‘Believe the Hype’ Column by Christine Stoddard: Excitement, Not Worry, for the Future

By Christine Stoddard | [email protected]

This piece was originally printed in our Jan. 18, 2024 edition.

This week, our new community editor, Christine Stoddard, returns with her column “Believe the Hype.”

There’s a relief that comes from writing a show and not having to direct it. Midway through another dress rehearsal, I reminded myself that my work on this production had been done for literal years. I could afford to lose some control. It was time to meet my boyfriend at a digital art installation—whatever that meant. I ran to the stuffy attic lobby of The Tank, where I was met with an anti-climactic wait for the elevator. About two minutes later, I bolted down W. 36th Street and rounded 8th Avenue, elated as a kid playing hooky. I deserved to relax.

A person pointing a camera at a painted shed.

A tourist at Shirley Chisholm State Park.

Full of anticipation, I wiggled on the platform. In an effort to shed myself of one more responsibility, I kept myself clueless about Inter_,the venue where I was meeting Aaron. I was even more excited about what would come afterwards. He was taking me “somewhere”—a true surprise.            

Fast forward to me bounding through Canal Street, jumping over tarps bursting with knock-off designer purses, nearly running into tables piled with cheap sunglasses and the slow-moving tourists who clogged the sidewalk. I squeezed through the sweaty masses until I saw Aaron outside a stately building, probably a former bank. A wave and a couple of moments later, I was in his arms. We stepped inside and grabbed our 3-D glasses.

Inter_ delivered a dizzying array of lights, animation, and booming narration that I mostly didn’t catch. Something about humanity’s future announced in a British accent.I found myself hunting for glitches in the psychedelic videos and semi-hidden projectors in the motion-activated rooms. Sometime in the glow-in-the-dark alien rainforest room, I chastised myself: Don’t be cynical. Have fun.

We both felt slightly ill stumbling out of Inter_, though I distracted myself with the impending surprise. I showered Aaron with guesses as he led me to the N train and in circles around the station. Usually I was the navigator. We rarely ventured to the Upper East Side, which made the destination tougher to pinpoint, but he said he wouldn’t tell me even if I got it right. Once we found ourselves on the street again, I spotted red boxes swinging in the sky and shouted “Roosevelt Island!” I clapped and hugged him. I had never taken the tram.    

We pushed toward the card kiosk and swiped our MTA cards. Five minutes later, the tram arrived, bright, clean, and air-conditioned. Aaron pushed inside to grab us a place by the window. We squished ourselves by a handful of children chattering in Portuguese as the tram ascended the guts of the Queensboro Bridge. As we climbed higher, Aaron beckoned me to peep inside of skyscraper windows. If the offices looked like movie sets, it’s because we were hovering among prime Manhattan real estate—the stuff of American fantasy. The East River sparkled below us. So says the Brooklynite, even Queens looked beautiful with its more modest cityscape glimmering before the waterfront. Aaron beamed at me. I didn’t have to put on a show: I was happy.

Prospect Park After Dark Hike

One way I personally find more peace in my own life is by connecting to nature. Once again, I am not the only one. According to an article published by the University of Minnesota, “How Does Nature Impact Our Wellbeing?,”more than two-thirds of people retreat to nature when stressed. NYC Parks programs a whole calendar of free and low-cost events that you can check out at https://www.nycgovparks.org/events.

Here are three upcoming NYC Parks events in Brooklyn locations that caught my eye (just examples):

Jan. 20: Gather Around the Campfire at Vincent Abate Playground (in McCarren Park), 1:00 p.m.–2:30 p.m. Join the Urban Park Rangers for an afternoon of campfire activities such as stories, songs, and s’mores!

Jan. 20: Prospect Park After Dark Hike at Parkside Avenue and South Lake Drive (in Prospect Park), 4:00 p.m.–5:30 p.m. Join the Urban Park Rangers on a hike after sundown around Prospect Park Lake. You’ll explore and experience the sights and sounds of Prospect Park at night.

Jan. 21: Birding: Winter Waterfowl Super Hike at American Veterans Memorial Pier, Bay Ridge, 10:00 a.m.–11:30 a.m. Join the Urban Park Rangers for a long walk.

Meowzers!

Maybe a more permanent commitment to Mother Earth is what your waning optimism needs. My boyfriend and I look for any excuse to have an animal sighting, playdate, or encounter, but are wary of taking in a pet because of our hectic schedules. (I volunteered at a nature center in high school; I have some sense of the commitment proper animal care entails.) Animal shelters are the first place that come to mind for urban animal care and advocacy. But not all animal rescue organizations are shelters.

Recently, I was reminded of Brooklyn Animal Action, which rescues and rehomes cats and has no physical location. Yep–not a shelter, just doing what many shelters ought to do. This volunteer-run organization is keen on Trap-Neuter-Return programs for managing our local feral cat colonies. Supporters include Brooklyn Veterinary Group, Park Slope Veterinary Center, Vinegar Hill Veterinary Group, and others. If you may want to foster, adopt, volunteer, or donate, go to BrooklynAnimalAction.org for more information. A feline friend may just light up your life.

AmeriCorps in Our Borough

Not everyone is gaga for nature, especially in a concrete jungle like ours. Another way to choose happiness is through service. With Martin Luther King, Jr. Day so recently passed, I would be remiss not to mention volunteering. It is, after all, an official day of service. When I was an AmeriCorps volunteer, MLK Day meant organizing our biggest community service event of the year (preparing and hosting lunch at a homeless shelter in my college town.) AmeriCorps is a federally run government program that trains and places volunteers across the country. But you don’t have to go anywhere! Many AmeriCorps decide to serve right at home, like I did. AmeriCorps State and National programs exist in a variety of fields. While I volunteered at a public elementary school, other AmeriCorps volunteers serve in clinics, youth programs, financial literacy programs, senior citizen centers, and, yes, parks and nature centers. One of my college classmates did AmeriCorps at Shirley Chisholm State Park! AmeriCorps benefits include a modest living allowance, scholarships, loan deferment, interest forbearance, and alumni network, and more. Find out more at AmeriCorps.gov.

May your hopes for the rest of the month and year remain bright (or get brighter) in however you choose happiness.

For news and tips, please email [email protected].

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