Health and society in New Orleans: A varied lens on The Fly

Sunlight reflects on the water and shimmers in the distance as each blade of grass caresses my leg as I plunge into the lawn beneath me. Listening to the music and laughter of locals, smelling smokey barbeque and pungent weed, not a thought in my mind concentrates on the worries that had consumed my day. Located on the levee south of Audubon Park, Riverview Park, more commonly known as “The Fly,” is a popular gathering spot for many New Orleans locals and visitors open from 5 A.M. to 9 P.M. seven days a week. Riverview Park got its nickname after the development of a large concrete butterfly-like structure that used to stretch over the river. Built in the 1960s and later destroyed in the 1980s, the legacy of this distinguished development still exists today in its company which refers to it as The Fly.

Landscape of The Fly
(Photo by: Alix Goldman)

In open and populated common spaces, such as The Fly, it is natural to think you are being eyeballed and recognized by others. In many of the situations that we encounter in day-to-day life, people with anxious tendencies often ask themselves questions concerning what others think of them. About 73% of adults between the ages of 25 and 35 overthink and believe that they are doing themselves a favor by cycling through their thoughts. Our concerns about fundamental issues within ourselves take control over our lives and undermine our endeavors to achieve happiness. According to Susan Nolen-Hoeksema in her book Women Who Think Too Much – How to Break Free of Over-Thinking and Reclaim Your Life, “we are suffering from an epidemic of overthinking – getting caught in torrents of negative thoughts and emotions that overwhelm us and interfere with our functioning and well-being.” The action of overthinking is deepened “when there is a pause in our daily activities, many of us are flooded with worries, thoughts, and emotions that swirl out of control,” that suck our emotions and energy down. So why is it that when at the mesmeric and riveting presence of The Fly, relaxing and taking a pause from our daily activities, we are engrossed in the lives of those around us rather than our own?

Home to Miracle League on the baseball fields, after-school soccer practices, and playgrounds for little kids, The Fly has plenty of recreational facilities for a wide variety of people. However, the focal point of The Fly, the chunk of greenery overlooking the Mississippi River, is the most diverse in indulgence. From little kids’ birthday parties to college kids tanning to local wanderers asking to read your tarot cards (yes there is a woman there who asks me every time), The Fly is not only divergent, not only entertaining, but it is captivating. In Doctor of Medicine Domina Petric’s article “Emotional Knots and Overthinking”, “positive emotions can help to maintain the health of reflection and to creative productive thoughts.” To be infatuated by others calms our mind by drawing our reflections away from ourselves on onto others. As previously mentioned, we cannot care about what others think of us when we are mesmerized by others. You will be so immersed in the lives and stories of the family with a new puppy, the man walking on a tightrope between two trees while playing the harmonica, and the awkward couple on their first date, that you have no time or energy to think about your own life and story. The Fly gets five stars for distracting you from your very existence because according to Petric, “when there is a lack of positive emotions, the mind tries to compensate this defect with intellectual overbalance,” which in turn leads to overthinking. The myriad of positivity at The Fly establishes an atmosphere that allows one to escape because there is no neurotic compensation that needs to take place.

In her article, Petric notes that “to prevent and treat overthinking disorder and anxiety, knots of negative emotions have to be disentangled.” This means that when there is an unhealthy balance between positive and negative thought processes, negative thoughts exhaust the mind. However, there are methodologies to reverse these processes. According to Petric, “strong positive emotions… are very important for the health of mind, the health of reflection and creation of productive and well-organized thoughts.” The strong positive emotions that Petric references in her article as ways to reject the suggestion of overthinking are distinctly attributable to those experienced at The Fly.

People at The Fly
(Photo by: Alix Goldman)

The ways that the fly lends itself to not endure overthinking: Amusement, pride, and gratitude.

Amusement, according to Petric, is defined as “a feeling of lighthearted pleasure and enjoyment, often accompanied by smiles and easy laughter.” In Kuba Krys’s “May Amusement Serve as a Social Courage Engine?”, he states that “humor is a social phenomenon. We hardly ever joke or laugh on our own and we do it much more often in the presence of other people.” The Fly establishes ample opportunities for us to experience this social emotion and increase our social courage. On a hot Saturday afternoon, the group of college-aged boys on the other side of the road have a somewhat organized baseball game going on. They have been playing for hours. Suddenly they all crowd around the keg, make the youngest of the group chug their drinks, spin around in a circle with their head placed on the bat, and run to the farthest tree in the distance. One by one they all start to throw up on themselves as they are running and laughing. The spaces’ public layout allows for the other players and observers of the game to find amusement in this social phenomenon as according to Krys, the smiling and laughter of the players can induce this positive emotion arousal into listeners as well.

In Yvette van Osch’s “The Self and Others in the Experience of Pride,” she specifies that “pride is seen as both a self-conscious emotion as well as a social emotion.” Pride, according to Petric, is defined as “a sense of approval of oneself and pleasure in an achievement, skill, or personal attribute.” This means that when we experience pride, we are simultaneously focusing on ourselves and others as our achievements lead to status conferral. The two little girls standing by the pavilion have been trying to do a flawless cartwheel for the past 20 minutes. Each time that they attempt their trick and fail they look around at the crowd of people going about their day. Finally, they accomplish the perfect cartwheel, jump up and down, look around once more, and run over to their mother to tell her the good news. Osch claims that pride is an emotion that simultaneously makes us focus on the self and others. However, when we meet social standards, like the girls and their cartwheels at The Fly, we stop thinking about what others think of us because this joy dominates our self-reflective judgments.

Gratitude, according to Petric, is defined as “a feeling of thankfulness, for something specific or simply all-encompassing,” and in Fred R. Berger’s “Gratitude,” he explains that “our conception of our status concerning others involves our view of how they feel toward us, what their attitudes are toward us, and how they regard us.” Once again, gratitude is perceived as a social emotion. The celebration across the quad commences once the birthday boy arrives. His friends arrive early, set up a table and decorations, and start to sing as he makes his way towards them. He then makes a speech about how grateful he is to have such amazing people in his life, which is because those around him have shown him respect, and in turn, he can find worth within himself. Displaying a social emotion such as gratitude in a public environment like The Fly allows us to be sufficiently acknowledged while placing our thoughts on interpersonal relations. These actions disentangle negative thoughts and divert how we feel about ourselves.

All three of these social emotions create productive and organized thoughts for both the participants and the observers, shaping a rewarding environment down by the Mississippi. The Fly recognizes your desire to remove yourself from entangled negative thoughts and drift into pure disentangled distraction.

Woman sitting at The Fly
(Photo by: Alix Goldman)


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