Exciting news- a story and photo of mine, about a fleeting moment I experienced in New York City one night, were published today on the NYTimes.com Metropolitan Diary page! (Check out the article here or click the image above.)
The Metropolitan Diary has existed for over 30 years as a place for New Yorkers to share odd or inspiring moments. Recently, the collective diary has taken to the online sphere, and one entry is published each weekday on The Times’ website. For those still in favor of the printed word, some entries appear in the newspaper on Mondays.
In the old days, according to the site, the Diary mailbag weighed 20 pounds, and published contributors were rewarded with a champagne delivery.
While storytellers no longer receive champagne, “today’s reward is a bylined entry into New York’s story canon, an ingredient of ‘this elegant cocktail of the city.'”
I’ll take that.
The Light of Loneliness
BY SARA FELSENSTEIN ’12
PUBLISHED: NOVEMBER 14, 2012 POSTED IN: ALUMNI BLOGS
It’s 2 a.m. and for whatever reason you’re lonely.
Maybe family issues have escalated, or the guy you like barely waved at the bar, or you’ve been holed up at work alone for the last three days. But right now you need the quickest distraction you can find, a barrier from your thoughts.
You grab your laptop from its resting place on the bed. It had been humming, sleeping quietly at your feet. You open it, and for a moment feel relief as you prop it up on a pillow and your fingers resume their familiar places on the keyboard. You begin typing “facebook.com” except all you really need to type is “f” and the site loads instantly.
No real notifications, other than a mass invitation to a concert in Chicago you can’t go to. And a slew of notifications from a picture you now wish you hadn’t commented on.
Your newsfeed offers unlimited stories and photos, a colorful digital collage so bright it strains your eyes. As you trudge through this wealth of stimulation, other people’s lives become a distraction from your own. But watching as friends post Instagram-filtered pictures of pomegranate mojitos isn’t helping the lonesomeness.
It’s not helping at all.
But you keep staring. That computer backlight — steady, sterile — at this time of night is like the light of loneliness. It reminds you that at any moment in time you could be connected to anyone but at this very moment you’re alone. The light serves no purpose other than to illuminate the infinitely more fabulous lives of others.
What are you looking for? Not what you’re finding. You scroll and scroll. You’re looking for validation, but of what sort you don’t know.
It’s 3 a.m. now. The laptop heats up and the fan starts going, puncturing the silence. Nothing exciting is on Facebook anymore but you keep “watching” it, blankly, blindly, your fingers dragging languidly down the touchpad.
You close the laptop, shove it away. You’re done. Time to sleep, but you’re less tired than ever. The bright computer backlight is gone but now the small light on the side of your Macbook pulses in the darkness. You cover it with a pillow and everything is dark.
You push off the pillow.
You open the laptop.
You click click click click. This isn’t like watching TV before bed, when sounds eventually turn rhythmic and distant, luring you to sleep. No, the computer keeps you constantly engaged, and the only way to sleep is to close it.
You’re not the only one. Other people peruse Facebook late at night, circling like hawks on friends’ walls, revisiting friendship pages with exes, desiring nothing but distraction from whatever they’re thinking about. But Facebook is so overwhelmingly positive, select moments from the best of times, it’s much too easy to forget that.
It’s too easy to forget that a few nights ago, others may have enviously come across your own photos from an evening out in the city, feeling the same feelings you’re feeling right now.
Tonight, though, you’re on the other side of the virtual wall.
Your last resort is to log onto Facebook chat. Late-night chats tend to be unfulfilling, and the people available at those times are never the ones you want to chat with, but a small bead of hope rises in your chest. But the only “friends” you even recognize are your fifth cousin and some people you barely knew in high school who “friended” you three years into college.
Who would be up at 3:30 a.m. on a Tuesday, anyway?
You close the laptop, tenderly this time, like you’re caring for a child.
But now it’s just you and your thoughts. And that light of loneliness — persistent, gnawing, refusing to subside until you slip into sleep. For all you know it will vanish by morning, but it’s so potent right now.
The light on the side of your MacBook keeps pulsing, ominously. Like someone sleeping beside you. Like millions sleeping beside you. It’s a very small light, just a heartbeat, and it hardly breaks the darkness.
You click Apple, Sleep and pray that you can too.
Looking out, looking over
BY SARA FELSENSTEIN ’12
After work one night in September I met up with a friend from Notre Dame, Meg, for drinks at a rooftop bar in New York City. We’d been talking about doing this for a while, getting to a rooftop bar before things got too busy and the summer passed right by. After consulting timeout.com and conversing via Facebook we chose The Press Lounge, located on the West Side and overlooking the Hudson River.
It was something to look forward to, something to break up the monotony of the week. And in a way, going to a nice bar like this after work on a weekday feels like a young-professional-in-New-York-City rite of passage.
We arrived around seven, ordered glasses of Pinot Grigio and took a prime spot facing the city to watch the sun set while we caught up on our new lives. We talked about how beautiful the city looked from this angle and how we hoped to never become one of those jaded New Yorkers who goes about life in such an irritated rush that the place loses its awe-inspiring quality.
Meg and I graduated from Notre Dame the same year and both grew up in New York City suburbs. We talked about college, of course, but it was strange how removed we felt from it after only three months as young alumni.
We realized there is a clear disjointedness to those two lives, college life in the Midwest and home life outside of New York City.
Those two lives don’t seamlessly meld into one another, but rather seem to be self-enclosed bubbles of months or years, sharing adjacent positions on the timelines of our recent pasts.
It’s odd too thinking that during those undergrad years, college was everything. Total immersion in papers, practices, clubs and parties meant I’d sometimes lose track of major news events, even family updates — as if all that mattered was Notre Dame.
Despite semesters in different countries, summers in various cities or breaks at home, as soon as we were back on campus and thrust into the regular workload, those other experiences faded.
It was like we had never left.
Then, all through senior year, our impending graduation was this distant siren growing louder by the month, but never quite loud enough to demand serious acknowledgement. Even weeks before graduation, some of us were still in denial it would happen.
If we remained firmly grounded in this place, in everything Notre Dame, how could we suddenly end up on the other side?
Of course, after summer break ends and students move back in — that’s when the reality of graduation really sets in.
I think that’s what Meg and I realized that September night at the rooftop bar, surrounded by dresses and suits and foreign accents, wondering how much this vibrant place surrounding us was actually our place. Letting go of the feeling that this could be any other summer we worked in the city, that our professional lives were just practice for later and we could still be going back and accepting that four years of college is actually a relatively small amount of time.
It’s hard to keep that perspective as a student, to really feel how short four years are.
Until they’ve passed.
So yes, college was dearly, dearly missed. But we were also thrilled with being in New York and completely in awe of the sights in front of us. We couldn’t stay out until 4 a.m., but there were no tests, papers or job applications in our immediate future.
We were “done for the day,” a brand new concept.
One that we very much liked.
One of the great things about being in New York is you never know what will happen, or who you’ll run into, on any given day.
The craziest things can happen and they make for the best stories.
Last Wednesday I had plans to meet a friend for pre-work coffee in the basement of Rockefeller Center. As I rushed down 6th Avenue, bordering on late for our 9 a.m. meeting, I received two somewhat puzzling texts from her.
With my wallet temporarily missing and my arms full with the contents of my bag, I didn’t immediately register what she meant.
Until I got to Rockefeller Center, walked downstairs, turned the corner and saw 50 of these guys sitting in tables. (And my friend Katherine, waiting at a table next to them.)
(Actually, this is the group from 2007, but it gives you the idea.)
Every single table in the entire seating area was taken up by hunky-looking guys in black T-shirts that said “Cosmo Bachelors 2012.” On the front of each T-shirt was the individual guy’s home state. Each year, Cosmopolitan Magazine selects the most attractive single guys from every state in the U.S. and publishes short profiles on them in the November issue.
I couldn’t believe it. For 9 a.m. on a Thursday morning, being surrounded by these guys just seemed beyond ridiculous.
But it was indeed real. See? That’s me with Mr. Illinois and Mr. Massachusetts.
Katherine and I were so giddy we barely wanted to leave the area to grab coffee. Needless to say, we didn’t do much catching up that morning, or need much caffeine.
Epilogue: it turns out the 50 bachelors were on The Today Show a little while later with Kathie Lee & Hoda. They played Truth or Dare and then helped the dynamic television duo carve pumpkins. (Yes, they assisted in the pumpkin-carving. True gents.) Watch this video clip of the segment, it’s pretty hilarious.
2. Being with friends and family
3. The first spark of a new idea
4. A good book
5. A warm, bold cup of coffee in a ceramic mug
6. Running in cool mist in early fall
7. Delicious, spicy Mediterranean food
8. Finding interest in a brand new thing
9. A bottle of wine and great company to share it with
10. Interviewing someone who’s unexpectedly inspiring
Classes commenced at Notre Dame last Tuesday, and the first “official” week begins tomorrow. For the first time in four years, I won’t be going back. It’s a strange feeling, knowing that life at ND goes on without me or the other 2,000 plus members of the Class of 2012 that ate, studied, hung out, played sports, performed, chatted, made friends, made trouble and infinite other things within the boundaries of campus since 2008. Thinking about campus, classes and parties, I feel pangs of sadness and nostalgia for those wonderful years I know I’ll never get back. But I am excited and ready for the next phase, which Notre Dame prepared me well for.
Throughout college, whether referring to being abroad, acing a test not studied for, talking to the crush we thought was totally out of our league, we’d throw around the phrase, “Is this real life?!”
Now, the Class of 2012 is finding out its true meaning.
Few things can shake the monotony of commuting, or the feeling that whether on a bus, train, subway or in a pack of people hustling at 8:50 a.m. towards Midtown, as a commuter you’re “one of many.”
It may seem obvious, but once you start commuting you become “a commuter.” Above all else. You’re one of thousands, hundreds of thousands, and in this city, millions. To strangers on the street outside the bus terminal, who see your suit before your face, “commuter” is your principal identity.
Each day I catch the bus, go to work, catch the bus, come home. Sometimes the rides are short and sweet and sometimes they’re long and painful — bumper-to-bumper traffic — filled with passengers either asleep from exhaustion or mumbling profanities under his or her breath.
That’s commuting. Sometimes you’re lucky, sometimes not. That’s just the way it is.
Coming home, I get off the bus at a stop on the edge of the highway. I walk about 50 yards in dusty dirt and grass before climbing the steps to an overpass that takes me across the road, and finally, to the parking lot where my car waits.
It’s repetitive. Wearisome. Crossing and re-crossing your tracks each day, you get that uncomfortable déjà vu feeling you know isn’t really déjà vu. Usually I rush up and over the steps, walking as fast as my worn out feet will allow, shamelessly showing off my endurance to fellow commuters.
But lately, as I’ve reached the height of the overpass, I’ve been greeted by this brilliant August sun — so rich and bold it makes me stop in my tracks.
Commuters in the single file line behind me don’t know why I stop. They don’t see the sun the way I do — they only see straight ahead. Doesn’t she have somewhere to be? What’s she doing? Why is she lingering up here? The stares are audible.
But they stare only briefly and then continue on, to the wide spectrum of people they have to meet, places they need to be. I lean against the crosslink fence, looking down at the traffic and then up again at the sun. The timing is perfect: 6:45 p.m. I check my phone. The sun sets at 7:44.
It’s not just the colors that strike me, but the intensity of the light, spreading through the sky, slowly but inevitably like water on a flat surface. A plane appears miniscule the moment it passes through the growing, dying light. Pine trees in the distance become charcoal-black silhouettes against the sun’s aggressive glare.
I’ve arrived home right at that wonderful, extended dusk period so characteristic of late summer. The colors I think of when I think of August — deep pinks, reds, yellows and greys — all of those colors are here.
I’ve got one month. By Wednesday, September 26, the sun will have completely set by the time the bus doors creak open and I exit into suburbia. And until December 21, I’ll be riding that bus into an increasing shade of darkness.
I keep leaning against the railing until the next round of commuters starts moving up and over the overpass.
I’ve got one month, and less time each day.
I shuffle down the stairs, get in my car. I feel good. Relaxed. Like I have something, know something, that separates me from the masses of people moving in and out of the city each day. Like for a moment, I stepped off the beat we’re all so devoted to, and didn’t lose a thing.
I’m tempted to keep watching the sun as I drive, but instead let it soak into my skin, spill through the slits of the open windows.
I visited Strawberry Fields in Central Park with some close college friends the morning after our first post-grad reunion. I’d never seen the “Imagine” mosaic in person, but a poster of it hung in our college dorm room for a few years! Sitting on a park bench with our bagels, chatting about life and watching the dogs and strollers pass by, it was the perfect New York morning.