Crying in Public and the Blank NY Stare

April 28, 2011

A great piece from the NY Times from Melissa Febos about how we protect ourselves in public and how we even find anonymity in public. Certainly NYC and Chicago and even San Francisco afford people an opportunity to find anonymity quicker. These large artificial men, these cities, also force people to play with privacy. Interestingly, in city life, sometimes people find more privacy away from their living quarters.

If you live in New York, you’re bound to end up crying in public eventually; there just aren’t enough private places. Just the other day I saw someone doing it on West 12th Street. A tall woman in a beret, with a curtain of reddish hair, she had tears streaming down her cheeks. She wasn’t on the phone, wasn’t accompanied by a man, or a mom or even a dog. She wasn’t beautiful, the way a lot of people in New York are, but I couldn’t look away.

Febos continues her observation, in praise of this kind of rare vulnerability:

There is something beautiful about a disarmed stranger. We usually only get to witness that kind of vulnerability with friends or family, when something — sympathy or apology — is expected of us. Public criers ask nothing; they don’t need anyone to take care of them.

In some ways, that kind of transparency is as good a defense against interference as the famous blank New York stare.

But it’s more complicated than just creating defense mechanisms to be public creatures who seek privacy. There is something to be said about grieving in public, about being seen:

For me, it’s not that I want apathy, just privacy. To be noticed, but not interrupted. It’s comforting to be seen in our grief, there is a confirmation in it — however awkward it makes us feel. Is that part of why we live here? New Yorkers do tend to be the kind of people with both a need to be seen, and a deep fear of it. Somehow, this place satisfies both.

Martin Prechtel, the shaman, talked eloquently about this kind of grieving in public. More than thinking it is a good idea as a culture, he – like the cultures he has lived amongst – believe it is absolutely necessary for the well-being of every creature and, what’s more – their ancestors too.

To read Febos’ entire article, go here: www.nytimes.com

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