My second semester of graduate school, I left my evening class and took the Red line to Wilson. Between Lake and Clark/Division, the journey was typical. I was in a middle car with a teen off her shift from Chick-fil-a, a mother with her two kids, and a Columbia student who looked far too studious to be attending that school. As we rolled through to Addison, flanked by a man too old to own a skateboard and a suburban 50-year-old, I was weeping into my scarf.
No one wants to cry in public, especially a 24-year-old woman with competing credit card bills, cats, and a thesis to consider. Later, as I opined to my peers about my lack of emotional fortitude, it struck me that perhaps that farce of a train ride didn’t mean that I was broken. Or that I wasn’t actively taking care of myself. My peers were quick to chip in their stories, turning their stress mountains into laughable molehills. They assured me,“Oh, we’ve all done this! Right of passage.” I’ve changed my style of makeup so watery eyes aren’t my primary concern. I think that’s why some folks wear lipstick. To distract you from their pallid eyes.
Looking back, I am still unclear as to what triggered that episode. I was balancing my schedule and focusing on my health. I slept sometimes. I had, and still have, friends I can depend on. Is it ridiculous that what triggered my crying could be those 40 minutes between work and home, where I can be still and do nothing? Like it all starts when it stops. Commuting has become the only downtime I don’t feel guilty about. It’s a measured set of space and time that I feel allowed to engage in socially unproductive activities; watch Netflix, read a non-school related novel, or nap. Maybe this is a safe space to cry in too.
At this stage of the academic game, it often feels like your destiny is just to keep up. So maybe I was done chasing my breath. Maybe, it was the inaction that was intolerable: it feels like a chore. I’m beginning to think that as I adjusted to commuting, and the travel became more commonplace , my millenial logic urged me to turn the “free time” into an advantage. Ya know, guilt. “I can read on the ‘L’ without getting carsick, so might as well get some work done.” (Which is rather crap the more you think about it.)
Oh my sweet baby Jesus, transit is traumatizing in and of itself. Every morning at 8 a.m., thousands of us squeeze into metal tubes, ignoring each other. Further, none of us want to be there. It’s only tolerable because CTA is limbo, a temporary social equalizer, and we know that this particular train ride will never happen again. So now is a great time to trim your nails, nap, or finish projects. Aside from the bros going to Wrigley, I’m not exactly convinced of the legitimacy of public transportation as a platform to have fun. My first summer in the city I saw a dude waterfall a fifth of Tito’s into some Calcium Tropicana. Endearing, but why can’t we keep those activities in the home? The ‘L’ is for crying.
Chicago is lawless. It’s tiresome. It’s cold. I’m in graduate school. I wanna be able to sit down without fielding stranger’s auras, apologizing for my overstuffedTrader Joe’s grocery bags, and fretting about unopened emails. This is a simple case of productivity guilt. It’s my belief that capitalism has uprooted the playing field. We have been taught to equate work completed to one’s ethics to personal worth. We’ve idealized the hussle. All this to say that we — or at least I — need to learn to enjoy things without evaluating its their cultural worth.
So, I’m gonna embrace my public crying. Turn it into a public presentation. Let the tears come. At least they’re valid and true. Emotional woo-woo, but I’m sick of pretending that this incessant grind isn’t tiresome. I wanna take care of myself, and if I can’t find a way to relax, then goddammit, I’m gonna do it on the train. And eat Cheeto Puffs. Call my mom. In that order. I can get back to business when I get to my stop.