I'm sitting on my couch in my living room at home right now, drinking a cup of tea that my dad made me and hoping my cat will appear from somewhere in the near future. And I am incredibly glad to be home. This semester, so far, has been kind of a rough one for me - I've taken on far too many things to do, and I am getting them all done, hopefully in a satisfactory manner, but it's exhausting. I'm getting tired of being tired, of staring at the mountain of work in front of me and wanting to give up before I start because there's just so much of it, of feeling like no matter how hard I'm trying it's never enough. It's been sort of an emotional rollercoaster as well - some really awesome things have happened that have made me an incredibly happy camper, but some terrible things have happened to people I care about as well. It's like I can never catch up, really.
So what did I do last weekend, when I was feeling so completely overwhelmed that I could hardly stand it, when I had midterms this week and a show to direct?
I asked my made-of-awesome roommate Lisa to drive me and my other made-of-awesome roommate Sarah to Binghamton, and then Sarah and I took a bus to New York City so that we could meet Stefan Bachmann at his book signing.
After a long bus ride in which I was reminded of all my fantastic adventures in Europe and countered the wildly depressing reading I was doing for my history class by listening to this song, quite literally, on repeat for four hours, Sarah and I arrived at the Port Authority and met up with her friend Ryan. It was ComicCon last weekend, so Sarah and I were quite amused by all the costumed people wandering about the city. The three of us got some one dollar NYC pizza for dinner and then headed up to Ryan's office to eat it, because there was nobody else there, so why not? Ryan told us all about ComicCon, since he'd been there for work (lucky) and then after a little while of swapping stories we went and got some seriously amazing cupcakes from a place called Crumbs and stood at a table in Times Square, eating the cupcakes and watching people cosplay as the Ghostbusters. I think that is the one thing I like more about Manhattan than London; London shuts down surprisingly early for a big city, and it settles into a sleepy, shadowy sort of quiet that is really quite comforting. But New York comes alive at night, when all the lights are blaring almost as bright as daylight and there are still hundreds of people wandering the streets in search of something to do. It's invigorating, to be in that mass of milling people buzzing through the city under the glow of artificial light. It means you have places to go, people to see - or you can just stand in Times Square and eat a cupcake.
After that, Sarah and I hopped on another bus, this one about a forty-five minute ride to my house in New Jersey. I've been feeling a little lost, as I said, and so stepping off this bus gave me an almost overwhelming rush of being home. Walking up my driveway to hug my mom (and later, my dad and sister - they were at a marching band competition, of course), tackling my cat with affection he probably wasn't terribly interested in - this was exactly what I needed.
We weren't home for very long, of course - just long enough to have a lazy breakfast of home-made cinnamon buns the next morning before getting back on the bus to NYC to head to Books of Wonder and Stefan's book signing.
Since I've been telling people that I was going to go see my friend whose book had just come out, everyone has been asking me how I know Stefan. People from school ask if he's a friend of mine from home; people from home ask if I know him from school (he lives in Switzerland, so...). I feel like I get funny looks whenever I answer, "well... the internet?" But that is the case. My intern buddy Ari was lucky enough to go to BEA this summer, where she snagged an ARC of Stefan's wonderful book The Peculiar. She then lent it to me, and we started chatting with Stefan on Twitter. He's a really nice guy, and I was so glad that I got to meet him in person - since I doubt he'll be in the States again for quite a while.
Our bus got stuck in traffic on the way in, so Sarah and I managed to sprint into Books of Wonder (which is, by the way, the world's most amazing bookstore EVER) exactly as Stefan started reading. We snuck into the back of the reading and I waved at him, and when he'd finished and passed the microphone over to the next author on the panel, he waved back at me. It was quite a good panel - lots of interesting books were presented (I'm probably biased, but I liked Stefan's best) and the authors were all pretty cool guys (Gordon Korman was there - I still have the copy of No More Dead Dogs he signed for me back when I was in middle school, and I told him so later, even though I didn't buy his new book). After the signing, I creeped a bit on a really cool agent I follow on Twitter and who is a former writing major at Ithaca College... I don't think I weirded her out too much by saying hello. And then Sarah and I went up to see Stefan, and we got our books signed and got t-shirts and buttons and Swiss chocolate (oh my!), to which I responded "I brought you some cookies! My dad made them. They're awesome."
Stefan signed stock for the store for a while, and Sarah and I wandered around looking at all the books, wishing we could take them all home (I think bookstores and animal shelters are the two most dangerous places to put me. Give me books or kittens and I will want to adopt them all), and then Stefan and his brother asked if we wanted to go on an adventure to the Met.
This is where the story gets a bit funny, because you have two people who are originally from Colorado and now live in Switzerland and so don't know New York at all, one person who is in the city fairly regularly to visit friends and family, and one person who mostly knows how to navigate the city... but not quite. Sounds like the start of a bad joke, right? We got off the subway at Columbus Circle and started walking, chatting pleasantly about writing the whole way (writer friends are just so great to talk to; they really just get all the idiosyncrasies of a writer's brain, because theirs works similarly), but of course we were walking up the wrong side of Central Park. We arrived at the Museum of Natural History, groaned a bit, and turned into the park to get to the other side. We meandered through the park for a while, and it really was very pretty - quite rocky and adventurous for a park in the middle of a huge city. Sarah and I both had all of our stuff with us, however - stuff that, for me, included a backpack full of my 17-inch laptop, my pajamas, three books for my history paper, a binder, my Italian folder that was stuffed full of things to study for my midterm the next day, various chargers, etc etc etc. This was also the part of the day in which my estimation of how much said backpack weighed started to go up in my mind.
The backpacks also played a strange role when we finally did reach the Met. Sarah and I were declared over-baggaged, and so we had to check some of our things. But the guys at security had told us that we needed to keep our laptops with us the whole time. The eventual result of this was that Sarah kept her netbook in her purse, we both checked our backpacks and coats, and I took my purse as well and carried my aforementioned 17-inch laptop in my arms the entire time we were in the museum. I must have looked ridiculous, but hey, I had a little yellow security slip saying I was just following the rules.
We checked out some Vermeer and some musical instruments (that was fun, because Stefan plays All of the Things, and we saw some really cool carved details on various harps and pianos and discussed how this is the sort of thing that is great to include in books), and then went downstairs to look at the armory (because jousting is awesome). And then the museum was closing, so we wandered off, Stefan and his brother to their hotel, and Sarah and I to the Argo Tea across the street from where I worked this summer. There, we sat down very happily for two hours and had some tea that was very good but sadly lacking in milk, and I pounded out my history paper and Sarah worked on her presentation before we trekked back to the Port Authority and got on yet another bus.
After another long bus ride in which I studied for Italian and sent out a rehearsal schedule via text message, our truly made-of-awesome roommates came and picked us up, and when we opened the car door Other Caitlin squealed "WE MISSED YOU GUYS SO MUCH WE BROUGHT YOU CUPCAKES." On the hour-long drive back to Ithaca, we told them of our adventures, and then we turned up the music on Lisa's iPod, singing along loudly to N'Sync and Panic! at the Disco and the Fratellis and I don't even know who else.
The next night, Lisa and I were up late doing homework and watching movies and talking. We were saying that it would be nice to fall in love, and Lisa explained that she thinks you matter in life because of the people you matter to. And I think she's right, but not just about boyfriends. Last Sunday, I saw very clearly that I mattered to a lot of different people. I saw my family and got to curl up in the warmth of my couch and revel in that homey comfort. I met an awesome writer-friend and went on an adventure in a big, exciting city. And I came back to Ithaca to find roommates who'd missed us so much after just one night that they brought along cupcakes for the car ride back. As we drove, with the music blasting and the mountains rolling past us in dark black smudges against a charcoal-grey sky and the glare from Lisa's highbeams turning the leafless trees on the side of the road into white skeleton sketches, I couldn't help but feel happier than I have in quite a while. I mattered to these people, to all of the people I'd seen that day, and they all matter to me - more than words can truly express. It is, I think, the best way to end an adventure - to feel that in whatever place you stop, the people there will care about you. If that's the case, then wherever you stop is going to feel like home.