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"well something's lost, but something's gained, in living every day" -joni

Saturday, February 28, 2004

there are some nights that, as you are living them, you know you won't forget. tonight was one of those nights...what started off as a really bad frat party ended up with me and one of my closest friends, rita, going to wegmans and eating massive amounts of candy. we ended up running into two other girls she knew and we all just sat around and talked, i can't remember what about. but its not important.
so then me and rita are driving back and we're listening to the starting line and laughing and i realize that i'm happy. or as close to happy as i have been in awhile. happy, but i feel so old and i'm telling her about last year and, looking back, i see now that i was a different person. i was so lost and caught up in things that werent worth it and, while i'm still finding my way, i have much better direction today. it took a long time to get here and i still have a ways to go, but i'm closer. i guess thats called growing up and its weird, let me tell you. i don't know, sometimes i feel like my life is an episode of the wonder years or something, like i'm a kevin arnold of sorts, learning something new from every experience, letting go of the things that need to be let go of, and finally making decisions that feel right.
this weekend, both nights, were so full of great conversations, which mean the world to me. you can take away all the parties and alcohol, just give me a great conversation and i'll be satiated for days. i can analyze for hours and hours, and this weekend, i did. they say you learn more about yourself through your friends and i've come to believe this wholeheartedly. its like you see yourself reflected through the other person, its amazing. and i guess this weekend theres been a lot of that. and thats what ill remember.
i don't think theres a definitive "type" of human development major, other than the fact that we're mostly girls. ok, and a lot are from new york and jersey. but i can honestly say that i love my major. people from other colleges here and other majors even within human ecology complain how easy us HD people have it, that the classes are jokes. i can honestly say a couple have been, but for the most part, the classes involve a lot of reading and thinking. and that everyone that complains is just jealous. we have classes like "gender and sexual minorities," "human bonding," "adolescence," and "the human mind and brain." i find that i actually enjoy going to a lot of my classes, even the required ones; i am fascinated by learning how we, as humans, interact with each other, grow, learn, age, love, think, everything...
it is in this greater understanding of humans that my major influences my writing. through the combination in my major of psychology, biology, and sociology, i feel like i have a pretty good concept of how people "work," if that makes sense. it helps when developing characters and determining how their backgrounds and living environments will influence their personalities, how they react to things, what their next action will be. also, though reading so many research studies and writing papers, my analyzing skills have greatly improved and that reflects in my own writing, as well.
everything i have done or seen or experienced in my life has influenced my writing; in that respect i don't "write like an HD major," i write like me. and being an HD major and learning about the human experience in such depth are parts of who i am.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

The southern tip of brooklyn ny, with its hundreds of stores, high rise buildings, steel rides that rise over the beach and atlantic ocean in coney island, dots of houses and trees, crowded roads, and above ground subway tracks, is literally a concrete jungle. It's definitely urban, but almost a kind of makeshift "urban," there aren't many new shiny buildings and the stores are mostly of the convenience/deli/supermarket/pharmacy/dry cleaning variety. there are no hills, in fact, brooklyn is as flat as ithaca is hilly. the street gutters and roadsides are lined with garbage and the subway stations reek of urine and wet dirt. housing projects and other subsidized apartment complexes aren't uncommon, but if you drive closer to the water, minutes away, you'll find million dollar homes with luxury cars in driveways.
the beaches, ocean, bay, and numerous fishing boats give this part of brooklyn the feel of a seaside town gone awry and on rainy days it smells like fish even miles from the water. yet, in the summer when people walk along the boardwalk and by the water, the whole neighborhood has kind of a 1940s rustic feel to it that i can't describe.
as far as transportation goes, its everywhere. thats one of the best things about living in brooklyn. the mta transit system is all over; on almost every corner you can find a busstop that leads to a subway station that leads to the world. the roads are packed, even sidestreets have been crammed with traffic as more and more people discover the ironic beauty of south brooklyn, with its mesh of cultures, classes, and people. the subway and buses run all night and when you don't feel like waiting, theres always walking. everything you need is basically within walking distance and thats how i grew up- walking to elementary school, to the supermarket, to carvel ice cream, to my grandmother's building, to sheepshead bay, to brighton beach.
with so many people so closely packed together, all different ethnicities, the economy of southern brooklyn is basically a little bit of everything. aside from the hundreds upon hundreds of small privately owned stores, there are some office buildings, theres the fishing industry (though im not sure how successful that is), theres a large hospital, theres healthcare offices, theres coney island and all the rides in the summer, theres shopping centers. but the majority of southern brooklyn residents take the rush hour trains into and out of the city, having found work in the metropolis that is manhattan, only to return to their corner of brooklyn in the early evening, to the somewhat less packed streets and buildings, to their families. thus, brooklyn houses its own economy, but also sends a number of its residents into the city to contribute to larger scale economies. brooklyn is a giving borough, obviously.
cornell, namely ithaca, is quite the opposite from brooklyn. there are no beaches, a much less developed public transportation system, less chain stores and restaurants, much much much more hills, and the fact alone that there are gorges and lakes and waterfalls and nature everywhere is in stark contrast to my concrete jungle. everything at cornell is much more spread out and there is a great dependence on walking or driving; in general there is a lot less of some things- less people, less traffic, less stores- but a lot more of other things- natural beauty, health awareness, fresh air. my calves definitely get a work out here that they never got at home, but i love the contrast between brooklyn and ithaca, though it's hard to believe these two places are located in the same state.
when i'm here i miss brooklyn and its convenience and the people and the fusion of ethnicities and all of the contrasts that are found right around the corner from one another- russians, italians, indians, asians, sephardic jews, black people, white people- everywhere. thats the greatest part of brooklyn's terrain- the people who live and breathe on it. ithaca lacks that diversity and that excitement. yet sometimes i watch the sunsets here over the hills and i am thankful i have the opportunity to go to school here and see nature at its best. ithaca, at times feels like a postcard (even in the snowy winters). But, you ask, what does brooklyn feel like? It feels dirty, it feels crowded, it feels overwhelming at times, it feels old, it feels worn in, it feels unique, it feels like childhood, it feels like the good old days, it feels like a harbor, it feels like a city, it feels like home.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Brooklyn summers can be scorching. And on the long, hottest days of summer, you can stand on the boardwalk in Coney Island and see the world. Sprawled out in front of you, the beach merges into the sparkles of the ocean and then expands all the way right and left so that it seems to never end. Towels of every size cover the sand all the way up to the ocean and umbrellas shoot up all over. Children hold the hands of their grandparents, mostly old estern european women wearing floral one-pieces, legs covered in spider veins and cellulite, big brimmed hats. They are so nonchalant with their looks that, even amongst the young bikini-clad girls, radiant with tanning oil, its beautiful. occasionally, men selling beer and water traverse the sand, yelling at the sun worshippers, offering their goods. in the distance, sail boats cross the line where the water meets the sky in a merge of blue-ness and seagulls cry and glide across it all.
behind you are the old, time forgotten rides of Coney Island, graffiti covered, rusty- still running, tho. screams and the sounds of wood creaking whoosh by every time a roller coaster car passes on the Cyclone and the Wonder Wheel looms above, faded blue and sad. the boardwalk, too, is filled with people, baby carriages, men without shirts, even tourists. the air is saturated with salt, cotton candy, hot dogs, and urine. small souvenir shops, carnival games, and fast food - the likes of nathans, kentucky fried chicken, and mcdonalds- populate the short, skinny streets and the boardwalk itself. the signs are outdated; the colors are worn, the neon signs broken. the twilight zone.
as the sun goes down and a breeze sets in, the trains fill up- the q, the f, and everyone lined up for the buses, holding their beach chairs and totes. i walk home, past the aquarium, past the trump shopping center filled with elderly couples, past the places i grew up in. i look back at coney island, the wonder wheel, still hearing the sounds, the screams, the laughs. and next summer it will be the same. the world has changed but coney island has not. from the freak sideshows to shooting galleries to nathans, even to the utter emptiness of it all in the winter, coney island has always stayed as i remembered it. its comforting to know a place like that exists. and there it remains, on the tip of brooklyn, right up against the water and the sand, a place time, but not I, has forgotten about.

Monday, February 09, 2004

the summer before my senior year of high school was a very difficult time for me. i was taking writing classes at NYU and spending a lot of time alone in the east village, wondering where my life was going and what i wanted to do with it. my best friend was away at a summer program at Brown and having all these news experiences; i felt left behind, lost, and stuck. it was as if the world around me was changing but i was standing still, the same girl at 16 as i was at 10.
one night, as we required to do for class, i attended a poetry slam at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe on the lower east side of manhattan, a part known as alphabet city. i didn't know what to expect and i remember standing outside this rundown building with dozens of other teenagers who all seemed to know each other. i was feeling very alone, even while talking to a couple of people also in my class, and i nervously declined the chance to sign up to read some of my work aloud.
inside, the place was packed. it was a dimly lit room with a bar on one side and a bunch of small round tables packed closely together, making it nearly impossible to walk around. people were sitting on the floor, on chairs, everywhere. the show began with loud rap music and then an announcer, who was about 18 and ran the teen poetry slam program, came out and welcomed the first guest. i have to admit i was intimidated, all the other kids seemed so confident and cool with their dyed hair and urban chic clothes.
but then the performances began. i remember one guy's rap about not fitting in, he was spitting out the words so fast i almost couldn't keep up; it was amazing. and i remember a girl playing guitar, and a lot of poems dealing with race issues and love and drugs and basically about being young and confused. in each presenter that night i saw a part of myself and i at once regretted not having the courage to read the poem that i had written and brought with me. these kids were so willing to expose their own thoughts and raw emotions that i soon began to feel more self-assured. it began to feel less like a poetry slam with people i didn't know and more like a home where i could fit in and relate to my peers.
that night i walked up avenue b in the dark and knew something was different. hard to say what. from then on, i slowly began to share my work more often and take pride in myself and my thoughts, regardless of how silly they seemed. i don't want to make it seem like a poetry slam changed my life but, in a way, it did. i didn't have one particular direction but the world was full of them. i would need time, a lot of it, and that was okay. being young is cool like that. you have no idea where you are going to end up. or with whom. but after that summer i didn't worry about is as much. because as much as you think you are all alone and aimless, theres someone else who feels the same way. just go to the nuyorican and you will see what i mean.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

i just wanted to say two things here. first, allen ginsberg's "howl" was probably the best thing i've read in a long time. its such a comforting/terrifying feeling to read something and realize there are other people out there who feel the same way i do about the world; namely how society condemns and rejects the people who it could benefit from the most-the crazy intellectuals, the artists, the poets, the insane even. can't wait to read more from ginsberg.

second- i don't know if anyone else noticed this, but josh corey has a book of poetry out and they have it in the cornell store in the "up and coming cornell authors" section. you guys should definitely take a look, i was impressed.

Sunday, February 01, 2004

ever since i can remember my grandmother, a holocaust survivor who came to america in the late 1940s, has been telling me stories about her childhood in eastern europe. looking back, these are the first stories i can remember being told; i couldn't tell you about the books that were read to me when i was 4 or 5 years old (other than, like, goodnight moon) but i could tell you about my grandmother's brother who stepped on glass when he was an infant. and about how her family of 9 were so poor that they couldn't afford doctors or dentists. i would always ask how she had such straight teeth if there were no dentists and she would say "it was magic" in her accented english. years later i realized they were dentures (tho she still denies this, i can tell you about the horror of finding them in a cup in her bathroom when i slept over once).
i guess the point i'm trying to get at is that years and years from now, these are the stories i will remember. these stories, and the talent that my grandma helen has for telling them. i now realize how poor her family was and the hardships they must have gone through leading up to and during the war, but she has a way of making it all seem magical; that her childhood was filled with creativity and wonder. i remember being 5 years old, wishing i could be in europe where there were no dentists but there was magic. and it was her knack for creating this world through her language and thoughts that held my interest so long.
her stories are a huge part of the reason i want to write. her ability to weave her own experiences together to form stories intrigued me as a young child just as they continue to do so today. if this ability is inherited, then i guess you can say i hit the genetic jackpot. until i find out if it is or not, tho, i'm going to keep working at it. and when i'm an old woman i'll be able to tell great stories of my past, and (if all goes as planned) to have a collection of the books i've written to pass down, just as she has passed down her stories to me.

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