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When you live a city, one like NYC, often mere everyday acts of commuting can feel like moments on someone's movie screen. In the summer, well year around to be truthful, I frequent the city’s libraries for their open spaces, free access to wifi, and to be brutally honest the air conditioning. There's little to quell an angry, blistery soul than some cool air and wifi surfing on a hell-fire hot July day.
Though, those acts may not be performance for me, but as I've sat in the main branch of the New York Public Library—yes, the one from the original Ghostbusters—unnerving thoughts have crossed my mind. While writing, researching, and working in those large open halls, with ornate architecture and carvings, large open wooden tables, and formidable wooden seats I've come to realize that the seemingly endless array of tourists with backpacks, cameras, and audible oohs and ahhhs have captured me in photos preserved in family memories, blasted on Instagram, and let's hope not filtered on Snapchat. Of course, as I think about that I tend to look down and check to see if I spilled coffee on this morning’s ice-laden walk to the subway and not-so-slyly I flip my camera to make sure I don't have ink on my teeth. At the moment, I'm presentable . . . If you were wondering.
Though, on crowded subway cars rocking and shuttling me through the entrails of NYC it’s not uncommon to look around and see people flipping pages of books or starring zombie-like into phone screens either reading, scrolling through social media, or playing some game. Of course, among those folks are also those who stare endlessly into the dead space of the subway car with such an encompassing gaze of nothingness that their dead eyes make you shudder and cast your glance away . . . as if you are afraid you’ll be captured into its endless—perhaps painful—portal. The idleness of time, and the swaying of the car . . . to pass the ticking moments—more often than not—I keep a book on backup and a knitting project in my purse. Why? For moments like these, well those all too common to folks like me, who spend hours a week on these public transport lines. These days, while waiting on the seven to the six, or waiting on a cross borough bus, I’ve stood on platforms and street corners knitting little stitches, creating rows and rounds, for a pair of snuggly warm socks. That, that part is not the story here.
Instead, as I slip yarn loops over my tiny, bamboo needles those drifting eyes, those zombie-like stares, and those dead eyes flicker and rise up. As I sit—or creatively stand with my body positioned to avoid falling, strangers crane their necks in absolute fascination, as if awoken from a long dreamless sleep, to watch the yarn form fabric one stitch at a time. In these moments, much like in the fleeting thoughts of how many family photo albums I’m in, I realize I’m performing a sense of public art. Just as I’m occupying down time on my elongated to shortened commutes, forgetting about the always long and endless tasks of items on my daily tally, and ignoring texts and messages from people wanting something from me— those around me whether I intended it or not—have found a sense of excursion, release, and forget. As folks I don’t know ask me who taught me to knit, how long I’ve been doing it, or—in a particularly fun case— when another woman pulled out a sweater she’s been stitching and compared technique with me I’m reminded that simple acts of everyday pleasure—even for a private mental release—often serve as posters and life screens to jar others from complacency.
Not all encounters are pleasant, as two weeks ago a drunken twenty-something chanted from the middle of the subway car to “keep on knitting” as if she was a cheerleader bringing her losing team home, on a car to Brooklyn there was an even odder encounter where a man wanted to feel the yarn and then proceeded to diatribe on about softness and beauty in what I can only fathom was a terribly conceived come on line, and while knitting socks of rainbow colors (clearly socks . . . not scarves, hats, or sweaters . . . ) a vile man proceeded to yell about the pussy hat movement and women not knowing their place and thinking “stupid crafts” would get them anywhere. Le sigh. Indeed. As I continued to ignore to unpleasantries, as a good city dweller does, I continued to notice that people were still starring in awe, smiling, and still asking me how I learned. I can’t say for certain if I’ve rallied someone to knit, but I can say that elongated moments have been broken into shorter solitude stays as my simple, almost introverted act, of self-amusement serves to catch the eye of those passing around me. This, time though, I’m an active participant in this display of public art. I’m not a figure, at a desk playing a fantasized role. Instead, I’m a passenger just waiting for the next stop so that I can call action on the next scene in my show.