Talking to Mary Austin Speaker @ OmniVerse

“…LW: The poems in the beginning of Ceremony, there’s gentility in the speaker’s regard of these masses of people living together. That seems new to me.

MAS: What do you mean by gentility?

LW: I guess there’s no implied vitriol. I never feel that the masses of people would do harm.

MAS: Most of the time I lived in New York I was constantly amazed by the civility of New Yorkers—as in, I can’t believe all these people aren’t murdering each other right now. You have to deal with quite a bit of adversity to live there. A friend of mine used to say it’s like being at the Olympics, all the time. Like just getting around.

LW: I find it exhausting.

MAS: It’s tremendously exhausting. The overwhelming civility of New Yorkers is extraordinary, given how hard people have to work there, just to be a person…but when you fall down, people help you get up. People will give you directions when you’re lost.

That said, there are certain codified behaviors that New Yorkers adopt in order to function together. Being on an escalator, for example. People who want to stand on the escalator stand to the right and people who want to walk on the escalator walk on the left. This is how it works. And when that system breaks down, people get frustrated. But that’s the main way you see people being angry in New York—when these little modes of behavior break down.

LW: You can imagine the repercussions should it become systemic.

MAS: Chaos! I guess there’s something that’s a little bit fascist about all of it—everyone has to behave the same way in order for all of us to get along. But I think there are certain ways in which that’s true.”