What Would You Say to the HONY Guy?


Let’s say you were walking in Grand Central or relaxing on a bench in Central Park, and the guy from Humans of New York sauntered over and asked if he could take your photo? Would you agree?

In case you aren’t familiar with Brandon Stanton’s work here’s a link to his website or you can follow his HONY site on Facebook. These vignettes – a photo and a few sentences, capture a flash of someone’s life. Usually, people look straight at the camera and within minutes of meeting, tell this stranger intimate things, sometimes sharing secrets — and in doing so, expose themselves to the world. The results are moving, transformative or sometimes, like his kid and dog shots, simply delightful. They are snaps of life, a compelling, random smattering of who we are, what we do, what happens to us, us humans in New York, on this planet.

What would you say? Presuming you don’t say fuck off, I don’t want you to take my picture and it’s none of your B-I-bizness? How would you answer his query: What’s your biggest struggle? What was the happiest moment of your life? What was the saddest moment of your life? Could you answer these questions on the fly without wracking your brain? (I can’t) If you could, would you reach down into your heart and reveal to Brandon and the world, your deepest wishes, desires, regrets, dreams? Your pain or joy? Would you be honest like so many hundreds have been with him, with us?

I’m not sure. I surprise myself, for how can I blog and write memoir yet feel private?  In this unguarded cyber-space and in my memoir, I share intimate details of my life, past and present, the struggle of my marriage to my late husband, living with his addiction, after his suicide, I write about dashed and now, renewed hopes and dreams. I write to better understand myself. I am private in that I have no longing for fame, only for connection. It’s this feeling of connecting that is so moving in Brandon’s work, we feel it because he made it, he won that trust from his subjects. So why would I shy away from his camera and his question? Because I don’t know what I would say.

‘What would you say to HONY’ could be the new party question to replace ‘what do you want to have on your epitaph’. What sound-bite would I want to sum up my life for the world to see?

‘In spite of some terrible shit in my past, I’m joyfully ready for the next adventure and most of all, determined not to live in fear.’

That might work.

What would you say? Or would you (nicely) say fuck off?

10 thoughts on “What Would You Say to the HONY Guy?”

  1. Yes, it’s true. I don’t know why I would be freaked out by it. Perhaps because I haven’t quite gone as deep as I can yet, venturing mostly into a distance provided by time. You’re going deep into the immediate – that, as well as just the writing, is what makes your pieces so powerful.

  2. What a coincidence that you pose this particular question when I have been struggling for a week about whether to publish a post that is more revealing about myself than perhaps any I have written so far. When I become overly conscious of the “audience,” of how certain people will judge what I’ve done or who I’ve been in my life, I tend to hold back, to censor myself as I worry about changing someone’s perception of me, even if the one they might hold is erroneous or incomplete. Perhaps that is the service that HONY provides – a moment of clarity, absolute honesty, without the opportunity to redact. Unfortunately, with writing, that delete key becomes a crutch, a way of filtering the lens.

  3. I am familiar with that censor too. And yet the work I admire in others is the bravest. I’ve been trying to get braver but am also conscious of audience and those that are still alive. Ha! That’s morbid, eh?
    I’ll be watching your space for inspiration!

  4. I love the Hony guy and I’ve always wondered what I would say. I like your answer, probably a lot like mine would be… Despite the cosmos’ best efforts to discourage my happiness and wipe out all hope, I still manage to find a little joy and beauty each day in between the tears. Take that, cosmos!

  5. I have no idea what I’d say. I’d probably go blank. But what a wonderful exercise for us and for my students. Both to have them do a Humans of New York for someone else and to do one for themselves. (Maybe that will be my final!)

    That being brave thing is hard because we have to be careful of other people’s stories as they intersect with ours. I wrote a confessional in one of my posts, that was about my misperception, yet I hurt and angered the person I was writing about, though I was trying to show how I was wrong. The funny thing is I don’t feel bad, though I can see why he’d be hurt. If we ever talk I might challenge him as he is an artist. (At least in my own mind I would.)

    A friend is blogging about a loved one’s depression and I take a sharp intake of breath. Is she exploiting that person in the name of bravery? Is she going to hurt them by writing about their struggle? Does she have permission?

    I just collated some essays into a new book with some revealing stuff that I’ll probably cut back…Though what an insight to see how I’m repeating myself in not so healthy ways.

  6. I’d say, “Absolutely and let me tell you about my insane family.” Okay, maybe not the part about the insane family but since I’ve written a memoir divulging all I find myself ever so much more willing than before to share my private business. So, “yes, take my photo and let me tell you about the fantastic day I’m having.” That’s what I’d hope to say. Powerful blog, by the way. Following.

  7. Thanks Debby. Looks like you’ve been very brave, indeed. I look forward to reading more of your writing.

  8. I’m not so sure how I’d respond to the darker questions like that on the fly, especially since I’d never heard of this guy prior to this post actually lmao but I would definitely tell him my biggest desire is to become a published author. Fascinating blog right here, triggering some introspection in me at the moment

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