Thursday, February 26, 2009

and i have seen/the sunrise/above the river/the freeway

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.


pulley-whipped said...

that's b/c flowers don't try to mug you or preach to you about damnation, unlike people on public transit. but i get what you mean.

ps: my captcha is mcvision. what?

ShanaRose said...

It is because of those things Pulley mentions; but also, you make me think your idea that you feel a connection with that cat in the flowerbed, or that crocus. For me, those living things (the cat, the crocus) are not what I'm connecting to. Those things are what remind me that I am living, remind me that I am moving, breathing and growing in a place where we so easily fall into defensive faces and routine.

So now I wonder, in light of that, does your connection basis stand strong? Do you connect with the living thing itself? If so, how? Can you say why? Or does the thing make you connect with the world in general, with yourself even, in a different way?

Just curious! :)

Emilyon said...

that is the coolest idea I've ever heard. I love that.

My friend Mac just said that there was a panel on "city as narrative" at the AWP conference recently. Was your friend involved in that?

ammie said...

Pulley-whipped: What is captcha? You've lost me again with your pop culture lingo.
Shana: Well, I did say it was an imagined connection... I think that maybe I spoke imprecisely. I don't think so much that I'm actually connecting to a crocus, but that seeing a crocus reminds me of things outside myself and reminds me that I'm not everything there is. And that feeling happens with people too, of course, even strangers on the train, but there are less defense mechanisms involved with flowers :)
and finally, Emily: I think it's a really awesome idea too! I'm excited to put my project together when i have time to breathe next week. And I don't actually know this person (friend of a friend), so I have no idea if she went to the conference or not. But cool!

ShanaRose said...

captcha is the, usually nonsensical, string of letters that you have to enter in order to leave your comment. to prevent robots from commenting. :)
my captcha currently is "petedia" which I imagined to say "pretendia" which is the land I'm currently living in.