I hope everybody had a good Christmas. Mine involved taking a 9-hour train ride each way to Raleigh, North Carolina and back to visit my parents. I’ve made this trip before, and it always brings up a lot of weird feelings. On one hand, it’s certainly nice to see my family again, enjoy my mother’s cooking for a few days, and generally take a break from the stresses of my daily routine.
On the other hand, it seems like those trips serve to remind me why I left home in the first place, and nothing makes me appreciate New York City more than spending a few days in a place like Raleigh. While I love my parents dearly, being around them somehow has the effect of turning me into a surly 14-year-old again, and I feel my stress and anxiety levels going through the roof at a time when I’m supposed to be relaxing. I don’t know why, but it seems like all my internal defense mechanisms go into overdrive-mode while I’m down there. Add to that the stress of holiday travel and living out of a suitcase for a few days, and it was with a huge sigh of relief that I stepped off the train at Penn Station Wednesday evening and found myself back on my home turf.
With everything so hectic and frenzied lately, I haven’t had the time or the energy to update this blog as often as I’d like. But now that the final hours of 2007 are rapidly slipping into the past-tense, I thought I’d take a moment to ponder how things are going in my life to date, and take a look at what direction I’m hoping for things to go in 2008.
The Home Front
As mentioned earlier in this blog, I’ve been living in a loft share in Bushwick, Brooklyn since the beginning of September. Although it’s probably the best housing situation I’ve had in New York City to date (which doesn’t say much, considering some of my prior situations), I’m still itching to eventually get my own one-bedroom apartment in a half-decent neighborhood, and be done with the whole fucking roommate thing once and for all… At least until my roommate is somebody I’m having sex with on a regular basis.
Bushwick is predominantly a working-class Puerto Rican neighborhood that is beginning to see an influx of hipster pioneers who have found themselves priced out of Williamsburg. Given that I’m neither Puerto Rican nor anything remotely resembling a Williamsburg hipster, there really isn’t much in this neighborhood for me except lots of loud stereos and car alarms. While I’ve never really felt unsafe here, the quality of life leaves a lot to be desired, and it’s not the type of neighborhood where I’d be comfortable going out for an evening constitutional. Luckily, the subway is only a block from my apartment building, so my daily exposure to the ‘hood is usually fairly limited.
Ever since the first time I lived in NYC, I’ve wanted to get an apartment up in the so-called Hudson Heights area of Washington Heights, a quiet residential enclave along Ft. Washington Avenue between 181st Street and Fort Tryon Park. Perched along a high ridge overlooking the Hudson River, this neighborhood has lots of trees and parkland, diverse demographics, and a quiet domestic feel that is hard to find in most other parts of the city. The predominant housing stock consists of large art deco apartment buildings, and many of the apartments are stunning. The A train has two stops in the neighborhood, offering a quick ride on the 8th Avenue express line into Midtown and beyond.
Up until recently this neighborhood was still relatively affordable (by New York standards, mind you), but lately it has been “discovered” and many of the apartment buildings have gone co-op. I’m still holding out some hope that I can eventually find a rental in my price range up there, but I’m not sure when that will happen. The monthly rent is actually less of an issue for me than the upfront costs of the security deposit, first month’s rent, and especially the broker’s fee that will likely be required. Barring any unforeseen events and if I’m able to stick to a budget (fat chance), I might be able to start seriously looking for an apartment sometime in the late spring or early summer. Until then, I’ll have to continue to grit my teeth while living as a guest in somebody else’s home.
My resolution for 2008: Get my own apartment, or at the very least, find a better roommate in a better neighborhood.
My job has its good days and bad days, but overall it’s been working out pretty well. A while ago I posted a blog entry regarding some of the issues I have with my job, and while some of those issues are still concerns of mine, others have been more-or-less rectified. They finally moved me to a new location (out of the stuffy corridor mentioned in that blog entry), and I’ve been working on a few interesting projects. One of those projects includes our own office relocation, as we’re bursting at the seams in our current space and looking for new digs. I’m not sure what the time line is for moving to a new office, but it feels like there’s at least a light at the end of the tunnel.
While the office remains busy with a wide variety of projects, the national economy isn’t looking so rosy, and we may be facing lean times in the near future. Hopefully my job situation will remain stable until I’m ready to head to grad school.
My resolution for 2008: Not get fired or laid off, do the best work I can do on some cool projects, and become more involved in the life of the firm.
I continue to remain active as a volunteer acolyte at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Morningside Heights, despite my longstanding issues with organized religion in general and Christianity in particular. I’ve always struggled with matters of faith: while it seems to come naturally to some people, to me God has always seemed to be either incredibly distant, ignoring me, or just plain nonexistent. It’s been getting harder and harder for me to recite the Nicene Creed without wondering how much of it is just some human-invented myth that’s been handed down through the ages. I’ve tried my best to have a “personal relationship with Jesus”, but as with so many of my other personal relationships, I can’t shake the nagging feeling that the other party just isn’t interested.
Maybe the Calvinists are right, and each of us has already been predestined to eternal paradise or damnation since the beginning of time. Somehow I didn’t make the cut, and I just haven’t yet been formally notified. That’s a depressing thought, but if God actually exists, he certainly hasn’t been returning my calls lately.
Fortunately, I belong to a church where I can say all that without fear of being excommunicated or shunned. I tend to think of the cathedral as the spiritual counterpart to Rick’s Cafe in Casablanca: Sort of a safe haven in the midst of all the unholy wars raging outside, and a gathering place for a lot of refugees and misfits who wouldn’t otherwise have a spiritual home. If it weren’t for the Episcopal Church in general and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in particular, there’s a good chance I would have given up on organized religion altogether. While the cathedral isn’t without its flaws, for the most part the people there have been great, and it’s one of precious few places where I know I can show up at any time and be welcomed with open arms without being bludgeoned to death with a King James Bible. Regardless of wherever I stand on theological matters, that’s what keeps me coming back more than anything else.
2008 should be an exciting year for the cathedral, as we should finally be finishing up the huge multi-year cleaning and restoration project that’s the result of a severe fire the cathedral suffered in 2001. For the past several years the great pipe organ has been silent and various parts of the church have been buried behind huge walls of plywood and scaffolding, but everything is supposed to be fully open and operational by the end of November. I’ll be anxiously waiting, and then maybe we can get on with the business of finishing the building.
My resolution for 2008: To continue to support the cathedral in its ministry however I can.
If all goes according to plan, 2008 will be the year I finally finish up my long-sought undergraduate degree. I made some good progress at DePaul University in Chicago, and I accomplished everything I set out to accomplish this summer at Columbia (which DePaul will accept as transfer credit). The end is finally in sight. The few remaining outstanding items:
- Math and Physics. In addition to counting towards my BA degree, these are also admission prerequisites for most graduate M.Arch. programs. I’ll be taking these classes at the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) downtown, which is part of the CUNY system. DePaul will accept these as transfer credits, and I plan on starting them within the next couple weeks.
- Externship, Advanced Project, and Summit Seminar. These courses are specific to DePaul’s adult education program at the School for New Learning, and will need to be taken before I graduate. The Externship is sort of a community service requirement, the Advanced Project is like a mini-thesis, and the Summit Seminar is simply a one-day meeting with my advisors to tie up any loose ends. Ideally I’ll do this stuff in the spring quarter so that I can attend commencement in Chicago this June, but it can wait until the summer or fall if needed. (These can be done on a distance-ed basis, which is how I can still be a DePaul student while living 800 miles away from campus.)
- Independent Learning Pursuits (ILPs). Another thing specific to DePaul’s School for New Learning, this is the mechanism by which I can earn college credit for “real life” experience that’s relevant to my focus area. Given that I now have 11 years experience working in various architecture firms, it won’t be a challenge to earn some ILP credits; it’s just a matter of getting everything properly documented and submitted for review on time.
I’ve taken a hiatus from school during the fall while I got settled into my new life here in NYC, but now I need to get back at it. By this time next year I’ll hopefully be a college graduate, and I’ll be wrapping up the application process for my M.Arch. degree.
That will involve a lot of work in putting together a portfolio, lining up letters of recommendation, and wrapping up any remaining prerequisites. I went through the whole M.Arch. admissions process in 2006 (thinking that I could finish my BA degree much sooner), and it was almost a full-time job in itself. I didn’t get accepted to any of the schools I applied to — no surprise, in retrospect — but it gave me a good idea of what to expect the next time around.
I’m still not sure which schools I’ll be applying to, but the top contenders include City College, Yale, Cornell, Pratt, maybe Columbia, and maybe Harvard. No doubt there will be some changes to this list when the time comes, so stay tuned.
My resolution for 2008: Finish my damn BA degree already, and apply to M.Arch. programs for fall 2009 admission.
I had made some good progress in climbing out of debt while living in Chicago, but moving to NYC and enrolling in the Columbia summer program left me even further in the hole than I was two years ago. The good news is, I’m now making better money at my job and I no longer have the expense of owning a car, so I’ve already begun chipping away at this new mountain of debt and I’m hopeful that I’ll have the bulk of it paid off within the next few months.
My resolution for 2008: Right now I’m about $6000 in debt (not counting student loans) with about $500 in savings. I’m hoping to have at least reversed that ratio by this time next year.
One day last week I took a nice walk through Central Park during my lunch break. I came back into my office building feeling refreshed and invigorated. An attractive young woman came into the building behind me, and we both waited for the elevator in the lobby. The doors opened, she went in first, and I managed to smile at her as I boarded. She politely smiled back. I got off on the third floor, while she continued further upstairs.
Not a bad little encounter, I thought. Maybe sometime soon I’ll see her again and strike up a conversation.
I returned to my desk in pretty high spirits, and then went to hang up my coat in the closet. It was then that I discovered, to my horror, a giant glob of white bird shit on the black leather sleeve of my coat, the same sleeve that had been inches away from the face of this woman in the elevator.
I went to the bathroom to clean off my coat, while entertaining serious thoughts about moving to a different country.
That little vignette pretty much sums up the vast majority of my experiences with romantic relationships: Meet somebody new and get excited that things are going well, only to later discover that I’ve inadvertently committed some unforgivable breach of human decency. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve had that giant glob of bird shit on my sleeve for the past twenty years, and I’ve only discovered it just now. That would certainly explain a lot.
This is the area of my life that has by far been the most problematic, and the aspect of my life that causes me more depression and anxiety than all the other issues above combined. I’m pretty much convinced that I was born without the dating gene, or that I was absent from class the day they taught mating skills to young boys. I hate to sound so desperate, but fuck it. If the shoe fits…
There’s much more to this issue than what I feel comfortable sharing here, but suffice it to say that it’s almost impossible for me to meet women who I think might be compatible with what I’m looking for. Of the women I do meet who seem like a good match, the vast majority seem to have the common trait of being completely unattainable. It’s very possible that my hopes and aspirations are totally unrealistic, but I still fear the notion of settling for a relationship that isn’t really what I ever wanted.
I think one of my problems — at least one that has the possibility of being rectified anytime soon — is that I’ve always been uncomfortable with the idea of casual dating, and that I’ve had sort of an all-or-nothing mentality about relationships. What’s the point of dating somebody if there isn’t the potential for a long-term relationship or marriage? Well, lately I’ve been working to overcome that particular hang-up by starting to attend more singles events and expanding my scope of potential dating partners, and I think it might be starting to pay off.
This past weekend I attended a huge year-end party at Webster Hall organized by a few groups on Meetup.com, and despite the obnoxious music and the usual assortment of hopeless cases who reek of desperation (some readers would no doubt include me in that category), I actually had a pretty good time and met some interesting people without doing or saying anything terribly awkward. Maybe the vodka tonics had something to do with it, but I didn’t feel like the uptight bundle of nerves I usually am at such events. I’ve been in contact with a couple of women I met that evening, and I may be meeting one of them for dinner later this week. Stay tuned.
My resolution for 2008: Attend more social events whenever I can, continue meeting new people, and not be so damn shy about talking to strangers. Also, some counseling probably wouldn’t be such a bad idea.
Overall, 2007 has been a pretty good year for me with a lot of new beginnings, but with a lot of things still left to be done. Hopefully 2008 will bring continued progress on the new life I’ve begun here in New York, and maybe even bring a few new beginnings of its own.
I hope 2008 brings you all peace and joy… Best wishes for a happy new year.