We are happy to share that Liah Argiropoulos '20 was named a finalist in the 2019-2020 New York Times Learning Network Student Personal Narrative Writing Contest. The contest "challenged teenagers to write short, powerful stories about meaningful life experiences for our first-ever personal narrative essay contest." A group of 35 finalists - 8 winners, 8 runners-up, 19 honorable mentions - were selected from over 8,000 entries sent in by students around the world. Liah's piece, which was written in Greta Nelson's The Art of the Essay course this fall, earned an honorable mention accolade. What an accomplishment!
When asked about her writing process, Liah shared:
"This essay was written 90% in real time on the actual six train in mid-August. I got out the notes app on my phone and started typing away about anything on my mind. I organized the thoughts later on, and added a few details for embellishment, and the essay just came together! Inspiration comes from the strangest places, and if you feel inspired, take advantage of it. Get out your notes app and start writing!"
Read the full version of "The Subway" below:
The New York subway system is... disgusting. It’s hot, and sweaty, and smells like trash
and body odor. Most of the time. But when you’re just as sweaty and disgusting as the subway, it
doesn’t matter. You start to move in time with the subway: your body sways with the curves of
the tracks as you begin to lose your sense of reality. My friends and I are headed to a trendy new
noodle restaurant in Union Square. Aidan says to take the six train, so we wait.
The doors of the subway car open. It’s not too crowded today, being that it’s a
Wednesday, after all. As I step inside the car, I’m hit with a blast of warm, sticky air. It’s
mid-August on the six. The ninety degrees outside feels like a walk in freezer. My friends and I
assume our seats towards the back of the car. A Goldman-Sachs millionaire sits beside a bodega
employee just trying to get by. An up-and-coming rapper performs a hit single on the ride from
Union Square to Houston Street as the frontwoman of an underground grunge band rolls her eyes
and checks her texts. She has a gig tonight. She’s opening for a band she swears sounds just like
the Strokes. An ad for the latest installment of the Minions movie flits by. The film critic next to
me sighs. Why is this garbage what’s being promoted? A Brooklyn socialite sits beside a mother
of five from the Lower East Side. The socialite gives the staring children a side-eye. The elderly
woman across from them has a tiny dog in her purse. Oh my god, there’s a tiny dog in her purse.
As soon as I sit down on those hard, orange seats (please tell me I’m not sitting in
anything), reality begins to dissolve around me. The blue lights hypnotize me as they blitz by.
The conversations going on around me buzz through my head. Really? Your ex-boyfriend’s
sister’s roommate was fired from her job at the animal shelter? The hipster across from me gives
me an odd look. A Mariachi band gets on at Canal Street. DIIV blasts in my earbuds. My friend
Alli starts reading the one dollar story she bought at one of those trendy Manhattan marketplaces.
I appreciate her presence, but I’m completely tuned out.
What is there to think about today? The little girl across the aisle stares in awe at my big,
pink sunglasses as her parents fight next to her. Have I missed my stop? I fantasize of other
subways in other countries. Maybe I’ll get to ride them someday, too. Was that Union Square?
No, I don’t think that was Union Square. Alli keeps reading her story. I catch something about
the protagonist’s buddy falling off a skateboard and breaking three of his limbs. Who even writes
this stuff? Why did I spent fifteen dollars on a tiny ring in that same trendy marketplace? That
purchase better be worth it. My mind wanders to that Instagram post I saw this morning. Did he
have to post that? Why couldn’t I be there, too? Am I immature? The train stops. NYU. Am I
going to go to a good college? Or maybe not some prestigious institution, but the college that’s
right for me, as they all say. I think we missed Union Square. My friends don’t seem worried,
though. Aidan says he knows his way around well enough, so I decide to trust him.
Much like the subway, the thoughts and feelings I have while sitting on those plastic seats
or swaying back and forth in the middle of the car are invisible until they are acknowledged.
Until you recognize that those feelings are there, they’re buried, discreetly chugging along under
the surface, lurking under the Hudson River, buried somewhere under Staten Island.
Exiting the subway is like re-entering reality after being in a dream -- it always feels like
you’ve learned something, or had some big revelation. It’s kind of like when you leave a movie
theater and suddenly it’s light outside and you know some secret that the rest of the world is
oblivious to. The subway leaves you with a sense of knowing where you’re going, but at the
same time, realizing that there are so many places that you’re not going, and never will be. My
body returns so me as I step into the overworld of New York City. Alli says something about a
rat running by next to us. I didn’t notice the rat, but I pretend to know exactly what it looks like
and where it came from. We keep walking. You can’t even hear the subway up here. If there
weren’t any signs, chances are it would be completely invisible. I pause for a moment as I pass
the Metronome in Union Square, not sure exactly where I’m headed.