THIS IS US

How Being Seen Can Change Your Whole Day

Don’t depend on the kindness of strangers, but do celebrate it

Nicole C. Kear
Human Parts
Published in
6 min readJul 13, 2021

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One-stop Subway Artist Sketch

To paraphrase a great sage: The subway’s like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.

Some days, what you get is human fecal matter underfoot. In case you’re wondering, that’s the best case scenario for encountering human fecal matter. It’s also possible to encounter it underhand, as my sixteen-year-old son discovered one afternoon during his commute home from school. Never since Lady Macbeth, or the year 2020, has someone washed their hands with such desperation.

Other days on the subway, what you get is tourists from Paris who let you speak terrible French to them and are surprisingly nice about it. Often, there are teenagers performing acrobatic feats which astound and alarm you because it seems like the margin for error is slim and your face is just so close. Sometimes what you get is rats. Sometimes what you get is puppies. People yelling. People begging. People who smell bad and those who smell good, and people warning you about the end of days.

But on a Sunday afternoon, on the R train, I encountered something I’d never encountered before.

At first, I didn’t see the artist — just the art. As my fourteen-year-old daughter and I walked into the subway car at Rector Place looking for seats, I caught sight of a young man who sat swiping at his phone, holding an 8½ x 11 sheet of paper on his lap. It was an ink drawing — of him. A portrait. I figured maybe he’d spent the day in Central Park and had gotten it there.

I sat down kitty-corner from my daughter and I noticed that the woman across the aisle also held a black ink portrait of herself, in the same style. Where were they all coming from?

“Mom,” my daughter said, nodding at the row of seats across from me. “That guy is drawing everyone.”

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Nicole C. Kear
Human Parts

Author, Essayist, Professor of Writing // Books: Now I See You: a memoir; Foreverland; The Fix-It Friends series // www.nicolekear.com