Naomi Shihab Nye, a Palestinian-American poet, wrote a young adult novel called Habibi (which means “darling” in Arabic). A poet’s first novel, its language is poetic, brief, and vivid. It’s made up what I like to call “episodes” . . . they aren’t chapters, but they aren’t short stories, either . . . they're something in between. They capture the experiences of the main character, Liyana, as she moves with her family from the US to Palestine. Each episodic piece begins with an intriguing line at the top; these come are supposed to come from Liyana’s notebook, where writes ideas for the first lines of stories or poems. I used this line as my quote in the yearbook when I graduated from high school: If you could be anyone, would you choose to be yourself? (And I’m still not sure about the answer to that question.)
There’s another of these first lines that’s been floating in my head recently: She turned a corner and everything changed. Because this is just what I feel like has happened to me. I turned a corner and everything changed. Literally.
I’m from Idaho, which is something a lot of people look down their noses at when I tell them. Ever since I put that choosing-to-be-yourself quote in the yearbook, I’ve wanted to be an editor. It’s all a much, much longer story, but last summer I attended a graduate publishing course, and I thought I’d try entering the world of publishing in Boston instead of New York City, because NYC seemed scary, but Boston is my favorite city of any I’ve known. Some of my relatives live in and around Boston, and I fell in love the first time I came to visit. And since those relatives were nicely willing to let me live with them for free, I applied for some internships and jobs, and in January I got on a plane to do some interviews. I booked a ticket back to Idaho because I thought, if by some miracle I was offered a position, I’d have time to come back and pack up and say goodbye before it started.
But, instead, I was turning a corner and everything was changing. A press in Boston offered me an internship that was starting right away, so I canceled my ticket and stayed. I walked around the city investigating bookstores to work at, too—and, literally, I turned a corner and there was a certain tiny store tucked away on a side street, and there I found a job. A tiny job, but a truly extraordinary one. (Again, it’s all a much, much bigger story, but I’ll stop here for now.)
So, suddenly my life, or at least the outside of my life, is completely different. Suddenly I’m not in Idaho anymore. I’m riding around on the bus and the train and the T (which is what Bostonians call the subway), and my boots are tapping along the cobblestone streets, and always and everywhere I’m noticing and watching all kinds of people going about their lives. I saw a lady reading Fifty Shades of Grey (oh dear!) and heard a guy calling his mom to say Happy Valentine’s Day and sat next to a girl crocheting a rose-colored hat. I go past business men in suits and homeless people asking for change. I see tourists taking pictures and couples holding hands and friends walking arm-in-arm.
And here’s Walt Whitman, back again . . . as I go around this great city, I think how he wrote of
The blab of the pave . . . /The impassive stones that receive and return so many echoes, / The souls moving along . . . are they invisible while the least atom of the stones is visible?
Now I am one of those souls moving along.
Though I say “everything” has changed, it really hasn’t. So many things are still the same, and I am still that same soul inside. But yet again it isn’t that simple, because the changes outside affect my soul and myself inside. I will move and grow on from here.
Another corner's always coming.