In the past month or so, I’ve spent a lot of time in my partner-in-crime R and her Scot H’s apartment, such as the infamous jumpsuit weekend and last week’s trip back in time. Since I live approximately a thousand miles away (approximately) from their beautiful FiDi building, I try to travel there in the afternoons with everything I might need for the evenings, like extra clothes and accessories. Unfortunately, as a highly responsible person, I have a tendency to leave said extras there, so by this time last week I had quite a lot of stuff in their guest room, ranging from sunglasses to a bathing suit to my entire gift bag from Jazz Age. Most of the things left there weren’t immediately necessary for me to have, but eventually, I reached a point where I did the unthinkable: I left my headphones there.
Headphones, for most people, are a nice tool for distraction during a workout, or maybe something to use while laying on the beach. For a New Yorker, and me especially, they are pretty much everything. EVERYTHING. If I’m not having a direct, face-to-face conversation with someone, my headphones are in: on the subway, walking to and from the subway, office, apartment, talking on the phone while cleaning and cooking, while working, while working out and more. And I’m not the only one, especially not in New York. If you look around the streets or the subway, inevitably you’ll see more people with headphones than without, using them to watch a movie, listen to a song or sometimes just to block out the rabble around us. The way I see it, we use them as a way to space out while surrounded by strangers, getting lost in our own world.
There’s something to be said about looking up from such a distraction, to be sure. In the week without my headphones, I’ve seen some really amazing things on the subway, like an old woman thanking a soldier in uniform and offering him her seat, teenagers giggling to each other and talking about who’s in what class for the upcoming school year, and couples silently leaning into each other after a long day at work. In the streets, I’ve heard and seen more performers, noticed stores I haven’t in the past and managed not to plow into the paparazzi waiting outside an Equinox to grab a sweaty photo of whoever exciting was in there. And back in the spring, I had a brush with what could have been love after taking a chance on taking out my headphones on the subway in the mornings. So I can agree that sometimes it’s good to disconnect from certain distractions, since you never know who might be distracted by you.
Thing is, though, much as I enjoy wrapping myself in the interesting lives of strangers around me, I think having time to yourself is key. While I’m fortunate enough to live alone and spend a good majority of my days talking to myself and my cat, the silent subway contemplation and walking around the city alone, lost in the same Spotify playlist, are some of my favorite times of the day. I like getting lost in my own thoughts and watching the people around me do the same. I’m not worried about whether I should get off the couch and clean the stack of mail that’s steadily growing next to the flowers I should probably throw out; I’m not mentally running through what needs to get done at the office the next day as busy season rears its ugly head again. I’m just enjoying the music, alone with my thoughts, blocking everyone else out around me, relishing that small piece of my day, whether it’s the forty minutes it takes to get from the Heights to the West Village, or the ten minute walk from my apartment to my lovely friend M’s place.
I managed to get to R and H’s place by Friday last week, as I enjoyed the day off, and practically ripped through the bag with all my other missing possessions until I found my precious headphones, immediately putting them on and turning on my favorite Spotify list. I had just about six blissful, wonderful hours with my headphones before promptly forgetting them on New Jersey Transit as a friend and I made our way to East Rutherford for the Jets/Giants preseason game. Spending an early morning train ride to Connecticut the next day with no distractions put me in a mood, draining positivity and excitement as I realized the girl next to me was not turning her own music down and I’d be listening to her blurry beats for the entirety of the trip. I looked up in frustration briefly and saw a toddler and her dad playing some kind of game on the iPhone, her delighted squeals making him smile, making me smile in turn. I suppose at the end of the day in all things, it’s nice to be distracted and insulated by your own thoughts and music, blocking out the world with small white earbuds. But every once in a while, whether on a crowded morning subway or imagining the future, it doesn’t hurt to look up.