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@humansofny / Humans of New York

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“I’m writing a Grandma Noir. The premise is this: a lady comes to an old person’s home, but nobody likes her. Suddenly she turns up dead and our protagonist Helen has to solve the mystery. There’s a motorized wheelchair chase. There’s a Viagra orgy. There’s a villain who’s faking Alzheimer’s while masterminding a pill-trading operation. It’s got everything. I sent the book to a bunch of agents. I got a nibble from one of them. She told me that she made it to page 100 before quitting, so I figure I’m on the right track.”
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0 tag and 1 profile in descriptionRecently joined @timferriss for a long talk about the story and process behind Humans of New York. I’m constantly asking other people to be open and vulnerable, so I did my best to reciprocate. If you’re curious about HONY’s origins, or how the soup is made, you can find it on Apple Podcasts or by following link in bio.
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“My dad helped me choose my clothes until I was six years old but then I wanted to do it myself. He’s still my main fashion inspiration. He actually brought me this scarf from India. But he mainly likes to wear man shirts with words on them. At first I didn’t have a very good sense of style. I just wore pink leggings with shorts over them. I got better when I was nine or ten. And now that I’m eleven, I think I’m finally figuring it out.”
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“It was my decision to leave. There were too many problems. She hadn’t kissed me in years. We’d argue over every little thing. Our son was grown and I just didn’t see a reason to stay. So I came home from work one day, packed up my things, and left. I’ve been staying with my sister ever since. It’s been a tough two years. I’ve tried to reach out but she isn’t talking to me anymore. My son isn’t speaking to me either. They want nothing to do with me. I biked over here for Father’s Day. I was going to knock on their door but I changed my mind. I decided to just let them be. I wish I’d never left. Even though we were always fighting, it still felt like I had a home.”
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“A couple weeks ago we were coming home from visiting my brother in Long Island and we stopped at a burger place off the highway. He had a Junior Whopper. I had a Whopper. We split the fries. And while we were eating, he said: ‘You know what Daddy? You’re a really great Daddy. I love you Daddy.’ And that got me. I almost choked on my burger. Because it wasn’t bedtime. He wasn’t leaving for school. It was just off the cuff.”
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“Obama had been president for six days. The old timers in the twelve-step program tell you to associate the memory with something—so that’s how I remember it. The weather was just like this, even though it was November. It was sixtyish degrees. I was sitting on a stoop, having my morning beer and cigarette, and feeling disgusted with myself. I was wheezing so bad that it felt like I’d swallowed a whistle. And I had this moment of clarity. I knew I was done. So I took a couple more swigs, threw the pack of Newports into traffic, and walked over to Project Renewal on 3rd Street. I’ll be ten years sober if I can make it until November 10th. That was my day. And it still is my day. Even if I fail, I’ll remember that on that day I succeeded. And if I did it then, I can do it again.”
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“I was eleven when my mom divorced my stepdad. She had four kids at the time. I remember we were in the bedroom, and she said to me: ‘You’re the oldest so I’m going to need your help.’ And ever since then I’ve been ‘Mom Number Two.’ I picked my little brothers up from school. I cooked for them. I made sure they did their homework. I met with their teachers. I’d be the authority figure until mom came home from work. I was always the responsible one. Nobody ever had to worry about me. But now I’m twenty and my whole life has been about my little brothers. I’ve never really felt the security to figure myself out. But today is orientation at my new college. I just finished meeting with my advisor. There are so many clubs and organizations that I can join. I want to meet a lot of different people. I want to be more outspoken. I feel like this is my chance to learn who I am.”
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“I was diagnosed with leukemia during my early teens. It was a full year being out of school. And when I came back it felt like everyone had moved on without me. I had to repeat ninth grade. My social circles had changed and I was desperate to make new friends. I started trying way too hard to impress people. I’d make stuff up about myself. I remember pretending that I could read palms. Anything to get close to people who were cooler than me. But the worst part is that I started to avoid people who weren’t 'cool.' There was one girl I absolutely loved, but she had a weight problem and kids were mean to her. So I started ducking into classrooms if I saw her coming down the hall. Or I’d sit at the other end of the cafeteria. It was the opposite of who I’d always been. I’d always been the one making sure everyone was included. I was always the first one to introduce myself to new kids. I wanted everyone to feel important. But for awhile I became the opposite of that. I became a social climber."
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“I’m from a small country in Africa called Benin. I won the visa lottery to come here. I didn’t even know I was eligible. My brother entered my name and didn’t even tell me. I was studying to be a psychiatrist at the time. I assumed that I’d be able to continue with medical school. But when I arrived here, I found out that none of my credits would transfer. I had a choice: either go home and become a doctor, or start from the bottom. I didn’t speak any English. I didn’t have any money. But I knew if I could somehow make it here, my degree would be much more valuable. So I made the choice to stay. I began practicing English with my young nieces. The first thing I learned was: ‘I’m going to kick you.’ I got a job with a catering company and learned how to say ‘I’m here to deliver your food.’ I studied as many YouTube videos as I could during my free time. It’s been three years now. I’m almost finished with my bachelor’s degree. Just two classes left. At nights I work as a behavioral specialist in a mental health facility. I’m going to take the MCAT in September. My friends back home have all become doctors already, but I try not to think about them. I don’t want to lose my focus. I haven’t made it yet, but I’m making it.”
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“I’ve known I wanted to be an actor ever since we performed Horton Hears A Who in 5th grade drama camp. I studied theater in college. But right now I’m in between roles. It’s been a minute. My acting teacher told us to just focus on the callbacks. But getting callbacks is not getting a part. The last role I had was a space pirate in a Star Warsy kind of play. It was at an art gallery in Long Island City. I was fighting an evil race of aliens on a zombified planet, but I’d actually been hit by a train and was in a simulation to keep my brain active. It was every Halloween costume that I ever wanted to be, but I only made enough money to buy myself dinner. Do I choose more stability and less joy? Maybe I could find a job that has one element I enjoy, like Human Resources at Wells Fargo. Overall it would suck but at least I’d get to help people. Sure I’d spend six hours being upset, but at least I could help Jane with her issue.”
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“He’s had problems with speech since he was two years old. Even as a baby he would get frustrated when he couldn’t express himself. He’d scream. He’d clench his fists. He still occasionally has trouble knowing what he wants. Sometimes I can calm him down with words. Other times it just makes things worse, and I’m better off doing nothing at all. It’s a challenge every day. It’s especially tough in public because it seems like you have no control. You can feel people looking at you. And you feel judged, judged, judged. But every child is so different. Nobody understands your situation. And they don’t know your story.”
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“I tell my students things that only the Master of The Universe could know. I tell them that if they choose a certain path, they can be sure of success. At times I’ve convinced them that certain assignments will make or break their future. For a middle school to work, you have to impart a sense of urgency. You have to make them believe these things. Time may not be as important as we say it is, but it’s more important than they think it is. I teach in one of the most underprivileged neighborhoods in the city. And it’s almost too late to change their course when I get them. By seventh grade, the engine is almost finished, and you’re just adding the windows and tires.”
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