My Beauty Routine, or, Who is That Girl Staring at Me on the N Train?

My favorite sign along my street in Brooklyn.

I am a person who loves routines. My life revolves around creating and relying on a routine that allows me to feel safe and comforted by the consistency of it all — and I think that’s how most of us are. I like to wake up early just so that I have enough time to complete my shower/coffee/reading/walk to work routine. I like to get home at a certain time so that I can make dinner, maybe see friends, have time to write something not work-related — this is where I’ve messed up recently. I have left writing/painting/catharsis out of my routine and have been haphazardly recording every thought I have on a note on my phone, usually on the subway in the morning. This is the first in a (potentially endless) series of subway thoughts.

Being in New York has been a sort of new exercise (and kind of a new beast) in routine. I’ve had to make a new one, in a new city, and intermingle with thousands and thousands of other routine-makers every day. I find myself thinking about how the same routines intertwine every day here. I think about how they would make a big, complex map if we could find a way to trace them all out. If they were made of yarn, they’d probably get tangled and where they tangle, that’s where people finally meet. Maybe we’d mark those spots with gold stars or glitter. Maybe at the end we’d have a quilt.

(ok before this gets too *meta* I will explain what I mean through example I promise)

On the subway this morning I was thinking about everyone else’s morning routine — did they feel the same way about getting coffee BEFORE getting on the train (so that the ride is used as a caffeine fuel-up time and you aren’t balancing hot coffee while pushing through street crowds) as I did? Mostly, I wonder what is everyone listening to on their headphones. This is my favorite thing to wonder about, with wondering what people are saying in foreign languages coming in as a close second. Am I the only one who tries their hardest to take the N train even though it’s the same as the R train, but for a split second it goes above ground and you can see the city skyline? Even if they’ve lived here much longer than I have, do they still stare out the window in awe? Do they appreciate the power of a well-curated playlist that is timed perfectly so that the emergence of the train above ground coincides perfectlywith a particularly beautiful part of a song? Does this also feel, for them, a little bit like praise?

I think what I wonder most is if we are all allowing ourselves enough room in our routines for beauty that is not entirely self-serving. Maybe the emerging-from-subway-song thing is selfish, but it’s a time to appreciate the place you live in. To look up from the floor where you’ve been staring, blankly, trying not to make direct eye contact with the people across from you (but really, who are we kidding — we all stare at each other on public transportation and we all love it). I quickly get caught up in wondering if I’m wondering too much. I should really just stick to my own business, I think. THEN I wonder, “is anyone else thinking the same thing I’m thinking right now? This whole subway nonsense is CRAZY who are we kidding we are all FRIENDS HERE! Look at this SKYLINE WE SHARE!!!” and try to test it out by making eye contact with the girl across from me whose hat I’ve been staring at. The eye contact is not well-received.

I wonder things like this at home, too. I wrote a note on my phone the week before moving here that I will paste here now, because I found it this week and was really happy with myself for trying to document the exact feeling that I am so often homesick for:

“There are some times when I realize how much this city is a part of me, when I look at the trees and feel the air the same way here as I do when I tilt my head back in awe of glittering city skylines far away. But here I tilt my head back, close my eyes and smile into the Texas sun and know that it is such an important part of who I am and this is something crazy and beautiful, like when I am driving at sunset playing the music I grew up listening to. The feeling of knowing these streets confidently and driving toward something that is warm and familiar.”

New York is the kind of place that is so exhausting because of excessive human interaction, so in the few places that we can create a moment for ourselves, we do it. This includes the subway, without question. We are never truly alone here (even now as I write this from my private room, my upstairs neighbor is moving furniture and from my open window I can hear my backyard neighbors blasting something in Italian). But if we’re always caught up in the routine of ignoring one another, of ignoring the way the city looks in the sunlight on the train, or the potential eye contact we could make with a stranger in a coffee shop — we are ignoring so much. I ignore so much. This is a very difficult feeling to capture but if you can’t tell, I’m trying really hard. The potential for connection is too beautiful a thing to ignore. Anyways — I am probably the one staring at you on the N train.

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