After years of traveling across the globe I finally decided it was time to visit the United States of America. The place where people are always seemed to promote the ideals of ‘living the dream – making it happen.’ I was keen to understand what it felt like to be a part of the community and thus my journey began in New York.
The first thing I learnt when I arrived is that there was a distinct intentional distancing, taking place between myself and the random people I passed in the streets. It made me wonder whether my outlandishly bright orange hair and tattoos had anything to do with it. When I entered into a cafe to buy a coffee, I asked the person behind the counter why no-one seemed to smile. This was when I discovered the ‘New York Game Face‘ was actually a thing. According to the barista no-one walks the streets of New York without their game face on, and most people wear headphones listening to their music while looking straight ahead. It is deemed a necessary requirement to deter the mentally ill and homeless people living among us from interacting, harassing you in the streets.
‘For years I thought the phrase was New York Gang Face.’
I’m not going to tell you this insight didn’t affect me because I knew, it did. Firstly, the issues that are being faced here are no different to other countries I have visited, my own (Australia) included so this is not by any means a slant on what is happening here. What saddened me was that reality of people, the community at large consciously altering their disposition to accommodate to the circumstances as a way of coping with what they face every day. I struggled with this concept and perhaps for the first five or so days this was all I could see in the reflection of the solemn faces, which passed by. It didn’t make me feel I was welcome.
I’ve been an avid admirer of anything related to artistic expression and in particular, find myself drawn to the street art plastered on the walls of random spaces because to me, it is a modern day expression of cave painting. A mark, a voice done to call out – see me, I exist too. There is some graffiti, driven by political motive, others are simply pretty to look at. It was when I decided to walk the streets of New York on the hunt to discover its native voice through art that I began to feel the beat of its heart, the people.
“Smile, indiscriminately. Do it because you want to. Magic will happen when you let your soul shine.” ―Truth Devour
As I wandered through random streets, I found tid bits of graffiti gold on the walls of buildings. I stood in awe at the size of some of the creations, the color, shading detail all managed to be laid down on a vertical structure in an open air, exposed to the element’s environment using nothing but a spray can. It’s impressive.
Instantly I found I was smiling when I came upon another, then another of the art pieces. It made me realize, New York is alive with creative inspiration. The pop up markets, the buskers in the streets hoping you will sling them a buck or two, the layout of the many of the shopfronts themselves seemed to be visual art. I was feeling a sense of kindredness in the peoples desire to be fearless in their creative expression.
Suddenly, everything changed for me. When I walked the streets, people began to look in my eyes. Most who passed by smiled and some would make comments, share a moment of exchange, laughter. I realized the difference was stemmed from within me. I found my comfort of association and naturally began to exude a sense of genuine happiness. Random strangers wanted to be a part of the joy, even if it was for just a fleeting moment. They dropped their guard and smiled in return.
My primary focus for the month I was there, evolved around completing the first draft of my second novel in the Soliloquy’s Labyrinth fantasy series, so I didn’t get to venture out as often as I would have liked. I was told by a few people to keep away from a particular section of Brooklyn where there is a high populous of Jewish people. There were some stories told to me as a deterrent and a clear message that I would not be welcomed. In Melbourne, Australia there is a suburb called Caulfield, which is known by locals as little Jerusalem. Almost everything in Caulfield is influenced by Jewish culture. I gravitate there when I don’t have time to travel and need a fix of other diversity, atmosphere and the likes. It calms me to be in foreign places. The cultural deltas provide me with a reminder that there is so much more to see, learn, experience, enjoy.
Off I headed on foot down to the heart of where I was told I would not be welcomed wearing my bright orange hair up in a pony tail, black sweat suit, orange runners and headphones on to listen to some beats while I checked out the streets.
Firstly, the detail of the architecture on the brownstones in this area caught me eye. The next thing I noticed was how many of the women had babies in prams or were pregnant, it impressed me. Most of the woman looked at me, up and down, some smiled, others didn’t. I had a smile on my face the whole time for no other reason than being pleased to be out and about on a sun drenched blue sky day.
‘People only seem different because we have placed a measure on them to create a difference. Remove this perception and there is no difference. We live, we breathe, we laugh, we cry, we wish, we hope, we are one.’
The men looked straight ahead. On occasion I noted a glance but most didn’t give me eye contact, which is no different to what I expected. Although, there was this one fellow who surprised me by walking by, he paused beside me and bopped his head to the song that was playing loudly through my headset. He obviously liked Creed. He gave me a semi glance, smiled and continued on his way. I laughed and nodded my head. Music can be a source of commonality for all.
The further I walked into the suburb the more I stood out like a sore thumb. I had absolutely no feeling of being unwelcome or alienated for the way I looked. People went about their day. It was a nice place and the smells coming out of their bakeries had my tummy doing flips. It was certainly nothing like the experiences other people had mentioned to me, so I wondered what the difference was.
My answer: I didn’t adopt the fear the stories were born to carry. I chose to explore with no bearing of reference to other people’s experiences. Mind you, I am not devaluing what they had shared either. People have altercations all the time but that is based on circumstances and mostly individuals, not whole communities.
I really like the multicultural aspect of New York. Bright lights proudly calling out the cultural based sections like China town and Little Italy. There is so much pride still held toward people’s origins. New York builds itself into a strength of versatility with the diversity of community, culture and products available. There is a sense of it being supported, encouraged and promoted. It’s the very essence of what excited me the most about being here. I’m glad this was my first stop into the country. It gave me a sense of the celebrations, and the struggle’s people are faced with daily.
Blessings – Truth Devour
All photographs in this article were taken By Truth Devour