Blue Skies

After returning a few books to one of my favorite libraries in the city (Jefferson Market on Sixth Avenue; it has these beautiful stained glass windows, and a turret!), I decided to go for a walk downtown towards the Village and Tribeca. It was Memorial Day Weekend, and as of that moment, I had no real plans to do anything or go anywhere. It had just stopped raining, and the sun was beginning to peak through the clouds. I started heading south on Sixth Avenue not sure of my destination, but rather in want of a nice journey in getting there.

I came to where Sixth intersects Carmine Street and stopped. In front of me was the most charming little square of a park with a fountain and trees. In the background, the tall steeple of a church was visible over the treeline, and for half a second, I was able to convince myself I was in Italy rather than New York. I had been to this park once before, but had nearly forgotten it as I’m never in this part of the city very frequently.

Father Demo Square: a piazza in the midst of the West Village.

Father Demo Square aka where I found the light in the Piazza

Father Demo Square aka where I found the light in the Piazza

The last time I had been here, it had been a chilly, grey day in the winter. All the trees were barren, the fountain empty. Snow dotted the tops of the benches and the iron railings surrounding the park. The only constant between that winter’s day and this decidedly summer-like one was the endless bicycles locked to the railings on all the sides of the park.

With the fountain bubbling and gurgling on this warmer day towards the end of May, I decided to sit for a while and enjoy its relaxing sounds. I chose a bench on the Carmine Street side of the square, under the canopy of leafy, green trees. I closed my eyes for a second, still trying to convince myself I was in Europe instead, and that’s when I heard him. A voice nimbly accompanying the strums of an acoustic guitar.

I quickly opened my eyes and glanced over to my right. There, with just a long, empty wooden bench in between us, was the most beautiful (and I choose that word instead of handsome, because his features were more delicate than jarring) twentysomething boy with a beanie on his head and a guitar in his long-fingered hands. He radiated Greenwich Village stereotypes, and yet he was unique somehow. We made eye contact for a second, and then both looked away as if we realized we were invading each other’s privacy in a very public space.

Now, he really started to play and sing, his voice confident but not imposing. It took me a second to realize what song he had chosen, because he was playing it as if he were Django Reinhardt, all French-style jazz guitar. Was I in Italy or France now? (No, I was still in New York, but this City can change its skin faster than Mystique in X-Men.) Cole Porter. “Blue Skies.” It totally surprised and delighted me that this beautiful boy would choose the Great American Songbook rather than Bob Dylan or Simon & Garfunkel, which would have been more obvious were we basing our decision on appearance.

And there was something about the way he was making this old song his own that delighted me too; it felt new. The casualness of it all, the way his voice scatted around the notes was downright sexy; it was like he wasn’t even trying. I looked over at him and realized there was no tip jar out, no expectation of getting money for his troubadour-ing. This was purely for pleasure, whose I’m not sure, but I certainly shared in the sensation. I realized too I was harmonizing along with him, not loud enough for him to really hear, but I’d like to think he did, because we locked eyes again for a second. I felt like he was playing just for himself and me in a way. In my head, we were entangled in a duet, and only we knew it.

I turned back toward the fountain, and a small smile crept over my lips. I was having one of those classic “I love New York” moments, but it was more than that. How could I have forgotten that art is chiefly about passion and pleasure? I’ve been spending so much time in my almost three years in New York trying to figure out how to make money from my art that most of the pleasure has been sucked right out of the whole process. This beautiful hipster boy with his guitar felt so good to my ears and my heart and my soul. I know it sounds like one cliché after another, but sharing in his apparent pleasure stemming from his art made me happier than I’ve been in quite a long time. He was having a journey that day too, albeit an artistic one, without the need for knowing the destination or even having one. Art for art’s sake. Pleasure for pleasure’s sake. I needed to find those things again for myself.

He switched gears into something mellower, more soulful. He would stop every so often, fiddling with a different chord until he found one he liked, and would continue on. I pulled out my journal and began writing, hoping to remember some of this moment for later, and I felt him glance over at me ever so briefly as my head was engrossed in my scribbling. I wanted to say “hello” but I felt like it would break the magical spell, and I wanted that spell to last for as long as possible. Music is one of the few real magical things in this world, and I wasn’t about to ruin such a delicate thing as this. I was trying to savor it, not knowing if I would ever see this soulful troubadour again (but secretly hoping I would).

A minute or two later, a man came and sat on the empty bench in between us, and the illusion was shattered. Beautiful Guitar Boy noodled around a minute or two more before packing up his instrument and silencing his voice. I felt desperate all of a sudden. Don’t go, don’t go, please don’t go, I thought to myself as he stood up from his bench, lit a cigarette, and took a long drag, surveying the park. I had had a taste of his music, his pleasure, and I wanted more. I kept my eyes down on my journal, but I longed for his voice in my ears so much I glanced back over at him just in time to see him flick his cigarette to the ground and carefully sling his guitar case over his back.

He started walking in my direction, and I got excited for a half second thinking he was coming over to say hello and ask me to run away with him to Paris where we’d sing on cobblestone street corners and live on baguettes and red wine and cigarettes just like something out of a Truffaut or Goddard film.  But he passed me by, his cool, lanky figure leaving the park and walking up Sixth Avenue to some unknown destination and possibly chic, artsy girlfriend (or boyfriend…who knows anymore?), and I felt sad to be losing him and his music. For a brief interlude, they both had brought me such happiness, such sheer delight in art and music and life, and now I would probably never see him again. But I had felt something stir in me that I thought I had been dulled by too many hard things in life, and it gave me hope.

Alas, parting is such sweet sorrow.

And so I too decided I needed to move on, and casting an affectionate glance at the bench my beautiful, mystery troubadour had just occupied, I thoughtfully strolled out of the park and in the direction of the sun, hoping its illumination might also enlighten my mind and heart.

Most Likely

You should probably know that for whatever reason (possibly peer pressure and/or lack of any other logical choice for the title), my high school graduating class voted me “Most Likely to Be Famous.” When you open my senior yearbook, you’ll see a photo of my fellow title-holder/BFF Taylor and me posing as though we were signing autographs for our “adoring fans.” It’s a silly photo, but I remember feeling important having some tiny bit of recognition from my classmates. Which is also silly. Fact: high school, overall, is silly. Anyway, the point is that enough people knew about my dreams of chasing an acting career to give me an extra yearbook photo and a Senior “Most” Award, which as you know, is basically a precursor to winning a People’s Choice Award.

Duckie Dale: gay icon and hipster sartorial inspiration

Duckie Dale: gay icon and hipster sartorial inspiration

Back then, I thought I had gotten one of the best senior awards, and not just because it was the only one I got. Even now, I still think that. I mean, “Best Dressed” is already dated. I was never going to win “Cutest Couple” because the only guy I really dated in high school went to a different school and turned out to be gay, which I should have realized when he was too complimentary of my outfits and then started dressing like Duckie Dale from Pretty in Pink with bolo ties (Love you, Matt. Seriously.). “Most Likely to Never Leave” is beyond sad. Looking at my frizzy, wild hair post-early morning marching band practice, no one would have voted me “Best Hair,” and I wouldn’t have wanted it anyway as I’m pretty sure that means you have to compete against Friends-era Jennifer Aniston and Nashville’s Connie Britton in some elitist hair pageant or something.

Getting my hair to look like this is akin to finding a unicorn.

This is just UNFAIR, ladies.

I suppose “Most Likely to Be President” would have been fine, except I was never in student council and had no political ambitions and would never have been as smooth as Bill Clinton at getting out of awkward situations.

So of all the choices, I got “Most Likely to Be Famous,” and along with it, a burden.

Why, you ask, is getting a silly senior class award a burden? Because you don’t actually realize it’s now the weird future point of judgment for everything you do after high school. My award is actually more like a goal, career results-based. Sure, you can win “Best Hair” in high school and still be trying to live up to it each year, but “Most Likely to Be Famous” carries with it this whole host of issues.

Now, don’t get me wrong: fame is fleeting and not the most fulfilling of life plans. Some people spend their whole lives chasing fame; the whole reality TV scene is based upon this principle. And if I wanted to try to get famous quickly, I’d submit my name for the Real World or Big Brother or something else involving too much making out in a probably highly unsanitary hot tub. If you pander to the cameras and play up your personality, you might just be America’s topic of conversation for a hot second or a few clever internet memes.

But the kind of notoriety I would want is the kind built around career achievements; my acting work and the roles I’ve played. This takes patience and hard work and with it the risk that I may never achieve Meryl Streep-esque notoriety. This kind of fame is the one I would prefer and the one I’d want to seek out. The kind where nobody is reading a blurb about you in Us Weekly wondering if you’re dating John Mayer. The kind where everyone is instead only reading about what new film or play you’re working on or just finished. When I received that “Most Likely To Be Famous” title, THIS is the kind of fame I’d pictured and knew would be a long road to REALLY earning the title I’d been bequeathed by my classmates.

Practically perfect in every way

Practically perfect in every way

Of course, does anyone take these senior awards seriously anyway once you’re out of high school? No. But looking back on that time in my life through the pages of that yearbook reminded me that once we all DID take it a little seriously. We measured our popularity, achievements, and visibility by the amount of page numbers listed by our names in the yearbook index: the more you had, the more remembered you’d be. We all wanted so desperately to be remembered a certain way: cool, involved, outstanding even. Our senior awards were the last crowning achievements we’d get before we became lowly freshman once again in college. To be a “Most Likely” was to be a star; the high school equivalent of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Every time anyone opens up that particular yearbook from 2007, they will see my toothy visage and name underneath my “Most Likely” award. I have been immortalized as someone who was known for something in high school.

The winners of Most Likely to Be Famous at high school graduation aka the day humidity frizzed out my hair...as USUAL

The winners of “Most Likely to Be Famous” at high school graduation aka the day humidity frizzed out my hair…as USUAL  NOT Connie Britton/Jennifer Aniston-worthy.

But what if I don’t live up to my Senior Most? What if I never achieve the fame for which I was supposedly destined, according to the Fulton High School Class of 2007? Why do I even care? I suppose that we all, in some ways, worry about our other people’s perceptions of us, and high school has always been a breeding ground for insecurities that can last well into adulthood. I myself was always an A-student, so to get anything less, to not be constantly the best has always been a personal battle; learning to let go of that perfectionism is something I work on every day. Would people think less of me if I didn’t achieve all the time (and specifically achieve this particular thing)? Honestly, no. And it’s hard for me to admit that, because I’m too wrapped up in my own neuroses, but it’s true. The minute you start letting your life be defined by what other people think of you is the minute it ceases being YOUR life.

AND no matter what group you belonged to in high school, I know now it was a weird time for everyone. Nobody actually feels cool in high school. It’s this secret no one tells you until you graduate and start getting older and forgetting about the bullshit of it all and really talking to one another. We make so many assumptions in high school about other people. It still cracks me up that some of my high school classmates get surprised when I tell them about some of my wilder nights in college and here in the City. “You drink?” they ask me astonished. Uh, yeah. I’m a normal twenty-five year old woman. Surprise! Tequila does just as much damage to my liver and memories and judgment as you.

We’re all seeking to be a “most” in something in our life, whether that be in our career or relationships or families. We want people to remember us for something unique to us, something that gave our lives some semblance of meaning. Life isn’t measured by yearbook mentions, it’s about what we do and who we are, the people whose lives we touch. You can’t measure those things or turn them into some “most” award, truthfully. Success is a personal thing, its definition changing person-to-person, life-to-life. What I want for MY life, what makes me a success, is no one else’s business but mine.

According to the lens flare on this photo, J.J. Abrams took it. (just kidding)

According to the lens flare on this photo, J.J. Abrams took it. (just kidding)

I may never become famous the way my high school yearbook predicted, and I’m okay with that. Seriously. My senior “most” award, like many of my (questionable) outfits from that part of my life, is just a relic of an era-gone-by. It belongs to a person I barely recognize anymore, a person who has grown so far beyond the one in that photo. It’s almost shocking to look at her and realize that was me a little less than a decade ago, that I was so thrilled about something so trivial. It’s then that I realize just how much I have changed, how much life I have lived since then for better or worse.

And to be honest, if I could give myself any award these days, it would be “Most Improved.”