New York, and it is bursting with life. There is an anonymity, a perspective, that you gain from such surroundings.

Michael Wear

xx

New York City.

I don’t live in Bushwick. I don’t live in Bed-Stuy. For heaven’s sake, I don’t live in Brooklyn. The seven-floor building in which I reside is in a neighborhood you’ve never heard of but that which thousands of people from six continents have made acquaintance.

I am dauntless about 50 block walks and I don’t have a strong affinity with alcohol and I feel so tempted at this moment to try to force this uniqueness card, of which God may have already assured me, but which may help endear myself to you.

I’ve never signed a lease of an apartment capable of throwing dinner parties but I matter enough to this New York geographic movement we term a city to jump on a bicycle on a Saturday night and watch the sun sink low into the low-rise apartments of Jersey City on the Hudson River. And my heart swells.

xx

Eight million people. Somebody every one.

Advertisements

Sabbath, Meet Spontaneity

Writers’ propensity for introspection often directly conflicts with narcissism. Often when encountering a given philosophy or reality, they first hold up their own life to its claims, using personal experience as a tool for determining whether to validate or dismantle a worldview. This is exactly where this essay is headed.

Despite a concerted effort over the past week to seek a subway seat and channel the angst of the day into a triumphant and eloquent artistic expression, nothing of the sort has transpired. I’ve come face to face with some of my tritest writing, clunky with forced sentimentality (blame it on three birthdays of close friends) and an irritatingly amount of hype as I’ve been estranged for several months from blogging. I’ve suffered, seemingly from a lack of anecdote, dearth of purpose, and absence of charm. Has my reporter’s mentality hijacked my inner essayist, I’ve mused, though much more despairingly than the verb suggests.

With all gravity, however, I’m more than a little bothered that I’m perpetually exposed to 4,000 word exposés on Zac Efron’s heartthrob plight, 700 word essays updating me on the Tea Party’s Republican Party frustrations, and longreads about Monica Lewinsky and Hilary Clinton’s lives post-coitus say more about society’s scruples than their moral backbone. I’ve entered a reality where I’m overstimulated by perceptions, persuasions and opinions, that I fear have suffocated my ability to generate my own.

Maybe this is how apathy starts. I’ve assumed all my life that the root of indifference is ignorance: that is, if we could educate others, others might give a damn. But right now, I worry that at the other end of the spectrum lies saturation. Somewhere along the way, too much of anything robs one’s desire, one’s curiosity, one’s ability to articulate an ethos at a solo level. College helps mitigate this phenomena due to its learning infrastructure–one may dump learnings (oh Higher Ed lexicons) into a seminar or early morning caffeine-driven existential crisis. But that dialectic may be a $40,000 a year luxury.

Instead, the bleak process of adulthood which often vanquishes generalists revolves far more around pragmatism, than disinterest. It isn’t a fact that we want to retire to our sofas and veg nightly; it’s that making art on top of making money may be impossible. Maslow’s pyramid, y’all.

But how does one move past perpetual inundation with speculations, responses, and reports with a healthy dose of reflection on the side? How ought one use stimulus to enlighten, not shrink?

(I’m not a fan of the notion I’m about to advance.)

Let’s establish a spectrum which places creativity on one end and let’s define that as the ability to think meaningful thoughts and react to them practically, uniquely and timely. Because our society so cherishes creativity, we must be honest that in order to be in such a state, it’s more than likely we must sacrifice something beautiful and often fulfilling to practice this. I posit that something is spontaneity.

Spontaneity’s a bohemian word for freedom; it’s the ability to be brilliant on-the-spot in a way in which one will later recount bedazzled stories. It invokes a sense of instantaneous awe from those who are grounded because it mandates audacity and recklessness.

But spontaneity and shallowness may be closely linked. After all, while there’s something majestic about flying standby to Paris on Thursday night because one can, there’s also a truth that the voyager will be dismissing commitments as a consequence of their flight. It’s all the chatter of staying up till 4:33 a.m. and kissing under the streetlights at the end but none of the actual manifestation of the aspirations laid out in the meandering banter. Creativity, on the other hand, is continually building ritual and purpose into one’s live. Creativity is a discipline.

As someone frequently described as spontaneous, I’m well aware of how that attribute has both served me–and where because of it I’ve fallen short. I picked up and moved to Philadelphia on a 12 hours’ notice in July, in the midst of which hauled all my belongings into a three-bedroom apartment masquerading as an old time boarding home. Two weekends ago I slummed in Elena’s Carrboro apartment, jaunted to Connecticut last Saturday, bummed in Boston on Thursday and Friday, and will arrive in Pennsylvania on Friday night. My weekend zumba schedule died a year ago this month. My commitment to my junior high girls questionable after I will miss my third Sunday in less than eight weeks

I’m wondering if when we say spontaneity, but what we actually crave is enlightenment in routines–and a Sabbath. Maybe, we’ve misunderstood what the words “break” and “downtown”and “rest” denote–interpreting them as ones where we must abstain from (worldly) pleasures and uproarious laughter and the buzz of life. But most of our lives don’t routinely buzz–they drone. Most of the times we reside square in the helter-skelter that looks awfully like a schedule, a rat-race that’s as steady as a treadmill.

Six days let us endeavor to maximize our creativity. We’ll ground ourselves in incremental work that inevitably has elements of tedium but that has the opportunity to be potent. And on the seventh day, we’ll soar.

Who Is My Momma?

By the time that they’ve met her, she’s already not the same woman who ran off to England, sold books door-to-door in rural West Virginia neighborhoods, and taught bilingual first graders in the inner city. Later, the little ones, trying to process these anecdotes, fail to recognize that the roots of their wanderlust stem from her own. They only perceive one whom their dad’s influence has Charter Clubbed her wardrobe which once upon time included an Aztec, ankle-length skirt, a floral shawl, and a muumuu.

She has devoted almost the bulk of her thirties and forties to them but they’ve reduced her at times to a chauffeur of a 12 passenger behemoth who’s apprehensive about parking between two shiny compacts.

She unabashedly wears Birkenstocks, eschews eye shadow, and in some archaic family photos she’s donning oversized blue frames–identical to the shades hipsters ironically sport again. She’s relentlessly and undauntingly curious, a characteristic which frequently rubs against her propensity for sleepiness. Whether immediately after lunch or after late nights at the dance studio, she’d endeavor to read aloud two chapters with her little girls, while fighting off the nods–perhaps the consequence of one of her daughters brushing her hair hypnotically.

They jabbed at her when they were little because she’s nearly a decade older than the majority of their parents’ playmates. They don’t understand that one day they’d find her independence and rebellion and forget to credit her for instilling it in their souls.

She settled in the suburbs, two hours from the almond farms she surrounded herself with as a child, and she has a husband who at one point works three jobs simultaneously to allow her to write chore charts for, conduct spelling tests with, administer shots to, and open capsules and dump their contents in hot water for three daughters who chronically broke out in hives, grumpiness and stomach pains. She keeps her pain and weariness from her little girls, though never her tears.

Her three children were born in less than three years and they share the Master bedroom a room until the eldest moves to Pennsylvania. They play piano–she enforces the 45 minute daily practice minimum. They dance in Hansel and Gretal–she stitches the straps of their costumes. They fall off the beam–she’s missed it because she was covering her eyes with her hands.

She’s never been more alive to her daughters–nor her daughters old enough to appreciate the transformation–then when she returns to the workforce. She gushes about her kindergartners, their Pakistani, Saudi Arabian, Iraqi, Indian mothers and daddies, and finds them equal enthusiasts in learning. Sometimes. The school infrastructure sags and rattles and threatens to collapse and seven years later she’s withstood the turnover, the drama, the obfuscation.

Strawberry. Scooter. Gentle. All of them scooped up in her hands, petting back the ears, rolling her eyes when each heaved a baby carrot into the hollows of their fluffy, flappy pouch. Everything was disconcerting about the 2000 election, not the least of it a hamster’s five day disappearance commencing as Florida went bonkers. Strawberry.

She’s 55, with short hair for nearly 15 years now, when she astonished her daughters by coming home on a breathless July night with it chopped above her ears. Her little ones haven’t ever seen her use mascara though they’ve wondered why she doesn’t ever put an earring in her second hole on her left ear. What would her husband say at this point?

She barely sees them these days, and if one was to add up the incarnate hours, it may make a smorgasbord of a month, but she texts and returns phone calls and types e-cards and mails packages and lets her daughters roam without holding it against them. Instead, she delights in The Lord and makes him the desire of her heart.