Monday, January 29, 2018


I was sitting in the window seat of a modern-looking cafe on Nostrand, contentedly sipping my chai latte, when three black middle schoolers approached me.

"Can we interview you for a school project?" their leader, a boy in a puffy navy coat, asked me.

"How long does it take?" I responded.

"Five minutes," the spokesperson said, flipping pages on his clipboard. He was a little chubby and had close-shaved hair.

"And can we record you?" piped in a girl with braids, leaning over his shoulder.

"No, we're not recording," the boy cut her off. He turned back to me. "We're not recording."

"Ok," I said.

He looked down at his page. "Do you live in Bed-Stuy, and if so, how long have you lived here?"

"I actually live in Crown Heights, a few blocks that way," I pointed. "And I've lived here a month."

He scribbled my answer in pencil.

"What do you think gentrification means? Or do you know what gentrification is?" He asked next.

I started feeling uncomfortable. Bed-Stuy is a historically black neighborhood that is currently being gentrified by people like me.

"Gentrification is when wealthier people move into a poorer neighborhood. And rent prices go up, and shops get more expensive, and the lower-income people can't afford to live there anymore so they have to move to somewhere further away," I said.

Is gentrification by definition linked to race? I wondered. I carefully avoided mentioning race in my answers, instead talking about income. But of course it's linked to race.

The boy was nodding and writing down my answer.

"Who benefits from gentrification?" he asked me next. "Or does anyone benefit?"

"Well, the wealthier people moving in benefit from more affordable housing to begin with..." I started. The problem is, I know gentrification is a problem but I don't know all that much about what can be done to mitigate its negative impacts on a neighborhood's original residents. I continued: "I think that gentrification doesn't necessarily have to be bad, that it can be a good thing for a neighborhood if it's managed properly, because more wealth in the neighborhood can result in things like lower crime, like if more streetlights are put up. But the important thing is figuring out how to keep rent prices fair for people who were already living there, and keeping affordable stores open for those people..." I trailed off, as I wasn't really sure how that was done. Community organizing, right? Rent control policies? I looked at the boy. His classmates seemed hardly to be paying attention. He took some more notes on my words, scanned his page, and then thanked me and walked away.

"What's the project?" I called after him.

He turned back. "It's a school project called Our Voice Matters, and we chose the topic of gentrification," he informed me.

I'm glad he's being taught that his voice matters. I want to read their final project.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Week 4: In Which I Am Either Sick or Social or Sleeping.

On Saturday I started noticing a sore throat. On Sunday it was worse, plus I developed a cough. I didn't leave my apartment again until Thursday afternoon. Was it the flu? We'll never know. I don't own a thermometer, but I did feel like my apartment was absurdly warm, and I kept my bedroom window open the entire time. But I'm no longer sick and my window is still open. So whether or not I had a fever is up for debate. Either way it wasn't fun.


However, as an introvert, I wasn't miserable, either. The Enneagram of Personality tells me the worst version of myself is essentially a crazy cat lady: a recluse who's scarily obsessed with a single intellectual topic. Reading that is what made me an Enneagram believer. Because I know in my bones it's true. The dark part of my soul felt gratified by those four days of sickness making it socially acceptable for me not to leave the house.

At one point during those four days, I watched the entire first season of HBO's show Girls. The next night I watched most of the second season. I'm ruminating on a forthcoming essay about whether shows like that reflect or determine culture.

Highlights of the week:
I finished furnishing my room Sunday, which was totally serendipitous as I spent the following four days without leaving it.
My friend Mo came over for dinner Sunday evening, which was also serendipitous as she helped me carry my new mini-dresser home from a Craigslist seller's apartment two blocks away. The mini-dresser (listed on Craigslist as a bedside table) now lives in my closet and houses my undergarments.
I FaceTimed my friend Jo on Monday. We talked about the intentionality required in the most meaningful friendships. A big part of why we're close is because we're both loyal, intentional friends. More than similarity in lifestyle or personality. I appreciate that about her.
I finished my training at Txikito! I also poured txakoli for the first time. It was scary but I did it without spilling!

I like this a lot more than the Southern Baptist church signs I'm used to. 
I appreciate how this cat seems to be appreciating these flowers.

Friday was a terrible day, emotionally. But I have my healthy coping mechanisms down pat: go running, eat chocolate, listen to Carly Rae Jepsen, find friends to distract me. I got drinks and dinner with a friend in town from SF along with his friends, and it ended up really turning my day around. I spent most of Saturday with my friend Kemper, who was in the city on a six-hour layover between Reykjavik and Raleigh. That afternoon/night I worked at the restaurant. I had friends over for pancakes this morning, then I met up with another friend at the Brooklyn Museum (which currently has an exhibit called Infinite Blue with all kinds of art with the theme being the color blue, and there were these gorgeous porcelain vases, and blue beading from ancient Egypt, and paintings including Monet whom I've been obsessed with since Paris).

We did not intentionally match with our wolf shirts.

Judy Chicago's "The Dinner Party" at the Brooklyn Museum: always an inspiration.

Then I came home and took a three-hour nap, exhausted from all the post-sickness socializing. I am starting to understand why they call it the city that never sleeps. I still sleep, just irregularly. Also I've been eating hella irregularly. The City That Fully Disrupts Caroline's Circadian Rhythms.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

NYC Week 3: Endless Encounters

Warning that this post is a bit mundane in its level of recounted personal detail. More like a journal entry post than a general-interest post.

On Saturday I blogged and worked on the ENCIP website, then met up with my friend Jasen for lunch. Later I had a phone call with the co-chair of Slow Food NYC, going over the requirements for chapter board members. I'd applied to be on the board, but that conversation led me to understand that I don't actually have the schedule capacity to carry out all the required responsibilities.

Jasen, the aspiring mustache model

After a quick stop at home, I took the train to Chelsea for my first night at Txikito, my newest employer. I shadowed the host, a server, and the expediter, getting a feel for how the restaurant operates. At the end of the night, I got to try pretty much all of the pintxos (little sandwich tapas) and a few of the other plates. Happily, the manager invited me back for additional training: Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday nights.

In the meanwhile, I had a move coming up. I spent Sunday morning walking around the neighborhood, visiting cafes that were closer to my initial (temporary) lodgings than my more permanent upcoming abode. I ate a delicious cinnamon bun at a local bakery, caught up on Pantsuit Politics, and walked probably two miles. Eventually I found myself at a little tea house on Flatbush, where I ended up meeting my friend Jaclyn, whom I'd met at Duke. Then I dropped off my backpack at home and headed out to the highlight of my weekend: Harry Potter trivia. The group I'd gotten together was a great mix: another friend from Duke along with his girlfriend, in addition to someone else from Duke whom I'd met at radio club and his girlfriend, plus that guy's friend from high school. I was impressed with my teammates' HP knowledge. Our team was aptly named the Fizzing Quizbees. We placed fifth. 

I am VERY into my prescription Potter glasses.

Afterwards, a few of us grabbed dinner along with the high school friend's boyfriend. We ate at NY cabbies' favorite Indian/Pakistani restaurant. I hope never to be a NY cabbie, but I, too, was a fan of this Indian restaurant. Though I haven't met an Indian restaurant I didn't like...

I spent that evening re-packing my belongings. Being transitory can be wonderful, but after nine weeks of living out of suitcases, I'm ready to stay unpacked for awhile. 

Monday was moving day! I got unnecessarily stressed, but everything turned out wonderful! I hired a guy from a nifty website called Task Rabbit, and the move took less than an hour. My new apartment is lovely. It's wondrous. I haven't gotten to know my roommates yet, but judging by their decor and books and bikes, I think we could be friends.

The rest of the week was a blur of work, with some arts thrown in. On Monday evening I went to a dance performance choreographed by my friend Vicki's sister, and on Tuesday evening I went to a play written by my friend Ben. 

Revelations play

after the show
On Thursday morning I had a really wonderful conversation with an employee of The Dinner Party — someone who lives in Brooklyn and is setting me up as a co-host for a new table in Bed-Stuy. She was open and articulate and engaging and empathetic — someone I'd look forward to spending more time with. Again, that phrase from Elizabeth Strout: "the gift of endless encounters." Largely, that is what NYC has been for me thus far.

Today I hung things on the walls of my room. Amazing how flat, framed displays of line and color hanging from a nail can make me feel so at home. Tonight I'm going to someone's birthday party, another UNC alum. I don't know him well, but I can only assume that the party will be, for me, another of this city's gifts of endless encounters.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The 2 Train Meet Cute

I left work tonight at 9:30pm. The A train (my direct route home) wasn't running on its normal route (due to construction), so I decided to take the 3 instead. Turns out the 3 wasn't running between Manhattan and Brooklyn, so I had to take the 1 to the 2, and then transfer to the 3. Needless to say, I was a bit annoyed by all this, especially as I had wanted to call my dad before it got too late, and it was definitely getting too late. Also, my phone was dead, and I'd finished my book yesterday, and I'd failed to bring an external charger OR a book to work, which was my own fault, and now I was stuck just standing on a crowded train (multiple trains) for an hour.

But something happened that made the whole hassle worthwhile.

As I stood, naturally, I looked and listened.

There was a handsome man standing near me. Very tall, very dark, and very handsome. I noticed him. I noticed his well-trimmed beard, and the interesting scar just below his right eyebrow. It was clearly a scar from stitches (there'd been three). I wondered if it was a recent injury since the shape of the stitches was so distinct. I wondered if he'd gotten in a bar fight and got punched in the face. I looked him up and down. He was dressed really nicely, and listening to name-brand earbuds. I thought, bar fight seems unlikely. I wondered what he was listening to. I wondered how he got the scar. I liked his fawn-colored leather shoes, and his flower-print socks. I wondered if the barber cut that pattern into his hair, or if that was just how it grew. I thought about how much more convenient the subway's vertical bar is for tall people.

There was a pretty woman also standing near me, a little behind the tall man. She was wearing a scarlet shade of lipstick, which I noticed and appreciated. I studied her face and her look, wondering if I could pull off the same shade of lipstick, wondering (yet again) if I should get my nose pierced (like hers), wondering if her dark brown hair was unintentionally tousled like that, or did she spend a long time arranging it just so? Was she really as pretty as she seemed, or was it mostly that she had impeccable personal style?

She was talking and laughing with a friend who wore her hair in long, dark braids — which I also admired. The friend's nose was pierced twice: once with the more conventional side-ring, and once with the more edgy bull-ring. I thought yet again how I don't really like that a middle nose ring looks like a bull ring.

The two were facing each other, with two other people facing each other sort of between them, like the four of them were standing on four sides of a rectangle (the two beautiful women being on the short sides). The women on the long sides of my imaginary rectangle were both on their phones, texting and Snapchatting. I wondered if they were all part of the same friend group or if the two on their phones had inadvertently spaced apart the two beautiful women.

One of the phone women was facing directly away from me. She had on a Fjällräven backpack with a "Planned Parenthood Stands with #ADayWithoutAWoman" pin, and a "Dismantle Trump" pin. The small lower outside zipper on her backpack was open, and I could see the tampons inside. At some point she turned more in my direction and I saw that she, too, was beautiful: racially ambiguous, but maybe part Asian and part Hispanic?

The other phone woman had blue hair, some of which fell across her face like bangs but most of which was closely shaved. She was the one Snapchatting; since she was facing me I couldn't see her phone but I could see her expressive selfies.

Eventually the two on their phones joined the others' conversation, and I could finally see that they were all four friends. I admired them all as they talked and laughed.

After awhile, I stopped paying attention. I looked up suddenly when I heard a bold "Excuse me..." The red-lipsticked woman had her hand on the tall, dark, handsome man's shoulder. He turned towards her and leaned into her touch, seeming to listen intently. She continued: "You've been staring at your phone awhile, and I think I know why you're confused. It's because you can't find my number in there."

After a beat, he laughed. She laughed with him, and said without a hint of bashfulness, "I've been working on that line for the past five minutes."

I didn't hear what he said back, but I imagine it was along the lines of, "Well then, I guess there's only one way to appropriately respond to this."

He handed her his phone, and she put in her number. The two of them started talking, and I found out she moved to the Flatbush area seven weeks ago. He didn't smile much, but his voice was warm. She smiled a lot, and her voice sounded genuine and energetic. They were asking each other questions and looking at each other appreciatively. My heart was melting.

Meanwhile, two of her friends had shifted closer to me and were discussing the situation quietly. One of them, it turned out, was a romantic while the other identified as a cynic. "I can't believe this is happening," they agreed, for different reasons. "Well, I guess that's how you make friends," said the cynic (seemingly without sarcasm).

I wondered how old they were. Early 20s, I'd guess. Probably around my age, though "around my age" is getting harder and harder to nail down.

I wondered what would happen between the lipsticked woman and the handsome man. Would they go on a few dates and then fade out from each others' lives? Would they end up life partners? Would they end up casual friends? Or deep friends?

What would have happened if he'd been in a relationship? How would he have responded? I suppose he might have laughed and said, "I'm flattered, but I'm actually in a relationship." And then she would have blushed and said, "Ah, well, worth a shot," and then pushed her way over to her friends, where she could stand with her back to him and whisper and giggle in companionship. And he'd look around, slightly embarrassed, to see if anyone had noticed the exchange, and then pulled out his phone to pretend he was busy with it.

Instead, neither of them looked around, as they were interested only in each other for those minutes I watched them. I actually interrupted their conversation as I left the train. "Sorry to interrupt," I said to the woman, "But can I ask what line you used? I'm a writer, and I want to write a short story about this. I saw you two start talking but I didn't hear what you said to start the conversation."

"How did you know that we just started talking?" She asked, moderately amazed.
Meanwhile, her blue-haired friend had shoved her way closer.
"I want to hear this, too," she said. She looked at me. "I'm her friend."

"I know," I wanted to say back. "I've been watching all of you since Chamber Street." Instead, I just nodded and turned back to the woman with the red lipstick.

She repeated her line to me, and then I stepped off the train. "Thank you," I said. I couldn't stop smiling. I literally ran home to write this. I wish I'd told her how much I liked her lipstick. And him how much I liked his socks.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Things That Are Sad in NYC in January

- so many abandoned Christmas trees on the curb

- the snow turns into gray lumps on the street corners

- homeless people spending nights in the subway cars

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Sounds of the City

That Radio Club meetup has me thinking about sound.

I notice sirens a lot. Mostly ambulance, I think, but I'm sure there are plenty of police and fire truck sirens, too.

In my room, the heating system makes a funny rattling noise over in the far corner of the ceiling. I've stopped noticing it by now, but at first it kept me from falling asleep at night.

Sometimes the wind rattles the bedroom window, or blows grit or raindrops or snowflakes against it.

Cafes are full of people chattering, but NYC chatter is totally different from Nashville chatter. I hear lots of other languages and accents. There's the Long Island accent, which I still feel incredulous about. I love hearing Spanish. The couple at the table next to me right now are speaking something I don't recognize — they look vaguely Middle Eastern but I don't think it's Arabic or Hebrew.

The subway is full of awful metallic screeches, which no one else seems to hear. Sometimes someone — always a man — will stream music videos — usually hip-hop — from his phone, speakers at full volume. No one seems to hear that, either. Sometimes people talk to themselves. Although that could be a hidden bluetooth earpiece, always hard to tell. Sometimes a group of tourists stand over me and talk VERY LOUDLY to one another.

When I walk down the street, I usually listen to podcasts. Right now I'm really into Pantsuit Politics, so I hear women's voices in my headphones. I get tired of hearing men's voices.

I hear trash blowing along the street, I hear cars honking and buses rumbling by, I feel more than hear the subway rumbling underneath me. Sometimes I hear birds chirping. Or music leaking through someone's apartment window. The trees don't have leaves right now, but I do hear branches rustling.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

NYC Week Two

I've been sleeping a lot lately. Excessively. On Monday, I thought I was tired from being so social over the weekend. But then I felt fairly low-energy the rest of the week, and each night slept closer to 9 or 10 hours than 8. Maybe I'm fighting off a virus. Maybe I was wrong about the city giving me energy; maybe it giveth and taketh away.

Sunday Spanish wine and tapas with Ajeet!

I spent most of the week working on my Health:Further podcast project, a Local Table piece I have due Monday, Robertson Alumni Council business, and The ENCIP. I also interviewed for a restaurant job that starts tonight — everyone keep your fingers crossed for me. I know the NYC restaurant scene can be intense.

Happily, I've gotten back into swimming: a goal I've had for the last few years and am finally making happen. Having a YMCA a mile away helps. I signed up for my Y membership yesterday, woo! My plan is to swim a couple times a week, do yoga and weight training a couple times a week, and run on the other days.

This week I also attended the NYC Radio Club meeting and the NYC Slow Food meeting. Both were really cool: At Radio Club I met some neat audio folks, including a guy who went to Duke and several people who work dream jobs in the radio/podcasting world. After about an hour of mingling, the group sat down to critique a few pieces. Listening to the projects and to other people's feedback was really valuable for me. I know that a major area I can grow in as a podcaster is creating scene with sound, something that I always appreciate when I hear it. My past podcast projects have been mostly narrative, weaving together interviews with scripted commentary, strong on the verbal storytelling side but weak on the audio scene-setting side.

The  Slow Food meeting was truly energizing. Being around creative people is fun for me, but I especially love being around passionate people who take initiative to be the change they want to see. Especially when it has to do with food. I met the current chapter board members, a couple of people who are running for board (like me...) and a few other volunteers. I learned about the chapter's programs and annual events, I ate some fantastic cheese, and I drank some fantastic wine.

At both events I pushed away my self-consciousness and got contact information for the people I thought seemed interesting or fun. Someone from Slow Food invited me to run with her, since we're in the same neighborhood, and I invited someone from Radio Club to a Harry Potter-themed trivia night this weekend. In Nashville I thought that since I was new, people would automatically think to be extra inclusive and welcoming to me, but I learned that if you want new friends you have to just reach out to other people— regardless of whether you think it's their prerogative. So I'm being intentionally aggressive in my friending techniques. We'll see how it works...
took a photo of the cracker box from the SF meeting because I want to replicate that cheese board...

other exciting NYC food things

Saturday, January 6, 2018

NYC Week One

It's good to maintain a sense of childlike wonder, right? That's an admirable quality rather than a sign of naivety?

Maybe a bit of naivety is ok? I think I'd rather have naivety than cynicism. Cynicism is exhausting. It's discouraging. It kills ideas and dreams before they have a chance to surprise you. A cynic can't be surprised. I miss feeling surprised. Or appreciating good things when they come — and not being surprised by those. 

I faced so many disappointments since graduation that I started to expect bad things. As a defense mechanism, I lowered my expectations of life. Except I couldn't totally quash my own hopefulness. So despite my attempts to steel myself against them, I kept getting hurt by the disappointments. Maybe the later ones hurt a little less than the earlier ones, because my expectations weren't quite so lofty. But they still hurt. 

I started dwelling on the disappointments. I got ensnared in them. I cried on the way to work and on the way home. I cried myself to sleep. I sloshed cold water onto my puffy face in the morning, and I kept on carrying on. Because what else can you do? I got out of bed every day. I exercised every day. I talked to baristas. I blasted upbeat music in my headphones. I tried my best to steer clear of those spiraling trap-thoughts of despair. I have since realized that that struggle could be labeled as depression and can be treated with a totally affordable prescription pill.

In New York, things feel different. I know the citalopram makes a huge part of the difference: I don't cry every day anymore, and I know that's on account of the drug. My happy pill, as I fondly think of it. But I've always had more energy when I'm in the City. My vibrations go up, as I once heard someone describe it. The vibes of this city somehow complement the vibes in my heart. Soul? Body? I don't know. All of the above. I feel more alive here. I'm caught up that sense of childlike wonder — a sense I feel I've been losing. My experience in Austin violently tried to stamp it out of me; Nashville felt like more of a slow starvation, tempered here and there with certain blessings. New York hands the wonder to me. It wraps me in it. I'm so busy feeling wonder about the SNOW on the SIDEWALK that I forget to dwell on how frozen my face and fingers are. I wonder who shovels the sidewalks that aren't in front of shops. I wonder where homeless people sleep in this kind of weather. I wonder at how much snow came so quickly, and to a cover giant city like this!

Today as I was walking to this cafe, I saw a giant rat frozen on the sidewalk! Or some kind of rodent. I was so enthralled I stopped to take a photo. Nothing in Nashville struck me as so enthralling that I would have stopped to take a photo in 14-degree weather. 

Right now I'm sitting in a Black-owned business that's playing music by Black artists. I love it. I want to tell the owner how happy it makes me, if that didn't have potential to be misunderstood or misconstrued. To me, this cafe is a drop of antidote to all the national news that makes me cry. 

I've also been more social in the past week than I was during a typical month in Nashville. I got invited to drinks with friends the night I arrived. The next night I went to a NYE party where I knew a few people and met a few more. I ate dinner the next night with my best friend and her family, who were in town for a birthday. Mid-week I got drinks with someone I knew from undergrad. Last night I hung out at the apartment of someone else I knew from UNC, along with a few other alumni whom I met there. Today I have plans to get coffee with another friend from UNC, and tomorrow I'll get lunch with family friends from Tarboro, coffee with a Duke friend, and dinner with a friend from Austin. This is insane to me. In Nashville I could easily go for two weeks without spending any time with a friend. And that drove me crazy. So I'm filled with awe and wonder that there are so many wonderful people here I want to and can spend time with.

I know this doesn't fully describe why NYC feels magical to me. I also know I'm far from the first person to wax poetic about NYC. But I'll keep thinking about it and will try to post my thoughts regularly. I'm ignoring the nagging annoyance that my dream is cliche. Because I'd rather be naive than cynical.