I took to my stoop

The truth

I return home after the seventh “test run” for employment. The seventh unpaid afternoon spent chopping brussels sprouts and tearing kale, washing dishes and making potato salad. It’s the seventh afternoon I’ve wasted doing all sorts of silly, menial tasks in an industry I have no intention of pursuing a future in. I’m sweaty, and tired, and still unemployed because I’ve already decided I can’t bring myself to take this job even if it’s offered to me. It would feel like giving up on myself. I’d be ignoring the six years of education I’d worked hard for, for what? Eight bucks an hour plus tips, one day a week? I just can’t. I hate myself for knowing my own inability to settle.

I make the hike out of the subway station, into the damp heat. The streets in my neighborhood are putridly familiar: welcoming in the sense that they lack overwhelming movement, hostile in their distinctive rotten, garbage-y, piss smell. No one rushes as I make my way down the few blocks towards home.

I pass a few groups of stoop sitters, and even a couple guys barbecuing sausages and hamburgers on a grill set up on the sidewalk. I attempt a smile, but I can tell they see the frustrated sadness in my eyes. One guy holds his hand to his chest, calling after me in a Caribbean accent, “What have you down guhl? Don’t no one have da right to put dat look in dem eyes.” I smile feebly, shrug, and keep walking, but it makes me feel better to know that I live in a New York neighborhood where there’s still a little humanity left.

Once I get to my building, and climb up to the fourth floor, and make sure no one else is home in the apartment, I take off my sticky shoes and pants and socks and bra, and without really thinking about it, I settle in the middle of the living room in my underwear. Despite my nakedness, I’m still sweating, and the moisture settles in slick pockets between my breasts and the ripples of my stomach. I don’t stare at anything in particular, but I notice a fat fly buzzing near the basil plant in the window. “How long has that thing been alive?” I wonder. I glance at my bookcase, at the couches, at one of my photographs of Utah hung on the wall. I try to remember if I have any tomatoes or avocadoes left in my drawer in the fridge.

I can’t help but recognize how ridiculous it is that I’m stuck in this meditative frustration. It’s hard not to feel disappointed in the path I chose that led me to this moment.

It’s painful, realizing you’re just like everyone else.

In Crown Heights, near home

The first few times he called out to me, it caught me off guard.

“Hey neighbor,” would come the sound of a man’s voice from my left. He’d be sitting on his stoop, loosely surrounded by a few other men. They’d cock their hips and lean against the stair railing, one of them picking at something on his shirt. All of them would look in my direction, but not at me.

The man who said hello would look me in the eyes directly though, with a warm stare, a permanently grin-creased jaw, and irises deep brown-blue.

The first few times a half sputtered “hi” would escape my lips as I walked by. I’d look up from the sidewalk or my phone at the last minute, not really knowing what else to say in response.

He caught me off guard at first, maybe because when I first moved to the neighborhood I’d try to greet passersby too, but most people never really even made eye contact. I wonder for a moment if maybe I’d allowed the perceived rejection to get in the way of my friendliness.

He holds up his hand. I smile before continuing on my way.

“Bye neighbor.”

How cultures around the world think about parenting

Meghan:

“Craziness? Culture.”

The most succinct tagline I’ve read for an article related to anthropology in a long time. This is a great piece on how sharing differing styles of parenting around the globe could be beneficial to moms and dads everywhere… that is, as long as the sharing doesn’t involve exporting American-style anxiety about how to find the one “right” way to be a “good” parent.

Originally posted on ideas.ted.com:

What can American parents learn from how other cultures look at parenting? A look at child-rearing ideas in Japan, Norway, Spain — and beyond.

The crisis of American parenting, as anyone who has looked at the parenting section of a bookstore can attest, is that nobody knows what the hell they’re doing. Yet despite this lack of confidence and apparent absence of knowledge, many American parents zealously believe that their choices carve out their children’s futures. Indeed, they seek the advice of expert after expert in the field in order to succeed at one goal: to raise the happiest, the most successful, and the most well-adjusted leaders of the future.

But what dangers lay in thinking that there is one “right” way to parent? How much of how we parent is actually dictated by our culture? How do the ways we parent express the essentialness of who we are, as a…

View original 1,247 more words

Polo

When Maro leaves, I hold onto Polo until the Range Rover is out of site. He and I sit in the dirt, me holding his collar, petting the dust and straw out of his coat. He sits patiently next to me, enduring the petting, panting as he watches the car move slowly down the road, up over the ridge, disappearing at the crest of the hill. We stay where we are for a few minutes. He leans into my leg when the car is finally gone, resting in the shade of the fig trees. The sound of the buzzards swells around us again. In the moment, a nap feels appropriate.

2013-07-06 22.28.44

One of the stray cats wanders out of the shade, and Polo lunges. I watch them chase one another through the trees, Polo eventually getting the cat between his teeth to playfully chew on her ears and tail. I can’t move yet, feeling suspended in the moment of strange bliss in this place. No suburban noise or buzz. No electric hum. No people. For the first time in a long time, I love the feeling that I am alone.

My legs start to itch from sitting in the straw, and I lift myself from the ground, dusting what straw and dirt I can from my backside. Polo releases his grip on the cat’s neck, letting her wander back into the shade with the other cats. He licks his chops, shaking his head in an effort to get that last bits of cat hair from his tongue, and then bounds in my direction.

We make our way back up the driveway, to the side entrance of the house.

I pull the curtain onto its peg by the doorway. With a hefty nudge the kitchen door swings open, and I prop a stone against the bottom to let a breeze into the house for a while. Polo plops himself at the doorframe, head resting on his front paw, staring disinterestedly into the house. I am still amazed that, in his 8 months of puppyhood, he has never walked into the house. That he instinctively knows it’s off limits.

I put a kettle on for tea, pull a chair close to the table, settling myself for an afternoon with a book from the Norman’s library: Run, by Ann Patchett. It feels right to be reading this book. It’s set back in Boston. Back where I feel like my own life is on pause. Separate but still existing. Back where things are important? It feels right that I found it nestled among the thousands of other books. Like it found me.

- July 2013

chair in field

Photo Walk: storm from the rooftop


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The New York I’d almost forgotten

Back in the city, on the subway, letting the train rattle my body.

Across from me a young woman and a sleeping toddler are folded into each other. He rests in her lap, one leg reaching to the floor to keep him steady, the other on the bench. His thumb rests in his mouth, his eyes glued shut.

I glance up, expecting the woman to be staring stoically into the empty space in front of her, like so many other mothers and sisters and caretakers I’ve seen on the train.

Instead her head bobbles back and forth, the movement of the train bouncing her first forward, then backward.  Right then left. Each time, she catches herself just before hitting the seat bar to her right, or the man to her left. Her eyes flutter in these moments, fighting to open, to stay aware of her surroundings. For a few seconds she intentionally bounces her right leg, her young face grimacing, willing her body to stay awake even if her brain cannot. But again she dips out of consciousness, slips into the comfort of sleep, slumps momentarily to her left.

Her arms hold the young boy without difficulty though, her grasp around him firm.

Ritual

As Father’s Day approaches, this one goes out to my Dad.

pic 3 class essay

Dad was the one who made dinner. He would get home around six, wash his hands of electrical dust, and get to work on the chicken. Sometimes it was steak. The only time Mom cooked dinner was when she invited people over, and she would make something like fish, or shrimp, or elaborate basil-walnut-chicken pasta dishes. By default, when Dad cooked, everything was marinated in A1 sauce.

The four of us girls helped make salad, or mashed potatoes from a box, sometimes canned green beans, and while the chicken was cooking, we would set the counter with five plates: four plates on one side, one plate opposite. We used paper towels as napkins, and each of us would get a brightly colored kids cup to the upper right of our plate.

Usually Dad cut everything into small pieces before serving it. He’d hunch over the cutting board, spearing the meat with a fork. The chicken and steak were always charred from the grill, but he’d cut it into small enough slivers that we could dip it healthfully in A1 sauce and Ranch dressing to mask the burnt flavor.

While we ate, Dad stood across from us, making sure none of us pushed another off the bar stools, telling us funny stories about people at work.

“Fireball Dave got electrocuted today,” he’d say, chuckling as he re-enacted what it had looked like.

Back then, his belly didn’t jiggle when he laughed. His whole body would bounce happily, and his face would crinkle in a familiar pattern of silly amusement.

He kept a blonde mustache and a beard then. I always thought he looked like Robin Williams.

In April, the trees peel

Around eight, the streets are still mostly empty.

In recent weeks, there has been more light in the mornings. But today, for whatever reason, it is especially brilliant. There’s a bizarre serenity to the lack of movement in the driveways, on the sidewalks, around the backs of houses. There’s something spiritual about the emptiness.

I take my time, walking for the sake of walking. Studying the cracks in the road. Stopping to pick something out from a box of books on the curb. “Open Society,” by George Soros. Even as I tuck it under my arm, I get the sense that I probably won’t open it anytime soon. It’s just that that was the only title I recognized in the box. Other than “Old Yeller,” that is.

Farther up the street, I pause in front of a house. It’s tall, close to the sidewalk, and it leans over me as I stand, confronting it. I get the feeling that it’s been forgotten. Not abandoned, but not remembered either. The trees next to the house peel in sympathy. In thick, pink, papery sheets.

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Photo walk(sit): the front porch

Cheers pic

 

For the first time since fall, I sat on my stoop today. I people watched. I read a magazine. I ate mango out of a pretty blue bowl. I stifled a giggle when a man passed by on a bicycle, cigar in hand.  I closed my eyes and sat in appreciation of the sun.

Spring, welcome to Boston. Finally.

10 Tips for Surviving Anthropological Fieldwork

Meghan:

A great piece for all you anthro folks out there!

Originally posted on Netnographic Encounters:

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Borobudur Buddhist temple near Yogyakarta, Indonesia. A picturesque respite from the hard work of ethnography.

In two weeks I will have been in Java, Indonesia, for a full year conducting ethnographic fieldwork for my PhD. I’m pretty certain most students who have completed this anthropological rite of passage (yeah I went there) will agree that the theory and methods courses we undertake for close to a decade before entering the field do little to prepare us for it.

I’d say I’ve been pretty lucky so far in terms of my experiences, having chosen a wonderful field-site without any (knock-on-wood) massive obstacles. The people who have taken me into their home and their community have been warm and willing to aid me in my academic endeavors. Yet despite all of their support, every budding anthropologist will encounter difficulties that may hinder their progress.

Below are some tips that might help the…

View original 2,345 more words

[in Just-]

This post doesn’t have much to do with stoops or anthropology, but this poem has always been one of my absolute favorites. It seems appropriate this time of year, so why not bring a little “puddle-wonderful” into our lives, eh?

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[in Just-]
BY E. E. CUMMINGS

in Just-
spring         when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman

whistles         far        and wee

and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it’s
spring

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old balloonman whistles
far             and             wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and

it’s
spring
and

the

goat-footed

balloonMan            whistles
far
and
wee

Photo Walk: Utah

Circa December, 2010.

 

Bird Man

Up in the air the seed flew
“Here guys!” He said

And gathering
around the generous bits on the ground, among pebbles
Were the birds
swooping and scratching

The thrower giddy, the birds picking at his palms
gruffly he lisped
“Hope you guys like birds!”

To me
Perched on the bench

-March, 2012
New York City
Neighborhood walk

The fig tree

Behind the house, and the roundhouse, down the slope of a small hill, with a path running through the bamboo, is the first fig tree. It sits in a clearing, the ground around it littered with twigs and grass shoots. A ladder leans against the painted, white trunk (to protect the tree from ants), and a pile of large stumps are stacked in the distance. Beyond the first tree, to the West, is a steep, grassy drop off. Down the hill are the other fig trees, and the olives, and beyond that the pomegranates, and then the sea.

Maro leads the way down the path, her long, patterned skirt swaying as she walks. I notice, walking behind her now, that her shoulders are curved, and that her head bows gracefully towards the earth. Her red hair is piled on her head, and her arms extend slightly to either side. She makes her way slowly through the thick of twigs and tall grass, until we stand before the first tree.

Maro instructs me to look up.

“See my dear, they are the fat purple fruit,” she says, pointing and walking in the direction of her finger. Though she has perfect English, I can’t help but note when her accent bleeds with hints of Greek. I love the way she says “fat,” as if the word is really a drawled out “fehht.”

She stands below the fruit now, stretching her body from its curved shape, reaching as far as she can above her head. I see the heavy fruit she is aiming to pick, and walk towards her, ready to step in. I am sure she will tip over when suddenly she reaches a bit further and plucks the fig. She folds back to her normal height, her breath noticeably quickened.

“Alright darling, now it will be your turn. Do you see any more now?” She huffs for a moment, walking to distract the air from the noise of her breath. We turn our heads back, searching the branches for more fruit. I see one to my right.

“Is that one, over there?” I ask, pointing.

 “Ah, yes,” she says, inching towards the spot. “Grab the ladder darling, I don’t think you can reach that one without.”

I move the ladder from the trunk, towards the spot below the fruit. After fumbling to balance it in the correct direction on the slope, I begin to climb. Maro stabilizes the ladder from the bottom. “Now careful darling, if you can’t reach it, I will,” she says. I turn my body from her, so that she can’t see the mix of amusement and concern on my face in response to her comment.

I settle myself at the highest step of the ladder, leaning slightly into the top bar. I reach through the branches, grasping the muted purple fruit gently in my hand. I can’t ignore its weight, its perfect smoothness.  I begin twisting to the left, letting the top of the fig fold into itself.

After a few turns, it comes off the branch into my hand, and I almost drop it in surprise. I find myself thinking this must be what it would feel like to hold an oversized tear drop. It is perfect, soft. It makes me irrationally happy.

I turn to Maro grinning. “Lovely, darling,” she says, giving me a “hm” of approval.

“Now over there my dear.” Maro points me to another fig, and we adjust the ladder beneath it.

We continue like this as the sun moves deeper and deeper behind the trees, dusk enveloping us, the figs, and the bamboo forest. Maro points, I pick. My first day on the farm ends in the twilight hours.

Dial Up

Spotted on the T.

Dial up on the train

Sound Walk: Oreoi, Greece

Please listen with headphones for optimal experience.

Photo walk: Franconia, New Hampshire

Re: Shelter

http://www.frameworkradio.net/2014/01/450-2014-01-19/

Shelter window

My piece, “Shelter”, recently included in the first of a three part series called framework:afield.

Check out the related sound website: shelterwalk.wordpress.com

Photo walk: Oreoi, Greece

chair in field

drying herbs

Katerina in fig beds

Love and the Breakfast Sandwich

“Beef, I want something with beef on it,” he says as his eyes move quickly over the display case. He leans in to inspect a sausage and cheese croissant sandwich, and then a turkey on rye. He makes a disapproving grunt as his eyes pass over the tuna fish.

“A sandwich with roast beef, or something like that.”

I search the case with him. Nothing. “I’ll ask the woman behind the counter.” I suggest, “Maybe they have something in the back?”

“Nope, nope. This is it,” the counter attendant responds with a cheery grin.

I turn to him, checking to see if he heard. “It looks like this is all they have. We can look somewhere else if you want?”

He pauses, considering his options for a moment. “No, no, here is good.” He scratches his chin, and then points at the glass.
“On this one [he points at the sausage and cheese croissant sandwich], is there any way I could get two layers?”

The woman stares at him, and then at me, and then back at him. “It already has the layers on it, it comes with the sausage and cheese,” she says.

I step in, hoping to clarify, “No, no, he was wondering if he could get it double layered. So cheese, then sausage, then cheese, then sausage.”
Her boss walks up behind her. I explain what Love has asked. “He just wants to know if he can get two layers of the meat and cheese instead of one.”

He looks at my friend, and then, me, and then at my friend again. “Sure, that’s no problem. That’s no problem at all.”
I pay at the register. Love and I step aside to wait for his sandwich.

He introduced himself to me as “Love” when we met. I first saw him while I was eating breakfast in the downstairs terminal of Grand Central Station, in October of 2011. It was about eight a.m., and while I was finishing my coffee, I noticed him approach a garbage bin a few feet away from me. He plunged his arm into the bin when he got close enough, and I watched as he gently lifted layers of newspaper and paper cups to see what he could find below. When he came across a paper bag, he carefully opened the top, making sure not to unsettle any contents that might result in a messy, wet spill on himself or on the floor around the garbage can. As he reached the bottom of the bin, he would gather up any salvaged items, and move to the next garbage can in the row.

I waited, letting him go through two bins in the dining concourse before I decided to approach him. (I wanted to be sure that he was really looking for something to eat.)

Touching him on the shoulder, trying to sound casual, I asked, “Hey man, do you want me to buy you some food?”

He looked up at me, arm half buried in the depths of the garbage can. With a steady gaze and partially disbelieving tone he asked, “Are you sure?”

“Yeah man, anything you want.”
He paused. Considering my offer as he pulled his arm slowly from the bin. “Ok.”

The purchase of the sandwich followed this. When the counter attendant handed him his food, we exchanged polite remarks, he thanked me, and then went on his way. There was no sense between us that we would see one another again, but it didn’t seem to matter. We had a friendly exchange, a simple exchange. That was all.

The Terminal

(From the archives.)

Grand Central Station

There’s something about Grand Central. There’s such an echo of the past there, of journeys. It amazes me still every time I come into the station. There’s the faces of people who are waiting, of people who are hurrying, who are looking forward to where they’re going or maybe resigned or tired — strangers to the city or so used to the city they’re blind to what’s around them. It’s such a beautiful metaphor for all the arrivals and departures that really make up the moments of our lives.       – Rita Gabis

I always come to the station from the North. The train weaves along the Bronx River parkway, into the Bronx, over the bridge, and through Harlem. Most people on the train don’t take much interest in the half experienced moments of life on each platform; there is a couple on their way into the city for Easter Sunday, bickering about the state of the man’s tie; there is a woman cooing at her baby, and a man tapping his fingers, rhythmically. It’s a predictable ride, comfortable in its familiarity. After Harlem 125th street, the train passes a few city blocks, a homeless shelter, a commercial district, and then suddenly dips into darkness. We chug into the underbelly of New York City.

Sometimes the lights on the train flicker, leaving passengers in a gray haze. The combination of the jostling and the speed as we move along the underground track is soothing, like a ride in a horse carriage, or being bounced on someone’s knee. Tunnels off either side of the track appear after a few minutes. Passengers can catch a quick peak at illuminated underground building sites; construction lights bob at a far off distance, and street markers appear. “96th” is painted in crimson on a thick cement column. Then “84th.” Then “72nd.” Stairwells with no identifiable purpose appear beneath fluorescent bulbs. Unused cars on other tracks are lit within, and sit like cavernous islands in the darkness. There is a peacefulness on the train as it slows. Few people speak.

The ends of platforms materialize. They store industrial machinery, electrical cables, leftover building pieces, and spare rail ties. The deeper the train moves  into the station, the more lights are on. Things become cleaner too. There is a garbage bin on the platform to the right, then a recycling receptacle for used newspapers, and a staircase enclosed by clear glass bricks.

Passengers shuffle from their seats towards the door as the train makes slower, heavier, braking motions. A man puts on his trench coat, and a woman makes a final wipe at her daughters nose. The train heaves, and then rests. The loudspeaker dings, and the automated voice announces: “This is … Grand Central.” The doors open, people rush to exit.

I’m in no hurry to race up the gangway. I watch as people squeeze tightly together, pushing one another in an effort to be the first one off the train. I grab my coat, put on my back pack, and walk slowly onto the platform. I let people dart around me as I make my way towards the main concourse. This is Grand Central Station, 42nd Street and Park Avenue, New York, NY. This is my destination. Like the homeless people I have come to visit today, I am prepared to amble, to sit, and to watch. Leaving is not on the agenda.

Photo Walk: Monastiraki, Athens

Utah

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From where I sit 
In this distracted lacquered lecture room
I can only think to outline you
I imagine the curves and lumps of your scape
Dusty, brown 
a carpeted matting of sage brush 
and thistles 
and wibbly wobbly aspen trees tucked into your slippery spots
And the clear blue of your encompassing sky
Cartographed with traces of cloud tufts and plane trails
An open bowl 
where the sunsets of my youth were mixed with smoky fire crackles 
and the spitting of old motors
And off on the horizon that 
(imagined now, weighs inside of me) 
I pretend I can see
Blink, there, there Blink
Before me, 
waving and open 
from the old field nook
that patch of brazen earth
where I was once at home.

Once, in Athens

The neighbors across from Andreas must know that I don’t actually live here. I spend too much time lounging on the balcony to be an actual occupant of this apartment. I find myself on the porch in the middle of the day, when it’s miserably hot outside, when no one but a fool would sit, bleary eyed and sweaty, waiting for some reason to move.

Andreas lives on the sixth floor of his building. There are two apartments on each of the seven floors, and a staircase and an elevator that stop on the landing of each floor. It is on a small side street in the … district of Athens. The building is tall and narrow, like all of the buildings surrounding it. On the street outside, a litter of kittens live in a small cardboard box someone has set up for them. This is the only apartment building I’ve been in since getting to Athens, but it seems like a nice enough place.

The apartment itself consists of a large living room, an office to the right of the living room, a bedroom at the back right, a bathroom in the middle, and a kitchen to the back left. Running outside both the kitchen and the living room is a large porch, which rivals the apartment in size. While I stay in Athens for the next week, I’m renting Andreas’s bedroom. He has a bed set up to sleep on in his living room, though he’ll be away, travelling for business until my last few nights.

I find myself realizing how odd it is that for the last few days I have been eating out of his dishes, sleeping on his sheets, using his keys, his toilet paper, his tea spoons; I have been occupying his apartment without a second thought for the fact that this place, with the elevator that I don’t know how to work and the lady downstairs who leaves milk and water dishes out for the stray cat, is not my home.

It’s funny, how newness sweeps you up in a frenzy of forgetfulness. That his kindness is something I paid for – that his hospitality is a service provided by the internet savvy of airbnb.

I wonder if anyone out there actually makes friends in new places anymore.

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