Posts Tagged With: Life

Daily Prompt: Pat on the Back

Woo! I did it! Successfully completed my Blog Every Day in July challenge. Sweet!

I’m pretty excited about that, and proud of myself for getting it done, but that’s not what this post is about. Because today, the Daily Prompt is to “tell someone you’re proud of just how proud you are.” So instead of spending this post selfishly congratulating myself for actually making consistent use of my blog (finally), I want to congratulate someone else who deserves it a lot more: Caroliena Cabada from Polyprotic Amory. Caroliena created her blog around the same time I created mine: November of 2012. However, unlike me, she started posting regularly right away. After my first couple of posts around the end of November/beginning of December, I didn’t post again for another two months. And after that random post in the middle of February, I didn’t post again until…well, until I started this blog-every-day challenge, one month ago.

And guess who inspired me to blog every day? Caroliena. In fact, she didn’t just “inspire” me in some kind of nebulous, wishy-washy tangential way: she straight-up challenged me to actually use my blog, to blog every day in July alongside her. When I would hesitate, she would prod me forward, and before I knew it I was writing a post every day. She provided the impetus for me to sit down and do it. She would often give me prompts and advice and suggestions, but even when she didn’t, just seeing how successful she has been at maintaining her blog for the better part of the past year galvanized me to work harder, smarter, and more on my own. Caroliena wasn’t just helpful, she was an exemplar. From the time we created our blogs until the end of June, I wrote a grand total of three measly posts. She wrote one hundred forty-one.

Because, see, that’s the kind of person Caroliena is. Not just with WordPress; with everything. I remember staying up late talking with her about why I’m vegetarian (which will probably be the subject of quite a few of my posts in the future), back when she herself was still a carnivore. Next thing I knew, she was going vegan. Caroliena is the kind of person who really listens, better than almost anyone I know. What makes her a good listener is that she doesn’t just listen; she listens, carefully and thoughtfully, and then acts on what she learns. She really takes things to heart. Back when we both still used Facebook, I would go on and on about how fucked up that corporation’s business model is. I would disparage it nonstop. But I still used it. She was the one to delete hers first; even though I was the one who had suggested the idea, I found myself following her example, not the other way around. That’s how she rolls. And it’s been the same with WordPress: when I was considering setting up a blog, almost a year ago now, I told her about it. She had never heard of it before, but no sooner had I told her about it than she made a WordPress account of her own. She beat me to it, because she took everything I knew in theory and put it into practice.

Caroliena never ceases to amaze me. She is continually outdoing herself, and outdoing even the people she looks up to. Where she looks at someone and thinks how much she can learn from them, she herself ends up teaching them just as much as they teach her. It’s not often that you find yourself looking up to someone who also looks up to you, but I look up to Caroliena more and more every day. Everything she learns, she takes to a whole new level, to the point that even when you’re the one who started her off on something, you find yourself following her example. I envy her professors: she is the best learner anyone could ask for. I’m proud of her. And I’m so grateful to her for helping me learn to actually embody the things that we both believe in.

Well done, Caroliena. You rock. For listening, for being you, for always being ready to take it to the next level. I’m proud of you.

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Looking Forward to Visiting Home

In about a week, I will be heading back home to Berkeley, California, to visit my family and friends back home. I can’t wait. I’ve been thinking about the trip a lot lately. Planning what I want to do while I’m home, figuring out what I want to bring with me, that sort of thing, yes, but also thinking about all the things I miss about Berkeley. I’ve loved the time I’ve spent living in New York, but there are some things that I find myself wistfully reminiscing about when I think about going back home. Here are some of the top contenders for “things I miss the most about Berkeley.”

1) Being able to see the sky…. After my first year in New York, I flew home to the San Francisco airport, fortunately avoiding Asiana airlines. When I first came out of the airport, and was on my way home, I found myself marveling at how much of the sky I could see just by looking out the window of the BART. (BART is short for Bay Area Rapid Transit, for folks who aren’t familiar with it. It’s the subway system for the whole Bay Area, and it costs about ten times as much as the NYC subway; I don’t miss that part.) I felt like I had flown to Montana by accident. Here in Manhattan, in the course of a normal day, you only really see little patches of sky, never the whole sweep from horizon to horizon. You never get the “inverted bowl” effect here. Instead, you’re always just catching glimpses of these fragmented slivers of sky between the skyscrapers. I miss being able to look up and see nothing but sky.

2) …Especially the stars. During the day, since work and classes often keep me indoors a lot of the time, the absence of the sky isn’t quite so bad. But at night, when the city is all lit up, blazing and blaring and bright, you can barely even see a single star. It’s not as though there isn’t light pollution in Berkeley, too, but on a clear night, you can clearly and distinctly see whole constellations, even walking down a brightly lit street. From the hills up above the city, you can look out and see the whole sweep of stars across the sky, It’s not as clear and pure and bright as the view of the Milky Way from Deep Springs (a tiny little self-sufficient college/farm in the middle of nowhere along the California-Nevada border), which is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in my entire life, but compared to the featureless blackness above New York, it might as well be.

3) The smell of the sea. Even though Manhattan is technically a lot closer to the sea proper (as opposed to the Bay) than Berkeley is, you’d never know that from the air. In Berkeley, there is pretty much always a sea breeze, and it actually smells like a sea breeze. It’s cool on your face and salty on your tongue. In New York, it’s often windy, but the wind just doesn’t smell like anything. (If you’re lucky.) Of course, the fact that the summers here are so much hotter and wetter doesn’t help; right when you need a refreshing sea breeze, you instead get a blast of garbage-scented wind, as hot and humid as can be.

4) Radical philosophy and politics. New York is way too staid and conservative for me. Yeah, I said it.

5) Random piles of free stuff everywhere. Yes, really. See, people in Berkeley have this thing about leaving stuff at the curb. I’ve never seen anything like it anywhere else. I mean, yes, I’ve seen (and occasionally even claimed) things left on the curbs in New York, and in other places, but Berkeley folks are just on a whole different plane of existence when it comes to free curbside scrounging. You can literally find anything on the curb in Berkeley. Each year, NYU organizes this “Green Apple Move-Out” program where students leave their stuff in big bins to be donated. Anything in the bins is fair game until the bins are taken away for donation, however, so anyone who stays for the summer (e.g. me) can just go down to the basement of their residence hall and find basically anything they could possibly want. In Berkeley, that’s just what walking down the street is like. Every day. Anything and everything that people don’t need or want, they just give away, for free, to random anonymous strangers. Now that’s what you’d call “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs,” right?

You can find furniture, clothes, shoes, bags, appliances, lamps, antiques, bicycles, sports equipment, vast collections of books and films…even expensive electronics, from cameras to computers, if the weather is good. (Watch out for anything with a piece of paper taped to it that just says “WORKS,” though. It probably doesn’t.) And, on the flipside, anything of yours that you want to get rid of can simply be left on the curb, no disposal necessary. No matter how useless, broken, gross, or otherwise defective an item might be, it will be gone within an hour. You may not be able to imagine how there could actually be a single person on Earth who would find your item useful, but trust me, that person exists, and they live in Berkeley. One of my father’s colleagues, a longtime Berkeley resident, once joked that in Berkeley, you could leave a dead body by the curb in front of your house…and it would be gone before you got back to your porch. I’ve personally never tried that one, but I wouldn’t bet against it.

So, there you have it. That’s a little tribute to the spirit of Berkeley. There is so much more, of course, but these are some of the most significant things I miss about Berkeley itself. Naturally, I’m looking forward to seeing friends and family, but it isn’t just the individual people I miss, but the place itself. The feel of it. If I could get a full refund on my plane ticket now, and magically have all my family and friends come visit me here in New York instead, I wouldn’t do it. I miss Berkeley itself, and I can’t wait to be headed back there, even if it’s just for a couple weeks before the schoolyear starts up again. Goin’ ‘ome!

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Getting Up Early. Really Early.

I should get up early more often. Maybe not as early as I did today, though.

See, for me, this morning was one of those mornings when you wake up long, long before you planned to, but can’t fall back asleep. To be precise, I woke up at 2:35 in the morning. To put that in context, as though it wasn’t absurd enough already, it is not a rare occurrence for me to stay up past 2:35 AM before going to sleep in the first place. (What can I say; I’m in college.) I had gone to sleep very early last night, but by “very early,” I mean 11:30 PM or so. Now, I don’t care how many folks tell me that the Ubermann sleep cycle is actually a thing; three hours of sleep is significantly less than you need to get in a night. So that wasn’t the best thing that could have happened.

But here’s the thing: despite the fact that I hadn’t planned to wake up that early, despite the fact that I didn’t get nearly enough sleep, I’m really grateful that it worked out that way. Because I’m the kind of person who stays up late, reading or writing or working or thinking, I forget how precious those silent early morning hours can be. Something about the stillness of the sleeping city creates this sense of freedom, as though time has somehow been paused, and you’ve been given this extra little bubble of space and time in which to work on whatever it is you need to do. It’s both a relaxing feeling and a motivating one. This time-out-of-time doesn’t feel as though it really “counts” against your day, so even if you get nothing done, you aren’t losing valuable “actual” time. You’re free to be unproductive. But by the same token, because it feels like you’ve been given this secret extra time that isn’t supposed to be there, you feel inspired to make the most of it.

I don’t know if I’d go so far as to call myself a “morning person,” since it did take quite a lot of tea to propel me from “can’t sleep” to “actually awake,” but I feel as though I’ve rediscovered something special that was there all along. Back when I was in high school (I can’t believe I just said that), I would have to get up by 6:00 AM every morning from sophomore year on, because my school district thought it would be a genius idea to make sure that anyone who took Advanced Placement science courses either A) couldn’t participate in any kind of extracurricular activities after school or B) had to start class at 7:25 AM. These AP courses all required an additional lab period, which was only available in the hour before school started or the hour after it ended. Anyway, because I had to get up so early regardless, I found myself getting up earlier and earlier, using the time before school each morning to work on my schoolwork, or get some writing done, or just sit and read. Some of those predawn hours were among the most productive times in my life.

Since starting college, however, I’ve been spoiled by remarkably lucky class timetables, with next to nothing scheduled for any earlier than 9:00 AM. Between that and the natural temptation to stay up late, either alone or with friends, I’ve ended up going to bed later (and waking up a lot later) than I did a few years ago. I bet I probably get a healthier amount of sleep now, on the whole, but sometimes I think I might actually be more productive in the mornings than at night.

So, I’m going to test it out. For the next few weeks, I’m going to make myself go to sleep before 1:00 in the morning, and wake up before 7:00 AM. It will certainly be easier than usual to fall asleep (and stay asleep, hopefully) tonight; I’m exhausted. The waking up is the tricky part, or, at least, it will be tomorrow morning. We’ll see how it goes. Maybe I’ll even start blogging in the mornings, rather than at night. Who knows?

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Fire Alarm

Today, the fire alarm went off in my residence hall.

Some background: I’m a student at New York University, living in a single-person studio overlooking Washington Square Park. So, as college housing goes, I got a pretty good deal. In fact, the deal is even better than it sounds, because my housing is free. Now, though my financial need is fairly significant, NYU is not known for being generous with financial aid, or offering housing for free, but this is a special case: I work for the university as an RA, or Resident Assistant, and NYU’s RAs get their housing and meal plans for free. It’s a pretty sweet deal, I’ll be honest, especially considering the rather exorbitant cost of living in Manhattan. However, it’s not a one-way street; there are significant duties that come with being an RA. We are responsible for the well-being of our residents and the wholesomeness of their community. In particular, we act as first responders when emergencies arise. Including unexpected fire alarms.

This wasn’t the first time I’d been in the building when the fire alarm went off. It was, however, the first time that it wasn’t a drill. During fire drills, the staff know about it ahead of time, RAs included, and have time to take positions beforehand. Some RAs help direct residents out of the building in the lobby, while others take master keys and check rooms to make sure that all the residents have in fact evacuated the building. Obviously, if folks are just ignoring the fire alarms, assuming that it’s a drill, and chilling in their rooms playing Halo, that’s kind of a problem. Especially when it’s not a drill, like today.

So when the fire alarm went off this afternoon, I ran down to the lobby to meet up with the other RAs. No one knew why the alarm was going off, though no one had seen a fire or smelled smoke. But as far as we knew, there was actually a fire in the building. Residents were straggling out of the stairwell, heading for the exit, but they all seemed to think it was a drill. I immediately headed for the spare keys, intending to go back up and do room checks, just as I would during a drill. If it’s important that residents take the alarm seriously and evacuate quickly when it’s just a drill, I figured, then it’s all the more so when there might be an actual fire. It’s not just important, I thought; it’s a matter of life and death. I felt the kind of fierce, cold clarity and purpose that only comes with this kind of urgency. I was shocked when my supervisor stopped me, saying that in the event of an actual fire, RAs do not perform room checks. Instead, we evacuate ourselves. After all, she said, no university could reasonably require its student staff to charge into a burning building for the residents still inside.

As we quickly found out, there was no fire after all. Engineers performing repairs on some of the building’s electrical systems had accidentally triggered the alarm system, setting off the earsplitting sirens that had driven RAs and residents alike down to the lobby and out into the muggy summer day outside. But in that moment, I was reminded of why I took the RA job in the first place. It was engraved upon my personality at a young age that the most sublime act is to set another before you. I never feel quite comfortable with myself unless I’m helping people. In the words of Jackie Robinson, “a life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” I try to live my life as a practical embodiment of these things I have long since come to believe in theory. Screw free housing and meals; this is what being an RA is about, for me: the willingness to plunge headfirst into a problematic situation to help others. The desire to be the one who runs towards the things the crowds are running away from, to make sure everyone is safe and sound.

We all like to tell ourselves that we’re the kind of people who would go back into a burning building to make sure everyone got out safely. It’s comforting to think that about yourself. But really, you never know until you’ve been tested. This morning, if you had asked me whether I’m that kind of person, I would only have said that I hoped so, but when it came down to it, I didn’t know if I’d really have it in me. Of course, as it turned out, my building was never burning. But I thought it was, and it never once occurred to me not to go back for the people still in their rooms on the upper floors. That’s good to know. I’m not a perfect person by any means, but I’ll sleep easier tonight knowing that about myself.

We all like to tell ourselves that we’re selfless and noble at our core. It’s comforting, yes, but maybe that’s not why we believe it about ourselves. Maybe more of us are right than we think. Maybe we all really are those people, deep down somewhere inside. We should give ourselves more chances to find out. We might surprise ourselves. And each other.

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