Yesterday, on my morning subway ride, I looked up and saw my reflection.
Oh, yes, there I am.
Not a passing thought, but steady and centered, it held onto me for a while. Hair half-dried, half-wet, black trench coat tied lop-sided with the belt hanging down to my knees, skinny jeans, and black ballet flats. A recognition, re-cognition, of the lines of my legs, the curves of my waist, the slight arch of my shoulders. Balanced and full and calm. There I am. Recognition and re-cognition, as if I had been missing all this time. All these years. As if I always knew I’d be standing there on the A train on a Thursday morning in my twenty-ninth year, despite and in spite and because of it all. Waiting for only myself.
I firmly believe in small gestures: pay for their coffee, hold the door for strangers, over tip, smile or try to be kind even when you don’t feel like it, pay compliments, chase the kid’s runaway ball down the sidewalk and throw it back to him, try to be larger than you are— particularly when it’s difficult. People do notice, people appreciate. I appreciate it when it’s done to (for) me. Small gestures can be an effort, or actually go against our grain (“I’m not a big one for paying compliments…”), but the irony is that almost every time you make them, you feel better about yourself. For a moment life suddenly feels lighter, a bit more Gene Kelly dancing in the rain.
New York, at least numerically, has long been a working-class city. Today, there are far fewer manufacturing workers than a generation or two ago and many more service workers, far fewer immigrants from Europe and many more from Asia and Central America. But perhaps the biggest change is that workers and their families are less socially visible than in the past, except when disaster hits or conflicts break out—like Sandy or the school bus drivers’ strike earlier this year. Increasingly, the image of the city as the home to great wealth or layabout hipsters (sometimes, as on Girls, living off their parents’ bank accounts) has camouflaged the struggle of middle- and lower-income New Yorkers simply to get by.
Perhaps what has surprised me the most about living in New York is how offended I become at references to Manhattan as only an island of wealth and Brooklyn as only a borough of hipsters. This city is, these boroughs are, so much more.
As a girl, she dreamed about having a silent home just to herself, the way other women dreamed of their weddings. Instead of collecting lace and linen for her trousseau, the young woman buys old things from the thrift stores on grimy Milwaukee Avenue for her future house-of-her-own — faded quilts, cracked vases, chipped saucers, lamps in need of love.
—Sandra Cisneros, introduction to The House on Mango Street
I remember, when 9/11 went down, my reaction was, “Well, I’ve had it with humanity.”
But I was wrong. I don’t know what’s going to be revealed to be behind all of this mayhem. One human insect or a poisonous mass of broken sociopaths.
But here’s what I DO know. If it’s one person or a HUNDRED people, that number is not even a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the population on this planet. You watch the videos of the carnage and there are people running TOWARDS the destruction to help out. (Thanks FAKE Gallery founder and owner Paul Kozlowski for pointing this out to me). This is a giant planet and we’re lucky to live on it but there are prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence. One of them is, every once in awhile, the wiring of a tiny sliver of the species gets snarled and they’re pointed towards darkness.
But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We’d have eaten ourselves alive long ago.
So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, “The good outnumber you, and we always will.”
“Discipline, on the other hand, arranges a positive economy; it poses the principle of a theoretically ever-growing use of time: exhaustion rather than use; it is a question of extracting, from time, ever more available moments and, from each moment, ever more useful forces. This means that one must seek to intensify the use of the slightest moment, as if time, in its very fragmentation, were inexhaustible or as if, at least by an ever more detailed internal arrangement, one could tend towards an ideal point at which one maintained maximum speed and efficiency.”