Veterans, Part Three: Kenneth

 

January 15, 2015

“I think God is evil. I don’t think God is fighting the Devil, I think God is fighting mankind and that he's kind of jealous of the human race... God is supposed to be right there to protect us all, and I don’t see how God is doing his job. He’s not my protector.”

Kenneth is especially hesitant when the case manager first approaches him about the interview. He is wary of the girl with the recorder and the camera, who so clearly does not belong to this world. He seems incredibly tough and unapproachable, and he responds to my first questions with the shortest answers possible. He tells me of his decision to enlist, how he was a young black man living in the city in the 1970s, where social pressures were building and he was surrounded by drugs, gangs, and violence, and he saw the army as a way out. He’s grateful for his time in the military, glad of his decision, but his life hasn’t been easy since then. He bounced around from job to job, girl to girl, struggled with depression and alcohol and drug addictions, winding up homeless on different occasions. He felt incredibly lost for much of his life. He didn’t know how to take care of himself, how to be responsible, struggled to take life seriously. Like so many of the Vietnam vets that I've met with, he wasn't prepared to deal with the return to civilian life. Now, he finds himself living in this house for the second time around, waiting for subsidized housing. He’s on disability, is grateful to have a steady paycheck coming in and a roof over his head, grateful for the support and help he gets from this place, hopeful that this will be the time everything changes. 

I’m surprised when he first asks me about religion. We’ve ended the interview, I’ve turned off the recorder and am setting up my camera to photograph him, when he suddenly asks if I believe in God. He doesn’t, can’t, not after everything he has seen. He tells me that he believes in people and their inherent goodness, that “we all want peace, deep down,” but that if there is a God, he’s not a kind one, but one that is jealous and unforgiving. He seems like he’s been waiting to get this off his chest, has been struggling living in a house that celebrates Christian values. He loosens up considerably after this conversation, seems much more comfortable, opens up for the camera. He shakes my hand every time he sees me now, asks me repeatedly how I’m doing. He is chatty and sociable and always smiling, and I am continuously amazed at the contrast between this and the man that I saw the first time I met him, the man who put on such a tough and unapproachable air.

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Life at the Webster

When I was 21 I moved to Manhattan for six months for an internship. Not wanting to bother with finding an apartment to sublet when I already had a place in Philly, I moved into a building called The Webster Apartments. Built in 1923, the Webster is a non-profit apartment building for working women. Down the street from the first Macy’s, it was originally built so that the women moving to the city to work in department stores could live alone safely. 

The Webster felt like a surreal cross between a hotel, a dorm, and a convent. It was incredibly old fashioned, and many of the rooms felt like they hadn’t changed at all in the 90 years the building had been open. They had a website, but no email. Men weren’t allowed past the first floor, not even family members, unless they were accompanied by a member of the staff. Living there was an incredibly strange experience, like being stuck in time. I’d walk through the front doors after work everyday and and feel like I was transported back to the 1920s. But it was warm and safe and comfortable, and for an amazingly low price (relatively speaking) I had my own tiny room with a view of the Empire State Building, two free meals a day, and a maid (she actually made my bed and emptied my trash daily and vacuumed and washed my linens weekly - I don't think I've ever been so spoiled). The bathrooms were communal, but they were also recently updated, far better than anything I’ve ever had Philadelphia apartments. It was a haven for girls like me, unpaid interns and working students who flocked here from all over the world, looking to make New York City home for a few months.

 

But while the building was centered around young women like me, there was another demographic living in the building that represented a very different side of the Webster. Many of the residents were older, women who had been there for years and had no plans on moving out, content on living there forever. Like the building itself, they were hopelessly stuck in time, a sharp contrast to the young interns and students who saw their lives in this building as the beginning of their careers. I often walked past the room of one of these women. She would leave her door open to lessen the feeling of claustrophobia, and through the doorway I could see that she had stuffed her little 8’x10’ room with years and years worth of stuff, piles stretching as high as the ceiling, a hoarder's paradise.

Half way through my stay there, management sent out a notice that they were reinstating a five-year limit on the length of stay. Women who had been there for more than 5 years already had two years to find a new place. I thought of the middle-aged woman on the floor below me, with her tiny room piled high with a lifetime of belongings. She seemed to be trapped in this building, trapped in time. It made me incredibly sad to imagine her living this life forever, but I can’t imagine what she, and the other women like her, will end up doing. 

I wish I had gotten to know these women, had spoken with them, photographed them. I wish I had had a chance to listen to their stories. 

Veterans, Part Two: Walter

November 19th, 2014

“I visited death briefly. I don’t think I have that many runs left in me.”

Walter is sitting across from me in the tiny, familiar room, framed by a dizzying array of speckled of light coming in through the patterned curtains, and for the first time the door is closed. The rule is that I’m never supposed to be alone in a room with one of the veterans, I’m always supposed to be accompanied by a case manager, but they’ve made an exception for Walter. He has had a particularly troubled life, even for the men here, and he doesn’t want to be overheard by anyone. Walter doesn’t understand why this is such a big deal. “I’m not crazy or anything,” he tells me. “Its not like I’m going to rape you.”

Walter was only 15 when he enlisted, using a forged birth certificate to escape a troubled family life. He was only 15 when he began drinking, encouraged by the men around him “to get fucked up every night.” He was only 15 when he woke up in a pool of his roommate’s blood and realized that the other boy had succumbed to his depression and slit his wrists. Walter doesn’t hold back when he tells me his life story. I get the sense, like with so many of the men here, that he has been waiting to share these demons, waiting for someone from the outside world who is not a therapist to come by and show an interest in his life. He tells me how he and his first wife were both heroin addicts, how after her suicide he came to the heart wrenching realization that the best thing to do for his children was to give up his parental rights, to give his children to his wife’s sister. After that he entered a seemingly endless period of addiction, helped along by an enabling mother, until one day he overdosed and his heart stopped and he woke up in a hospital and realized that he had reached the end of the line, that he needed to find the strength to finally turn his life around. The bruises on his chest from the CPR that gave him back his life serve as daily reminders that this is his last chance. 

Walter is oddly calm through all this, and is less engaged than most when I photograph him. Despite the heartbreaking words that he tells, he seems devoid of emotion, as if all his years of suffering have left him numb, have taken everything, leaving behind only this newfound, quiet determination to keep on living. 

Lidice and Terezín

July 11th, 2014

Lidice

In May of 1942, a group of British parachuters assassinated Reich Protecter Reinhard Heydrich. As part of his retribution, Hitler chose to punish the nearby village of Lidice, which was home to over 500 people.

"Adolf Hitler gave the following orders for Lidice:
All adult men to be shot.
All women to be sent to a concentration camp.
Children suitable for Germanization to be placed in SS families in the Reich. The rest to be re-educated by other means.
The village to be razed to the ground."

"The last school photo was taken on 2 June 1942, eight days before the tragedy." 

"The tragedy of Lidice had a sad sequel on 16 June 1942, when another twenty-six of its inhabitants were shot at the shooting range in Prague-Kobylisy. They included fifteen members of the Horak and Stříbrný families and also seven workers, who were working a night shift on the fatal day of 10 June 1942. The execution squad also shot František Pitín, who had managed to excape Lidice, Bohumil Pospíšil, who was brought from the Kladno hospital, and Joself Doležal and Josef Nerad, who had both just turned fifteem. During an identity check of the Lidice children in the Kladno grammar school, it was found that they had reached fifteen years of age a few days before. For that reason they were also sent to Kobylisy to be shot."

Terezín

The concentration camp Terezín, located in Northern Bohemia, served as a holding camp, where prisoners were kept before being sent to death camps. Although Terezín was not an extermination camp, around 33,000 people died there. 

Prague, Part One

July 7th, 2014

Vaclav Havel was, among other things, a playwright, poet, dissident, and statesman. His political activities against the communist regime resulted in several stints in prison, government surveillance, and frequent questioning by the Secret Police. He was the first president after the Czech-Slovak split (1989-1993), and the first Czech president to be democratically elected. 

The Prague Astronomical clock was built in 1410. It is the third oldest clock of its kind in the world, and the oldest one that is still working. 

Jan Palach was a Czech student who set himself on fire to protest the Soviet invasion of the Czech Republic and the end of the Prague Spring. 

The John Lennon Wall

Here is New York

My time living in New York for co-op feels like another life time ago. Its hard to believe that it was only two months ago that I was living in my tiny room with its view of the Empire State Building, walking down 7th avenue everyday to an internship that I loved, drinking coffee all the time and walking through Central Park every chance that I could get. Now that I'm back on campus in Philly it feels like I never left. Those six months living by myself in Manhattan are like something from a dream I had long ago.

Towards the end of my co-op I began to fret about all things I had yet to experience and tried to fit as much as I could into my remaining weekends. I read

Here is New York

by E.B.White entirely on subway rides. I explored Brooklyn in the snow with a coworker and built my first ever snowman (sort of) in Prospect Park. I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge and took in the Manhattan skyline from Dumbo Park. I wandered through Central Park for the last time, exploring corners of the park I'd never seen before. I said goodbye to a city that I'd grown to love, to all the memories and adventures I'd had there. I don't know what the future has in store, but I'm comforted knowing that the city is still out there, waiting for me if I ever choose to return. 

(Just ignore the fact that these first three photos are from Philly. The snow was just too pretty not to share)

best friends, seafood, and thunderstorms: a weekend in Baton Rouge, part one

Two weekends ago I was able visit one of my best friends in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where she's currently completing her second internship with Dow Chemical Company. The weather was beautiful and the people were unnaturally friendly and once again I took too many photos. Welcome to the land of Southern accents, fried food, and drive-thru daiquiri stands. Go Tigers.  

January 9th

January 10th

LSU's Campus

Along the Mississippi 

Home Sweet Home

I was able to take an entire week off and spend Thanksgiving at home with my family for the first time in four years. Here's a few quick snapshots from my time at home to remind everyone over here on the East Coast that warm weather still exists somewhere. Though who would want palm trees and beaches and sunshine when you can have SNOW?

Spoiler alert: my pets are adorable.




















It's Fall in New York City

The leaves are red and the air is cool and French bulldogs are wearing sweaters. I had the day off Tuesday and wandered through new parts of Central Park as the sun was setting and the light was gold. I apologize for the unnecessarily large amount of photos, but you can't spend all your life in Southern California and not get a little overly excited when you see leaves changing colors. 

The Chelsea Market

Happy Belated Halloween!

Getty Station, a public art project in Chelsea

Its finally started to feel like fall here! I'm seriously considering splurging and buying a tiny pumpkin for my room. I'm also trying to decide when is the earliest that its socially acceptable to hang a Christmas wreath on my door. 

On Saturday I wandered around through new neighborhoods exploring and running errands, and then I visited Central Park again. The leaves were falling and beginning to change colors, and there were dogs everywhere, which is half the reason I go to Central Park in the first place. Life would be perfect if I could just adopt a dog or a cat. I swear I pass about five French Bulldogs every time I walk outside, and I want all of them.

{Seriously, how adorable is this face? Also, I passed this same dog carrying a newspaper both times that I visited NYC last year, once in November and once in May. Weird. }



Saturday




 I'm turning 21 in less than a week and I am not at all ashamed to admit that I'm still entranced by bubbles. 

 And these were GIANT bubbles. 




 Sunday

Sunday I walked along the High Line and the Hudson River with a friend who goes to NYU. We ate lunch at a place called the Meatball Shop, which has surprisingly delicious vegetarian meatballs. It was grey and misty, which is pretty much my favorite kind of weather, plus I got free coffee.  Win-win. 

 We got to witness the end of a small wedding!





 One thing that I've come to love about this city in my short time here is how easy it is find somewhere where it doesn't feel like you're still in the city. When wandering deep inside Central Park or walking along a river, its easy to forget you're still in New York.




First Weekend in the City

Hello all! I decided to start a blog partly to chronicle my time here in New York City, where I'll be living for the next six months, and partly to keep myself from getting too bored in this new no classes/homework/roommates world. And basically I just have an uncontrollable need to document everything in my life with photographs, and this seems like a less obnoxious of doing so than bombarding everyone's facebooks and instagrams with photos they may or may not actually want to see! 

I spent my first weekend here wandering around and exploring different parts of the city. I went to the New York Public Library first, where they had an exhibit on the importance of children's literature. And maybe I'm a total nerd, but I really loved it. The building itself is absolutely beautiful. After that I walked through central park for the second time this week and the first time by myself. I saw a few performances along the Central Park Mall, including an AMAZING magic show. I'm a total sucker for magic tricks but this one was so cool!! It included a girl signing a card and then the card appearing folded up inside of a banana. Mind blown. It was almost as impressive as the trick in Now You See Me with the card in the tree, and I know it was totally fake but it still looked really cool. I also wandered around in the pseudo-wilderness for awhile, got to pet a French Bulldog (I'm having major dog withdrawals), and enjoyed the peace and quiet. I'm really excited to take photos there in the fall and winter.  

On Sunday I went to the Dumbo Arts Festival in Brooklyn (successfully taking the subway by myself for the second time yay!) with some people I've met at work. It was a really beautiful day and a gorgeous place. We visited the studio of Laetitia Soulier, an incredibly talented artist. If anyone is actually reading this, you should take the time to watch at least 30 seconds of the video on her website, its so inspiring to see the amount of work that goes into her images!


Saturday

The New York Public Library






30 Rockefeller Plaza



Central Park










Sunday

Dumbo Arts Festival, Brooklyn