in which I find a favorite coffee shop

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Coffee shop culture is an uprising roar of late. For writers, it’s equal to the office. Ink-stained fingers are replaced for coffee stained desks (or for me, I still have both). The atmosphere of people coming-and-going, the hum of city streets, and the bitter caffeinated lips on cold cups makes for a blank canvas; a canvas crying for cathedrals to be built by the loose cement of words.

There’s something new about trying new coffee shops to find new types of stories, however there is the same draw in finding your favorite corners. If you’re ever in Chelsea, go to Intelligentsia’s coffee bar in The Highline Hotel. Whether in the cozy inside or outside facing the city or in the enchanting garden area out back, this coffee shop is asking for the adventurous to build their cathedrals and everyone to share a drink and a conversation. After only an hour, this place left me in wonders, as all good coffee shops should.

the cronut (or why good food matters)

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It’s 8AM in Soho. The street is full of people briskly walking to work, runners, dog-walkers, and a odd line of people in front of a bakery. The question arises, “What bakery is worth a line?”. The bakery is Dominique Ansel and the crowd is for the creation of the Cronut: the child of a croissant and donut that’s made its way up in the world.

I’d heard the marvels of the Cronut and I can say it was 100% worthy of all expectations.

While sitting in the bakery’s courtyard eating the glorious pastry, I asked myself a question: why do we stand in line for breakfast? Why do we marvel over something simple as food? Don’t we have more important things to do?

However, the truth I have found is that we are meant to marvel. It’s not hard to marvel in Manhattan; it is a city of many beautiful encounters yet we are not made just to marvel at skyscrapers, we are meant to encounter all the little things that fill a crowded city. There’s something about food that doesn’t only sustain us but brings us community. It brings us the anticipation, the satisfaction, and the awe of standing in line at 8am on a crowded Soho street to eat something very good.

It’s the little things that can fill us up with wonder and sometimes it takes great food to make us realize that. And to that I say, let’s wonder on.

one morning on 5th avenue

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This month, my Dad invited me to spend a few days with him in the city while he worked. Therefore, I found myself alone in the city one cool Thursday morning. Our hotel was on Lexington Avenue so I walked a couple of blocks and found myself in one of the prettiest busy corners. The entire trip was a happy blur, but the beginning was such a happy adventure for myself including warm NY bagels (and I quote Wicked when I say I do believe I have been changed for the better) that I happily ate on a walk to Central Park and a successful coffee shop hunt (completed in Ninth Street Espresso). T’was a good morning.

New York is transparent in the spring, when the dead things are paraded with sudden life. The whole city matches the beat of the hearts that it holds.

That’s what I love about the city when it comes down to it. It’s a big bundle of reckless love and longing tucked into five different boroughs.

Manhattan was always like a dream, even before it was real to me. The pure idea of the city was one of wonder. I clearly remember the first time I visited at age 8, crying as we flew away, the skyline in the distance. “I fear I view New York much like a crush,” I remember remarking to a friend one day, “It appears to be this great thing, but I fear eventually it will bring disappointment.”

Yet each time I go and leave, New York has yet to collect dust for me or grow old like a girlhood fantasy. Perhaps it’s the thing I love most; New York is a dusty place. It’s everything in a small distance: you’ve got the financial district, you’ve got the art neighborhoods, you’ve got the bridges that cross to Brooklyn and Queens, and a short distance away you’ve got the different world of Harlem and the Bronx. In New York, you have everyone: the tourists, the immigrants, the soul-seekers, the money gainers, the young and old.

New York, you make me a whole human being in the way that tears me apart the most. Manhattan is still a a dream to me and I have no intention of waking up.

more than changing planes

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“Maybe you should go to Paris…” 
“To Paris?”
“It helped me a lot. Have you ever been there?”
“Oh, yes. Yes. Once. I was there for thirty-five minutes.”
“Thirty-five minutes?”
“Changing planes…”
“Oh, but Paris isn’t for changing planes, it’s… it’s for changing your outlook, for… for throwing open the windows and letting in… letting in la vie en rose.

– Sabrina

summer 2015: “If you think of it, this is my last summer as a teenager”, I thought aloud. The idea came up casually in a conversation I had this precious summer. I was freshly 17 (the age I had dreaded for so long), approaching my senior year of high school. I’d just returned from a two week mission trip to Romania, quite certain what I want to do with my life.

autumn 2015: “He takes the wide grief of the unknown ocean and turns it into a place of peace and wonder”, I wrote messily in my journal. It was the night I found out my Grandma had suffered a stroke. The next day, my brother skipped his last class and we were driving to visit her in the hospital one last time. It was the longest car ride of my life. As I held her hand in that hospital room, my whole body was shaking. Mom asked me to say goodbye in any way I wanted, but I couldn’t speak. I just held her smooth, warm hand as she held it tightly back. I was overwhelmed. Looking back at the week she died, it’s a blur of sorrow and faith. I was alone, managing two tests, terrified, and emotionally so weak. Yet, I felt eternity at every corner of the situation and never once was sad for Grandma reaching such a place. A couple weeks later, Mom, my little brother, and I went to the beach house that my Grandma loved so dearly and spent a few days there. It was a few days of returned summer in that autumn of changing leaves.

winter 2015/2016: “But what’s the point, anyway? Isn’t the new year just another day?”, someone remarked. No, no the new year is nothing like another day. It’s a new page. It’s my year of graduation, of 18, of college. I’m currently dealing with a fractured/bruised knee and being stuck on crutches (not the way I would’ve expected, but a lesson of dependence and my pride, indeed!) I have no idea what’s in store and that is most wonderful of all. I’ve been disappointed so many times by expectations, but I’m learning the unknown is what I must look forward to.

I believe in seasons. They are a thing God created for His glory; a means in which we understand the Gospel and grace. Looking back at 2015, I see the seasons. I see the lush of summer and the youthful feeling of running fast. Aches of autumn remind me that shadows come in evening. A new year is the promise of second-chances, and of all things new.

My one word resolution for 2016 is evergreen. I want to remain evergreen like the trees do throughout all the seasons. Life will throw its course, but I never want to stop being me. I never want to grow out of passion and of spectacular dreams. When I was younger, I once refused to wear my Halloween costume with a fight: “I just want to be Neeley”, I argued. And that’s all I ever want to be.

I’m not here for a life of simply changing planes, where there is a hard blowing wind but your eyes are closed. I’m finding my Paris. I’m not sure I’ve found it yet, but I’m looking…keeping my windows open all along. Perhaps the search is my Paris, after all.

Once you open the windows, I’m quite certain they can’t be closed anymore. The world has greeted me through city streets at dusk and sunrises on shores. And through these times, I’ve realized I never want to stop growing, learning, aching, provoking the heart, and evoking the brain. This world isn’t our home, so why try to settle down in it? And I want to live this way, constantly. As constant as the pine trees in winter.

At the end of 2014, I wrote a letter to myself to read at the end of 2015. An expert read: “I hope God wrecked and transformed and healed your heart. I hope you served and drank too much coffee and loved til you ached all over… I hope you read more about theology and feminism and history and what God wants you to do about it. I hope you started dancing at parties. I hope you went to the mountains and went on road trips and went to a concert. I hope you read all those poetry books”.

So to myself at the end of 2016: I hope you were evergreen and that your heart may utter ‘all is well with my soul’ and know it to be true. That is all I ask. I hope you opened the windows, and are still finding your Paris.

“She felt very young; at the same time unspeakably aged. She sliced like a knife through everything; at the same time was outside, looking on. She had a perpetual sense, as she watched the taxi cabs, of being out, out, far out to sea and alone; she always had the feeling that it was very, very dangerous to live even one day” – Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway 

autumn when you’re 17

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These are, as Walt Whitman wrote, ‘the days that must happen to you’. School work, tests, college applications, confusion, joy. The feeling of knowing who you are one second, but being entirely uncertain the next. Yet, as I’ve always known, I never want to leave living life this way. I never want to settle in the way I think and the way I dream. I pray I never lose the questions and the striving towards tomorrow and the never ending nights of weighing what it might be to fall in love or die. I never want to lose pondering who I will be someday, the feeling of looking of starry skies, the love of Christmas I’ve had since childhood, the aches of a sore body after dancing, the nights of my family tucked in bed reading stories. I never want to lose the wonder.

Photos from the midst of autumn 2015.