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Humans of My Couch

Like many other 20-somethings who haven’t given up on Facebook yet, I follow the photojournalism project “Humans of New York.” The interviews -- or monologues, really -- that accompany these portraits offer beautiful windows into strangers’ lives, the good and the bad. It is striking to me that each subject truly has a story to tell. How does each post capture such a rich character? We can certainly credit Brandon Stanton, the man behind the lens, for his exceptional interviewing skills. But recently, it got me thinking.

You'd sooner find me here, with my parents' dog, than NYC these days.

I grew up in suburban Connecticut, close enough to “The City” that I could call it that. I tried to make a habit of going there when I was in high school, old enough to take the train without parental supervision. Every time I walked through Manhattan, Williamsburg, or wherever, I imagined getting stopped and included in HONY. Does he even shoot people who are just visiting? But I so wasn’t a tourist… (eye roll here). It was always about the image, though. Like it was a street style blog more than anything. What would the Internet think if they saw me like this?

I’ve been pretty low since graduation. It’s easy after high school -- a brief summer break and you’re right back in a classroom. Nobody tells you that college graduation spits you into an unstructured hell of free time and job applications. Socially, emotionally, and intellectually, I’ve done little besides slowly decay into my living room furniture. I worked full-time for a while, but it was retail, and I spent an excruciating three and a half months in between that and landing what seems like a dream job. Of course, unemployment sucked. But in all that time, practically a year, I only read two books. I opened Unity once. I wrote three-quarters of a blog post. You get the picture. One gray afternoon in January it all came crashing in on me as I sobbed on my couch after reading a HONY post. I was so happy for the woman in the picture, whoever it was. So proud of her for what she had overcome. In the comments section, thousands of people were offering their support, financial or otherwise. And I, lonely and jobless and feeling invisible, couldn’t help but cry about all of it.

You would think that’d be a one in a million post, to serve such an outpouring of compassion. But it isn’t. It’s every single one. Everyone is curing cancer. Or just lost someone they love to cancer. Everyone is struggling, but keeping the faith, or they finally reached what they’ve been struggling for all along. Everyone is trying to make a better life for their children, or repay those who have helped them. Every single subject paints a vignette of the human condition whether they know it or not. It can’t just be “right place, right time” -- Brandon knows that everyone has a story to tell, he just might need to dig for it. So I imagined him digging.

Instead of picturing the way this particular lipstick would look photographed in July, in harsh sun, in the Bronx, I was caught off guard, interviewed in my cold Vermont apartment. I wore a blanket, and days-old mascara collected in the creases around my eyes. For some reason, I recounted to him my senior year.

I made some incredibly close friends on my semester abroad, capping off my junior year at Champlain in Montreal. I think the harsh winter makes friendships stronger. You binge drink together every couple of nights, because you can, and because buying in bulk means you rarely have to face the cold to have fun. And in the meantime, there are weekend trips and the trauma bonding that comes with our fine institution’s game program. Honestly, I recommend it to everyone. The Montreal part. The game program.. You’re usually already in or out.

When we got back to the main campus three months later, a group of these incredibly close friends approached me to make a game together. It was the most fun -- chaotic fun -- I’ve ever had. I remember working in the computer labs during crunch time and walking home with my teammate after sunrise. We won some awards for the game, and showcased it at PAX last year. It was honestly surreal, to achieve one of my long-standing career goals while still in college. The other narrative designer on my team gave me our exhibitor pass at graduation, and I get choked up when I think about it.

Our very professional Halloween photo, taken in 2017, before the team grew. These are some of the most talented people I know.

We gained a surprising amount of traction in a short time, but I worked with an incredibly talented group.The game was more or less finished by graduation, but not quite publishable. My team dispersed, but we outlined a plan to get the game on Steam by the end of the summer. It didn’t happen. We never lost touch as friends, but we don’t talk about it. It wasn’t anyone’s fault -- we all moved on to more pressing things. I haven’t touched the project since May, either. But some of us were banking on this. And I feel like I missed my shot.

That’s where I would have gazed off into the New York City skyline, but instead stared blankly past the cling film on my windows. That’s the line to leave it on, though. An unspeakable number of strangers would assure me that I didn’t miss my shot, that “let me publish it for you!” and “here’s seven million dollars!”

But Brandon was not in my living room, recording me from my desk chair. I had the story to tell, but no one to tell it to. If the Internet saw me like this, they would not be seeing me for my cool shoes or the way I cut my hair, at least, not entirely. They might see their own lives reflected in the way depression grips mine. Or they would simply see highs and lows, hopes and fears, in a moment of their time on a feed.

Luckily, the Internet will not see me like this. Or, not The Internet(™), just my people, because I have also failed entirely to market or maintain my site this year. But if you’re wondering what post-grad life has been like for me, here you go. I’m glad to be working in games again -- it came with the first signs of springtime, and the symbolism is not lost on me. I’m going to make that a separate post, though. Eventually.

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