“How Things Came to Be This Way”
Last week, I wrote a piece about how things came to be a certain way. I used the current state of New York City as a model, focusing in particular on the urban decay taking place on the corner of my street.
Stalkers, enjoy! You now know where to find me.
The piece was too tangential, and the alleged “ten minute read” just didn’t flow in the way I would have liked it, so I’ve decided to tackle it piece by piece, trying to extrapolate on the themes I failed at exploring adequately.
The first is the theme of “how things come to be a certain way.”
I let a few friends read my piece on New York City (which you can read here,) and only one of them said “this is great. Keep it just as it is.”
The biggest takeaway came from a good friend, who told me that everything is “so negative” right now that nobody wants to read about things could get worse.
That, to me, presented the biggest challenge. It isn’t that the world is or isn’t shitty right now, but that the perception that it is shitty keeps people from wanting to look at the obvious.
It was exactly the reason I wrote the article, and it pissed me off that people would not be receptive to reading what I felt was a solution to a lot of our problems.
My entire point of the piece was that things get to be a certain way because of what we do daily, and if we don’t take notice daily of our actions, things can get very out of control very quickly.
The most basic example of this I can think of is the human body.
People talk to me a lot about fitness and losing weight because weight is a big problem for a lot of people. Some of the biggest mistakes I find that keep people from remaining thin is that they’re not committed to doing things daily.
Everyone has this “yearly” goal, where they think of how they want to look in a year. The “year” goal is one of the biggest issues I have when I get to talking to people about how they want to look and feel. Why? Because setting a “year” goal puts you 365 days away from where you want to be, and therefore, inserts a lot of time between now and then for you to get lost.
The biggest shifts and changes happen when we commit to doing things one day at a time, in little increments. I don’t know what I want to look like in a year, but I know tonight I’m going to eat salmon and brussels sprouts. And I know that tomorrow, I’m going to run intervals at the track.
I’m not really thinking about what I’ll look like in 365 days, but I think about how I want to feel today, and how I want to feel tomorrow morning. Those thoughts rooted in immediacy are what keep me thin, day in and day out.
I got the phrase “how things came to be this way” from a book called Ishmael by Daniel Quinn.
The way that the book is laid out methodically presents the argument that humans will kill the planet and drive ourselves to extinction because of our ethos, and the trajectory we have taken since the Agricultural Revolution.
Essentially, we disrupt the natural order of life, and because we produce more food than we need, we will forever live in conflict, grow like a virus, and exterminate ourselves because of the ecological imbalances we create.
I highly recommend it. The book changed my life.
I talk about this because the state of the planet is another thing that is really worrisome these days, and it’s something that happened one day at a time.
I was at my parents’ house this weekend and they made a trip to the grocery store. After unpacking the groceries, I saw the bag they have filled with plastic bags. It’s enormous. And that’s just two people, in a world of 7.5 billion.
Sometimes, when I’m running by the river in the morning, I see barges piled high with trash.
Our carbon emissions are off the charts. Global warming has the climate of New York City now categorized as “subtropical.” What the fuck?
This didn’t happen overnight. This happened slowly, every day since the Agricultural Revolution.
Our population is growing faster than ever. We feverishly work to sustain what we created. We continue to mass-produce. We continue to try to aid in efficiency so that every human can be optimized for ultimate productivity.
Every day it gets worse, but people continue to look the other way. I worry that I will experience a period in my lifetime where I will struggle to survive.
A little over a week ago, the infamous “Metronome” clock in Manhattan’s Union Square which served as a timepiece and a public art display for 20 years was altered.
It now is called the “Climate Clock,” and ominously displays a countdown to when the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change in Berlin have estimated that the damage to our planet will have become irreversible.
I understand not wanting to think about things that are unpleasant, but avoidance is perpetuating the problem at hand. Without thinking about the problem, we can’t notice in our daily lives the trends that are causing us to go in directions that are to our detriment.
Our daily actions dictate what happens in our lives.
Did you take the plastic straw, or did you take the paper one? Does that matter today? Not really, but it does months from now when it’s your 100th smoothie from the juice bar. How many of those days did you take the paper straw? How many days did the person who came in after you take the paper straw? Little actions mean a lot over time.
Before I get into the grand example of urban decay, I’d love to point out that “one day at a time” doesn’t always lead to what we perceive as “negative.”
Falling in love is another example I briefly mentioned.
When people used to ask me “how long does it take to fall in love,” my answer was always “three seconds.”
It feels that way, doesn’t it?
In reality, the “three seconds” is just the exact moment of realization of “oh shit, I’m in love.” It probably took place over a much longer period of time.
I know a few people who have gotten into relationships during COVID, and while that may seem surprising to some, I actually think the pandemic was a ripe environment for fostering feelings of love.
COVID created an environment where people needed to connect, so often, people took the time to reach out and invest daily into others. I can picture all sorts of love blooming in the age of COVID, as those investments are vital.
Any time I’ve ever fallen in love, it’s always felt sudden. Yet, when I’ve thought about it in terms of days, weeks, and months, it always made more sense.
It never was about giant cosmic alignments of the stars and the moon and whatever the fuck. It was about little things, little words, and little moments where someone got excited about me and I got excited about them. It was always an amalgamation of tiny actions that led me to say the words “I love you” to another person.
So now that I’ve got you thinking about how tiny actions can make you feel good, I want to talk about how taking notice of the small things can improve the world around you.
The following is taken directly from my article about how the corner of my street has fallen into a state of decay, but it didn’t happen overnight. It displays how small occurrences over time contributed to an uncontrolled homeless problem.
I want to use the corner of my street as an example of urban decay. People are just now noticing it, but it really started five years ago when a gas explosion took down three buildings.
While that was a huge event, nothing happened after that until roughly January 2019. Then, the decay seemingly happened all at once.
At the beginning of that year, a brand-new building went up on the site of the explosion.
Across the street, the long-standing Bar Virage had recently closed. A new business was supposed to move into the spot, but Bar Virage had a liquor license that defied the law that a business could not sell liquor if it was 200 feet from a church. (There must have been a stipulation when they initially applied for the license.) The new business learned they would only be able to sell beer and wine, so they backed out.
By early January 2019, both corners of the north side of 7th street and 2nd Avenue were vacant. Then, tragedy struck. The building on the southeast corner erupted in fire, and the residents had to vacate. Both long-standing businesses on the ground floor had to permanently close.
This was a gorgeous building that housed the famous restaurant Via Della Pace, which was sometimes used for film sets because of its aesthetic. It had a quaint urban feel to it. Now it sits, filthy and empty.
When the pandemic hit in March, the restaurant on the lingering occupied southwest corner was forced to close. It had one of those “outer vestibules” that restaurants put around their doors to keep in the heat during the winter months. The vestibule remained after the closure.
The pandemic caused construction to cease on the new building going up where the gas explosion was. The scaffolding around the building remained, though, so an encampment of homeless people sprung up. They began defecating on the side of the building and in the seasonal vestibule of the restaurant across the street. Nothing was open in the way of public restrooms, so they didn’t have much of a choice. Now, things are opening again, but there are still fresh feces there each day, and they are obviously not from a dog.
Daily, I see tissue and used masks lying on the sidewalks smeared with feces.
A homeless woman was living under the Orpheum theater, the home of Stomp, for as long as I can remember. Someone booted her out, so she moved to my corner. She’s old and frail, so last week, I made several attempts to help her. None of them were successful.
I started to notice after about five or six days of her being there that more and more feces started to appear in her immediate area on the corner.
I’ve been walking through and around shit for months, and it’s starting to bother me. I’m just going to assume I’m immune to whatever diseases you can catch from it.
Before COVID, we all respected the natural order of things.
There were always homeless people here, but they had an easier time before COVID. They slept on the subways. I used to ride the train home late night after closing the restaurant I worked at, and it was just understood that the “two-seater” at the end of the car was for the homeless. They would sleep there, and in the morning, as rush hour began, they would get up and go live life.
Now, the subway stays closed all night. Here’s what’s fucked up, though. The subway stays closed, but the trains still run! Turns out, New York City doesn’t have a place to put the trains, so they run them on a schedule nightly, empty.
It was sometimes unpleasant to ride the train next to homeless people, but we did it and didn’t complain because that was the natural order of things.
The same thing goes with the restrooms at Starbucks. Almost any time I ever went to pee in a Starbucks, a homeless person was using the restroom to wash up. It was unpleasant, but it was the natural order of things. It was part of city life.
When the natural order of an environment is disrupted, what happens? People don’t just cease to exist. Their order has to change, and the adaptation isn’t always for the better.
So, what can we gather from that?
It wasn’t one singular event that caused the homeless population on the corner to spike, but rather a small series of systematic events that, if even one had been excluded, things probably would have recovered.
Each and every event led to the culmination of a much larger issue, with the pandemic being the tipping point. (a la Malcolm Gladwell)
My whole point in writing this was that people didn’t really notice the events leading up to the problem but certainly did notice the problem. If they had cared sooner or noticed sooner, it may not have ended up the way it did.
That’s how it is with so many things, and really, it’s because of our unwillingness to look at things and see them exactly how they are.
We don’t want to look at our bodies and see them for what they are. We want to dream about our futures, and the way we could look someday.
We don’t appreciate the immediacy in relationships or notice the moments that are precious and fleeting. We’re always thinking about what else we could be doing, and not about the sacred nature of the present ten minutes.
We’re sad about what’s happening to New York City, so we’re longing for the past, and not noticing that we can be taking small actions daily to keep the city clean and orderly.
We wait until a presidential election year to be filled with bouts of outrage about things that… well, pretty much always exist.
Everything of magnitude in life, in just about every arena, exists because of the small things we do each and every day; nothing just manifests out of thin air without a catalyst.
We expect the catalytic nature of a giant event like a global pandemic, but don’t see the magnitude in how something as small as our trips to the grocery store can not only impact our bodies, but the world.
Little things add up to big things, so I ask you, as you go about your day today, will you pay more attention to the things happening around you, no matter how insignificant? Can you recognize the power that lies in small actions?
I believe that if everyone could even marginally work harder at living in the present, humanity would be much better off.