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  • July 16, 2010

    thoughts from :: the orange line to vienna

    I have just had dinner with a friend in town from Portland and I have been bemoaning the nature of DC citizens. this friend of mine – from the great city of urban parks and microbrews and the friendliest people you will ever meet – asks me why I am so adverse to the city I live in. I sigh and spout off a short list. no one smiles. they drive like maniacs and honk for no reason. they will run you over if you stop on the escalator. he asks me if I am turning into a local. a look of horror crosses my face. are you kidding me? their lack of common decency astounds me. the very last thing I would want to be known as is a DC local. harsh I know. and a vast generalization. it’s funny how God proves you wrong sometimes.

    after saying goodbye to my friend, I walk down to the metro. my head down. my headphones in. my smile gone. I look up at the schedule and see that my train is not coming for another 7 minutes. my exasperation continues as an inner monologue. what am I doing here? sweat begins to run down my spine. 95 degrees and so freaking humid. I didn’t realize I moved into the middle of a swamp. the train finally arrives. I step into the car and the air-conditioning is on. for once. I have to squeeze in next to a girl in a white dress belted with a black belt I almost bought the other day. she makes no movement to create more room for me. across from her is another girl with large sunglasses loosely holding her hair out of her face. our eyes connect but she does not smile. typical I guess. next to her is a man in a wheelchair that seems much to big for him. his shriveled body is swallowed by it, but as he strains to hold onto the pole in front of him I notice the strength in his arms. his muscles surprise me until I realize they are his main form of transportation.

    the train begins to move and the two girls rest their hands on the back of the man’s wheelchair to steady themselves. well that’s rude. the train jerks slightly and the muscles on his arms tighten as he grips the pole. oddly enough, so do the muscles on the arms of the girls. he slowly turns to the one with the sunglasses and smiles sheepishly. she does not look him but focuses on holding on to the chair. suddenly I realize what is going on. the old wheelchair does not have breaks. they are not holding onto it to steady themselves, but to keep it from moving. this must be their job. there is no way they’re doing it just to be nice. and yet. my head turns up from the book I’m reading. I pause my ipod and tuck my headphones into my purse. the corners of my mouth threaten to smile.

    the train lumbers on and in between each jolt and shudder, the girls quickly stretch their fingers and shake off their hands that are cramping from gripping his chair so tightly. the man holds onto the pole, his muslces twitching. the three of them are not touching. they do not know each other from a stranger on the street. they do not make eye contact and they do not talk. ignoring their good deed and the reception of it. they are connected in silence by pole and chair and general humanity.

    we begin to pull into the ballston station. the girl in the white dress holds onto the pole and holds onto the chair and leans down so she is at eye level with the man. you said you were getting off at ballston, right? he nods. the doors open and the girls struggle to qucikly turn his laborious wheelchair and push it out the doors. there is no way that chair will get off the train in time. I dart in front of one of the doors. a skinny man in his sixties jumps up and pushes the chair from the side, dislodging it from behind one of the poles. the black belt I almost bought falls off the girl in the white dress and lands on the floor. the handful of younger, stronger men sitting down reading john grisham novels make no move to help.

    suddenly the chair takes a leap off the car. I reach back and pick up the belt I almost bought. the girl in the white dress takes it from me and we smile triumphantly. somehow the girl with the sunglasses ends up behind the wheelchair instead of on the train. I am pretty sure this is not her stop. the doors begin to close. resigning herself to the next train, she braces herself behind the wheelchair and begins to push as people stream past her, annoyed that she is blocking part of the platform. her voice is the last thing I hear before the doors seal shut and the car lurches forward. now let’s find that elevator. the girl in the white dress and I look at each other and smile.

    the train arrives at my stop. I step off into the sweltering night air and dial the number of my Portland friend. okay, maybe becoming a DC local wouldn’t be SO bad. this city is starting to grow on me.

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    Filed Under: EXTRAORDINARY EVERYDAY

     
  • June 19, 2013

    thoughts on :: how not to be alone

    photo (4)

    lately I’ve been thinking about loneliness. how sometimes it follows me around like a puppy, always nipping at my heels. it’s not that I am often alone. there’s roommates (who I love) and co-workers (equally so) and a town bursting with new people to meet at every concert or coffee shop or corner. and even in moments without the presence of actual human beings, there’s facebook and twitter and tumblr and even this little corner to keep me company. so in a world where some form of “community” is so readily at my finger tips, why is it that I often feel kind of alone?

    my friend, beth, pointed me to this article by jonathan safran foer called, “how not to be alone,” written for the new york times. JSF is one of my favorites for his knack of making the broken and tragic and lonely astoundingly beautiful. and his words, like those of many great writers, often reach readers exactly at the necessary place they are in, creating a myriad of different responses to the same string of words. the meaning that beth found in his words is amazingly wise. I fear my interpretation is a bit less eloquent, but here you go.

    like lots of other articles today, JSF writes of technology. he acknowledges that experience I’ve had, but not been able to name – of feeling connected, but alone. the paradoxical characteristic of technology, he says, is that it “celebrates connectedness, but encourages retreat.” when we engage with others through a screen, this is not an improvement on face-to-face interaction. it is, at best, a “diminished substitute” meant to fill just one tenth of the gap created as we move further from one another. but now, we’ve begun to prefer the diminished substitute to the real thing. because, be honest, how often do you call a friend hoping to get their voicemail? how many times did I ride the metro to work, choosing to look into the screen of my phone instead of into the eyes of my fellow commuters? on that underground of isolation, we so rarely engaged with each other that when I actually saw it happen, I was compelled to write about it. what happened? we embraced the diminished substitute. we fell into the practice of checking emails instead of each other. we got into the habit of paying attention to “likes” instead of faces.

    disclaimer: his words (and mine here) are not some staunch cry against technology. if they were just about the ills of social media, beth may not have been compelled to write about contentment and gratitude because of them. and my takeaway would be different too. his words do not come with a requirement that I throw away my iPhone and delete all my social media accounts. they just ask me to look up from them every once in a while. and into the eyes of others around me. they remind me, ever so gently, that I don’t have forever to pay attention to the world around me. that my days of searching for beauty and seeking to create it are finite. that all of us, really, only have a few more years “to wrestle with the question of purpose and wrestle with our answers.”

    JSF doesn’t answer the question of “how not to be alone.” at least not explicitly. instead, he writes of an experience, sitting on a bench next to a crying stranger. and how he had to choose between scrolling through the contact list on his phone and engaging with her tears. I’m afraid to think of what I would have done. because here’s the thing – at the moment of choosing, our choice has already been made. my habit of checking my phone whenever I am standing in line or alone in a public place does not bode well for my ability to notice another human being in the moment they most need to be noticed. JSF puts it this way: “the flow of water carves rock, a little bit at a time. and our personhood is carved, too, by the flow of our habits.” so, if my habit is to look down and in instead of up and out, what will I do with the crying stranger? what will I do with the crying friend even? because in the end, my “heart” on their instagram pic will not help. only my undivided attention will. my empathy. my recognition that they are here and I am here and we are connected even when the wifi is down.

    we live in a world made up more of story than stuff. we are creatures of memory more than reminders, of love more than likes. being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. it can be messy, and painful, and almost impossibly difficult. but it is not something we give. it is what we get.

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    Filed Under: THOUGHTS ON...

     
  • August 29, 2009

    Days 1-2 :: Nevada, Utah, & Wyoming

    Here we are in Beef Country. Along with its nickname, which we were informed of just after we crossed the border (and which automatically makes it my favorite state of course), Wyoming also seems to be full of a lot of wide-open space. Being girls from the West Coast and growing up in towns where mountains close in around us like a security blanket, we have been obsessively taking pictures – of bright blue skies that go on indefinitely, red rocks that are so huge and flat you could build a football field at the top, and miles and miles of land that stretch out until your vision fails. We have about 3 hours to go until we reach our friend Jyndia in Denver and if we see another billboard telling us to come to this place called Little America because of their new shower heads and spotless restrooms (yes, some of the ads do actually say that) we might throw ourselves in front of one of those million semis.

    I am currently sitting in the car while Adrienne drives and guess who we have chosen to listen to off my iPod of 10,000 songs: the Jonas Brothers! Now before you start judging us based on our adolescent, teen-pop musical taste I must remind you that we have now been on the road for two days and have already gone through the musical likes of everyone from Bon Iver to Brand New and even a little Coldplay. We have also been driving on the same strip of flat road for the past 5 hours, passing about a million semi-trucks and plateaus – probably going a little bit crazy. So if the Jonas Brothers are the only ones who can keep us awake and driving we are going for it! (Note: After about 3 songs, we have realized our insanity is only getting worse and switched over to something else.)

    Yesterday we drove 580 miles from Lake Tahoe to Salt Lake City through Nevada, my least favorite state in all of America. It was boring and flat and I got a speeding ticket from a incredibly rude and patronizing police officer for driving too fast in a construction zone that I didn’t even know was a construction zone. Whatever, Nevada. The only cool part about the entire state was when we finally saw the “You are now leaving Nevada” sign. We then proceeded to drive through the Bonneville Salt Flats, which was actually rather beautiful with its vast plains of white desert and low mountains that seemed to float on the horizon line. Passing by Great Salt Lake, I was reminded of Terry Tempest Williams and her narrative of natural life in Utah, which I have now come to believe is a vastly, underestimated state. It was probably one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. Salt Lake City was pretty amazing too – a city that both Adrienne and I wouldn’t mind living in if we ever wanted to live anyplace other than the West Coast. This morning we headed over to the Mormon Temple for a whirlwind tour of the Tabernacle with perfect acoustics and world-famous choir (Mormon Tabernacle Choir, of course), and a quick walk around their Temple Courtyard. Incidentally, we saw three different sets of wedding ceremonies taking place and some pretty awesome statues of Joseph Smith.

    We just passed yet another sign informing us of a nearby state penitentiary and that we are not allowed to pick up hitchhikers for the next 2 miles. Damn, we were just about to pick up a nice-looking man in an orange jumpsuit.

    See you tomorrow.

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