Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Ivy Isn't Always Greener

So here I am in the library, two days before Christmas, studying for my last final exam. The halls buzz with pretentious students eagerly memorizing more physics equations and reciting Latin phrases and boasting about their high GPAs. The Culties all call me up via Skype, and I see their bright beautiful faces beaming with laughter, full after a dinner of seven different types of tofu at our favorite restaurant. There’s absolutely nowhere I’d rather be than on those soft carpeted floors of my best friends’ house back in the Midwest, lying on sleeping bags and playing truth or dare like we are thirteen again. But, alas… Oh how I hate school right now.

In my first weeks of school, I learned to hate the Ivy League. It’s this elite illusion, a way to simultaneously enlighten and torture the world’s brightest and/or richest while all the while making you question if you even fit into either of these categories. Someone’s always going to one up you: the girl sitting next to you in a seminar already published two novels, the student sharing your desk (if you are even lucky enough to grab one) at the library is writing his thesis in seven languages, that person has better shoes, this person has a private jet… The competition here just felt way out of my league. Pun intended.

And then I got my first essay back. For weeks, I slaved over the paper. Picking perfect adjectives to modify my nouns, strong verbs to excite my sentences, brilliant quotations to make my IQ seem higher than it actually is. That was why I came to Columbia after all, to prove myself as the Pulitzer Prize winning author I aspire to be. But, of course, a week later I get the paper back, exhilarated at flipping the cover page to discover my grade and read my praise: B-.

What? No! That can’t be right! My teacher said I was a talented writer. WHAT?

The B- haunted me through the weekend: never before had a received such a low grade on a written assignment, let alone one worth 25% of my grade. I walked across with my head down, swiveling between high school valedictorians, star athletes, international superstars. Will I ever be good enough?

Seventy two hours later I sat down with my teacher, discussed the issues of my paper, and arranged a process for the re-write. He assured me that “a B- at Columbia is much better than an A at most other schools.” I slouched down on the library steps and wondered how I would explain that to Harvard Law.

For the rest of the semester, I labored even more meticulously over my work, ensuring that everything was not just perfect, but even better. As well as I could write, someone else could probably write better, but I wasn’t going to let that show. So what if they went to an elite boarding school? So what if they have the highest academic ranking in the country? So what if their family name is recognized worldwide? Suddenly, I regained my footing in the competition. Yeah, I may not have come from an even starting ground as the rest of my league, but I sure could catch up, and I was determined win.

Perhaps I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t just discover I got an A in the class. That my hard work paid off and I felt I earned what I deserved. But it did and I did. I worked harder for that A than almost any other grade in my entire life; seeing that letter brought a bigger smile to my face than it ever did on a high school report card.

And while this could have happened at any school, in any class, it happened here. I still maintain that the Ivy League is overrated, with its nonsensical traditions and proudly displayed green flags, but I guess I’ve learned not to hate it quite so much.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Only Got 4 Minutes?

There’s never enough time.

A couple of weeks ago I was sitting next to two elderly women on the subway. One of them arranged her floral-patterned suitcase on an empty seat as her friend explained to her how to transfer trains and then get home on the bus.

“This was so lovely. Thanks so much for having me,” the visitor acknowledged as she blinked back tears.

“No, thank you for coming! Remember, there’s always room for you in my apartment,” the New Yorker confirmed as she ran her fingers through her thin gray hair.

“No, really, thank you, I’d love to come back soon…” The lady trailed off into a story about her grandchildren and her cats and her reading group.

Before they knew it, the train arrived at 72nd street and the extended goodbye had to come to a close. I watched them compare their matching bracelets (at this point I may or may not have almost cried…) and wave goodbye slowly as they parted ways.

“There’s never enough time,” The New Yorker sighed.

And I had to agree. No matter how much we do, how much we pack into our already unbelievable busy schedules there’s never enough time. There’s never enough time to spend with other people, never enough time for ourselves.

As I travelled home for Thanksgiving, I realized that I never truly have enough time. The night before I left school, I stayed up all night talking with my friends; the night I got home I talked with my family for hours, woke up to the same routine, spent the rest of the weekend sharing stories until Sunday night, where my friends and I chatted until dawn.

And what came out of those endless talks? We just wanted more. More time. More stories. More reasons to love each other.

As I returned to New York, I returned to late nights eating ramen and ice cream out of the carton, never wanting to sleep because I have to much to say to my friends, so much to laugh about, so much to plan and explore.

Every day goes by so quickly.

There’s never enough time.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Monet to buy Degas to make the Van Gogh...

An older relative recently asked me, “What do you do for fun? Are you on a sports team? In the band?” And while I scanned through my mind, envisioning the rainbow of iCal tasks and events I accomplish everyday, I could not come up with a solid answer. I could talk about how I write for some blogs (let’s ignore the fact November was a homework-heavy month and I kind of took a writing vacation…) or how I go running to clear my mind or how I arrange my schedule to allow adequate time to visit museums and galleries or how I never let my camera out of my hand. I could have mentioned the fact that I love reading a great novel or revealed that I enjoy creating new pasta recipes and I adore blasting music for spontaneous dance parties in my room. However, in trying to make my interests sound appealing, I felt like most of my pursuits were rather trivial.

“I like community service…” I offered. Which is true, I spend six hours a week teaching kids to read, write, and speak English but I guess that’s not quite the same as training for the varsity volleyball team. He looked in satisfied. “And I sing in chorus.” There. I’m part of a group. Ha. See, I do have fun!

“Do you want to be a singer?” No. I sit there and hope that no one really hears me, actually…

“Well, actually, I just have a wide variety of interests, so I don’t really concentrate on one I guess. I want to be a writer…” I’m not going to lie, I felt pretty insecure.

Why can’t I have fun? Since when does an eighteen year old in New York City not know how to have fun?

I continued pondering the question as I made my way to The Met the next week. The thing about The Met is that it’s just too big, too grand and overwhelming to see all at once. Even if you walk through all the galleries, there’s no possible way you can internalize everything you’ve seen. So I choose a period to focus on each visit. Sometimes I want to go back to see my old friend Botticelli and escape into his mythical world, other times I want to visit my ladies Frida and Georgia and maybe even Vincent or Pablo, just enjoy the moderns, and other days I find myself moved by Manet or Daumier or Redon or Watteau or anyone else who picked up a paintbrush or some charcoal or a camera and decided to capture the very essence of his or her existence.

A great work of art remains unmatched, unchallenged, unafraid to exist and persistent in its own reality. You can walk between Dali and Miro and question your morality, your desires, your future or you can just admire the colors. You can walk past a Monet and think that a poster with his floral pattern would perfectly match the décor in your powder room or you can really look at it. You can look at it and see the signature in the corner, you can know that Claude’s hand once signed this very canvas, you can consider everything that ran through his head as he created this scene, you can imagine the thousands of people who have seen this painting, the thousands of feet who have stood in your exact same spot and the thousands of eyes which have glanced at the paint and thought something about their lives.

I’m not a great artist. I grew up with a crayon in one hand and a paintbrush in the other, but I’ve never completed a Met-worthy masterpiece. However, I find that the solace I discover in these creations, in artworks at the Art Institute in Chicago or the Guggenheim in Venice or the Reina Sofia in Madrid or even a tiny gallery in SoHo, somehow makes me a better person. Art makes me think of the greater world around me, an individual’s ability to create and impact the world. You look at the brush strokes, these thin lines in the paint, and know what one person accomplished this, someone had this idea and shared it with the world. Art inspires me. It makes me want to do good things, to see the world and learn languages and teach others what I know and create my own masterpieces, whatever they may be.

And while I know a great majority of people who would not classify visiting a museum as “fun,” I find that that’s where I’m happiest. That’s where I find inspiration and ideas to enhance other aspects of my life, bringing fun and joy to whatever I do, whether it be jogging through Central Park to and from Museum Mile, going out with friends, or just singing a little more loudly in my choir rehearsals.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

How do You Measure a Year?

Time is a very weird thing. It’s this odd little ticking that we can never stop, that we can never control, that never disappears yet we never fully gain a sense of it.

I cannot believe that it is November 4th yet again. It makes absolutely no sense to me. It seems illogical that 365 days have passed since we elected our newest president, since I was sitting in my living room, toasting with my friends and holding hands and sniffling and Barack Obama was officially as the first African American president of the United States of America, land of the free.

And now, 525,600+ minutes later I wonder what has happened in all that time.

Days after the presidential election we learned that Prop 8 passed in California. Weeks later I attended a Prop 8 protest in a plaza in Chicago. Weeks after that I went shopping on Black Friday on the Magnificent Mile while news reports continued warning us about the doomed economy. I soon became old enough to stay out past legal curfew, buy cigarettes and porn and lottery tickets. New Years hit and I was left celebrating the last year of the decade with the same group who helped me welcome in 1999. Snow covered the ground and I quit kickboxing to become an avid Scrabble player. Snow melted and I still stayed inside, preferring to be the host than leave the coziness of my home. I travelled to Peru and decided I could actually influence the world. I decided I’d mêlée with the Ivy League in New York. I cut down a tree. I graduated High School and worked twelve hours a day for twelve weeks. I walked a marathon and a half. I got in trouble for writing too much. I went to the zoo. I packed up half my wardrobe and flew to the greatest island in the world to further my education. I unsuccessfully stalked Padma down 5th Avenue. I survived my first round of midterms.

And now what? How has my chain of insignificant events helped the world in any way? In the last year, how much has Barack’s message of change, and hope, and si se puede, affected our daily lives? How much time does it take to improve the world and why aren’t we all taking greater steps towards achieving this?

In complete repetition of last year, it was with great sadness I learned that Maine’s voters decided to ban same sex marriage, exactly like the injustice in California a mere 365 days ago. In the time of Obama have we not learned anything about fairness? About equality and optimism and faith? Can we not learn to merely trust and accept each other for our differences recognize each other’s true potentials as human beings?

Time is truly an odd concept. It keeps going, whether we like it or not. And bad things will keep happening as the clock ticks away, each second marking another moment in time we can never retrieve. And while I can recognize many drastic and positive changes in my life since this time last year, acknowledging the fact that not much has been altered, for myself or my community, upsets me. It makes me want to do more. To be more vocal, to express my opinions more openly and have more influence. I’m inspired to take more action, to put my full capacity into everything I do, make it the best I can make it, and perhaps make an impression on the world in the next 525,600 minutes.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Boo Yorkers!

I’ve always loved Halloween: the weeks in October dedicated to picking out the perfect costume(s), the pumpkin-flavored goodies constantly surrounding me, the excuse to eat candy throughout November (after it’s been organized in order of deliciousness, of course—Reese’s at the top, Starbursts at the bottom).

While I haven’t been trick-or-treating in years it seems as if the joy of Halloween never left me. During my high school years, I always arrived at school fully costumed (Elphaba, Carrie Bradshaw, Ballerina, Alex/Jennifer Beals from Flashdance…) and managed to celebrate All Hallow’s Eve in a fully festive manner.

This year, however, brought new challenges and excitement to the 31st of October. Unsure of the typical college protocol, I began talking with my friends mid-September about costume ideas. As the week of Halloween approached we still had yet to put together a solid plan. Hence, we found ourselves in Times Square the night before the big holiday, desperately searching for some variety of clothing to call a costume.

As we pushed through the crowds of tourists and fought to cross streets without traffic, my friends kept grumbling in frustration, “This is ridiculous! We live here! Why can’t people just move at a regular pace?” We proceeded to the center of the square and had a foreign tourist snap a picture of us with the glimmering city in the background. Snickering, we trotted down Broadway, laughing at the clueless visitors to our city, trying our best to remain oblivious to the greatness that was the center of “our” city.

We stopping in a souvenir shop, desperately hoping that between all the blatant tackiness we could find costume-worthy materials. And suddenly, between all the tawdrily decorated mugs and obnoxious postcards, green foam Statue of Liberty hats caught our New Yorker eyes.

“Guys, how ridiculous would it be if we wore these?” Nods. Many nods. We explained that we were from “uptown” and “just being silly” as we bought I ♥ NY shirts to complement the crowns.

On the last night of October, three girls sat on my floor decorating premium New York tourist apparel with gobs of glitter glue and even more enthusiasm. We paraded across campus, down into the subway, and back out into midtown (where we were swarmed with cameras trying to capture our ridiculousness—superb celebrity moment) wearing an eclectic conglomeration of everything we were and everything we said we were not.

Feeling ridiculous was not even an option—everywhere we walked we were surrounded by Lady GaGas, vampires, bunnies, and even a seven-foot-tall baby.

And now, while I vow never to wear the shirt again (it makes an excellent chair cover) and keep the foam crown looped around my bookshelf as nothing more than a memory, I realize the extent to which I love Halloween. It has nothing to do with the candy and parties (well, maybe) but so much to do with just being able to laugh at yourself, giving us a break from the seriousness that is reality and just allowing us to be spontaneous and impractical, non-judgmental and free. And while I cannot advocate a human ostrich riding the cross-town bus on a daily basis, the one night a year we get to step outside of ourselves and just enjoy being whomever we want to be should never be taken for granted!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Staring: NYC Faux-Pas?

This afternoon I took myself out to lunch. I sat outside in the crisp autumn breeze with my fresh Panini and laptop resting on the metal table. A scarf looped around my neck and a pea-coat draped over my chair, I felt rather Carrie Bradshaw-esque.

I typed away on my laptop and enjoyed my sandwich, yet all the while I felt somewhat distracted. I continually looked up, observing dog walkers trying their best not to entangle all six dogs around a telephone pole, watching nannies walk uniformed kids back from school, noticing the oddly matched couples and speeding police vehicles merely skipping through red lights and promptly turning off their sirens.

Everything is so fascinating and interesting and new and exciting and brilliant! There’s so much to see and do and explore and understand that every moment is full of unrest and enthusiasm. One minute I’m studying Medieval history and the next I’m trying to beat my running time through Central Park down to the Metropolitan Museum of Art so I can spend a decent hour with the Impressionists (and perhaps grab a Crumbs cupcake before I leave!).

New Yorkers don’t stare. I’ve realized that as I gape wide-eyed at the daily habits and activities of my fellow islanders; I’ve noticed that as I whip out my camera to take a quick snapshot of the sunset over Morningside Park plenty of people walk by, oblivious to the magnificence right in front of us.

And so I ask myself, am I really a New Yorker? Does knowing the subway lines and best shopping locations and the most delicious restaurants and the ability to provide tourists with directions make me a New Yorker or merely an experienced/well-read visitor? When will I receive my full New Yorker status? When I stop ogling at the novel and exciting people and places? When I’ve lived here a certain amount of years? Lived in a certain amount of apartments? When I stop mentioning which Sex and the City episode was filmed in my current location at any given time?

The thing is, I feel pretty New York. I love it as my home, as the center of the universe. And truly, while I may not possess that super cool quality of obliviousness most New Yorkers tend to exhibit, I’m quite content constantly finding new and exhilarating elements in my everyday life, waking up looking forward to each day’s sights and adventures, and just being happy with where I am. For as long as a stay in New York, whether it’s merely a couple more years or the rest of the century, I hope to find exceptional joy in each day, appreciate my surroundings, and always acknowledge the wonderfulness in my life.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.

-Eleanor Roosevelt, 32nd-ish first lady and superhero.

Last weekend, a friend of mine trekked into the city from upstate. The weather was perfect, the city was glimmering, and we were determined to have fun for the short time she was on the island. Saturday morning, we took a walk down to Central Park, absorbing the sunshine and people-watching and dog-walking in the best possible way. As we entered deeper into the park, we continued passing playgrounds and swing sets, looking longingly at the fun that called out to be had.

After shuffling across thousands of fall leaves down the uneven path, we decided to finally stop for a swing. Carelessly throwing our bags next to the swing-set, we each hopped on a swing and started pumping our legs strong and fast, propelling us further and further into the air. We giggle and smiled as we flew through the crisp fall air, feeling the breeze in our hair, the brisk wind on our face, and the seemingly endless high we felt from our flying adventures.

As I glanced down the swing-set to the other pairs of swings, I realized a common phenomenon: only adults were swinging on this beautiful October afternoon! I felt shocked. Who are these people? Do they just come to the park to swing?

But then I realized: who told us we couldn’t swing? When do we officially get too old to stop playing? And why is it socially acceptable to make bowling or pool or Guitar Hero a communal event yet just playing outdoors seems juvenile?

And swing we did. It seems that as adults we lose a certain sense of play, a sense of play we desire and want, yet have limited manners in which to release this urge. Because in each of us exists an inner child, a kid who wants to finger-paint or play freeze dance or just hang from the monkey bars.

I didn’t feel like I was breaking an social norms, making any statements, or encouraging any radical life changes, yet my enthusiasm lasted for the rest of the day. I guess that sometimes we have to stop playing grown-up, remember who we used to be and who we are, and just swing it out!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Key Quandary

For eighteen years of my life, I somehow got by without ever having to carry a house key. I’d go out and come back expecting my parents to open the door upon my arrival or just punch in the electronic code when I was home alone. It never occurred to me that a small piece of metal might actually be necessary to open a door.

Then I became independent. I learned I had to take care of my possessions, lock my door open leaving, or risk suffering the consequences of Ivy League Thieves (yes, they exist, we had an orientation session about it…)

I suddenly realized the hassle of carrying a key. Where do you put it when you wear leggings? How do you keep it safe at the gym? What about when you run out for groceries? To synagogue? To a party?

It took a few weeks, a lot of creativity, but I think I’ve come up with a few good strategies:

The Hair-tie Around the Wrist:

Classy. Elegant. Almost as heavy as a Tiffany’s charm bracelet. Looping a thin black ponytail holder around the brass ring makes the perfect look for fall. Always at your hand, save a few seconds searching through your backpack/purse every time you come home. Think Edward Scissorhands. If the dangling key starts becoming aggravating, just wrap it a few times around the elastic for a new bracelet fashion!

The Up-do:

A little glitz never hurt a ponytail, did it? Better than your typical prom styling, the key in ponytail proves a secure, trendy method for keeping your key safe! (Also works around bra straps, shoelaces, etc.)

The Necklace:

For those of us who can’t quite fit our hair into a ponytail, the necklace proves as another chic option for the college lady. Whether going out or just staying in for a movie night, threading the key through any chain (perhaps even the chain from your orientation nametag). The pendant matches any outfit and always keeps your key close by.

The Shoe:

Advanced. Only for close-toed shoe wearers AND sock wearers. If you don’t mind a key sitting on the bottom of your footwear, the key-in-shoe always proves as the safest option. This strategy also works when you need ID or cash.

Keep holding onto those keys!

Monday, October 12, 2009

I ♥ NY: Ice cream!

Just another reason to ♥ NY

Today, I stumbled upon my favorite deal so far: Ben and Jerry's on 104th and Broadway. 99¢ for a delicious soft-serve cone? Yes, please!

Until 5:00 PM, you can treat your tastebuds to vanilla, chocolate, or swirl (obviously the best choice) for less than a ride on the MTA!

So New York!

Today as I was walking down Broadway, (can I just mention how much I love saying that?), a friend called out to me, “You look very New York!” We said “Hi” in crossing and both went on our respective ways. However, the comment brought a smile to my face and a new bounce in my step. (Well, as good a bounce you can have with twenty pounds of textbooks in your backpack.)

As I continued on my way, I started wonder, what does it mean to “look very New York”? All the clothes I was wearing I had bought in Chicago (except for the pair of jeans I bought on clearance at an upscale 5th Avenue department store two years ago); does Chicago style mimic that of New York or have I been dressing like a New Yorker for years? Is “New York” really a fashion statement or merely a state of mind?

In my two months living in Manhattan I’ve realized that I’ve gained a stronger self-confidence, an assurance that I am my most perfect version of myself, that I need not try to be someone I am not or change due to other people’s expectations. These are things I heard from teachers all my life, yet the words suddenly came true as I experienced daily life on this crowded little island.

The thing is, there’s always going to be someone weirder/smarter/crazier/prettier/happier/stronger than you in New York. It’s inevitable. In a city of so many people, many of whom moved to New York for new beginnings, to find fame or love or money or just happiness, to experience of mix of cultures and a never-ending lack of privacy, it remains completely foreseeable that these unique characters will have something on you. They’re destined to win the eccentricity race.

However, that’s what I absolutely love about this city: there’s no competition. No battle to win others over and no test to prove your identity: you are who you are and that’s fantastic.

For those of you who have never been to New York, I cannot stress enough how much we want you here! There’s so much to see, do, and learn that even the shortest trip is sure to be inspiring. Whether you’re just wandering in Central Park or pushing through crowds in Times Square, you are certain to witness new and exciting people and events, you can’t help but experience the “New York State of Mind!”

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Dewey + Issa = BFFL

I have an addiction. A library addiction. A passionate love for the Dewey Decimal system. A fervor for words and sentences and chapters titles and page numbers.

This past week, I obtained a new, shiny addition to my wallet: a New York Public Library Card. I smiled somewhat uncontrollably as the librarian passed me the red and blue plastic, giving me the ultimate key to my new city. “Thank you!” I exclaimed, a little too overzealously…I own this city.

I can’t remember a time I didn’t love libraries. I used to finish my elementary school work as quickly as possibly so I could rush and ask the librarian for another book selection; I would dash home from camp in the summers so I could run over to the public library for the summer reading program; I spent many a school night in secret corners of my favorite library, sneaking pretzels freshly dipped in chocolate frosting into my mouth when the librarians weren’t looking.

The thing about libraries, more than the smell of old books (delicious) or the endless opportunities to meet new and interesting people (excellent), but there’s a sense of community you can’t really find any other place on earth. You wait in line to check out and suddenly strike up a conversation with an eight year old checking out his first chapter book or an eighty year old furthering her knowledge of South American fruits. You take home a Charles Dickens novel and find a reminder to buy spinach for dinner on page 97. You check out a Frank Sinatra CD and receive recommendations for numerous other records, none of which you will ever remember to listen to.

There’s something special about reading the words of a book knowing they’ve been enjoyed before, understanding that someone else also shared in this story, someone else is now roaming this earth with the same wisdom you’re acquiring from the book, the same joy the novel gave you, the same sorrows you felt at the end of the memoir. I feel comfort in knowing that the books I read are shared stories, stories from which a community continues to learn and gain inspiration.

I love the library for its infinite possibilities, for its ability to educate me on any topic at any time. I love that I could plop myself down on its cushy floors and page through books of music, searching for the perfect sixteen bars to sing at an upcoming audition. I love that I could educate myself on personal issues, making the reference and non-fiction sections my closest friends, advisors, and confidants. I love that I can just go read/write/study with so many others who are there to accomplish exactly the same task: learn.

On my first day of college, I explored my new school library with enormous enthusiasm as I observed the endless new study spots and pages to be read. I’ve found a new home in the cushioned chairs and wooden desks of my favorite study alcoves and cannot believe how incredibly gorgeous the building is.

As my favorite Arthur episode once said, “Having fun isn’t hard, when you’ve got a library card!” And now with the pairing of my student ID and my new glossy library card, the whole world is open to me, and I’m completely unstoppable!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Who Says You Can’t Go Home?

As I sit here curled up on my somewhat vile cloth seat, knees tucked under my chin as I try to drown out the loud buzz of the engine with the soothing sounds of Maná, I look out the window, over the wing and below the clouds, and start to see the bright lights of New York. “I’m home!” I think, yet with a more melancholy feeling than I intended.

Where is home?

This weekend I travelled back to Chicago for the first time since moving to New York. Home. I went home. But then… I returned home? Strange.

Upon my return to the Windy City, I eagerly looked out the window, searching for familiarity, as my dad drove to our house: the world’s best skyline, the El, the drugstore on my corner, my home. I tuned the radio to my favorite station (which I may or may not stream online constantly in New York). What a relief it was to hear Mega 95.5 still played the same hits as last month!

I entered my house with a big hug from my mom and abundant jumps and licks from my dog. Everything felt so comfortable and relaxed. While eating my midnight pasta snack, I briefed my parents on my new adventures and friendships and lessons.

Before I knew it, bedtime arrived, and my mom opened the linen closet to give me towels. What? No towels in my bathroom? “It’s like you’re a guest,” she joked. Honestly, I barely felt like a guest; I’ve been away from home for much longer periods, only this time, I had another home to which to return at the end of my stay.

I slept well in the bed I’ve had since I jumped out of my crib, and spent the next couple days rejoicing with friends and family, glad to be in each other’s company as brief as the visit may be. My best friends and I spent Saturday night convulsing in giggles, curled up together as if nothing had ever changed. Yet at the end of the evening, when we said goodbye, we realized it had more permanence tonight than during the past eighteen years we had spent as neighbors.

“I’ll come visit soon!” The promises and blown kisses and tight hugs were overwhelming as we each departed for our own respective homes, scattered throughout the country. The homes we made for ourselves, the homes no one else had seen, the homes grow to love more every day, distancing ourselves from the places we called home less than a month earlier.

As I prepared to leave my own family to return to my new life, I felt grateful for my weekend back in the homeland. While my few days flew by, I spent every moment appreciating where I came from, what I was becoming, and who I could be. My love for my hometown grew, if not for the home-cooked food and quality time spent with my poodle, than for my ability to always feel welcome and comforted. To know that wherever I live, whoever I’m with, and whatever I do, there is always a special place for me in the Midwest, where the radio stations continue playing Juanes and my family and friends are always waiting with a hug.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

New York, New York

It seems that in a city of misfits I have finally found my place. I’ve found that it takes a conglomeration of oddities, of misfits and no-names, of dreamers and adventurers, to encourage me to pave my own path and acknowledge my independence.

In my days of living on my own, I’ve found a new sense of freedom. Not the sense that on one tells me when to sleep, what to eat, or where to throw my dirty laundry, but the sense that I have control over my life, that I can be whomever I want, rely on my personal instincts, and coexist with the rest of the world.

In the past week, I’ve been wholly responsible for feeding, clothing, and cleaning myself and my belongings, creating new relationships and maintaining old ones, and managing my time and money properly. Sure, I have many kinks to resolve and solutions to discover, but this new sense of self empowerment, the idea that I am capable of taking care of myself, that I am an individual with a true identity reassures me nonetheless.

I wake up every morning sure that there has been some mistake; I was not intended to live such a good life, my home was not meant to be so spectacular, I do not deserve to have such fantastic family and friends. And somehow among the sirens and shouts and distractions of the city, I manage to lie purposeful days, full of learning and loving and exploring.

I wake up every morning thrilled to be alive, curious as to what will fill my day, excited to feel the sun hit my face as I stand on the most beautiful campus in the world with the most intelligent students on this planet. I thank myself for working hard, for having ambitions, and to everyone who helped me achieve my dream.

I question my luck. Why me? Of the billions of people in the world how did I become blessed with such a beautiful life and why did it take me so long to realize how fortunate I really am?

How many changes must occur until a person can accept her personal happiness?

Because that’s all I really am. Happy. Happy and free and spirited and alive. I feel important and simultaneously carefree. A bright future lies ahead and there are plenty of good days to come, plenty of lives to change, plenty of people by whom I can be influenced. And while I know at times the going can get rough, I plan to remember these early days of independence, these days of focusing primarily on myself and my well-being, as every human should.

As I walk the streets of New York splattered with artists and dog walkers and interracial couples and immigrants and tourists and students and complete lunatics, I feel so fortunate to be alive. I realize that we’re all a bit different, a bit quirky, but in the end, it all works out. We care for ourselves, we care for others, and somehow we still manage to have a good time.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Flour Power!

Sometimes we just need to take a step back from the world, ignore the junk mail and the traffic lights and the alarm clocks and the hydrogenated oils, and just let ourselves be: Allow ourselves to merely exist in the world, enjoy our surroundings and just enjoy living.

It seems that the world continues to race by without ever providing us a chance to truly breathe, to appreciate our lives for what they are, and to love ourselves for being ourselves.

In the days leading up to my friends’ college departures, each second of my life is consumed by an ominous ticking. Tick. Tick. Tick. I hear it as I walk home from work, wash the dishes, get dressed, open my mail, realizing that time continues to pass and the seconds become fewer and fewer until I am on my own. Every social occasion always ends with someone’s tearful goodbye as we realize months may pass before we see her again.

This afternoon I escaped the world. Whenever I walk by the giant bags of flour at Costco, I am completely tempted to split open the thin paper and toss the thin white powder in a flurry. Obviously, I value my membership at Costco far too much to achieve such a feat, but when divulging this fantasy to my friends, I realized that such a whimsical daydream was attainable.

And so was born The Flour Party.

With a host and her backyard in tow, a demand for all black clothing, and pounds and pounds of flour, of course, The Flour Party emerged. We congregated beneath the hot summer sun and before we had time to even create a set of rules, flour was smashed into ponytails, shoved up nostrils, caked into bellybuttons, lost down v-neck shirts. Flour coated our skin, our clothes, our hair; every crevice on our body was filled with white residue. Flour stuck to our teeth as we giggled and dumped flaky white piles on each other, flour blinded us and suffocated us as we tried to properly adorn every surface in the chalky powder. Laughter and shrieks remained our only form of communication as paste formed in our throats.

Words barely do justice to the ecstasy that was The Flour Party. The decidedly annual tradition ended with sprints through chilly water from the hose and the inevitable loss of hearing/sight/speech due to the excessive amount of irremovable flour stuck to our bodies. I left the festivities elated, unconcerned by the fact that my contacts were lying somewhere in the white-dusted grass, that my hair may forever sport a permanent white streak, or that I had just used some of my precious time doing something so completely purposeless.

Because sometimes we need this type of purposelessness, this nonsense and foolery to show us what life is all about. We need to loosen up, realize that life is about living, about loving and laughing, about enjoying who we are and who we’re with, and about just having an all around good time, and perhaps throwing a handful of flour in your best friend’s face every now and then.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

To The Stage!

So I quit The Biz. This is no surprise: it’s been over a year since I tossed away glossy headshots, recycled crinkled copies of 16 bar musical theatre audition pieces, made room in my brain for more than memorized monologues, and even spent time daydreaming of more substantial goals than receiving my Tony/Oscar/Emmy. I just dropped everything cold turkey: stopped wanting what I wanted most and redirected my passions elsewhere. I look back now with bewilderment at the quickness with which I derailed my love.

The thing about acting is that it always gave me a safe escape; I could say anything I wanted, morph into whomever I desired, and nothing counted because all words and actions remained protected in this world of make-believe.

And then suddenly last Spring, on a school theatre trip to New York, sitting through Legally Blonde and then Spring Awakening for my second times that season, that everything was so falsified. It was so made up. The exact choreography swung over the stage, different actors replaced the original casts and played the roles nearly identically, and the music told the same story it sang to my on iTunes daily. I left New York uplifted, realizing that I had control over my life, not everything needed to be scripted, covered in stage lights and heavy make-up, or even auditioned for. My abandonment of the stage empowered me to be myself, see the bigger picture of the world in front of me, and start living honestly.

My days this year didn’t feel empty without the hours of acting and dance classes every single afternoon. I barely saw any live theatre (and Chicago theatre is the best) and hardly remembered what I was missing out on. And this summer contrasts drastically from that of two years ago when I was constantly running from rehearsal to performance from the South Loop to the North Shore, just trying to maintain my oh-so-fabulous actor lifestyle.

Saying that my campers saved my life may perhaps be a little dramatic (hey, I haven’t given it all up!). But in a summer full of completely thespian-esque ups and downs, spending six hours a day with artsy eight year olds was possibly my best therapy.

I spend the last seven weeks as a camp counselor at the arts camp I attended almost ten years ago. My days were filled with dance class, cheerleading routines, acting lessons, singing groups, and so much more. I left the world for those short hours while my campers reminded my that sparkly glitter is an acceptable favorite color, that dessert should always be eaten first, and that holding hands with your bestie in public is absolutely acceptable, if not required.

Eight long weeks ago, at a time when I was possibly feeling the most worthless and vulnerable in my entire life, I occupied my days decorating nametags with glitter and googly eyes, perfectly copying each name from my clipboard unsure of the identity behind the letters. 35 camp days later and I knew each child in and out, their likes and dislikes, their strengths and weaknesses, their humors and their fears.

My campers never hesitated to tell me that I was cool, beautiful, or amazing. They drew me pictures and presented me with cards and handmade gifts. They loved to impress me with their Spanish skills or interesting lunches. Although I was frightened that none of my girls new who the Spice Girls were much less Mary Kate and Ashley, the generational gap proved to be the most refreshing part of my summer. And they trusted me to demonstrate their dance routines perfectly, to accurately sign their songs into ASL, to make them laugh in an improv exercise, and sing all their lyrics with precision.

I would hop up in acting class, suddenly feeling rejuvenated at my regained ability to make an audience laugh; I craved the moments I could steal the spotlight and transform into someone else, even just for a few seconds. My campers taught me that I can enjoy something without making it my life, that like them, I could participate in arts during the day and then venture off to become a professional ice skater/swimmer/violinist (I had quite the Renaissance group) and still enjoy my life. My campers reaffirmed my love for play, just for being silly and having fun, reminding me to not take myself so seriously and just take it easy.

My campers inspired me to renew my passion for performance, for true art, for art that is not a fallacy of the world but rather an honest expression of ourselves. My campers silently convinced me to return to classes at Giordano’s and Second City and perhaps even audition for something again one day, to just have fun and maybe learn a little along the way.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Who's Buying?

So I did something pretty cool the other day. What, you ask? I bought myself a purse!

“So what?” you may ask as you shake your head and squint your eyes. “Who cares? Why not write about something actually important?”

Because, I tell you, I insist, that this is important! (And no, this is not a cue to start playing “Material Girl”)

Over the years, I have accumulated many titles from fashion queen/diva/protégé to shopaholic to teeny bopper (I hope I’ve evolved from this one at least). To put it mildly, clothes have been an important part of my life.

And why shouldn’t they be? Choosing wearable art, forming a way to express myself like no other is an enjoyable hobby; finding the perfect gems to gloriously define my style occupies much of my time yet feels oh so satisfying when I find the perfect pair of jeans.

Whether we like it or not, our appearance somehow dictates who we are. How we choose to present ourselves, eclectic or impeccably matching, dreary or illuminated, provides others with a certain perception about our souls. In no way am I advocating judging a book by its cover, for lack of a better phrase, but yes, we have the ultimate power in the manner in which we choose to illustrate ourselves to the outside world and I assume full control of that.

This weekend I took a trip to Nordstrom’s with my mom. We started out in the show department where I immediately found a pair of multicolored high tops that I absolutely needed.

“You have thirty million pairs of shoes, I don’t think those are necessary.”

“But I need them to walk.”

My mom knows all my tricks. She knew I was going to persuade her until the magic plastic card floated out from her purse and the sneakers would be taken home, soon to forgotten under piles of flats and heels and boots. We stared at each other, each crossing our arms and I decided that battle was not worth fighting.

I moseyed on over to the accessories department and started looking at purses. Generally, I just tuck my wallet, phone, and lip-gloss into a few pockets and I’m ready to go out, however, I realize that in my epic move to New York my $7.99 Strand tote bag may not hold everything…

After selecting a black bag large enough for a Macbook, food, and perhaps a Chumash, I brought it over to the check –out counter and took my own debit card from my back pocket. Eagerly, I handed my lime green ticket to freedom to the salesperson, signed a receipt, and suddenly became the owner of a brand new designer purse. My mom laughed as I grinned, shopping bag in hand.

Later that evening a few friends stopped by my house. My parents dropped into our foyer just as we prepared to go out, “Did you see what Issa got today?” My purchase was proudly shown off to my friends.

“Who gave that to you?” I chuckled smugly and divulged the news. “Wait, it wasn’t a gift or anything?”

“And how much do you think it costs?” my mom prodded. My so-called bffer guessed $30, and then decided that was too generous, he would never pay that much. Seeing my mom so proud, kvelling some may say, of my accomplishment reinforced my satisfaction.

The point is, the rewarding feeling of buying yourself something you want, something you may not necessarily need, remains unmatchable. A combination of self-satisfaction and reassurance rushed to me as I indulged in my new purchase. Yes, I had earned this through hours of chasing kids and selling symphony tickets to obstinate ancianos. And while relaying on fifties from Daddy to fund our latest Urban Outfitter shopping sprees or lunches on the Mag Mile is all fun and easy, but buying our own way through feels so much more rewarding. Now if I could only afford that Parisian vacation I’ve been asking for…

Monday, July 27, 2009

Soup's On!

From our youngest years we are taught to love America because it is a melting pot, a place where different people come to make new lives, find hope, and succeed. And while all of those may be fully possible in our lovely United States, the idea that we are all joining hands and singing Kumbaya seems a far distance from our reality.

As we grow older, we visit Ellis Island and learn that our ancestors’ names were changed to be more “American,” we realize that Chinatown and Little Italy are completely separate entities, and that our internal magnets are automatically attracted to trust those who are most similar to ourselves.

Through my nights of ticket-selling, I’ve come to the conclusion that people love the familiar, they like to feel like part of the group, and be included where they are welcome. The Jews run to Pinchas Zuckerman, the Blacks to John Legend, the lesbians to Indigo Girls, the Swedish to ABBA, the Asians to Yo Yo Ma… Of course, the audience is made up much more than the group to which the performer belongs, but that desire for inclusion, that support for someone so similar to oneself is clear.

Don’t get me wrong: there’s no problem in supporting your peeps but to quote Rabbi Hillel (bring on the JTS jokes): If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?" Will there come a time when we reach out to other groups, to people so different from ourselves with whom we want to bond, see life from their perspective, support their causes and treasure their values?

Last night I was walking in a Hispanic neighborhood with two other girls. We were conversing in Spanish and from out of the dark a boy from my dual language class asks if he could walk with us. “¿Sí, por qué no?” We casually compared summer stories as we walked the dimly lit streets and I could not help but feel somewhat uncomfortable. As I anxiously fumbled with my silver J zipper pull, I tried to remember that this boy had selflessly donated money to Breast We Can(cer)! only months after emigrating from Mexico, that he was always friendly, and despite the fact that this wasn’t the safest neighborhood, nothing out of the ordinary would occur. He said adiós at his apartment building and the other girls confirmed that they too were oddly uncomfortable; as guilty as we felt, there was something odd about the unprecedented friendliness.

It seems that in this world we must always be on watch, always weary about what may happen next, who will try to take advantage of us, hurt us, or scam us. We have barely melted together yet drawn such stringent boundaries that it seems nearly impossible to cross to the other side. My high school was much of that from West Side Story (except snapping and dancing in the halls was never much appreciated). The White Kids had their territory and the Hispanic Kids had theirs. That’s it.

And it seems that the hallways of life barely deviate from that arrangement. We segregate ourselves by social status, ethnicity, religion; putting ourselves in little compartments that only likenesses of ourselves can enter. We are not melted together in a delicious stew but merely sit side by side like the abundance of Campbell’s soup cans at a supermarket. With our shiny wrappers protecting us we can ensure that Classic Tomato never falls in the same bowl Cream of Celery and dare not even touch the same spoon as Chicken Noodle. Sure, there are a lot of us, we all have our strengths and weaknesses, but when can we finally put these together, understanding each other and appreciating our differences? While tolerance and coexistence still have a far way to come, we must strive for so much more than that. Tenemos que luchar para un mundo mejor, un mundo en que podemos hacer todo juntos, mano en mano, donde comprendemos y apreciamos las diferencias de otros y donde queremos ser las personas únicas, las personas especiales y raras, y donde tenemos la capacidad de amar a todos por quienes son.

Because no matter what language we speak, what color skin we have, who we love, or what religious beliefs we maintain, we are all people.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Other Side

How quickly we forget! How easy it is to let all the little things slip from our minds while allowing seemingly important issues to take over our lives. How effortlessly we let materialism guide our lives before even thinking of other human beings.

In my first month of the dual-job summer, I have begun to realize a lot about the world around me, noticing little details which seemed invisible only a few weeks earlier. After chasing eight year old girls around at arts camp all day, mirroring dance move and demonstrating drama exercises, I slip home for a quick shower and a change of uniform and quickly depart for my second minimum wage job. Following my exhausting day, I plop myself down in a chair with a good novel and a can of La Croix and sell concert tickets for the next five hours. While “overscheduled” may be the first word to come to mind as I remind people of my thirteen hour work day, I find the system rather satisfactory and perhaps even relaxing. My jobs give me a purpose, a duty to fulfill, and I enjoy accomplishing whatever work is put in front of me.

While spending hours behind a desk and a glass window, I’ve received all types of questions from “Would I buy a children’s or adult ticket for my dog?” (Neither? Who brings a dog to a concert?) “What if it’s a puppy? (No.) to “Is it supposed to rain during next week’s concert?” (I don’t know) “How can you not know?” to couples making out in front of me rather than signing receipts to various costumers yelling at me in languages I cannot understand in the least bit. (Seriously, the louder you speak in Russian/Japanese/Kiswahili the less likely I am to understand a word.)

The thing is, after spending time on the other side of the line, I suddenly realize a perspective I have neglected my entire life. It’s so simple for me to swipe my credit card at Trader Joe’s while checking my email in the other hand, to force my reusable bags into the hands of the person at the checkout while maintaining seven different text conversations, and to grab my bagged purchases while updating my Facebook status. All without making eye contact.

In my time behind the counter, I’ve realized that a little smile goes a long way. I’ve learned that an extra once of politeness, an anonymous “Thank you,” truly makes my day more pleasant. I’ve seen the value behind full attention, the obnoxiousness of ignoring the person doing your menial labor just so you can save time and place an order on via iPhone while she rings up your current order.

How often do we think back to the laugh we exchanged with the checkout person at the grocery store, the friendly nod with the salesperson in Nordstrom, or the “Have a nice day” given to us by a banker. I’m willing to bet never. But what if all of those people growled and barked at us like the pesky Chicago Traffic Directors in their neon vests on Michigan Avenue/State Street/every other location where they are unnecessary?

There are so many days when I would rather lay in bed all day rather than venture out to work, but I know I have a responsibility, a task to complete, and I allow the escape to divorce me from any and all personal problems. I find my job almost like a kindergarten dance recital: a forced smile, no matter how cheesy, convinces me I’m happy, convinces others they should be happy, and somehow makes my day better.

Working behind the counter is almost the complete opposite of The Biz. For one, my name and headshot are not printed in a glossy Playbill, my accomplishments are not listed below, and I lack pretty much any opportunity for special acknowledgements. No one is here to see me. I'm often referred to as the lady wearing the purple polo shirt (or worse: the young girl in purple). Just as no one cares about the person selling the groceries/clothes/house, we just want the end result.

But I’ve found solace in my job. I’ve realized that in the few hours I am not working, when I finally have free time to buy a bag of spicy cashews or checkout a new library book, I can make a little bit of a difference in the world. I can try and care about every individual and appreciate her helpfulness. I can put down my cell phone while rushing through the convenience store, I can I return a mandatory “How are you?” with a “Good, thanks, how are you?” and perhaps I can even create conversation.

Because from the other side I’ve realized, that as quickly as we forget, it is just as simple to remember that we are all individuals, we are all humans, we have our flaws and our shortcomings, our moments of invisibility and our time to shine, but we cannot forget that we all have to look out for each other, smile a little more often, and perhaps use the magic words (“please” and “thank you” for those of you who forgot preschool) every once and a while. Because without each other who do we have?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Summer Days Driftin' Away

It seems that it was just yesterday I was sipping mocktails on the seventeenth floor of Sulzberger Hall, singing karaoke to bad 80’s tunes, and attempting to watch fireworks in the rain. I wake up every morning half-expecting to need to run down the block to Rite Aid, not forgetting my Metrocard in case I need to travel anywhere else. I sometimes forget that Crumb is not just thirty blocks away but almost a thousand miles. Yet, this July Fourth I was not partying it up on the Upper West Side, I was back home with my family, viewing fireworks on Lake Michigan, bright cityscape in the background, as if last summer never happened.

The interesting thing about summer is that it is completely unpredictable. Each summer brings new challenges and adventures, new friends and stories, new ideas and inspiration for the year to come.

Traveling to Israel, living in Manhattan, and exploring Europe packed all into three months was the best ninety days I could have asked for in 2008. My experiences in Barnard Pre-College taught me even more than I could have hoped: exploring the city on my own, making it my own, building a new network of friends—everything lead to new discoveries about myself and others that truly changed me when I arrived home.

Growing up, my summers were spent in Wisconsin, then in Boston, and finally at performing arts camps in New York. It never occurred to me that I could enjoy being home when I spent so much time there during the year. And now here it is: my last few months at home, enjoying the summer in a completely new way.

There aren’t any rules for summer. Summer lets us do whatever we want to it, gives us the freedom to make new discoveries, and learn and grow in ways a classroom never could. Perhaps we spend our months learning a new language, skill, or improving our talents. Perhaps we just use the time to take a much-needed break, revitalize our relationships or start new ones. Or perhaps we just wish for it to be over, to return to the regularity of everyday life without the anxieties of having to live capriciously each day.

While I’ve experienced all of the following sentiments about the hotter months, I cannot deny the magic of summer. Its ability to completely transform people who are usually uptight into easygoing beach attendees, its mystifying power to turn the shyest of people into more outgoing characters, its enchanting lure of making the most mundane situations romantic, the most boring days hilarious, its encouraging nudges to find the good in everybody, a purpose in the world.

And of course, summer wouldn’t be anything if it weren’t for the friends. If it’s not reconnecting with new friends, having lunches and late nights that would be impossible during the year, there is always the possibility to meet new people. I couldn’t discuss summer without ignoring my summer pals. There are certain people we just click with, people oddly similar to ourselves or completely different with whom we would never have the chance to connect if it were not for summer break. I’ve maintained strong friendships throughout the years; I’m proud to say I have friends living in multiple cities, countries, and continents. I never feel alone; I almost always know someone where I’m going, and I love when visitors come to Chicago. The stresses of the school year are almost always relieved when I can talk to a summer friend, a person who is not involved in my daily life, and reminisce over good times and talk about a problem I wouldn’t want to discuss with my friends at home.

I love summer. I love the ability to escape from everything, to try anything and everything, experience all that I can in such a short amount of time. I cannot bear to think that at some point I may not have this luxury, that everyday adult life may take over and these summer months will not be as special. But for now, I try to take it a day at a time, enjoy everything I possibly can and indulge in as many adventures as possible. See you in the sun!

Monday, July 6, 2009

The C Word

It seems rather odd that a topic which has completely dominated my conversations over the last eighteen months or so seems to have never pushed its way onto the blog. I find it bizarre that I can manage to fit I single word into every discussion/instant message/Facebook thread/long distance phone call but almost altogether avoid posting it in the place I claim to “explain it all.”

This word, you see, comes with quite a few connotations, a fair share of mystery, and more than enough drama to merit its own Broadway show. Around the age of sixteen, if you haven’t automatically inserted it into your current conversation, someone else is surely bound to. Friends, parents, grandparents, teachers, neighbors, co-workers, you name it, this filthy utterance is not bellow anyone. Before you know it, the word dominates your every move. Your schoolwork, your activities, your interests, your relationships. It slowly morphs from a concept to a worthwhile idea to a plan to a solid decision. And all the while you constantly spit out the word, despising it more and more each time it leaves the tip of your tongue.

Eventually, that C Word becomes a C Place, and you find yourself making plans and changing your life quicker than you can say “College.”

My first C Word adventure began in Northampton, Massachusetts. It was there I fell in love with the small-liberal-arts-school. The place where classes like yoga are legit credit hours, everyone triple majors in whatever she wants, and cookie-cutter students are nowhere to be seen. Smith College is also home to my first big C Word fight. While the beautiful campus on the lake and swarms of empowered women seemed to immediately win me over, my chaperone had other ideas. “You will not go to college with all those dykes; you will become one, etc, etc…” (No comment.)

And while that fight was fought dozens of times, always ending in tears and desires to catch the next bus to Northampton and never come back, I soon realized it was a battle I would have to lose.

My new home became the College Resource Center, a comfortable seat always welcomed me at my counselor’s desk, and the C Word was never neglected in any type of conversation. Making a concrete list of places both my parents and I wanted me to attend was a mêlée in itself: Is it Jewish? Is it close-by? Is the mascot a Fighting Illini?

Side note: Never ask a high school senior what her first choice is. Just don’t do it. We don’t know where we’ve been accepted, we don’t know where we’ve gotten scholarships, and we may not even know what we really want. Just don’t ask. (Unless you have a strong desire to get slapped in the face.)

The C Word continued to guide my life: my free time was not leisurely but rather spent filling out applications, finding essay topics, editing, revising, submitting, interviewing, and waiting.

Waiting and waiting and waiting. The process is even more strenuous than the actual application process.

And suddenly, when we almost forgot that we’re waiting for letters containing the keys to our future, the big envelopes and small envelopes start to appear. We begin to realize that there is hope, we have made it through the storm, and even if we didn’t get everything we wanted, we survived.

For a week, I wanted to hug my mailman, thank him for all the large envelopes stuffed with stickers and pamphlets and letters from professors and deans and students. Others were not so lucky, believing the USPS mixed up their letters with another’s, hoping the small envelope could only be a mistake.

I never really expressed my gratitude for my college acceptances. I’ll never have any idea if it had to do with the painfully long time I spent on my essays, the overwhelming high school course load I took, or maybe my admissions officer had just gotten an adorable new puppy, eaten a really delicious doughnut, and received a bouquet from an anonymous admirer before reviewing my application. I’ll never deny that I felt guilty complaining over my dilemma of choosing between my top choices (which happened to be across the street from one another…) when others did not have that luxury. I expected absolutely no sympathy in my agonizing stress to reach a verdict before May 1.

And somehow everything worked out. The C Word was replace by Columbia, a word worth saying over and over again, a word to wear on t-shirts and sweatshirts and stationary, and finally a place that I could call home. I tagged a J word, a T word, and an S Word onto my C Word and realized that the excruciating progression of my C Word struggles may have actually been worth the haul.

Monday, June 29, 2009

A Tale of Two Cities

As the days become fewer and fewer until my departure, I find myself constantly conflicted. I find myself torn between my excitement to return to the Big Apple and my sadness to leave my beloved Smelly Onion. While my East Coast friends continue to tell me they cannot wait for my arrival and my Midwestern friends have already booked visits to New York, I still begin to feel sentimentality for my hometown unlike ever before.

In all the years I wanted to leave, to escape to New York, my be all and end all dream location, I never spent enough time appreciating my own city. I walked by Sky Gate as if it were just another piece of metal, pranced by the giant Ferris wheel in Navy Pier as if it were a small carnival decoration, shopped on the Magnificent Mile all the while thinking it was nothing like my darling Fifth Avenue, and scorned our Art Institute for not being The Met. And while I have become immune to the treasures of my city in my eighteen years, I have suddenly regained a new appreciation, a new excitement about enjoying my surroundings, because I know my days are limited.

During the ready-for-college? Small talk with neighbors/relatives/acquaintances, I’m often reminded not to forget my roots; and I think: How could I? Because as great as New York is, as excited as I am to live there once again (if you count last summer, which I absolutely do), Manhattan is not Chicago, Manhattan is not my hometown, nor will it ever be.

I grew up taking boat tours down the Chicago River, going on school trips to the Shedd Aquarium, Lincoln Park Zoo, and the Sears Tower. I’ve watched the Cows on Parade, attended countless concerts at Ravinia, spent every Black Friday on State Street, swam in Lake Michigan, walked through the Botanic Gardens, skated in Millennium Park, laughed at Second City, the list continues endlessly. Almost all of my childhood memories take place somewhere between the North Shore and the South Loop.

Early in the school year, we had to write a compare-contrast essay for English Lit and I wrote about my split love for New York and Chicago. I explained my inaptitude at the CTA system but my skills with the MTA, I compared Millennium Park to Central Park, never reaching any conclusion as to which Great Lawn is superior, I contrasted New Yorkers to Chicagoans, realizing that my side absolutely reigns superior.

Because I will forever be a Chicagoan, regardless if I live in New York for four or forty years. I will forever hum “Go Cubs Go!”, always make time to return to my favorite places, and never stop sharing stories about the greatness of my city.

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to move to New York. To live closer to Times Square, to be immersed in culture and art, to always wake up in the city that never sleeps. There are many elements New York has that Chicago will never possess yet there are so many things about Chicago that will never be matched: I can’t walk down the streets in New York and remember good times growing up with my old friends (MJP popcorn incident aside). And, more importantly, New York only has Z100, Chicago has both Kiss FM and B96. What will I do when there is a commercial on my favorite radio station? Listen to it?

I’ve been told time and time again that once you leave for college, returning home is like being a guest. I somewhat envy my friends staying in Chicago for school, having that comfort of home while still enveloping themselves in new experience.

While I may know Manhattan like the back of my hand, it is still not my city. My city is the Cubs, the Sox, the L, the Loop, the Lake. I will never say “pocketbook” nor do I plan to switch from “gym shoes” to “sneakers.” While my love affair with New York is always strong, I cannot let myself deny my love for Chicago. The kind of love that comes from scraped knees on pavements, thunderstorms destroying anticipated plans, hours spent waiting for the free trolley because we were too lazy to walk. I may have watched seven hours worth of historical New York documentaries on PBS yet the history I have with Chicago is undeniable. I can tell you Fredrick Law Olmsted designed Central Park, that the Brooklyn Bridge took thirteen years to build, but that does not compare to explaining the Great Chicago Fire to an outsider, showing her the remaining structures, telling her stories of yearly field trips to historical sites, living the memories and the stories.

So Chicago, as I prepare to leave you in a couple months, to officially become Issa On Broadway, I promise to love you more than ever. To take advantage of your best assets, your unique qualities, and enjoy you to my utmost ability. I will not compare you to my dream city, as you are truly it. While I may never fully reside in you again, or maybe I will, I want to thank you for the good times, for making every moment special, never letting me take you for granted, and for never disappointing me. As we prepare to part ways, I want you to know you will always be in my heart, that through photographs and memories you will never leave me, as I hope to have made a lasting impression on you.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Veggie Lovin'

“Are you sure you don’t want any?” This question is posed to me countless times per day, over cold turkey sandwiches, greasy chicken McNuggets, fresh hot dogs, and, believe me, the inquiry ages quicker than a piece of steak.

“Yes, I’m sure…” I answer begrudgingly, as I politely nudge away the fresh piece of flesh forced in front of me and replace it with a soy-tofu-seitan Creation.

And then of course, comes: “Why are you a vegetarian anyways?”

Because I don’t like eating death? When was the last time you went out and slaughtered a cow?

Because animals are treated completely, unjustly cruelly? Have you read lately?

Because it’s degrading to women? How often do you eat bull steak or rooster nuggets?

The truth is, while each of these responses is more or less a legitimate reason for vegetarianism, I find none of them personally imperative. Yes, answering with any one of these responses creates wonderful dinner table conversation, but the pre-programmed answers have almost nothing to do with my leafy green diet.

I’ve always been a picky eater (I know refer to it as a delicate palate), separating the peas from the potatoes, the salad from the dressing, the milk from the cereal. I can taste an onion from a mile away, and if my food has been within that mile, it will not be consumed.

However, despite these miniscule inconveniences, I’ve found that my vegetarianism has shaped me throughout the years. I’ve discovered that I do not need to sacrifice other lives in order to live my own. I’ve found that I actually possess some self control, realizing that when the sitting girl next to me in Spanish Lit eats popcorn chicken, resulting in some extra drool landing on page 45 of a Lorca drama, I don’t actually want the deep fried carcass, it’s just that fast food smell we all love…

I’ve realized that I don’t always need to answer people’s questions. I’ve also realized that “Because I am,” is never, never, an acceptable response. I emphasize that it was a choice I made many years ago: a conscious decision to live my life a little less morbidly, not eating things with visible veins and bones and tendons. I repeat time after time that if I actually wanted the steaming chicken soup placed in front of me, the bagel with lox kindly offered at Sunday brunch, the hamburger grilled in a backyard barbeque, I could eat it. I am fully capable of consuming meat, yet, I have no desire. If I ever did, I would. I don’t.

Will I be a vegetarian forever? Who knows. I do know, however, that I like being healthy, feeling good, and doing what I’m doing has gotten me there. I realized that when I fully dedicated myself to vegetarianism (there were a few shaky points in between) I became more aware of myself and my body. More conscious as to what I let myself indulge in, what harm I prevented my body from, and what I did to improve myself. I started thinking of salad as more of a necessity than a burden, as working out as a desirable, fun activity, filling myself with endorphins to lead me to a better day.

In my thousands of days as a vegetarian, not one has passed where I do not truly consider what enters my body. Whether it’s hydrogenated oil, chocolate, or something worse, I found a new pride and responsibility towards the caring of myself and my ability to make myself happy.

I also found a new passion for food. An addiction to the Food Network shortly followed my vegetarian lifestyle change. An obsession with Rachael Ray and Giada De Laurentiis somehow ensued. I found my kitchen to be a new magical place, where I could create something from nothing, where I could make my own variations or original creations to please myself and others. I found myself plating basil in our kitchen or trying new techniques for cooking a once-favorite chicken, currently-favorite tofu recipe.

And best of all, my lunches were the talk of the town. (If high school is a town, which it most certainly is). I spent hours each night putting together lentil salads, portabella sandwiches, quinoa stews, mixing together carbs and proteins, sweet and savory, packaging everything in my Scooby Doo lunch bag for the coming day. I would sit down at my desk (I took too many classes for an actual lunch period) and modestly chomp down on my lunch while other students would question my recipes with envy, offer money for me to pack their lunches, and beg for a taste.

I didn’t choose to become a vegetarian for anyone but myself. I never wanted to impress/stun/confuse anyone. Sometimes we can improve our lives, sometimes we just have to go with the flow. There are fates we cannot change and others that we absolutely have power over. Was I destined to become a vegetarian? Who knows. Can it change? Certainly. We can change the color of our hair but not the color of our skin, we can wear high heels but never necessarily achieve a certain height, we can decide who we date but never pick out a sexual orientation.

Our diets, along with our fashion sense, our language, our relationships, are always changing. And while we may not always make mainstream decisions for these lifestyle choices, we have to understand and respect why people decide what they decide, what they control and what they do not, that people are who they are, and while change is inevitable, some things will always stay the same. Why everyone always wants to know why you’re different, as if you have a good answer, is the part I cannot quite grasp. I do what makes me happy, and if that changes it changes. But for now, I truly would not like a bite of your brisket, a sip of your tortilla soup, or even a taste of your super-delicious, world famous, critically acclaimed slab of ribs.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Last weekend, I found myself lost in Neiman Marcus. Similar to those little girl ventures out into the big world when you turn around and realize your mommy’s hand isn’t right next to you, I swiveled my head around in the shoe department only to be awakened to the absence of my grandmother. Easily enough, I could find my friends Marc (Jacobs), Diane (von Furstenburg), Elie (Tahari), but my dear grandma was nowhere to be seen. I plopped myself down on a plush green couch to optimistically wait for her to return, and I whipped out my phone to alleviate the anxiety of being left alone. (And I am not someone to feel anxious at all when surrounded by Manolos to my left and Louboutins to my right).

“@ Neimans. Lost abuela,” My thumbs typed out to my friend with whom I had been texting earlier. While we carried on a somewhat mundane, blandly comical “conversation,” I glanced up from the four inch screen that captured nearly 100% of my attention to see a Salmon sweater and red lipstick approaching my new home on the lime sofa.

“Grandma!” I said, immediately relieved.

Even though I have been to the store millions of times completely on my own, when I planned to spend the afternoon with my grandmother, a certain uncertainty was immediately alleviated once she returned to my side. I gave her a hug and realized a small silver object clutched in her hand. “My cell phone is always on,” she reminded me.

And that’s when I realized it: we are so dependent on these little pocketable devices that we totally forget how to live our lives. We forget to actually get up off the couch, to take initiatives to find what we want, to achieve things independently. Did I have a cell phone when I found myself alone in the Dunakaroos aisle at age five? Absolutely not. Did I stay and cry and front of the frozen peas for ten minutes? Maybe. Did I wander through every aisle in attempts to find my parents? Did I promise myself to never leave their sides again? Yes yes yes.

We’re never alone. We always have a friend at our fingertips and a hand (phone) to hold. At the bus stop, on a jog, while reading a literary classic. We never have any time to merely sit and think. If we’re not texting, we’re thinking of a new Facebook status or Twitter update. I make plans via text, never once discussing the actual activities. I no longer need to talk to my cousins because I can see their vacation pictures via Facebook. I never even have to leave my bed to learn what my international friends had for breakfast last Tuesday. And best of all, I never have to speak a word. I could have laryngitis for the rest of my life and still let the entire world know what I am thinking every second of my life.

Have we totally lost our communication skills? Do we no longer know how to relate to people? Has technology literally become our new best friend?

It’s true that we are more apt to be more risky in our technological conversations. We lack the eye to eye contact; we can easily click the X and escape anything we may have mistakenly said; we can always feign sarcasm/foolery/little-sibling-typing-syndrome. But is this necessarily a bad thing? Do these methods of easier communication enhance our relationships or only weaken them due to a necessary crutch of hiding behind a screen?

Personally, when I find myself too reliant on pressing my thumbs on my touch screen to tell my friends the most unnecessary of information: “I just had the best lemonade!” “I’m sooooo bored.” “I’m wearing my new shirt!” I try and beg myself to step back a little. But I also wonder if my life would be the same without the luxuries of Instant Messaging and all its little pleasures.

Freshman year, I found myself awake until dawn typing away at my computer to an intense game of truth or dare in a group chat with my best friends. While the demands and questions became sillier/weirder/altogether inappropriate as the night went on, I think that through those weekly confessions we became closer than we ever would have. If AIM never existed and we were forced to spend more time together face to face would we have discussed all these topics? Probably not. Would we have owned up to our deep secrets if we looked each other right in the eye? I’m going to guess not.

The reality is, while technology easily becomes an obsession and even sometimes a burden in our lives, we need to find a balance between helpful and excessive. I’m thankful to my buddy list for bringing me closer to my friends, for helping me initiate hard-to-discuss topics that were later re-discussed in person. I’m thankful to my phone for being a most loyal friend, for allowing me to contact anyone at anytime, allowing my friends to console me at 1:00, 2:00. 3:00 in the morning when I thought my life would end if I couldn’t communicate with someone (and vice versa).

I envision myself sixty years from now, texting my granddaughter to tell her exactly where I’m waiting inside of Neiman Marcus, posting Facebook pictures from my latest Scrabble tournament (Okay I do that now…), book club meeting, or early bird special dinner, or even twittering from the hearing-aid doctor’s office. I wonder what we will look like, balancing our canes in one hand and hundredth generation iPhones in the other.

Friday, June 12, 2009


I realize that in the blur of day to day life, in the remolino of college applications, social activities, school, drama, everything, we forget to thank our parents. We take for granted that they pay ten $70 application fees to schools we will never really attend; we never acknowledge their time wasted watching try on similar prom dress after prom dress only to shell out their own money for an item they will never use; we never even usually thank them for waking us up in the morning, feeding us dinner, or letting us use their televisions.

We all get mad at our parents. It’s natural, it’s expected, it kind of sucks. I realize that in the past some of my entries may not have shown flattering examples of my parental upbringing, but they were written out of anger, as when you are angry with the ones who you love the most, it is sometimes hard to find someone to tell. I used a computer as my vent, ignoring its greater-world implications. I would like to reiterate that these few emotional pieces were written in the deepest of anger, when judgment was all too distant and all my words seemed proper. I want to wholeheartedly apologize for any further hard feelings this may have caused. I never intend to hurt anyone, and I will be more cognizant in the future.

Additionally, I want to take this week’s entry to thank my parents. For their amazing upbringing, their love and support. Their way of pushing me through piano, viola, flute, oboe, and voice lessons, always begging me to practice more yet continuing to sacrifice time and money from their lives to indulge my wishes. I want to thank my mom for driving me for hours to go see Kristy Cates (Elphaba in Wicked cerca 2006) to have her evaluate my singing for ten minutes, and then driving me hours back home. I want to thank my dad for spending hours of his life behind a lens, when he may rather be photographing architecture or nature, to focus on me or my friends and make me feel like a star.

Even though we set aside Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, that never really seems to be enough. As long as a spend picking out gifts for each respective holiday, it is never appropriate for the amount of gratitude I should show to my parents. I want to thank them for every gift they’ve given me, because although they are not usually wrapped in flashy paper and a bow, I know that everything I have—from my abundant wardrobe to my spunky attitude—I am forever indebted to my parents for.

I understand that parental criticism comes from love. That our parents want us to be the best they can be and will stop at nothing until that happens.

My parents like to repeat a phrase from a babysitter I had growing up, “The boy is ok but the girl’s a problem.” I know they’re teasing, but I would never wish to be a problem, an obstacle, or anything negative in their lives. I only wish to try and reward them for the wonderful life they’ve given me. To bring more happiness to their lives and smiles to their faces. To make them proud and joyful, because without their upbringing I would never be able to accomplish anything at all.

To conclude, Mommy and Daddy, I know you’re reading this. I just wanted to say I love you, and that I always will, and although it is not always evident, it is always true. Thanks for slicing my bake sale brownies before school in the morning when I was to lazy to get up, thanks for editing my twenty page analytic papers as boring as they may be, thanks for trekking out in the rain on both days of the Avon Walk, thanks for indulging me. There was never a vacation, performance, or moment wasted on me; they have all had a huge impact and I want to thank you immensely for all the experiences I was privileged enough to enjoy.

Thank you for letting me be myself and for loving me unconditionally as I love you.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Because Blisters are Better Than Chemo

It seems a completely unfortunate paradox that such a horrible thing can unite so many people together, forging a bond and understanding never to be broken even under the most daunting of conditions. I speak of course, of the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer.

Days after I walked across the stage (need I add it was the same stage the Backstreet Boys performed on last summer…) to receive my High School diploma, I found myself crossing an entirely different finish line: the 39.3 mile mark at the end of the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. My team screamed and cheered as our aching feet landed under the inflatable pink archway that marked our accomplishment.

For months leading up to the event, my entire life seemed to be dedicated the Avon Chicago 2009. I stayed awake extra hours each night, putting finishing touches on confetti cupcakes with glittery pink ribbon frosting or slicing brownies to put into individual papers. I sent out envelope after envelope, had a never-ending list of phone calls to make, and traveled across the city in search of donations from businesses. My last months of school were filled with baked goods and secret money exchanges during class, only to be busted by teachers trying to “teach” (second semester seniors, people, seriously…) who would subsequently enjoy a mini-monologue about how one in ten women will get breast cancer, every three minutes a woman is diagnosed, et cetera et cetera until they finally ignored the deliberate rule-breaking. My team hosted a local dinner event at a restaurant, a silent auction, a weekend garage sale, and more events which brought us closer to our fundraising goals. When I wasn’t trying to raise money, I found myself lacing up my sneakers and trekking out to the Botanic Gardens/ Country Club/ Lincoln Park Zoo on 5, 8, 15+ mile training walks.

Through all the efforts and strains, I knew the importance of my cause, and wholly dedicated myself to it, yet had no idea what the Avon Walk actually entailed.

After not sleeping all night due to an irresolute combination of nerves and excitement, on the morning of June 6th, I woke up at the crack of dawn, dressed head to toe in sweatproof clothing, and walked to Soldier Field. There, my team met up (near a dog) by the breakfast tent, indulging in multiple granola bars and bananas. We lethargically marched towards the enormous inflatable pink Avon pillars; we stretched as a group to a warm-up powered by remixed 90’s workout music; we listened to disheartening facts about Breast Cancer, reminding us why the walk was important and what we hoped to accomplish.

The first moment that made me realize how outstanding this weekend would be was when the coordinator asked to the 3200 walkers, how many of us had come alone? A large faction of hands shot up into the air and I was shocked that anybody would decide to do this independently. I was impressed, inspired, and motivated, common sentiments through my entire weekend.

As we starting walking down Lake Michigan, cars on Lake Shore Drive constantly honked and shouted at us, strangers smiled, and I met interesting walking companions while each step I took lead to the stamping out of breast cancer. As we walked through the various Chicago neighborhoods: Hispanic, Polish, WASPs, Jewish, Black, cutesy, rundown, touristy—everything—, I was astonished at how people reacted, emerging from homes and storefronts cheering loudly, offering high-fives and candy, providing us with endless “Thank yous” and making the walk ever more important to me.

One of the Avon mottos is “For 2 days, we walk as 1.” I always thought it was some type of cheesy t-shirt slogan, a cute tagline to get people involved in the cause, yet I never really considered the possibilities. This weekend, I realized how even the most diverse group of people manage to unite completely, work together, to accomplish a universally meaningful goal. I was blown away at the thought that went into the event, from the themed rest stops complete with Porta Potty trivia to the cheering squads constantly circling in vans, blasting music, and never losing any enthusiasm. I smiled when a random man off the street shouted a sincere “God bless you all!” when a pimply teenager held up a sign reading, “Big or small, save them all,” and especially when my friends came out at the end of the walk to cheer on the team. Because that’s what the Walk was all about—teamwork. It had nothing to do with my five other teammates but rather everybody else, everybody who was, is, or could be affected by such a terrible fate and the hope for the future. When people of all ethnicities, backgrounds, ages (17-76!), and experience join together as one, you know you really have something special.

Avon’s other charming phrase, “Ready. Set. Hope,” left a lasting impression on me this weekend. Every step of the walk was empowering—I was truly making a different, along with thousands of other people who cared deeply about the cause; I was making people’s lives better; I was taking action. Upon entering the campsite at 26.2 miles on the first night, I could barely move. I begged my legs not to crumble as I showered in a truck, begged my back not to break as I slept on the floor, and begged my feet to support me as I miraculously woke up in one piece the next day. Upon crossing the finish line, I found myself almost stunned by my abilities. As my team linked arms and walked our last steps under the pink arch, I questioned myself, unsure that I had really accomplished what I seemed to have accomplished.

There are some “life-changing” events that barely make an impact on your future. This was as far from that as possible. Every second of the Avon Walk made me want to be a better person, to try harder, to strive further for my goals. The Walk showed me how lucky I am, how grateful I should be, and how much I can give back to my community. I heard tales of women who walked the 40 miles only weeks after a mastectomy, of men who lost fiancés days before their wedding and formed teams to remember their lost loves, of pregnant women finding lumps and of women who walked for years during chemotherapy only to die a terribly unjust death. The tragedies continue on and on, bring us to tears, yet we must remember that there is so much change possible, so much improvement we can all bring to the world, if we literally all step up.

The entire weekend was astoundingly strenuous—both physically and emotionally. My physical pain felt temporarily alleviated and my emotional pain completely displayed when the Survivors paraded in for the closing ceremony. Tears flew from my neighbors as we watched these incredibly strong women march between us, some perfectly healthy looking and others unfortunately struggling. As stunned as I was with my 40 mile accomplishment, I could not even begin to process the challenges this weekend brought to these valiant women. It brought me a new hope to see so many survivors, smiling and proud, and ready for the challenges ahead.

In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “Happiness is not a goal, it is a by-product.” I did not embark on the Avon Walk in order to feel happy or even accomplished. I felt it almost an obligation, a challenge I was capable of conquering. And beyond any of my doubts, I did. I learned so much about myself and the world in these two short days that I know I am forever changed. I will wear my Avon shirts with pride, share a sisterhood with my fellow thousands of Avon walkers, and hopefully continue to participate in the event. I never intended to love the walk as much as I did, yet I truly fell in love with the cause, the people, the opportunity.

After going all the way to save second base, I can assure you that the inevitable pressures of training to walk 40 miles and raise $1800 were undoubtedly worth the effort.