karen elaine spencer: sittin’, Union Station, Friday, October 22, 2010 / Day Two (NL)

By Natalie Loveless

This time I approach from the other side and spot karen elaine spencer, sitting, eyes closed, hoodie partially hiding her from the world. She is sitting in the same set of chairs as yesterday. I skirt around silently to take a seat a little way down from her and watch. She opens her eyes, sips a drink through a straw, and looks off into the distance. Today she has no backpack, just a little paper bag tucked up beside her.

karen elaine spencer, Sittin’ 7a*11d 2010 PHOTO Henry Chan

She notices me and smiles. I approach and ask how today has been. Busy, she says. Lots of foot traffic. The guards have begun to notice her but no one has yet talked to her or asked her to move along. She tells me that today has been more internal than yesterday—instead of watching so much she has been listening. She suggests that I close my eyes and just listen. I do. A deep hum. Low bass. A drone. A slightly higher rumble with a slight whine. Someone is talking on a phone loudly at my right. It irritates me to no end, wanting to just drift into the ambient sound. But I am learning a lot about his wife. His job as an insurance agent. His son Michael. Eventually I manage to tune him out and move back to the hum. The rumble of the trains. The little buzz of suitcase wheels. The clop of footsteps. All the sounds are predictable but somehow it is just delicious to sit here for a bit, listening. It is like listening to the world through a railway-station shaped conch shell.

I open my eyes to a little child running around. I see a wall of workers in front of me. I look at them intently and wait to see if they will notice me, return the look. They don’t. I glance at all the elements that attracted me yesterday—the architecture, the signage, the advertisements. I stare at the marble floor and, after a while it is transformed into a lovely detailed drawing—each crack a gesture speaking to time, weight, stress, history. The stone walls, too, emerge as paintings with delicately rendered all over patterning. I take a deep breath, glance back over at spencer, and return to the sounds of the space. Beautiful. Dramatic. Symphonic. Today I experience sitting with karen spencer as a gift of music. With gratitude I return to her and leave her to the hardness of the seat, the expressiveness of the space, and the onslaught of passing people.

Scroll to Top