Wear your beret

This is the first paper we had to write my for my Narrative & Argument class. I felt like I could share it here because it’s the sort of thing I would talk about anyway. But I also recorded myself reading it above because I thought it might be slightly more enjoyable since it is a really long piece. A few police cars go by and I stutter a bit, but it’s not so bad.

Recording:

 

Here’s the paper:

My first “real” event after I moving to New York was going to the Chinese New Year’s festival with Katie. More exactly, this would be the first time I would be going to a place with someone. I had been in New York for nearly two weeks, but the only things I had mustered the energy to do were buy items for my apartment or eat. She’d never celebrated the Lunar New Year and I was keen on getting some of the delicious pastries that proliferate Chinatown. I thought the event would be entertaining, sure, but more so, I felt like if I didn’t leave the apartment soon, I would be kicked out of New York for depressing everyone with my moping. Earlier that week, Katie had not-so-subtly hinted that, with all my free time, I could at the very least keep my overflowing suitcases tidier.

I had hoped that moving would magically solve all my problems and wasn’t expecting the pathetic bout of ennui that immobilized me instead. They weren’t noteworthy problems either. I was just exhausted from constantly fighting with myself and over-thinking all of my interactions. I was disappointed that even though my environment had changed, I was still a tightly-wound worrier. I had believed that, with all the extroverted people in the city, it would be easier for me to slide into a new role as a confident city-dweller. After getting scolded by a cashier the first time I went to grocery story, I saw this was not the case.

Back in Denver, I always forced myself to participate in things outside my comfort zone because I thought (still think) I could train myself to be more outgoing. For instance, my office had been in one of those hip co-working spaces whose open floor plan and modern, industrial design made it the perfect location for events, which it hosted almost weekly. I always convinced myself to go, to meet people, to have fun, but whenever I walked through the mingling groups I seized up with anxiety. Instead of starting up conversation with someone new, I scurried with fake purpose so that people wouldn’t think I was alone, just between places I needed to be. Or I’d stand by the wall mentally berating myself until I was shamed into trying again.

At one particular event the hostess saw me and asked with concern: “Why are you sitting alone in the dark?” To me, I was taking a peaceful break from the pressure of socializing, but she made me aware of how I really looked: I was sitting on the only remaining piece of furniture in the large café area, lit only by the two openings on the far wall where my room adjoined the event’s space. To her I was depressing. The inevitability of repeating this pattern in a new city filled me with dread, but after dragging my feet for two weeks, it was time to go back out there.

As Katie and I emerge from the subway, we could feel the brisk February air prickling our cheeks. Canal Street is flooded with even more people than usual and, to our amusement, a good number of visitors don’t know why the streets are closed and harmless spats are breaking out. Seeing all the street vendors that line the road, I am grabbed by the impulse to buy a hat. Barely making our way through the wall of people, we stop at an open shop where I spy a pile of wool berets. I reach for a dark gray one to try on. Like a magnet, the storeowner is at my side telling me how great I look and handing me a mirror.

Ignoring him, I turn to Katie, “How does it look?”

“You look adorable! I really like it!” She says enthusiastically. Her master’s degree in classical acting was really in full form today. I turn back to the mirror and see my small round face drowning in the hat. I’m not sure whether to wear it up front, or in the back, or off to the side, to fluff it up or pat it down. I’m mildly aware that it itches and feels like it’s falling off. This is why I never wear hats. They never fit and they always mysteriously turn my head into a vividly obtrusive shape. I could count the number of times I’ve worn a hat voluntarily on one hand.  Still, I think, turning my head to the left and right in the mirror, it wasn’t terrible.

I decide to get it. If nothing else, it was a way to stay warm while we were out all day and I could abandon it later if I wanted. The parade was about to start and we still needed to find a good spot so we rejoin the irregular rows and begin shuffling down the street. The whole time we are weaving our way through the crowd I am hyper aware of this Thing on my head. I feel as if I’m wearing a giant arrow pointing down at me and inviting everyone to evaluate me. Hundreds of people are seeing me for the first and probably the only time in their life and they’re seeing me with a hat on my head. At first I wonder if they know, as I know, how bad I look in this hat, but then I chide myself for being silly. I remind myself that I will be an unremarkable background figure in their memory and they probably only see me as an indistinct object in their way. There are just too many people here for them to notice one small hat-wearer.

Hat-wearer.

They see me as a hat-wearer. They have no idea that I’m not a hat-wearer, what a huge misrepresentation this is of me as person. I feel this growing sense of liberation that I am tricking so many people. They don’t know how self-conscious I am. They didn’t have a clue! They are so wrong about me and it’s exhilarating. I feel like the universe has split into two parallel dimensions and I am transformed into this alter ego. I just think if you had to ask these people about me later—if you forced them to describe me for maybe a historical account of the day—I imagine their testimony to go something like this: “Listen, I all I know about her is that she loves wearing hats.” How would they know otherwise?

In fact, no one in New York knows. No one knows about my faults, my worries, or my failures unless I tell them. I could be anyone I wanted for these people and, in their eyes, I am. This is a novel thought that keeps turning over in my mind. Moving hadn’t changed me, not exactly, but no one here knew I was someone that wanted changing. I can be that confident person who is good with conversation, at ease in all situations, and lives in the moment. Well, or at least I could act like one. That idea of a ‘clean slate’ was starting to fall into place.

I’m feeling a bit more light-hearted as we claim an area roughly the width of an old mop head that we have to fight to maintain. I end up climbing on top of the metal road barrier leaning against a building. It allows me to both see over the crowd and shield me from it. From my elevated perch, with the music and confetti swirling around, I feel like the crowned queen of the celebration and everyone else is watching a show I’ve invited them to.

I notice only one other person rivals my excellent view: about 50 feet away a little girl of about three or four is sitting on her father’s shoulders. What really catches my eye is this delightful fleece hat she’s wearing. It looks homemade. It’s a red thing that comes down over her ears and ties under her chin, all hemmed in blue. The top splits off into two cock-eyed bunny ears with matching blue pom-poms on each side. Despite this jester’s hat, she looks so serene. I can see her father gesturing at the parade and looking up to check on her. Sometimes she gazes at the commotion of the parade, but sometimes not. Maybe the amount of winter clothing she is wearing has somehow suppressed her emotions as well as movement, but her calm demeanor is unlike most toddlers I see at a loud event. Nothing bothers her. She has no control of what she is wearing or where she ends up in a given day, but she is content. She is perfect.

I know I am nowhere near the peaceful bliss I see in this young Bodhisattva, but I tip my hat to her, acknowledging her wise example before finally turning my attention to the festivities. Where it should have been all along.

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