The #WordsWeLiveIn campaign invites users to share snapshots of phrases they stumble across.
In Oakland, California, a wall is painted with the words “Trust Your Struggle.” In Guerrero, Mexico, “Perdon,” colorfully rendered, rises up above the sidewalk. Cars on the Major Deegan Expressway in the Bronx pass a “Gratitude” sign along the side of the road.
A social media campaign launched by the 92nd Street Y in New York, #WordsWeLiveIn asks people to notice the words and phrases that surround them—on billboards, on bathroom stalls, on street signs, on monuments. From anywhere in the world, people can take to Instagram to share snippets that speak to them. Some are quirky: one Instagrammer questions, upon seeing a mailbox in Gambier, Ohio labeled “Keep,” whether it’s a dorm name or a verb; others, like a sidewalk snapshot of a scrawled “believe in yourself” at the corner of 18th and Castro in San Francisco, are more poignant.
The campaign, which runs through the end of July, is tied to the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death; the 92nd Street Y partnered with cultural institutions like the New York Historical Society and the Public Theater to commemorate the poet’s work. But 92Y is pushing the boundaries on the usual homage to the Bard. “We wanted to explore the influence of the language in our surroundings, not just language on the page,” says Ava Lehrer, the assistant director for Education Outreach at the 92nd Street Y. “There’s this global canvas of words that people are encountering in their everyday lives, on their commutes to work or traveling in unfamiliar places.”
Anyone can participate in the campaign by uploading a found phrase, but 92Y has also partnered with literary organizations like the Poetry Society of America, Kundiman, and CantoMundo to feature original works each up-and-coming writers who speak to a sense of universality and place-finding through language. One such poet is Monica Sok. As a Cambodian-American woman who grew up in Amish Country in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, she responded to a sign saying “Please Keep Door Closed” with a poem examining her own feelings of isolation and displacement. Her poem is up at the 92Y site. Through Sok’s work, Lehrer says, readers understand how identity can be reflected in response to a single phrase.
Even if they’re just small or stumbled upon, words have an effect and a role in the world. #WordsWeLiveIn is a reminder to look more closely at them.