January 21, 2010

Harlem: Renee

If it weren’t for my best friend up here, Renee, I’m not sure where I would be. Like Val she is a Californian, and a mexican-food snob. “This isn’t anything like California.” Oh yeah? Well, California’s Mexican food sucks compared to Mexico’s. (Let’s be honest- Missouri can’t even compete. Arkansas probably has better Mexican food than Missouri.)

As my mother can attest to, I’ve never really had any close girl friends. Renee is my first best friend who happens to be female. I realize that she is far from the typical girl, though, and that is probably why we click.

Like my guy friends out West, Renee is always up for an adventure; Girls usually just sit around, talking about plans they’d like to follow through with, but they rarely do. If I tell Renee I want to jump, she grabs my hand and we go together. Being in the city without a friend like her would probably be dull. I have no problem going on adventures alone, but it’s oh-so-much fun to laugh about it with a best friend.

Part momma-bear, part adolescent, Renee and I seem to compliment one another well. Sometimes I think she simply sticks around because she’s worried about me, but then I’ll get that worried text or call, saying “Can we hang out?” Tonight we have an engagement, and she was seriously worried. “But, I won’t be any fun that night. Thursday is the end of my work week. Thursday is when I come over and bitch to you about work and everything else going on. We are not going to be fun Thursday night.” (This was, of course, said with one breath.)

Although a bundle of fun, Renee is also one big ball of stress. I often have to do a “tone it down” gesture to her when she goes on a breathless ramble about work or her family. She’s a hard worker, and really cares about those around her, but she often takes on far too large of a work load. Being (slightly) soft-spoken, she tends to just shrug things off and do what she’s told. Luckily she’s becoming a bit more bold and demanding, and her health is greatly benefiting. If it ever gets to be too much, though, we simply meet up and eat popcorn or pancakes.

Renee has also helped me greatly with my down times. With all of the uncertainty surrounding my health and future, she’s always been eager to help. She’ll show up with some food and a big smile to make sure I’m okay. I have already been pushed out of the city year elite, meaning that the people I worked with daily, the people whom I could “depend on for anything” have excommunicated me. Despite what her teammates may think of her, she still stays in touch, never giving our friendship a second thought.

I think my favorite thing about Renee, though, is that we can just sit at a table and have a good time. Yes, we go out together and conquer the city, but we don’t need to. We are simply okay just being together, and to me that makes a good friend.

January 20, 2010

Brooklyn: Val

“You know how sometimes I think I’m the Messiah? Well, I think I’m the Messiah of Hipsters. I think I’m here to lead these people!”

This is Val. He calls me up at midnight, to let me know that he loves me and that I’m wonderful. He was in City Year, but left a few months ago because it wasn’t the organization he thought it was. (This seems to be a widely-shared sentiment.) He’s a lost soul, but a kind one. He lives in Crown Heights with one of my new best friends, and I often go over to their house to just watch british television and talk about life.

Val is the kind of guy who has a large beard and a traveling cloak (because he’s not fancy enough to have a dress one.) Although he can be a little boisterous at times, we’re a good duo. He physically takes care of me by making me brownies and giving me big hugs, while I help him emotionally by dancing in footed pajamas for him or giving him big hugs. Mostly, he makes me laugh. He’s full of conspiracy theories and wild tales, but not in a radical way. More like in a late night talk show kind of way. Oh gosh, Val should never be allowed to have his own television show. Instead of Jaywalking, he would try to psychologically analyze people on the street. I don’t think any network could cover the therapy those poor souls would undoubtedly need.

Sometimes Val smells, but we’re working on that. He always calls me a Pixie; I suppose I can be pixie-like.

At first I was a little hesitant to befriend Val, mostly due to his large stature and occasional smell. As soon as my homesickness set in, I ran to him like a MS&T student to a LAN party. He is like a mixture of all of my KMNR friends and Bob from Staples. Oh, how I miss Bob. I realized that although he could very easily break me into small pieces, Val was nothing but a gentle giant. After we sat on line on a sidewalk in Chelsea for a few hours, I knew we’d be best friends; someone behind us commented that he was like a cartoon character, and that is very true. He could very easily be placed into Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends. Sometimes I even have doubts if he is real.

Pure myth or a Dude-like living legend, Val is one of my best friends here in the city, one of the crutches I depend on.

“I think hipsters are the type of people that say “Bush sucks, let’s party!” They care, but they don’t do anything about it. I don’t really care that Bush sucks, as long as we party. If i ran into him, I’m sure we’d get along. He’d buy me lunch because he’s a rich guy, and I’m poor. We’d shake hands, and I’d smoke a cigarette with him. He’s probably a decent guy.”

See, dad, even you would like Val.

January 19, 2010

It's time for us to represent: My favorites from CY. Miss you.

"I think the Falcon Club is important because we valenter and help the ones in the need. Falcon Club is a cool club because when it's thanksgiving we will visit a Hospital. I think I community will be touch by our help."
-M., 7th Grade

During a session we were discussing ideal communities. We had gone through about 15 minutes discussing ideal communities, when one of my team members realized that the kids had no idea what the word 'ideal' meant. So, we asked them to define it for us.
"Uhm... Dangerous?" (student)
"Well, no. What do you think ideal means?" (Corps Members)
"USE CONTEXT CLUES! GOOOSH!" (Other student)
"Oh, well. So, like, it's when you deal with things. Like someone punching somebody, so i deal with it."

It made total sense, and I hear things like this daily. This is not to belittle my students' work at all. They are amazing. Sure, there are times where they are crawling on the floor, starting fights, or cursing like they are sailors, but they are truly amazing souls. With the right direction they can voice their deep thoughts and incredibly unique perceptions. With the right direction. Right now, I'm not that direction.

It's makes me sad to think that I won't be able to see if Brandon can start to focus, or if Mohamed really will turn out to be as wonderful as I think he is. I want to make sure Luz doesn't get too crazy with the boys, and try to help Paris control his emotional outbursts. But the more I've done this job, the more I've realized it requires more than I have to offer.

A little over a year ago, I was sitting at my dining room table in Missouri talking to my parents. I was teary-eyed, as were they when my mother said these words: "What I just don't understand is your sudden obsession with helping others. Erika, you can't help others if you aren't taking care of yourself. You have to take care of yourself first." I understood her at the time, but was determined that I would be taking care of myself through my service to others. (I believe that this was instilled in me during Sunday School with Mrs. Peaslee) And I did, I nurtured the parts of me that needed to be nurtured, shrank several doubts ( and bad habits) I had, and opened all kinds of doors to people and possibilities. Unfortunately, I've also experienced all kinds of failure.

The past few months have been riddled with scary phone conversations and worried stomachs. I know my family back home is wishing I were back home, curled up with my new kitten (whom I love dearly) under their watchful eye. I've been having some health problems, yes. There are days where I can't feel limbs, days when I feel so exhausted I don't even leave my house. I've been to hospitals, had my brain scanned, been given pills that make me feel funny. Through the beginning of this I tried to trudge through, being the perky one at First Circle, the one consistently trying to put on the smile I'm known for. But it just kept on getting harder. I would go home, exhausted, and fall asleep with my Reds on. I stopped doing the things I loved so much simply to keep a commitment, knowing it wasn't good for me. But now, in the midst of all of this confusion and pain, I'm deciding to take my mother's advice. (I'm not moving back home, though. Sorry, mom.) I'm going to take care of myself FIRST.

Doing this is bringing on several changes. One, obviously, I won't be in CY. I already miss talking to my buds in the office, but hopefully we'll find some weekend time to catch up. Lord knows they need to relieve some stress, and we all know I love laughing. (Especially you, Theresa and Alli. We need to get you away from CY culture for a day.)

The second one is that I won't be living in Harlem anymore. Some are relieved at this news "Oh, you'll be moving to a better neighborhood!" or "You'll be closer to me now!" (Val) Others, are disheartened "You won't be 5 blocks away!" (I'll miss you too, Renee.) Not only will it be cheaper, but it will be a much better living situation. I'll be living in a house with people my age whom share the same interests I do. They have communal meals a few times a week, and a roof top garden where I can play with worms and grow food. They're involved in the community, and just seem like genuinely nice folks. The neighborhood is a gentrified one, much like Harlem, but is definitely more focused towards my demographic. There are coffee shops, organic groceries, local food restaurants, and a kick-ass pizza place all within a few blocks from my new house. I won't move until the end of the month. Until then, I'm soaking in the cat-calls and soul food. You'll always be my first love, Harlem. Really.

The last one is that I'm trying to find a new job to take up the time CY did. Right now I'm picking up extra shifts at Staples, while still sticking with the weekend shifts I had. I do love the people I work with there, but it would be nice to do something more productive with my time. I know that due to my experience and the economic climate choices are limited, but I'm putting myself out there. Plus, Harlem is around an hour commute from Bushwick. I'd appreciate working a little closer to home.

Home has been such a relative term these past few years, but I've found that it's a really easy concept to create. Maybe it's just my Midwestern smile or southern hospitality, but all it takes are a few close friends and a few constant haunts to make a home. I hear these songs longing for it, see shows dedicated to finding the perfect one, but really it's all hogwash; Home is wherever you decide it is.

Right now, home is a lumpy bed in a messy room in Harlem. 'night, friends.