Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Normalcy + iPhone Portraits

It has been two weeks since the national and local elections, and three weeks since Tropical Storm Sandy, and I feel, at least in some ways, that life is slowly returning to something approaching normalcy, even if there are still many signs that everyone and everyone around me is still recovering, to varying degrees, from the devastation and trauma the storm wrought. I cannot complain and over all feel very thankful; we made it through mostly unscathed, but for the lack of electricity and heat for over a week. Three graduate students in one of the programs I'm affiliated with, however, lost a great deal of their personal belongings, and one of these students was completely flooded out. I know her, though not well, and feel great empathy for what she and so many continue to face. Every day I read about people who've lost their loved ones, homes and jobs, who are struggling to rebuild and recover, who are not sure how they are going to keep going on, beyond hope and perseverance and and prayers.

The physical damage is still present too, even in Jersey City: lights are still out at some intersections; many small businesses remain shuttered or, once you step through their open doors, have had to tear out walls, shelving, flooring, everything, in an effort to rebuild; and other businesses, having gone days without power and weeks without customers, are hanging on by the most gossamer thread. The garbage trucks have mostly hauled away the first few mountains of rotted drywall, spalted wood, moldy carpeting. Littler heaps nevertheless reappear at curbsides. One local restaurant on Grove St., one of the main commercial downtown strips, though reopened, was still unable to restock just a week ago, and its proprietor nearly started crying as she recounted the challenges she faced. Her emotion, just below the surface, is visible in the faces of so many.

I noted to C how last week, when in Manhattan, I noted a muted, almost wary, melancholy mood on the streets. Some people looked like I have felt: wrung out. I thought it was the rejiggered schedule, the hyperpacked PATH trains, the rationing date schedule, the sense that in the wider world, the storm and its damage have left the news for so much else. (There was the election, which was a burst of positivity in so many ways.) Then I read Jeremiah's Vanishing New York, and he committed to his blog a fuller portrait of what I've detected. Just a quote from his post "Post-Sandy Mood", which I felt could really be titled "Post-Sandy Blues" or "Post-Sandy Blahs," to give you a sense of what he says:

"Tired" is the predominant feeling--represented by the largest type in this word cloud (I collapsed synonyms like "exhausted" into it, as with others). This tiredness is a tiredness that seems to go on and on, for those hit hardest and for those barely impacted. Most of us are tired. 

Curiously, no one said they feel angry. They're frustrated and annoyed, resentful and cranky, but what about angry? Anger takes energy, and when you're exhausted, it's not easy to be angry.

Along with feeling exhausted, depressed, and worried, unmotivated and annoyed, many people are also feeling grateful and lucky--for not losing their homes or for just being alive in the midst of loss. Many feel hopeful. Several said they feel empathetic for those who are suffering. 

JVNY features word clouds that quite accurately reflect, at least to me, the malaise lying beneath the surfaces of things. Or perhaps not a malaise, but a disquiet. I'm not sure it could fill a book, as Fernando Pessoa once did, but it does feel worth mentioning. Soon enough, it too will pass, though the struggles of so many, Sandy-related and not, will go on, as they always do, without any notice or notation from the wider world. Helpfully he provides links to psychological resources for those still trying to cope.

The PATH trains are running irregularly; the World Trade Center and Hoboken stations are still being repaired after flooding that could easily have appeared in a 1970s disaster flick. One image from the Hoboken PATH station eerily recalled The Shining, though it was salt water, and not blood, that gushed through the elevator doors. (Is "thankfully" appropriate here?) The Exchange Place Station also remains closed. Whenever I envision the volume of water that rushed down its vertiginous stairs onto the tracks below, I get chills. Given the damage, the Port Authority has not offered any predictions on when any of these stations will open. The light rail trains, in Hudson County and in Newark, are running again following their regular schedules, but like the PATH, they are sometimes so full it amazes me they can advance down the track.

In those moments when I am not pressed like a piece of herring in a tin and the trains aren't seesawing around the bend I still try to get in a few sketches. Drawing is a deeply calming, centering, enjoyable activity for me, and has been since I was small. Here are a few very recent life portraits, all on my iPhone, using Sketchbook Pro. I got a stylus with the new phone, but I have yet to use it. I have gotten so used to my fingers working in favor of pen and pencil tips that they've become my default. At any rate, I'll take rocking trains and an altered schedule that requires a bit more pre-planning over having to get in a car and drive on the highway, even if it's a 15-20-minute trip, any day.


1 comment:

  1. John, I LOVE how you convey so much emotion and detail with such simple lines!!!! Amazing!