Caroline Samuelson

New York, Take It Easy

By Caroline Samuelson

Writing 212: The Art of the Essay

Dear Summer,

Penn Station, New York, New York, 8:56 a.m.

New York in the summer is somewhat of a Darwinian experience. Survival of the fittest, I mean. The heat of this concrete jungle is not for the weak and without knowing where to go, it’s possible to end up standing in the middle of hell Times Square with every tourist in the world. As I shuffle off the New Jersey Transit onto the musty platform that is the lower deck of Penn Station, I inhale a brackish cloud of cigarette smoke and a communal hopelessness for success mixed with cheap perfume. Walking through Penn Station makes me imagine what an acid trip must be like: reggae music fills my right ear and a rusty violin the left; screaming babies and colorful-haired people run past me; the sweet scent emanating from that sketchy Krispy Kreme you always go to fills my brain. I am dizzy with the heat and the overwhelming sense of the crowd. But I love it; I couldn’t stay away even if I wanted to.

Above ground, I am welcomed with a flirtatious breeze into the hot July day from the train platform. Although it is barely 9 a.m. and the wind is lightly blowing, I can still see through the deceptive gust and can tell today will be smoldering. The humidity is almost unbearable; the damp air sticks to my skin. There goes straightening my hair. Thanksgiving this time, and I was hoping I would get to see you. But I get it; you couldn’t come back just yet. Not your time. School is good, I guess. I love my roommates. Much better than last year. The food is still just eh. Oh, and I declared political science as my major. Well, a lot has changed since I saw you last—my hair is longer and I’ve lost most of my freckles from the summer. I’ve also lost those few blonde streaks I always get around late August when I’m up at the Cape—my mom says she likes my hair darker anyway. I’m probably paler than you remember too, not that I was ever more than just a medium shade of sunburn in the summer. And it’s gotten so much colder. The day I left it was nearly 90 degrees, but now it’s hardly 40. I think my dog got fatter too—no one has been walking him. That was always my job…until you started taking him. But I guess not everything has changed. I still think about you all the time.

I was in the city again and it felt so good to be back. New York in the fall is such a great time to be alive. Some of the trees have still not changed yet; it’s been a warmer fall this year. But the ones that have are beautiful. I’ve been spending a lot of time with a boy, a new boy. His name is Colin and his green eyes crinkle when he smiles. And he smells nice. Colin and I took Tucker for a walk (I wasn’t kidding—he’s gained like eight pounds) through Central Park yesterday and it was like walking through a Town and Country spread. Not only do the leaves fall perfectly, but designer-clad couples also strut hand in hand down the sidewalk. Honestly, it could be a Ralph Lauren ad. It’s almost all just too textbook. I don’t let Colin hold the leash, by the way.

We stopped at the Boathouse and emerging with me from the train station is quite a diverse crowd of people. I think you would find it amusing, really. You always did love people watching, and this is some of the best there is. I see teenage girls in trendy outfits (or what I assume to be “trendy,” as I am dressed in a job- appropriate ensemble consisting of a pink skirt and brown sandals) and Nikon cameras in hand, headed for the High Line. Business men with ruffled copies of the Times, pedantically sweating through navy suits and crisp white shirts rush past me, followed by tourists who flew into Newark and took the train in because it’s cheaper. And then there’s me, of course, headed to another day of my unpaid internship with a free “everything” bagel from that bagel store down the street you always said you wanted to try. If you were here, we’d make fun of the desperate wannabe-artsy girls and roll our eyes at the Rayban-and-fanny- pack-clad tourists. But for now, I’ll just laugh to myself.

Today at work, I’ll probably do the same thing I always do. Answer phones, spill some cheap coffee down my nice white blouse, and perhaps stare a little too long at the receptionist whose eyes are  just too much of an impossible shade of blue not to gaze at longingly. And he’s so funny, too. I think you two would be good friends—both quiet but deeply kind with a welcoming spirit. Maybe if you come visit this summer, I’ll introduce you. It would make me happy. But anyway, I have to catch a cab so I’ll write you later. I hope to hear from you before the summer is over.

 

Dear Fall,

Central Park, New York, New York, 4:30 p.m.

I’m only home for a few days for looked at the lake. It looked so pretty juxtaposed by the passionate orange, sultry red and polite yellow leaves. Colin bought some peanuts and we fed the ducks for a while before we started walking back. Tucker was barking at the ducks and scaring them. Besides, it was getting colder, so I was ready to go. I think you would like Colin; he cares so deeply for so many things. I love the passion in his voice when he talks about boats, economics and even about me. I know you get protective about these kinds of things, but I don’t think you will need to worry about this one.

The walk back was almost more alluring than the walk there. The sun sets so early now, which everyone finds pretty depressing. I secretly love it. The sharpness of the air and the eeriness of the encroaching dark feels quite cool to me. And quite still. A chill runs down my spine as we walk down the leaf-littered sidewalk. Around 4:30 p.m., when the sun started setting, some tiny soft yellow light bulbs flickered on in the trees and the world seemed to light up. In the gentle glow, everything appears peaceful and seems okay, if just for as long as the sun is setting. It’s been hard with you not here, but I felt you with me when I saw those little beams of light. It felt like you were here.

 

Dear Winter,

Upper East Side, New York, New York, 7:32 a.m.

New York at Christmas is my favorite time of the year and the best time to be in the city. Walking down 5th, I feel like I’m gliding delicately through a snow globe. It’s quite early, not 8 a.m. on a Saturday. Cafés and newsstands littered with green wreaths and dripping with shiny icicles are just opening up, the sleepy owners brushing a sleepy dusting of snow off tables and awnings. Everything around me is so white it’s glowing. It actually snowed a good bit last night and the snow has yet to be touched by sticky-fingered kids and dirty pigeons with questionable motives. We don’t get this kind of snow in North Carolina, so I don’t mind being outside even in the bone-chilling morning air. Because it’s a weekend, the normal 7:30 a.m. work bustle is tempered, as is the normal crowd. Everyone is still in bed, probably, enjoying the cold winter morning from a comfortably warm distance with cocoa and fuzzy socks. As I look around, the only brave ones out are some extreme- looking runners, a few mailmen and, because I couldn’t sleep, me. Too much on my mind, I guess. I buy a cappuccino from the closest café, although admittedly annoyed that I just spent $8 on hot foam and burned coffee. I take a sip of espresso and with it, swallow the snobbery of the most prestigious neighborhood in the city. That’s the Upper East Side for you.

New York is one of the biggest cities in the world. With so many people you’d think it would be hard to feel this lonely. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and I wish you were here. I can’t remember the last Christmas without you, so maybe you could come back now. Colin is gone; he had to go spend Christmas with his dad’s side in Connecticut. To be honest, I don’t miss him that much anyway. You probably would have been right about him. While the fall was warmer, this winter doesn’t follow suit and it feels even colder than reads the thermostat. I told my mom, for the first time, that I missed you. She said that made her sad, and she misses you too. But she doesn’t think that it’s a good idea for you to come back. Today will be another cold day, but maybe tomorrow will be a little warmer.

 

Dear Spring,

Some outdoor café in Tribeca, New York, New York, 11:45 a.m.

Spring has crept back to us, with its subtle warmth and the careful promise of new beginnings. It’s mid-May and today is the warmest it’s been since the summer. Well, except for the Indian summer of October. Later in the afternoon it will be too hot to sit comfortably outside, but for now I will enjoy the balmy air. By now, I guess I’ve gotten used to you being gone, although I still feel your presence with me sometimes. Most times. I probably always will, which is comforting. Perhaps a bit haunting too. Ever since the accident, I’ve spent a lot of time alone. Not sad time, but reflective time. Oh, and there was that short time I spent with Colin too. He’s long gone, as you may have guessed. Anyway, I’ve done a lot of internal reflection. And thinking. A lot of thinking. When it’s nice out, I come to little cafes like this one in quiet neighborhoods and sit outside and write. I’ve seen so much more of the city doing this. I was never much of a writer, as you know, but it’s something to do and they said it might help. In the beginning, I wrote a lot of letters to you. My mom suggested that I do this. But writing letters I could never send sounded counterproductive to me. What’s the point if you’re never going to read them? So this will be the last letter I write to you. And honestly, it’s mostly for myself.

You’re gone now and that’s okay. The last time I saw you was when we were having lunch at that over-priced bistro in the East Village. Not our usual spot, but they had good truffles and you loved truffles. I remember your hair was getting long, and that I told you to cut it. I guess you never got the chance before…well, before the accident. I do not think we get to choose the moments that become engrained in our minds forever, and I’m not quite sure how I exactly feel about this. But forever I will have my last vision of you in that soft grey t-shirt eating truffles and laughing over the thought of the upcoming presidential election. I wish I could see your face now. Oh how I loved that shirt on you.

Lastly, I want to thank you. Thank you for being there for the too-short time you were. Thank you for your love and for challenging me. Thank you for showing me the beauty of life, and of New York. I used to only see the aggressive smog of Times Square and the angry ways of the commuters, but now I have found grace in smaller things. When the delicate pink cherry blossoms in Central Park started blooming, I saw your pink cheeks smiling in the beauty of the trees. When the lake melted at the boathouse and the ducks came back with their new babies, I smiled and thought of you. When you left New York, everything seemed sad and I saw it all in a dull shade of grey. But I know you wouldn’t want this for me. Because of you, I’ve learned to look at the city in a brighter hue. Now I see platinum skyscrapers pierce the crisp blue sky. I see hope and the promise of opportunity in the businessmen running in suits to catch cabs; I see humor and excitement in the mundane, in well-dressed nannies and sticky children parading through Central Park; and even romance in newspapers with wedding announcements scattered along the sidewalk, laying in piles of green leaves and city grime. I gratefully inhale the sweet and spicy chestnuts toasting in carts and even the burning blonde roast from a nearby café. I hear the quiet roar of traffic, which has become like a peaceful white noise. Horns, sirens and a light wave of conversation flood my ears. Everything I see and feel now is more vivid and bright. Thank you for this; my life is now more colorful because of you.

With the end of spring, I look forward to summer. When you left, I felt like I was drowning. I was hit with a tidal wave and for a moment, I forgot how to swim. I now no longer search for the strokes to stay afloat, but rather suspend calmly on the surface, my method of flotation a comprehensive acceptance for the future. With the changing of seasons, I got better. New York is a town of survival of the fittest and it sure has taught me how to survive even the darkest of seasons.

Today, after I write this final letter, I will go to that café in the East Village and order eggs with black truffles. And with every bite I take, I willingly let go of you, allowing your sad ephemeral aftertaste to steadily dissolve on my tongue and from my memory.


A Word from Caroline

Headshot of Caroline SamuelsonWhen approaching the essay assignment, which was to write a “lyrical essay,” I was first puzzled. I had never written a lyrical essay and didn’t really even understand what it was. But as we discussed the essay style in class, I decided to just write about things for which I felt strongly—the allusion of New York, of lost love, the promise of hope and the secretiveness of both the past and future. I liked the idea of conveying my story through seasons because not only did it provide for a seamless transition without the need to explain the passing of time, but it also allowed me to remain somewhat mysterious in that the reader was only getting a summary of what had happened since the last season. When writing this paper, I also thought about the song “New York City” by the Chainsmokers. This EDM group is a favorite of mine, and the lyrics are quite powerful. Some of the most influential lines of the song, with respect to my paper, were:

“When I went away, saw your face in my rearview.

I know that look on your face, that I had lost you.

New York City, please go easy on me tonight.

New York City, please go easy on this heart of mine.”

My favorite season in the paper is definitely “spring” because it shows personal growth and hope, which is mirrored by the idea of a “spring awakening.” When writing this piece, I thought about a quote from Ernest Hemingway: “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” So that’s what I started with and the rest came pretty easy. When looking back on my paper, I took into account the advice of my peers/professor, which was to consolidate some of my sentences. I tend to get lost in description, which can be distracting from the overall theme of the piece. Overall, I am grateful for the advice and wisdom I received from Elisabeth Whitehead and others who helped me achieve the final product I have today.


From Professor Elisabeth Whitehead

Assignment

Lyric Essay

“The lyric essay allows for the moments of pause, the gaps, the silence. The fragmentation feels correct to the piece: it allows for the moments of “not knowing,” the unspoken words that seem truer than anything I could ever say aloud.”

–Brenda Miller

For your third project, write a lyric essay. It might be helpful to consider the lyric essay as a hybrid form that doesn’t follow a traditional narrative approach. Though difficult to define, we might think of the lyric essay as a joining of the essay, that perhaps leans more toward argument or story, and the lyric (coming from the word lyre) perhaps concerned more with the music of language, with tone, and with imagery. Or perhaps we can think of the lyric essay as interaction between poetry and prose; a form that is not quite poetry and not quite prose. According to Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola, the lyric essay favors “fragmentation and imagery; they use white space and juxtaposition as structural elements. They are as attuned to silences as they are to utterance.” The lyric essay’s resistance to definition is part of its great beauty and strength.

This project will require your willingness to experiment and to take risks in your writing. Here are some options that might be helpful to consider: 1. Use any of our authors as models for your essay. 2. Write a Collage, Hermit Crab, Braided, or Prose Poem essay.  3. See the end of “The Lyric Essay” by Miller and Paola for exercise ideas. 4. Create your own form. Form or structure will be an important part of your “argument” or rhetorical choice in this essay.

Although the lyric essay may seem to differ significantly from the other forms we have worked with this semester, it has similar considerations: to reach and connect with an audience, to move beyond an intimate telling to connect with others on a more universal level, to explore the uniqueness of your own voice, to use form in an engaging way, to practice skills of observation, analysis, and precision of language. Bernard Cooper says of the lyric essay, “To write short nonfiction requires an alertness to detail, a quickening of the senses, a focusing of the literary lens, so to speak, until one has magnified some small aspect of what it means to be human.” Keep this in mind as you begin your work!

Professor Commentary

In this lyric essay, written in epistolary form, we connect quickly to the characters as a result of Caroline’s direct and honest voice as a writer. The voice is precise and sculpted, but at the same time it is casual, as though we can hear the author speaking out loud to the subject of these letters, and also to us. Even as we feel an immediate closeness with the author, there will be many details she will choose not to reveal to us throughout the essay. This creates a compelling dynamic. There is a gentleness and intimacy in this writing.

At the end of the essay, the author directly thanks the subject for allowing her to be able to see the world with greater clarity and precision. Caroline writes that she once could only see smog and angry commuters in New York, but now she has “found grace in smaller things.” This is felt strongly throughout the letters. We witness the author seeing with precision, in the beautiful descriptions of her surroundings. There is the sense that she pays attention closely so as to share, in detail, her experiences with a friend who is no longer there. We also see how the author looks at her surroundings, changed, as though seeing through the eyes of the subject. The author wonders to herself: What would you see?

Peeking through descriptions of daily experience, we have brief glimpses of the author’s longing to be with her friend again. These moments feel even more poignant as they appear in a breath or two, before they disappear again, surrounded by the details of her day: “Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and I wish you were here. I can’t remember the last Christmas without you, so maybe you could come back now.” We know the author cares deeply for her friend. We know that her friend loves truffles, loves to laugh, is protective of the author. We know there has been an accident. And, in the end, we know that this person will never read these letters. During the semester, when we were workshopping an earlier version of this essay, one of Caroline’s partners remarked that she wanted to know more about the subject, but realized that she didn’t need to know more. Maybe what Caroline decides not to include helps her audience to connect even more to their own experiences with loss and longing. The writing is intimate, but not private.

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