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 ManĂ¡, 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.