Sunday, February 19, 2012

The icon that is Central Park

It is at this very moment hard for me to put into words how serene and peaceful a place I am in at this very moment.

When I first arrived in Paris I was unsure if I was going to see the Eiffel Tower while I was there. It was of course one of - if not the - icon of the city, the people, the state and culture of France. But it was so cliche.

Even before that I was faced with the decision whether or not to see such an icon. While booking my travel accommodations in Goa I had to decide if I were going to see the Taj, which at that moment I learned was not simply just in Delhi. It was, like the Eiffel Tower, the icon that represented to most people the embodiment of what is Indian. But what if it didn't live up to expectations; it was a common cliche and accordingly I had developed some level of "wow" factor for it to live up to.

Ultimately I booked a train to Agra where the Taj Mahal is located, a first class ticket to boot. I followed my gut, and though I never stepped foot within it's heart's center I will never forget the day I spent within it's walls. It far exceeded any level of amazement that I had expected to witness.

My first day in Paris, standing soaked in the rain, fear full that I could not make it there, I wallowed back through the streets to make the seemingly endless trip to my hostel. As I approached an unknown intersection of streets I so happen to peer to my left and espy the top half of the tower rising over the buildings at the end of the block. It captivated my heart.

Though the Statue of Liberty for most would be the symbol of the United States it was  Central Park that for me was the true icon of the city of New York. When I first arrived I had a similar feeling as to the one I had in Paris; that maybe I would check out the icon or maybe I wouldn't. In the end it was clear what I would do; I have been in this city for 17 days now and happily can say that Central Park has lived up to and exceeded my greatest and wildest expectations.

The first time I was introduced to Central Park it was by Miss Monica Morris from Cork City. We started chatting on the 1 and before long she was recommending to me that I follow her and debark the train at 59th St. Following Miss Morris' lead I emerged from the belly of the city facing Columbus Square and marvelled at how the city unfolded before my very eyes. She advised that I walk down 59th St. until I reached 5th Ave. then turn right to meander south deeper into Manhattan.

As I walked I could not break my gaze from scouring the park, trying to discover and examine everything my eye could see. On the other side of the stone containing wall sprawled a vast stretch of lawn an almost unseasonably green that washed into boulders and stone face protruding from the earth. I was floored to see that the park wasn't just some man-made "keep out!" type of land but that it was an actual cool piece of earth that had not been disturbed. I walked the entire time down 59th St. ogling the landscape in shear awe.

The second time I ventured into Central Park I decided to thread through it's heart and walked along the southern boundary of the largest pool of water there. I had made it no more than halfway before my own wide-eyed stare froze me in my tracks. As I looked to the left and then to the right and took sight of the metropolitan buildings that shed their reflection unto the water's surface I was again taken by the magnitude of the park.

Later that day I nuzzled into a cozy park bench and peered through the trees, past the river-way, and over the tree line that fenced out the city that surrounds. The overwhelming stature of the park continued to fill my soul with joy.

The third time I visited the park it brought me back to being in France and India. In such a wondrous natural escape in the middle of a concrete jungle I was totally and completely lost. My loss of direction was so severe that when I left the park that day I had spilled out onto 71st and 5th instead of 59th and 7th as I had expected to. Though I was armed with both a compass and a gps device I was unable to utilize either as my attention was dominated by the splashes of green and blue.

But it was the fourth time that cemented the status of Central Park as a quite worthy icon to represent the city. Wanting to get away and into my thoughts I returned to where I had seemed to have been drawn since coming to New York. It was dusk, and not having reached the park until after five the sun had long since started it's dash for the other side of the world.

The previous trips to and around the park gave me a sense of direction while in the park and so the coming night did not persuade me to find more welcoming and better lit surroundings. As I strolled through the forest I was truly and utterly simply amazed at how serene and peaceful the woods were. In the middle of such a truly massive world city lied this sanctuary where peace of mind can be so easily attained. Wandering on the winding paths I even came across a part of the park that was blanketed in shadows; it was so peaceful I actually heard the sound of the insides of my ears.

There were no horns, no cars, pedestrians, trains or planes. Just the sound of silence. In the middle of a park filled with fields and forests and water I had silently climbed fully into my own thoughts. I never in a million years would have expected to find such an escape in the midst of such a pulsating and vibrant city.

As it turned out, Central Park is everything I had read, seen, or imagined it to be; it simply lived up to it's iconic status. I am blessed to both have the opportunity to enjoy such a magnificent place of solitude and to have had the experiences for which I can compare it to. But really it's all just another day in the park...

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The things I have

I am thankful to Babcock for referring to me as "Uncle Kyle" to his boys Carter and Jackson. I am thankful to Marla for so often being a destination in my travels. I am thankful to Davey for always offering to "legally proofread" all that I write. I am thankful to Harley for giving endless lumber conversation and nerdy power point documents. I am thankful to Mathew for helping shape my awareness. I am thankful to Janira for following her gut. I am thankful to Richard for his book suggestions and travel stories. I am thankful to Aunty Paula for sharing Wurthering Heights with me though I never got the chance to read it. I am thankful to Bonita for loving me. I am thankful to Ant Liz for taking me to Fantasia, giving me Forever Plaid, sharing Phantom, and introducing me to Joseph. I am thankful to Neal for asking me to stand in his wedding. I am thankful to Uncle Dan for inviting me into his home even when he was exhausted. I am thankful to Sam, Dan, Helina and Jess for creating the soundtrack of my move to New York. I am thankful to Monica from Cork City for suggesting that I get off at 59th, exit on the south, and walk down 5th avenue. I am thankful to my Father for trying to understand and support me, even when sometimes he doesn't quite comprehend me. I am thankful to my mum, for she is simply the best one could ask for.

These are things that I have been given, things that I own. I am blessed for these gifts. They are things that I have in my life that are passionate and wonderful. They cannot be taken from me but only by my own memory's betrayal.

When I decided to move to New York I was saddled with the task of minimizing my possessions. I never quite realized how many things I had until I was forced to minimize my things down to the contents of a dresser, 3 suitcases and a backpack. This may seem like a good amount of stuff, but for me - or anyone like me - this was quite the drastic reduction. Seven bank boxes were shipped down to my parents along with my mum's dresser and nigh table, Harley's Familiar chair, and three or four picture frames of my family. Of the boxes four and a half were packed with books, one with knickknack mementos from my life past, one with sentimental clothing, and half a box filled with glasses and mugs that I had collected. That left the remainder of my clothing (roughly six 40 gallon Rubbermaid tubs full plus 20 or so pairs of shoes), 120 or so books, current knickknacks from the past 4 years of my life (about one 40 gallon tub), and random household items - trimmer, alarm clock et. al to be packed into the three suitcases and backpack.

It was a strenuous task. To eliminate and give or throw away so much of my stuff because I simply couldn't take it with me was really tough to do. But it was ultimately good. By the end of the process what I was left with was the core of what I could not force myself to part ways with. Some of the clothing I decided to keep was out of necessity; some shirts, hoodies, pants and unmentionables because I need to wear something; button downs, slacks, and nice shoes because at some point I was going to need money (read: get a job). The knickknacks and "household" items were the absolute "must haves" that I widdled down from a seemingly unending collection.

With boxes and furniture packaged up and mailed off, and clothing and necessities packed into luggage I was ready for my move. To New York i was bringing only that which I had deemed things I could not live without, in essence I was bringing all the possessions that meant the world to me. When I first arrived in the city I was forced to stay at the apartment of the parents of one of my roommates since our apartment was not yet finished. What was supposed to be only a few day delay turned into a two week one, and since I had no real place to store my things I simply lived out of my suitcases for the 14 days.

Instead of using and wearing all or a lot of what I had brought I instead resorted to wearing the minimum amount of different clothes to both reduce laundry and keep my things in some sort of order. Most of the clothing that I needed was boxer briefs, socks, and tee shirts since I was wearing the same jeans and hoodie each day of those first 14. All of that clothing was contained in the green suitcases that I had brought. They contained the bulk of my everyday clothing with the addition of the sauces I had brought with me and a few assorted books. The black suitcase I had also lugged with me to New York stayed unopened as the clothing it contained was all button downs, slacks, and nice shoes - things I didn't need in those first two weeks. Unlike the two green suitcases, the black one had also been crammed with my personal knickknacks and mementos, most of my books (including the one my Aunty Paula had given me), as well as the few household items I had decided to bring (my trimmer, shampoo, multi-tool, etc...). It was in my best interest to just leave it packed as it was and simply move it in that condition. knickknacks

Time passed and finally the moving day was upon us. We loaded up the truck early in the morning with my things and the things of my roommate (the one which I was staying with) before heading over to pick up the possessions of my second roommate and ultimately ending up at our new apartment. The move took all day, and by a little after five we had dropped off the truck and could finally say that we had finished moving. But upon returning to our new home it was evident that our move was still in full effect. Our apartment was littered with boxes, furniture, luggage, and bags. We discovered that instead of being at the finish line we were simply on the precipice of starting and completing the final step of moving: unpacking and putting stuff away.

As the sun died into the horizon we began moving things into our own rooms and sorting through our stuff. After unloading my two green suitcases I started fumbling through the clutter in our living room looking for my third suitcase. It was nowhere to be found. Frantically I began to tear through the things that we had accumulated in the apartment. Eventually - and I suppose inevitably - I began to retrace my steps and search again through the things I had looked through and around already. The contents of my empty closet were examined and re-examined, the kitchen was looked over again, the living room was continuously rifled through, and the additional bedrooms were oddly and often searched.

I had lost the black suitcase, or perhaps more accurately at some point in our move it had been stolen from me. A third of my possessions - of ALL of my possessions - had been taken from me. I didn't feel a feeling of violation as it happened seamlessly and presumably on the street somewhere. Nor did I feel a sense of financial woe even though I lost the 200 some dollars stashed away in the suitcase and was faced with the task of replacing my household items as well as the dress clothes and shoes that I no longer owned. The sadness I felt was derived from the loss of my (for lack of a better term) personal effects. The little trinkets and things that hold no real value to anyone in the world except me, the ones that would surely end up in a trash somewhere, the ones that held memories, those were the things whose loss devastated me. It was like my own memories were stolen along with the financially worthless gidgets.

I tried to identify why that feeling of loss was so strong, and why it was so closely linked to the little widgets that I no longer possessed. When it came down to it I realized that those meaningless little items (or at least meaningless to someone else) reminded me of memories and feelings and emotions that I have had. Many of those things were associated with recalling memories that I may not recall on my own without them; they were the kinds of things that you look at and it brings you back immediately to the time, place, person, thought, emotion, feeling, mood, or atmosphere that they are associated with; they were the type of things that sit on a shelf or in a box somewhere, and when they are examined and rediscovered they fulfill their purpose of jogging a memory to our conscious forefront.

If you're robbed on the street you lose some valuable stuff and maybe a few trinkets that you happen to be carrying with you. If your home gets burglarized you lose your tv, jewelry, and maybe some nice China. But to have a suitcase stolen, and for me to have THAT black suitcase stolen, was tough. It contained things that are only valuable to me - like my $2 kurta that is misfitting on anyone or my $1 goat's milk shampoo from Paris - and they will ultimately be tossed in the trash. Imagine someone breaking into your home and stealing the drawings your children made or the birthday cards your mother sent you. That's the kinds of things that I had stolen from me.

I guess I just felt like I would lose memories that I didn't even know I possessed. But in the end what I lost was just stuff. Money can be made again, clothing and shoes purchased again, and knickknacks and mementos once again collected. True, I may have lost some memories; there may be some things that I never again think of because I don't have the little trinkets to remind me. But what is that fear really? It is that I fear not being able to create or replace the memories I "lost". It's what all sentimental stuff is - at least to me. Keeping it (sentimental reminders) is what I have done for as long as I can remember because of a subconscious fear that the experiences that I've had, the really passionate and wonderful and terrible and emotional ones, won't be matched; that never again will I have new experiences to rival the ones I've already had. But if not then what's the point of going forward? If I truly believe that the rest of my life will be filled with things that cannot rival my past then I am not growing as a man. And if you're not growing you're dying.

  The point is that it's only stuff that I loss. It's not to say it doesn't suck to lose the things or the money, but in the end I lost things that aren't all that important. What is important is what I do have. The things that have been given to me (see above). The things that I can explore and discover and enjoy from here on out. In a backwards way it was good that I lost a third of my nearest and dearest possessions because it made me realize and appreciate what I DO have. Like when my family discovered I had lied about my schooling (and I discovered just how unconditional their love was) the loss of my black suitcase and it's contents made me realize how much I have.

When my grandfather, my father's father, was three his mother died. When he was seven, he and his sister were taken away from his father and they were placed in an orphanage. Not much is known about my grandfather's childhood and upbringing, but from what I imagine it couldn't have been too good of a life living in an orphanage in the sticks of New Brunswick at the turn of the twentieth century. Recently my old man showed me a picture of my grandfather and his grade school class. When my father asked me if I could pick out which one of the children was his father I couldn't. After all, the last time I had seen my grandfather he was 86 and I was 7.

With an appreciative grin my father pointed him out. "He's the only one without shoes on."

As a child my grandfather didn't own a pair of shoes.

Shouldn't I be thankful for the one pair I now own instead of sad for the pairs I've lost?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The drive of fear

It amazes me how much we just accept because of fear. I often wonder how much of our life is dictated by what we are afraid of.

Today I rode the bus for the first time in New York. Nothing special about it and no reason that it was any different than any other bus that I've taken anywhere else (save in India). In fact the only reason that I ended up on the bus was because the train I was taking to my neighborhood in Brooklyn is under construction, forcing me onto a shuttle (bus) to get to my train stop.

Since I had never been on the bus in New York and am completely unfamiliar with the city I was forced to take out my ear buds and pay full attention to where I was in order to avoid missing my stop. Seated two rows in front of me was a young man listening to music. As I looked around I noticed that most other riders were also plugged in to their various music devices. But what made that young man seated two rows away special was the volume at which his music was playing. It was so loud that I could not only identify what songs were playing but could actually understand all the individual lyrics of the songs. The older woman sitting directly next to him sat in silence, not daring to say anything to the guy blaring his music for all to hear.

What amazed me most was that as I looked closer I noticed that the jerk was actually wearing earphones, yet the music was still blaring out for all to hear. As I looked around the bus again I noticed just how many others were also listening to music; there must have been at least a dozen and a half others plugged in. Yet it was only this one guy who was playing his music so loud that I could hear it clearly from two rows back.

And no one said anything. Not me. Not the lady next to him. No one. Why? Clearly I wasn't the only one who could hear the music and I'm sure that I wasn't the only one annoyed with the noise. But yet I like everyone else sat silently and just put up with the disturbance.

Ultimately it came down to fear. Who was this guy? Would he severely over-react to the request to turn down his music? Was it REALLY worth finding out, fighting or worse? Clearly the answer is and was no. But what was the reality of something much worse happening other than a tongue lashing from the jerk? Not much. But it was enough for me to sit and stew in silence while the music continued.

It made me wonder... How much of our lives is dictated by fear, whether real or not? The "worst case scenario" of the punk with the loud music was indeed real and grave. And for the inconvenience of the music it wasn't really worth the risk. But what in life is? Where do we draw the line? Where do we say "Yes, there is a risk. But I will not stand for this."

What if instead of fearing the worst, instead of fearing failure we embraced the fact that the universe conspires for our success? What if our lives weren't driven by our fears? Would people chase their dreams? Would we chase after what truly makes us happy instead of just doing what is safe? Would we become creative writing majors instead of business ones? Would we dress the way we love to and not fear how others would judge us? Would we travel to places deemed unsafe, explore our inner selves that might not be "normal", or chase after what we really desire though we may never attain it?

We shouldn't live our lives driven by fear. It's not to say that we should blatantly disregard fear, but that we should keep fear as only a part of our decision making. Bad things do exist, real consequences can occur. Maybe we try to do something and we can't, chase after something we never catch, or make unsafe choices that turn out to be bad ones. But we cannot afford to live our lives only doing what is safe, for in the process we will sacrifice what it is that truly makes us happy.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The path for me

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down as far as I could
To where it bent in the underground;

Then took the other, just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden back.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads onto way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference."

-Robert Frost

One of the most influencial books I have had the blessing to have read is "A New Earth" by Ekhart Tolle. Very Taoist in nature, it speaks of the universe and how we are all an interconnected part of it. It seems as though many people throughout our human history have been investors in this idea, some perscribing to fate, destiny, or God. But at the end of the day it is the belief that there is a greater force that binds us, greater than trees, greater than wind, greater than man.

A big part of my own understanding of the universe and how it works is closely tied to the revelation - rather notice - of signs around me. When my friend Nicky mentioned Shakespeare and Company (the bookstore for writers in Paris) it planted the idea of traveling to Paris. But it wasn't until I had decided that a true sign revealed itself to me. The night of my decision for travel I returned home after work to discover a message from my cousin Marla living in London. Two months before I had send her a traveler's guide book of Paris, inscribing it with the message to travel there while she was so close (in location) and enclosed 30 pounds to help defer the cost of travel. Because of customs and shipping it took until that night, the night I had decided to travel to Paris, for her to receive it.

Her message read something like this:

"Hey Ky, I have an idea. Instead of me going to Paris alone why don't you come here to London and we can go together!"

It was the first sign I truly understood to be one. The mere fact that MONTHS had passed since I sent her the book, and that she so happen to send me THAT message on THAT night, the very same night that I had decided on the crackpot idea of travelling to Paris. What are the odds?

After I firmly committed to going I began to notice other signs: "Paris" towels Sears (where I worked) had apparently sold for months without my noticing; the painting hanging next to my door, there since I moved in, of Paris that I had never payed attention to. The list goes on.

The same existed in the way that I had decided to go to Istanbul. Once I decided that would be the destination of my next trip I went to work the next day to ask the magic 8-ball what it thought (we had held one behind the cash wrap in my department). As the story goes I don't remember what I asked or even what the 8-ball replied, only that it was in fact a TURKISH magic 8-ball, accidentally packaged in English packaging, boxed with 3 other English magic 8-balls, and sent to Sears in downtown Chicago, the very one I happened to work at. What are the odds?

Of course just like Paris I began to notice other signs as well, the towel I had used for literally years was made in Turkey, a song that had made it on to my Paris iPod (the mix I had made and listened to while in Paris) had included a song that had materialized from unknown places having the refrain "Istanbul" [see RJD2 - 1976]; etc. The list goes on.

Now I find myself in New York City. And it was the universe that brought me here.

I had lived with my roommate for about a year. It was with a friend of mine from back to high school, and when I returned from India in need of a new place to call home we began living together. For various reasons I had decided that the time had come for me to move out and move on; in a sense our time together had run its course. The arrangement we had together allowed me to pay a very affordable rate of rent. When I returned to Chicago from Christmas with my family I began to look for an apartment that I could move to. As the search went on I quickly discovered that finding a place that had rent I could afford would put me in a very unfamilliar part of town, far from transit, and in most all cases closer to danger.

The other part of the situation was that I needed to give 30 days notice to move out. My roommate had moved into our apartment in October of 2010, and when I joined him in January of the following year we mutually agreed that if either one of us decided to move on or out that we would give the other 30 days head's up. Not being able to find a new apartment immediately when I returned to Chicago after Christmas meant that I was "stuck" in my apartment for at least another month, and after my search I began to realize that it would likely be much longer.

I was crushed. I had decided that I had finished with my roommate and wanted desperately for a new place to call home, but without roommates it was plainly apparent that I would not be able to afford to move. It was January 1st.

That's when I saw the message; the sign. That night my friend Janira posted a note on facebook that she was in search of a new roommate. Her and another person were moving into a new apartment and the rent was EXACTLY what I was paying. The day that I had called my mum and dejectedly explained that I wasn't going to be able to move, the very last day that I could give my roommate notice I got the sign to move to to New York.

The messaging back and forth with Janira went something like this:

Janira - "roommate needed. Great 3 bedroom apartment in Brooklyn for $500 a month. Please contact for details."
Me - "If you have a job for me in New York I'm totally in!"
Janira - "I have a friend named Craig, and he has a list."

That was it. That was all I needed. Impetuous, crazy, irresponsible, scary, selfish, call it what you will. At that moment I knew that I was moving to New York.

Abotu a week ago I began to question my move. Just after I returned from Paris I began to date a girl. From the get go I explained to her that I was not in search of anything serious, that in fact I was planning to move to Paris (which I still am). As time passed I began to feel more and more for her. I fought it. I fought it hard. I fought loving her. But a couple weeks after I decided to move I could fight it no more. I let myself love her. And she loved me. I loved a girl in Chicago, and finally let myself do so a mere days before moving to a different time zone.

I asked myself what kind of sense that made, how selfish it was to share my love with her so close to leaving her. Yet the way I understood it was that I FELT the universe pulling me to New York. It wasn't a choice so much as a gut feeling, something that I simply felt in my heart. And it was the one time that I questioned my moved, that I questioned if I would get to New York and regret leaving a woman I loved, that a sign from the universe again showed me the way.

I had stopped in to see her at work and as I left and walked down State St. I questioned my decision, I wondered if I had made a mistake. At that very moment a guy was walking towards me with a navy blue 59-50 (the official MLB on field hat the players wear) turned backwards. It was a common sight to see in Chicago with so many transplants from Michigan and Minnesota there (The Twins and Tigers both wear navy blue caps). In some small place inside me I always enjoyed seeing people proudly supporting the state of Michigan and Michigan teams, and wanting a little relief from the thoughts in my head I turned to see the front of the hat as the guy passed me; I wanted to see the old English "D". What I saw instead was a New York Yankees hat.

Now there are MILLIONS of Yankees fans in the world. It is not that someone wearing a Yankees hat is all that odd. But in Chicago it is not all that common. And for THAT guy wearing THAT hat to pass by me at THAT very moment that I was having THAT train of thought? What are the odds?

My first night in New York Janira and I sat and chatted for a moment. She asked me what it was that I hoped to accomplish in New York and I didn't really know how to answer her, mostly because I really didn't know myself. The only thing I know is that I belong here, now, and that this is where the universe intends me to be. I'm not exactly sure what the finish line is for me, but I firmly know that I'm on the right path to it.

So many people I know - family, friends, coworkers - all congratulated me on moving and showered me with praise. But the reality is that it is simply a move. The hardest thing for me is something that only a handful of people know about; that I left a woman I love in a city I may never again return to. But it is what I feel, and deep down that I know my heart and gut are never wrong, it is only my head that screws things up.

The greatest thing God gave man was free will. When I was talking with a friend of mine they pointed out that signs are things that we notice, and in a way that they exist because of the way we choose to notice and interpret them. I could not agree more. As I believe the universe has a plan for each of us I do not believe that it is only one path that we are destined to follow. We are the authors of our own lives, we choose our own path. The best way I can know how the universe gives us signs that we are on a correct path is by knowing that I have never received signs when I wasn't. While I decieved my family about my grades and schooling, when I drank on a daily basis, when I was a liar, all of these times I never once saw a sign that I was doing or living the right thing or way. Never have I had a good gut feeling about cheating on a girlfriend, never have I seen a clear sign that I should drive drunk. But signs exist, and though I have chosen a path not familiar to many others I know it to be the path that I am supposed to be on.

"I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference."