Illustration by Charlotte Fassler
At 5:22PM yesterday, I was almost certain that if I continued gazing into the heart of my computer screen (21st Century read: Google) for even one moment longer, the contents of my head would drop into my stomach and explode outward via belly button.
I was trying to chalk up Amanda Bynes’ recent bout of hysteria to the perils of having grown up a child star while simultaneously wondering if the rise in chunky, white rubber soles in high fashion shoes is a testament to growing popularity in sneakers. It was daunting. My particular health insurance plan does not cover brain guts emerging from umbilicus so I said to myself, self, fuck this. I closed my browser, hovered over the little bitten apple at top left, clicked “Shut Down,” and resolved to take a walk.
So what if I still hadn’t cracked the code on the motivation behind Bynes’ now famous tweet re: Drake, murder and her vagina (in that order)? I’d be back in thirty minutes and the quandaries would be waiting.
I put on denim cut-offs and a pair of white sneakers and left my building, (I was wearing a shirt, too.) When the Bowery’s hot air hit my face, I learned that summer had kicked Spring’s ass if even for just the day, and that felt magical. I walked through the northern tip of Nolita and into the outskirts of Soho before reaching what would become my destination: Washington Square Park. It was beaming with students basking in the fleeting summer day while loitering on the grassy knolls. There were so many of them that I couldn’t discern the difference between a real life Travis Birkenstock and the token NYU/New School students.
I started to walk toward the fountain.
Propped on a black stone bench approximately thirty feet from the epicenter of the park, a man sat with a makeshift, diminutive billboard made from cardboard that read The Strangers Project: What’s Your Story? A puddle of binders filled with white loose-leaf paper circumvented the cardboard.
“I’ve been collecting anonymous stories since 2009, there are currently 6,000 shared on the site. You can write whatever you want, here,” the young man suggested while handing over to me a binder and black pen.
“This is kind of like a religious confessional for writers, isn’t it?”
“It can be,” he told me.
I knew exactly what to write. I took the pen and binder and sat down beside him.
Before there were mobile apps, I began writing, there were Facebook apps.
And so it went that in 2008 Facebook rolled out the Honesty Box. For the uninitiated this was an app that, when installed, was plugged into your Facebook page just above the wall proper. It would allow friends–or by more liberal privacy settings, anyone, really–to anonymously comment in your box. If you’d indicated your gender as female on Facebook, the comment would reveal itself in pink, if you’d identified as male, the comment would appear in blue. When my ex-boyfriend at the time installed one, I had the brilliant (albeit illusive) idea of changing my gender on Facebook to male so that when I would inevitably write in said ex-boyfriend’s box, “you’re so fucking stupid. Leandra is awesome,” he’d know it wasn’t coming from me.
And that’s it! That’s all I shared! So why am I telling you this, right? Because after I’d submitted my story, I stopped to think about how unusual it was that I had previously felt so hungry to tell that story–especially, mind you, considering how often I subject you to this grossly antithetical mess of thoughts.
The notion of anonymously sharing something that seemed private–like a testament to the true nature of my creepy, dishonest and twisted demeanor–felt liberating. As far as I was concerned, the walk I’d taken to clear my mind (and, you know, dodge costly medical bills) had been the most successful endeavor of my entire day.
Which brings me to what I believe is likely the core of what The Strangers Project does–allows everyone that have a voice worthy of being heard, even if the voice in question doesn’t wholly believe in itself. I want to urge all of you to share your stories (either with TSP or with me–commenting anonymously on Disqus is easy.) It is a really fun exercise in throwing back Thursday the old fashioned way and coming to terms with personal situations that when uttered out loud really aren’t so bad. (Come on, you too have been forced to compromise your compass of morality for an ex at some point, right?)
You don’t have to answer that but please, do tell me something, anything. I just want to hear (read) your voice (words).
Oh, and in case you’re wondering how my story panned out, we got married in 2012.