Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween Gossip

Halloween: the day we let loose our dark sides and show our secret admiration for our favorite fictional characters, heroes and villains alike. And who is a better mix of the good and the bad than Blair Waldorf? (And what is a darker secret than the fact that I watch—and actually enjoy—the teen soap opera Gossip Girl?)

I know, I know...the resemblance is uncanny.

Makeshifting a crazy Blair Waldorf headband: $0
Raiding your closet to find a short skirt and classy blazer: $0
Discovering you brought along ridiculous fishnet stockings when you moved to Boston (yet somehow forgot tights you might actually wear): Priceless

Apparently Halloween is a pretty big deal here. I don't know if it's a bigger deal in Boston in general or if it's just a bigger deal to the people I happen to know here. But at any rate, everyone seems to be talking about what they're going to wear and do tonight. I'm going to a party hosted by one of my church friends in Beacon Hill, an "old money" neighborhood near my school and church. It's supposed to be a fun place to celebrate Halloween because they close down a couple streets to car traffic, and people celebrate in style. I'll write more about it after I've actually seen it.

But before the party, I'm showing my apartment to another potential roommate. (For those of you who don't know, my current roommate wants to move out so she can be closer to school. I've been trying to find a non-psycho roommate to take her place for a little over a month now.) I'm showing the apartment to someone else tomorrow, and I do have a couple other leads as well. At this point, I'm just really hoping to get this figured out for next semester.

Anyways, happy Halloween to all!

P.S. If you want to get in the spirit of the holiday, I highly recommend reading An Acceptable Time by Madeleine L'Engle. I think it's the only book I know that gets me excited about Halloween.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

On Public Transit and Human Connection

T.S. Eliot wrote in The Waste Land about his daily commute on the subway to his job at Lloyd's Bank in London. He described his fellow soul-dead commuters thus:

"A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many, / I had not thought death had undone so many. / Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled, / And each man fixed his eyes before his feet."

The shared experience of riding the T (Boston's subway) or taking the bus is really interesting to me. Daily, I sit in closer proximity to strangers than I would willingly sit with my friends. Wedged in between the chunky lady with the runny nose and the slouching, sprawling "tough guy," I struggle to manipulate my oversized New York Times and wish I had an e-reader.

As I brush arms with the sniffling woman next to me, I rarely stop to consider that she, like me, has hopes and fears for the coming day. Like me, she has family and friends, and like me, she too is on a journey (both literally and metaphorically). And on the rare occasions when thoughts like this do come to mind, I never seriously consider talking to my fellow passengers because of what I like to call "the Great Public Transit Taboo": You don't invade people's privacy and you let them believe that they are on a solitary trip as much as possible. If you violate this cardinal rule, people are bound to look at you like you're crazy. If you're also dishevelled and have a questionable body odor, they are likely to get up and move to a different part of the subway car.

Creating this impenetrable bubble to shut out all other human beings comes more naturally to some than others. As an introvert who has spent half her life wrapped up in a book or a private reverie, it is pretty easy for me to ignore the other commuters. But at the same time, I think it's making me develop a rather self-involved mindset (at least for that hour every morning and every evening).

The other day, the typically huge crowd of people exited the subway at Park Street Station downtown. We experienced the usual annoying bottleneck as we all tried to rush up the stairs as quickly as possible, toward fresh air and our daily grind. Suddenly, a young woman sat down on the steps as though faint or sick, creating another obstacle to get around and further slowing the mass exodus of commuters. She sat down right in front of me and my first thought was along the lines of, "How dare she further clog these stairs!" Fortunately, this thought was a mental (or moral) slap in the face and I paused to ask if she was okay. She thanked me and said that yes, she was fine. Without another word, I allowed myself to be swept away in the tide of people hurrying on with their individual lives.

And this was someone about my age, who looked and dressed a lot like me! I hate to even think this, but if she looked less put-together or if she appeared to be from a different "social group," would I have even bothered to ask quickly if she was okay? If she looked and smelled like the lady who lives at the bus stop on my street, would I have looked twice? It's no wonder that, even in a crowded, teeming city like Boston, people feel alone, unseen, unacknowledged. Dehumanized.

This past weekend, I had a lot of fun volunteering at the first annual Boston Book Festival. One of the events I attended was a spoken word poetry event in which high school and college students performed their poetry. There was a girl from Minneapolis (woot woot! If I were a more impulsive person, I would have given her a shout-out) who spoke a poem about a man she'd had a conversation with on the bus. Perhaps breaking the Great Taboo isn't so frowned upon in Minnesota (I wouldn't know, of course; I only rode the bus about 2 or 3 times in all 20+ years of my life there). In any case, her poem--which she presented with preacher-like fervor--got me thinking about breaking the Taboo myself. But would it really do any good? Or do I just ask that because I hate doing something uncomfortable?

Perhaps I will just conclude with a quote from the movie Crash about very diverse people trying somehow to reach the humanity in their fellow travellers:

"It's the sense of touch. In any real brush past people, people bump into you...I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something."

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Yes, No, Wait?: A Shocking Expose of Jessi's Thoughts on Boston, Prayer, and Life

Written Wednesday, October 21 as a Facebook Note

I'm sitting on a bench in the picturesque Boston Common, just a few minutes' walk from Emerson. The weather is beautiful--60 degrees or so with the sun setting behind the burnt orange and vivid red trees. I'm writing in a notebook with the intention of typing up this "blog post" later, and I'm listening to Coldplay (among others) on my iPod while the 200-year-old bells of Park Street Church chime in the background. At moments like these, my new life in the city seems idyllic.

As I sit here in this urban park, I can't help but think that my choice to come to Boston was one of those moments that set you on a path of becoming who you were meant to be. Only a few weeks ago, I was constantly on the verge of having a breakdown due to 2 big problems and a bunch of little ones. When those problems first arose, I was pretty proud of myself for not freaking out too much and for trusting that God was going to work out something good from these very unsettling situations. I'm by no means a Calvinist and I even see a lot of validity in Greg Boyd's "God of the possible" theology. But I still think that God is holding the threads of the universe and that we can trust him to work in our lives and in our mundane situations. If I didn't believe that, I would feel like I'm following the watchmaker God of the Deists. (Sorry, I just felt a need to clarify briefly what I meant by God working out all things for good.)

So before that deviation into theology, we left our protagonist (i.e., myself) feeling prideful about trusting God instead of freaking out. I kept praying that one or the other (or both!) of the big problems would be solved. Things kept happening that got my hopes up and I would start to imagine my life taking a significant turn for the better. But invariably these solutions were ripped from me and I started to get really angry and even more anxious than I had been before. Traditionally, we who went to Sunday school as kids were told that God answers prayers with Yes, No, or Wait. I got so angry that God kept saying No and/or Wait. Why would he keep stringing me along like this? I felt like the Wait answer was the worst because it just seemed so senseless. Why should I have to wait in this misery if God was going to fix it eventually? Why couldn't something work out now?

Then I realized that maybe the Yes/No/Wait model isn't entirely accurate. One of my friends from high school and I started emailing again in the last month or so. She sent me the "thorn in the flesh" verse, saying that it had encouraged her in the past. I've read the verse so many times before but this time, it completely changed my mindset. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:

"Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it [the thorn in the flesh] away from me. But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'"

God responds to Paul's impassioned plea, not with a semi-mocking, "Just wait." Rather he says, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." This is so different from the Yes/No/Wait model because it has nothing to do with circumstances. Instead of telling myself, "Someday God might deign to make my life the Platonic ideal I want it to be," I started holding onto the promise that he is enough regardless of my circumstances. No matter what happens (and far, far worse things could be happening right now), I will somehow have what I need.

Because of this gradual change of heart and mind, I can tell you (with thankfulness and hopefully not with pride) that I'm really okay, even though neither of those big problems have been resolved.

This may not sound incredibly insightful, but believe me, internalizing it and really coming to believe it was a huge deal for me.

Anyways, this post was actually going to be various thoughts on my life in Boston (I had some pretty funny material too!), but I guess that will have to wait until a later date.

The ABC's of Blogging

To my dear friends and family who enjoyed (or at least grudgingly read) my England travel blog Albion Adventures:

I present to you BELLA BOSTONIAN, my blog about life in Boston!

Perhaps in the future, I will write Carousing in Cardiff or Delectable Dubai.

I've considered starting this for a while because I really like blogging. It's a fun--and, let's be honest, self-indulgent--form of writing, and it can be a good way to keep in touch with people. I had lots of nice email and Facebook conversations with many of you in response to my England blog, and I just want you to know that I really appreciated that.

So thanks for listening to my ramblings and for your support from afar (those of you in MN, that is). It's been invaluable to me through these first couple of months in a new city. And please keep me posted on your lives as well!

With much love,