Vote Charlie!

Being myself

Posted at age 27.
Edited .

It was just a few nights ago I saw a man, cycling past my house. This happens with such frequency, it’s hardly worth noting.

Yet this man stuck out. He was alive, radiating happiness with a confident smile. But that’s not what first caught my attention. It also happened his powerful legs were tightly wrapped with shimmering silver fabric, and as if that weren’t enough, his sequin vest glowed in step with the lights covering his bike.

He looked older, much too old for this to be simply attributed to hip expression. This may be San Francisco, but still there are rules. Even if they are unspoken, even if you can’t control them, and yes, even if you’re unaware of them, they’re still rules. They are the underlying mechanics that allow you to instinctively function in polite society. We may strive to be inclusive, but I have more work to do before inclusiveness becomes innate. This uncomfortable truth burned as I failed to prevent a judgmental thought from forming.

I had nothing against this man, no problem with his behavior. I would go so far as to say I loved that he could be, seemingly comfortable in his skin. But would I be so comfortable had he approached me, while others bore witness, perhaps for a reason so innocent as to inquire how I was doing that day? If I were not centered, as would likely have been the case since I have barely begun my spiritual journey, I must admit I probably would have executed a generic interaction while my unsettled mind grasped for the quickest exit, the closest place to rest. I might have smiled, but I probably wouldn’t have put in the time required to make it genuine. And after the moment was over, my mind would have been racing to figure out if anyone noticed me talking with this strange man, and if they did, whether I had escaped with my reputation intact.

That any of those thoughts occurred tells me I need to find a way to grow. This isn’t something I can put off much longer. I hope to have many years ahead, but I also have many behind me, and life marches to a beat I don’t control. I don’t want to get caught explaining to Death why I failed to cleanse my soul after all the opportunities I have had. Yes, these are just thoughts, and I am not my thoughts. But sometimes thoughts are true.

With the man long gone, I conceded that moment was not going to be the growth opportunity it could have been. But I reassured myself I’d put in more effort. The highest path doubtfully involves the “quickest” anything.

Several days passed, and my long awaited weekend arrived. Today was Decompression, the sort of four week followup to Burning Man that ostensibly serves to cushion the come down of many overstimulated burners, and serves to prop up others just enough so they know next year’s burn is not too far away.

Practically, this involved going with Brad to Bryan’s new apartment for brunch while clad in a few crazy things from the closet. There were a bunch of us, and after eating, everyone spent some time experimenting with dress and having fun being goofy. I didn’t go all out on the costumes, but I did bring the spirit hood I sewed and filled with lights for the burn. I wore blue tights and no shirt most of the day, and after a few hours walking around, dancing, and meeting friends, we left the event to seek food, and ended up watching American Horror Story at Brad’s.

Eventually it came time for me to take my leave, though not before taking one of Brad’s sweaters. I hugged everyone goodbye, and headed out into the night.

Those few miles home stimulated many fears, but the walking gave me time to think. I was surprised how many people were on the streets in the Mission so late on a Sunday night. I couldn’t help but look at some of these people and wonder if they might try to do anything to me. There were your typical assortment of wanderers, homeless and junkies. Others were apparently happy couples and professional looking people. But there weren’t enough of these to block out the fleeting thoughts that these other people might be criminals or insane or both. I don’t want to be paranoid, but murders and muggings are a fact in this city.

Wasn’t I just discussing this week about how my security fears as an adult were limited to unexpectedly close animal noises when I’m sleeping in the wilderness?

Once I got closer to my neighborhood, I relaxed somewhat, but then I realized I myself must look like a crazy person walking around in tights and a giant fur scarf. I was able to hold my confidence enough to pass by a few groups without thinking too much about what they thought of me. After Market Street, I was again alone walking up the dark 16th Street hill. I decided to turn on the rainbow lights in my fur. Why the hell would I carry the thing around all day if I wasn’t going to use the lights now that it was dark?

The lights were beautiful, just as I remembered. It brought me such joy to see the lights, which make it look like I am beaming with energy. This joy allowed me to pass a few more groups of people just happy to provide a moment for them, with little worry they’d think negatively of me.

As I neared my home, I spotted another man on the sidewalk ahead. There were no street lights nearby, but I could tell he was middle aged and substantial. The fear crept back, but this time it wasn’t a safety fear, but rather a social fear. It was just the two of us. I was determined in my pace, but I also felt drawn to the man’s eyes as I approached.

Was he worried about this glowing troublemaker approaching him? Would he yell at me for some perceived threat, or for just being who I am? Would he just look at me and scoff, dismiss me and everything I represent with a single exhalation?

Every instant I held his gaze lasted longer than the one preceding, and while I was still passing at the same speed, the suspense was inordinate. I just wanted to escape with my dignity and curl up in bed.

I saw his mouth begin to open, and I waited to hear my final judgment. With a genuine smile, he looked at me and just said, “Cool!”


A moment at Burning Man