A few weeks ago, a friend of mine asked if Shana and I would like to help his friend out with her degree by taking part in her investigation of urban mapping and city geography. This entails making some sort of "journal" (either literally or creatively: I plan to make an annotated map, personally) about our travels through the city for a week. I have to admit that I haven't been particularly vigilant about writing things down (yet) but her thesis and email have made me even more aware about the way I pass through the city and how I interact with people on the way. Here's a clip from her writing about the project:
"... for example: where you go, how you get there, how long it takes, who you interact with (even> non-verbally), for what purpose, memories triggered by your environment, why something in the urban / your personal environment(s) is(are) significant... and anything else you can think of."
Her degree proposal posits the city as a narrative, drawn from and formed by the people within it and how they collide and move apart. Without those connections, the narrative disappears. Without people, a street is just a street; with people, it's a community or a marketplace or a battlefield or a graveyard. It gains meaning.
I was just thinking that a forest doesn't gain or lose meaning with human presence and wondering how that divided urban and wild spaces when I realized that "human" isn't the essential part of the equation she's talking about. It's life interacting (or not), whether that be people or ants or trees. Within a city, it's the people and dogs and cats and rats and cockroaches and trees and tulips and everything else. I sometimes feel more connection to the non-human aspects of the city; they seem more accessible to me, easier to observe and wonder about and laugh at. When this many people live in one place, we close ourselves off. I feel my face turn to stone on the train, emotionless and angry and forbidding, as I shut out those around me. I try to smile, to erase that feeling, but it comes back when I stop paying attention. It's a defense mechanism. But when I see a cat poking around a flowerbed or a crocus bud poking up, I can smile easily and enjoy our brief and imagined connection.