Summer Tales in NYC

This past week has been interesting to say the least. I shan’t delve too much in depth into my internship since I have a whole class to write blogposts/reflections on.

Personal Tale

For a couple of weeks now, I have been skipping dinners unintentionally. Night always approached too quickly and fatigue would overwhelm me upon reaching my apartment. I would collapse usually with my face flat on top of my laptop all the way till 3/4 am and would wake up with 2 concerning thoughts: (1) shoot I didn’t brush my teeth (2) what time is it. Not having dinners was definitely taking a toll on my body. I would feel dizzy during the day and lose my appetite for breakfast and lunch. I was dropping weight fast, and unhealthily. At a certain point, I felt like I had zero energy to haul myself up the stairs to the subway.

So I guess I wasn’t that surprised when I fell sick – a phrase I don’t like to say because I always prided myself on being able to take care of myself and not be reliant/ dependent on other people. However, I took comfort in that my bestie who visited me was down with a virus, so there was a high chance I caught it from her. As the week ended with an intern event (which I finished my first glass of champagne, and was also silly enough to take the wrong train back and had to walk 3 blocks down a somewhat sketchy place), the virus – I’d assume, found a window of opportunity and took over my body.

Saturday came I had made plans to head to flushing with another intern – to whom I kept my promise, even though I literally felt like I was breaking out in cold sweat the entire day. And then Sunday came and I completely lost my voice and slept like there was no tomorrow when I wasn’t doing laundry or ironing my clothes (which was a complete chore because the dryers were out for the past 3 weeks in my building). It was the most awful I had felt in a while, but it was also a little turning point where I promised myself I would eat better – which was exactly what I did. I gradually got by appetite back, and by today, I finished all the food I brought and even craved for some chocolate! So now I’m back at 45kg/100lb, which is my low-medium weight. To be honest I don’t really care about the actual numbers that much, just more of how mentally/ physically fit I feel.

Observational Tale 

On route to my apartment, I would always have to go through the underground that links the S Shuttle to an uptown bound subway. One amazing thing is that in this area of space, there are always musicians featured. I call them musicians because they are crazily talented and some of them could definitely rock out on real stages. I have passed by Opera singers, musicians on traditional musical instruments (ranging from guzheng to djembe), acapella groups etc. That one spot is always featuring one kind of talent or another. Of course, one of my weak spots is piano. On Monday, I gave my first dollar away to this little boy on the keyboard. I would insert a clip here if I could, because he was much better at that age than I could ever be. It was almost embarrassing how acutely in-your-face talented he was – because his interpretation of the music either fell upon deaf ears or was deafened by the hustle and bustle of nyc.

The sad truth is that music/ art does not pay well, especially in the hub of a city where the thriving jobs go to the ones driven by the market. It is untrue that there is no demand for art & music. In fact, having a richly populated and educated cluster of people does the exact opposite – there is so much appreciation and acceptance of all forms of art. Broadway shows, concerts, pubs, subway stations…anywhere and everywhere could be access points for imagination and creation. What’s difficult about obtaining a steady source of income through these passionate dreams is managing the whole package. As a fort minor song goes:

This is ten percent luck, twenty percent skill
Fifteen percent concentrated power of will
Five percent pleasure, fifty percent pain

So many factors are out of our control. Opportunities may come our way but we may not have the “right talent”. We could work hard but not be “talented enough”. We may not know the “right people” – many of which are part of the egg and chicken dilemma. And then life/ practicality kicks in – when should you give up? There is no easy answer, but my heart goes out to all the struggling artists – I hope you find the best path along the way.

The Unexpected Tale 

Sometimes life is coincidental, sometimes it is ironic and sometimes it is just…unexpected. On the fateful Tuesday, I decided not to be homebound early since I hadn’t worked on anything in the day. So I spontaneously alighted on the 72 street and decided to walk for a bit. Memories came flooding back as I went more uptown. Last year around this time, I was staying with a friend to attend a leadership program in the city. I would walk blocks and blocks to save some money on transportation and those streets were the ones I roamed. I went into Marshalls and came out with a tangle teezer (a great invention to of course, remove the knots in our hair) for less than half the price. Next was DSW – beautiful flats and wedges, but were still too expensive after discount. And then came Barnes and Noble.

I walked in with a few books in mind – Jodi Picoult’s new book Leaving Time, a book my friend recommended – The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami and Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman. I made my way to the top, browsed through the “great bargains” section and came to this little nook at the end of the bookstore. An author, whom I would later learn to be Jeff Hobbs, was speaking about his new non-fiction book The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace. He was a well-spoken man, very articulate, very young and very humble. He spoke not with an air of confidence – the kind I interact with on a daily basis at work, but with an extremely delicate touch, as if each word was crafted exactly for its purpose. He was not there to persuade, he was not there to explain, he wasn’t even there to sell his book. I curiously stood by and grabbed a copy of his book to read. He graduated from Yale, he was an English and Literature major, he’s currently teaching in schools. The book – as the title suggests, was an attempt at trying to tell his roommate – Robert Peace’s story. There is no way I will do the story justice so I borrow Jeff’s own words in summary:

“Rob, the human being, was a far greater, more complicated soul than some petty thug, some cliché of squandered potential. Potential was squandered, of course, but we knew he wasn’t a thug, and he certainly wasn’t a cliché. This collective realization and the conflicts surrounding it, I suppose, were at the heart of finding the story – answering the question: how and why did this guy, this remarkable intellect who was adored and loved by so many, end up so isolated? And was there any possible worth, any remnant of positivity or even hope, to take away from this tragedy?…This is the most important story I will ever tell, professionally and personally. At the moment, I have been disappointed at the way reviews predictably tie together some variation of the words, poverty, Yale, drugs, murder without making much reference to the humor, the heart, the humanity of Rob Peace. There was one Rob, and the apparent duality of his life was just the messiness of packaging everything he valued into a single consciousness.” (B&N)

The audience’s response was passionate, and in that entire rest of the period I was there, it was as if I were joined by many others in rediscovering the complexity of life, the anguish in the destruction of too many valuable lives, but reignited with the hope of finding something important to us. The nuances were there, the weight of each word lingered in the air after it was spoken. It was the feeling of finding something so unexpected, yet precious in which no amount of words in my vocabulary can describe.

It was late at this point and I hurried to the 96 st to get on a subway back. I guess this is why I love the city, there are so many more unexpected tales for me to discover.

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