I Want To Be Anonymous In The City

I go to college in a mid-size city; about 200,000 people live here, 25,000 of whom attend the same university I do. I’ve been more than decently content so far: it’s large enough to provide a good amount of entertaining things to do and look at while still maintaining the freedom to walk home at three in the morning without getting mugged (or at least without the absolute guarantee of getting mugged). The city is also decently clean and home to a pretty good art and music scene, which is great for the dying-to-get-out hipster in me. It’s no New York or Chicago, or even St. Louis. It has maybe three museums, and its buses run once every hour. It’s not the big cities’ wider selection of activities and culture, although I would gladly welcome it, that I crave. And although I wish I had better access to public transportation and the ability to commute by foot, I can do without these, too.

What I want from the big city is to be a stranger. I want to walk outside every morning and be anonymous. I don’t want people to know me. Anywhere. It’s not because I don’t like them. It’s because I do like them. I’m too sensitive, too empathetic to be smiled at by people passing by in their cars, as is the custom here in Southern-charm-filled Knoxville. I get emotionally attached to people that give a polite nod or say hello when I’m waiting to cross the street with them; I concoct their life stories in my mind and internalize them; I wonder what their names are, what it would be like to know them, to be their friend. Just today, I passed a woman, a complete stranger, on the street, and she said “hi” to me. She was wearing faded denim shorts, probably cut off from a pair worn in during her teenage years, a loose beige blouse and a straw hat. Her Southern accent told me that her outfit choice was dictated by necessity, to shield herself from the sun and heat of sticky Tennessee summers, and not necessarily by the fashion trends of the moment. And although it was nice to know this about her, once I did, she became a real person. I lost the privilege of making up her life story, forfeited the luxury of remaining a stranger, pleasantly aloof, comfortably foreign.

It’s this separation from others’ souls that makes the everyday bearable by leaving me unburdened, free of the emotional baggage, real or imaginary (most often both), of others that I choose to carry. This is why I long for the big city. I want to look at strangers all day long, and I want them to remain strangers until I choose otherwise. I don’t want to know who they are. Not because I don’t care about them, but because I do. Because when they tell me their name and where they’re from, I’ll want to know more, know everything. But that won’t happen; all that will remain of them in my head is an abbreviated biography and a blurry thumbnail photo, half-reality, half-constructed by my mind’s eye. And this is disappointing.

Sometimes I separate myself from other people by connecting to the city itself, at least the physical aspect of it. I walk on the road, in the gutter, hearing the cars go whooshing past me, or clanking past me, or blaring music past me. I love the mixed smells of exhaust and cigarette butts. I want to hold on to these things; I want them to surround me; I want to walk down the street for long enough that all the people turn into objects, too. Even me. I want to be a thing. I don’t want to be hit on by a handful of frat boys blasting rap out of their SUV, only to later see them on campus. If you’re going to hit on me, I want to be able to pretend that you’ll never forget me, the image of me walking down the sidewalk, my hair blowing in the wind, whatever. This is selfish, and I hate that I think it. But I do, and I don’t want to run into you and remember who you are, when you have no idea who I am.

Maybe that’s why I want the city so badly. Because it is a stranger to me, and I am a stranger to it. And this is beautiful. TC mark

image – Dominic Boudreault

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  • http://profiles.google.com/amaviena Amanda Viers

    lame.

    • http://profiles.google.com/amaviena Amanda Viers

      maybe I just think that because I live in the city?

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1363230138 Michael Koh

        cool

      • Bleh

        You write nasty comments under every single piece. What city do you live in? by the looks of you i would guess somewhere in Florida. Get over yourself.

      • http://profiles.google.com/amaviena Amanda Viers

        “Nasty” comments in two out of many, many pieces. I can tell you're impressive because you're anonymous. I don't live in Florida. Nor any place near an ocean. You should get over yourself. Obviously you're obsessed. Masturbate more. Maybe drink some kombucha. Flirt with someone at Whole Foods. Your life might be better. 
        Sincerely,
        The Wicked Bitch of the West

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1363230138 Michael Koh

        By many pieces, you mean 37 comments.

      • http://profiles.google.com/amaviena Amanda Viers

        5 points to Griffyndor. And, actually, I've read much more than I've had the desire to comment on.

    • chelseafagan

      That comment was unnecessarily mean; this was a nice piece. And I live in a big city, too.

      • http://profiles.google.com/amaviena Amanda Viers

        having an opinion is not mean. I didn't like it. It seemed distant and airy. Like not living. Like a parody of life. You can certainly like it where I didn't. Lame. end of story.

      • scribler

        I adore you, Chelsea Fagan.

  • http://profiles.google.com/amaviena Amanda Viers

    lame.

  • http://valentine-kitchenson.tumblr.com valentine-kitchenson

    Beautifully written! I know exactly what you mean by wishing to be anonymous.

  • http://valentine-kitchenson.tumblr.com valentine-kitchenson

    Beautifully written! I know exactly what you mean by wishing to be anonymous.

  • http://profiles.google.com/amaviena Amanda Viers

    maybe I just think that because I live in the city?

  • chelseafagan

    That comment was unnecessarily mean; this was a nice piece. And I live in a big city, too.

  • http://twitter.com/Daniel_Joseph Daniel Joseph

    This reminds me of Baudelaire's Flaneur + and Walter Benjamin's introspective look into what it means to be experience the city entirely as aesthetics.

    • http://jnaomi.tumblr.com jnaomi

      yea was just about to say the same thing

  • http://twitter.com/Daniel_Joseph Daniel Joseph

    This reminds me of Baudelaire's Flaneur + and Walter Benjamin's introspective look into what it means to be experience the city entirely as aesthetics.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1363230138 Michael Koh

    cool

  • Nina

    Beautifully written and so very true :)  When you know just a little bit about someone, knowing that you can never know more, well its hard.  Anonymity in the city- I like it.

  • Nina

    Beautifully written and so very true :)  When you know just a little bit about someone, knowing that you can never know more, well its hard.  Anonymity in the city- I like it.

  • Greg

    cool story bro

  • http://www.twovisionaries.com Joseph Piccininni, Jr.

    awesome post. I can so relate to the way you think. and the way you explained this way to the people who don't, was perfect. thanks

  • mm

    OMG i have the same feeling

    living here as a senior high school in a small town in Italy really does affect you. I mean, everyday I feel like people stare at me and i am like “the black girl” everyone knows (Because i volunteer at schools and go to shops, and my friends are hella loud) but even though it is italian custom to just stare at people (which i assume judging people) I always feel out of place, not because I am american but because I look “different” 

    And I guess I don't help out the fact I am going to school in a really small town with like 8,000 residents and i think 4,000-6,000 students on campus…(probably less) 
    its going to be depressing

  • Buckpt

    You know, you are allowed to move to a bigger city…

  • Pfft

    I thought this was beautifully written, but a little pointless.
    Travel, meet people, see the world, try new things. Then you will have interesting things to write about.

  • http://sorcelleries.tumblr.com/ Sonia Ali

    Then you get to a big city and realize how lonely it is, your lips go dry from lack of use and you wish you had something else.

  • http://twitter.com/allenaerated allen johnson

    I felt similar prior to moving to New York for school- you think that sense of autonomy is something central to your being. It's rather the opposite. Your yearning to extend (a peripheral kind of thing) derives from a feeling a sense of community. It's easy not to see it acting on you, when you have its buoy. Being without it grates after a while, and you'll slide back in time into close connections and smaller scales of being. I'm trying to generalize, because this is how most everyone in NYC acts. Large numbers of acquaintances, small social circles- socialites notwithstanding, and even they have their inner circles, their homebases, their homes, period. Read some Homer, get in touch with the Greek concepts of polis, apolis, oikos- then tell me if you feel the same way.

  • Ann

    this is not lame. i find this article extremely true about myself and the city. I grew up in Los angeles my whole life and just recently moved to Chicago. The anonymity of myself as a student in Chicago makes me feel at one with myself and the city. Although I lived in a huge city most of my life (LA), I know the place and I feel like any other resident of LA, but when I moved to Chicago I felt like I can reinvent myself and find myself through the liveliness and ambiguity of the city by just simply taking a stroll down the street. I love both cities, but the enigma of Chicago makes me love it here even more a stroll down the street. I love both cities, but the enigma of Chicago makes me love it here even more

    • ANN

      omit the “even more a stroll down the street” HA HA

  • Mrs. Boyte

    I think you should use less dependent clauses… It gets a little confusing in there.

  • kwy

    trite

  • mhm

    i want this, exactly

  • kas

    wear your sunglasses and carry a map, act like a total tourist.speak a foreign language, act like you dont belong there.stand in a flow of crowd, as the people pass by, anonymous it is.

  • SousChefGerard

    Growing a grizzly bear beard has worked wonders for other people's willingness to not engage me in conversation I have zero care for.

    • http://profiles.google.com/amaviena Amanda Viers

      Growing a grizzly bear bush also works.

  • http://twitter.com/peterrrpan Peter Pagan

    This is beautiful.

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