The Art of Connecting
What inspires me?
Human connection. Human interest. Human habits.
It isn’t just fashion, art, music, and lifestyle that I am interested in—I am interested in how these elements impact everyone so differently, and how these experiences bring us all together collectively. It makes me realize all over again that humans are more similar than we’d like to admit.
Dancing. Laughing. Smiling.
If I am brought to Washington Square Park because of the alluring presence of human activity, then what is it that brings others here? There are so many people. There are people playing instruments. There are groups of friends, couples, and singles. There are connections being made. I feel secure and confident as I wade through this sea of people.
When I come to the park, I find that I never sit in one place for too long. This is because I like to follow the action. One day in particular I walked into the park and sat in one of the many black cast iron benches that lined the fences. The one I sat in faced an elderly man feeding squirrels. There were so many people around that it was one of those instances where I couldn’t even begin to explain it, because it’s too difficult to comprehend. Just like if someone were to tell you to imagine what a billion dollars looks like in cash, you probably couldn’t.
I sat for a while before the sound of a piano filled my ears. I followed the breadcrumb trail of notes until I perched myself in the best spot for listening—on the ledge of the fountain (You know, the big one right in the middle). As the sun bathed me in Vitamin D, I listened to the jangly tunes of piano keys and drum beats being produced by a man in a neon green bomber sitting upon a Cajon.
I don’t know what song it is, but I start to imagine that I’m sitting alone at a little round table in a New Orleans saloon. To me, it sounds like what cold drinks being served to dancing couples at a soiree on a humid summer night would sound like. Some people throw dollars into their small donation bin, in which the Cajon player seamlessly replies, “Thank you brother,” without missing a beat of his “Yeah, yeah, yeah’s.”
As they transition from one song to the next, another sound coming from the far left starts to intrigue my senses. It is faint, but I can make it out to be Coldplay’s “The Scientist” as it hums across the park. Not that I’m tired of the Piano-Cajon duo—I could listen to them all day—but I am immediately drawn to the commotion. I pack up to make my third move, this time over to one of the stone benches that surround the fountain. What at first sounded like a recording of Chris Martin’s voice quickly reveals itself to be a solo guitar player. He is standing amidst a foot pedal, speaker, and microphone stand. He goes by the name Chansol Lee, which is depicted by the sign sitting directly at his feet.
A small crowd of people started to form around him. Even though there were plenty of us listening, I think we all sort of felt that he was singing to each one of us as individuals.
I always try to visit the park at least once a week—weather permitting.
It was a Friday, I walked to the park after work, it was about 3:45 pm (After checking my phone, its actually 3:47 pm), and like I imagined there wasn’t many people there. It was absolutely freezing. As I made my way from the west side, I noticed that the regulars who usually line the benches have not made their appearance. The thing I love most about Washington Square Park is that it’s not too big and it’s not too small. Once you reach the center, you can basically see the entire park from all angles. I was hoping to maybe see a bubble blower or puppet performer, but instead, right in front of the infamous arch itself, sat a sole table with a display of buttons and magnets. The sign on it said “Buttons for the Resistance.” A red-haired woman is running the stand and it seemed to be the only street performance of the day—if you could even call it that.
As I watched from the fountain I saw a man walk up to the woman running it. He could probably be close to 90 years old. He had a walker and I could see that their conversation was pretty deep. Me being the Millennial that I am assumed that he’s giving her crap about having Anti-Trump memorabilia. I tried to make out what kind of conversation they were having; she was smiling a lot, but I assumed she was giving him benefit of the doubt because of how old he is. I couldn’t make out a lot of what they were saying so I turned my attention to the left of them.
An older man, probably in his 60s, was playing an acoustic guitar. He was playing and singing “Hotel California” by the Eagles. He didn’t have a microphone, so he needed to sing pretty loudly. There was no crowd of people around him, just the woman he was talking to earlier who sat behind him. She was waiting for someone to come meet her, I knew this because a man walked up to her moments ago and they hugged for a good minute. That doesn’t seem like a long time, but in retrospect, if you really took the time to count out 60 seconds, then you’d realize how long that actually is (and we really take advantage of that). After the guy was done playing his guitar, the man who just met up with the woman gave him a handshake, I assumed telling him what a good job he did. He seemed proud and cheerful.
There was a girl next to me, about my age, and she had her camera propped in between one of the crevices on the fountain. She was taking selfies with her camera’s timer feature, and the only reason I knew that is because she was standing in front of the camera with a duck-face on for a couple minutes too long. She was doing this before I even took a seat and honestly, props to her. I hope she got a good shot for her insta. Maybe she’s an influencer, I thought. I almost asked her if she wanted me to take her photo—I kind of wish I did.
The guy stopped playing his guitar and the girl seemed to have gotten the perfect selfie because she took a seat on the fountain and stopped taking photos. I saw that the old man was still talking to the woman at the Resistance cart, so I packed up my things to move closer to them.
“You should probably make sure no one steals from you,” the man said.
“Oh no, that doesn’t happen here but you—I’ve got my eye on you,” she laughed back.
“Well, I think Trump is a kleptomaniac—he stole our country,” he replied.
My favorite memories stem from the times that I’ve spent with other people at the park, whether it be my best friends or the strangers who roam around me. As I reflect on my memories there, I can’t help but think about everyone else and their own experiences and how they are much different than mine. For example, when I think of Washington Square Park, I think of February 2018. It was finally a really warm day, probably high 60s—the first warm day in what felt like years. A friend and I spontaneously decided to go sit in the park after our last class together. I remember going there that night; it felt like we were high-schoolers, trying catch the rest of the light before it got dark and we had to go home for dinner. We sat there for hours talking, listening, and watching. There were so many people. All of the people had come out of hibernation for a moment, smoking, laughing, dancing, and even skateboarding.
There were probably 50 other people in the park that night. I couldn’t tell you who anyone was at the park that night besides my friend and I. I do remember a guy with long hair who was shirtless and playing the drums, and a girl with glasses and a bandana in her hair. But, do they remember me? Did I leave a lasting mark in their memory as well?
I wanted to get an idea of what other people’s experiences were, so I went to the dollar store on a Thursday morning, grabbed a couple pieces of thick poster board, some sharpies, and multicolored post-its and was on my way to the park.
I posted up against the fountain, across from arch but on the opposite side. I was directly facing the sun. I wrote a note of my own, so that people understood the objective of my project.
“Visiting for the first time in 2015,” is what I wrote.
As I sat for a few minutes, I started to get nervous. People were walking past but not paying any mind to me. Did I not look like a legit street artist? There was a guy directly in front of me who was wearing a hand-made sign around his neck that said “PERSONALIZED POEMS.”
He set up a few minutes after I did. All he had was a table, some paper and pens, a chair to sit in and his signs. He started liberally applying sunscreen. From that moment, I knew I was not qualified enough for this.
Then, it happened. A young couple holding hands, probably juniors at NYU (according to the girl’s purple embroidered hat), approached me. The guy picked up a note pad and started writing. We hadn’t even exchanged any words at this point. He wrote:
Our first kiss in the WSP dog park.
She exclaimed, “That’s what I was going to write,” and beamed.
They walked away holding hands tighter this time, I assumed.
As the day went on, more and more people started approaching me. Some of them didn’t say a word unless they muttered a small thank you. It was as if they were grateful to have a space to share a part of their life. What really got to me is that these people shared memories with me without expecting anything in return. There was nothing they really got out of it except an act of connection.
A freshman at Parson’s came over to me and wrote down a memory. However, that was not what was stood out about her. She ended up extending her visit a bit longer to talk. We went back and forth about living in NY and how much fun it was until she brought up that she’s having a hard time making friends and that she sometimes feels lonely.
“I live in a single so it’s really hard to make friends, and I’m going to be traveling a lot this summer, so I won’t be around to meet anyone then either.”
We talked about how moving to NY is one of the scariest things, but it can also become one of the most rewarding. I had no doubt that she would be okay, she was going to discover that being alone doesn’t have to mean lonely. I could see some relief in her eyes. She gave me a hug and went on her way. I couldn’t help but think, should I have gotten her information before she left? I may never see her again. But then I thought about how she might retell this story to her family or even to a new group of friends and I thought that might be even more special.
After her, a man approached me and my sign. We talked about how New York reminded him of London because of all the people and the things to see. I asked if he had a favorite memory in the park.
“This is actually my first time to the park, it’s my first time to New York and actually my first time to America. I’m going to LA next.”
He picked up a yellow post-it and a silver sharpie.
He ended it with his signature and stuck it to one of the boards. I wished him well for the rest of his visit.
There were so many interesting tid-bit conversations I had: one couple found out just moments before that they were going to have a baby, a young girl told me about the spider-man art she got in the park which led us to bond over Avengers: Endgame, and I got to know a small family who come to New York to visit their son who is a student at the School of Visual Arts.
What is the point of all of it? What is the point that we all congregate in one area, for our own specific reasons? Every person in this park has their own memories associated with it. Some people may have two different memories that occurred at the exact same time, on the exact same day on exactly different sides of the park. However, it is these memories that shape our experiences every time we are at the park. For me, it is realizing that we are all living in our own universe, and that everyone else is just a smidge of that universe. It is impossible to comprehend all of the moments and lives that are tied to another being.
Rather than instigate human behavior, I decided to observe it. Just as I would normally, I decided to sit at the park and watch everyone. I don’t normally come to the park with anyone, it’s usually where I come to do my thinking and writing. I think it is more interesting to continue people watching, however, being more present of their individual life coinciding with mine. As much as I am making memories, they might as well be doing the same thing. We both will remember this day, but in completely different ways. Coming to the park is like being in your own world—one that transforms you from the hustle and bustle of the city into a slowed down version of it.
The park reminds me of a time capsule. There is the future element—things begin here—like the proposal I watched unfold one cold Friday night and there are things that end there, like the end of a piano player’s performance. There are many different events, occasions, actions and words that will be remembered here and that will be associated with this place. The cool thing about it though is that as much as this world is changing, the park and those memories will always be there every time you step foot beneath the eminent white arch.
All photos provided by myself and @marcidelarose.