Narrative & Argument
I felt like my first draft was a little week, like I was more interested in writing about the experiment but the reader is left with this uncertain conclusion. There’s not thing learned or taken away, it’s just kind of this moment that I wrote about. Professor Kaufer agreed. I also just try to write everything I could remember the first time and it became a little long-winded. I tried to cut some stuff out but I think it could still use a bit more pruning.
A part that I think is unclear is that I’m not trying to show this magical moment where I transform into a new, confident person, but a small victory where I feel a freedom from my paralyzing over-thinking. I mean, yes I do feel like I’ve gotten better and I really do call upon this idea of “wearing my beret” now, but I am by no means a self-assured person in the world. Kaufer seemed to be pushing me in that direction, and I tried a little to make it more clear in this draft that this was not the case by introducing the little girl at the end.
I was staying with my friend Katie who is an actor and had moved to the city three months prior. The first night I was there, we were riding the subway back to her apartment together and she, overcome with the emotions that actors are prone to, kept intermittently bursting “You’re in New York! I can’t believe you’re in New York! How do you feel? Jack, you just moved to New York.” I would concede that yes, I was and that, yes I did. She kept prodding me, willing me to feel more, “But how do you feel? Don’t you feel anything?”
To her disappointment, I couldn’t really name an emotion. There was no object or event I could direct excitement towards, though I thought life might become more exciting. I should have been nervous, but at the time I felt perfectly at ease just sitting in the train with her. I was happy to see her, but not any happier then than we’d met up for coffee when we were in college.
“I know I should feel something. I know you want me to,” I look away from her gleaming eyes to the nearly empty train around us to find some inspiration, “But I just feel fine. Like, this is just another place.”
When I decided to move to New York City it seemed vague enough to be glamorous. I know very little of New York as a story. Knowing the nuances of a place shares the same empty drawer in my mind as “current events” and “pop culture.” I know New York is the hero, a place that many people covet, but I wasn’t sure exactly why. I had spent the last year-and-a-half in Denver and even though my roommate and I often joked that Denver was the emotional desert of our lives, I felt like my decision to leave and departure was too unceremonious to be real. Within four days, I finished my last day of work, packed up my life into three suitcases and a carry on and found myself in city I had only visited once for less than a week. And when I had visited, I hadn’t fallen in love with the city. In many ways, people were more excited about my moving than I was. It didn’t feel like I was going to a place, but rather that I was running away from Colorado.
I am constantly fighting my inner hermit and spent my time in Denver forcing myself to participate in things outside my comfort zone because I thought (still think) I can train myself to be more outgoing. I am not a very adventurous person, New York was just another one of these tests.
Why am I always testing myself? I feel like I had only gotten better at convincing myself to go somewhere but I never got better at what I should do when I actually get there. For instance, in Denver my office was 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. This could be anything from entrepreneurship forums, to art exhibitions, to Colorado’s bread-and-butter: action sports events. 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 walked 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 point during the night when 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 in the middle of an absurdly long couch in the empty café area that had been cleared of all the other furniture, lit only by the two openings on the far wall where my room adjoined the event’s space. To her I was depressing.
“Just sitting,” I say with a light-hearted nonchalance and a smile to try to reassure her. She made a puzzled face, but let it go so that she could return to the crowd.
So, by the time I got to New York, all my practicing hadn’t quite solved the problem. If I went to a party with the intention of meeting someone, why didn’t I go and meet someone? And if I want to sit on a couch in an empty room, why couldn’t I be the most confident alone-couch-sitter you ever saw?
Katie and I decided to go to the Chinese New Year’s festival in Chinatown. She’d never celebrated Chinese New Year’s and I was keen on getting some delicious pastries. It was a brisk February day and, if there had been clouds, it would have been snowing. Canal Street was flooded with even more people than it usual and, to our amusement, a good number of visitors didn’t know why the streets were closed and harmless spats were breaking out. Seeing all the street vendors that lined the road, I was grabbed by the impulse to buy a hat. Barely making our way through the block of people, we stop at an open shop where I saw a pile of wool berets in a stack and I reached for a dark gray one to try on. Like a magnet, the store owner 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. What a good actor. I turn back to the mirror and see my small round face drowning in the hat. 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. I never wear hats. They never fit and they always mysteriously turn my head into a vividly obtrusive shape. I could count on one hand the number of times I’ve worn a hat voluntarily. 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 spot. Leaving the shop, we struggled through the current of people: getting trapped in some dead ends, walking up and down allies trying to find a place where we might be able to see the parade floats over all the people. The whole time we were dancing through the crowd I am hyper aware of this Thing on my head. 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 will be an unremarkable background figure in their memory of the day and they probably only saw me as an indistinct object in their way. There are just too many people here for them to notice one small hat-wearer.
They saw me as a hat-wearer. They had no idea that I’m not a hat-wearer. I felt this growing sense of liberation that I was tricking so many people. They didn’t know how self-conscious I felt. They didn’t have a clue! I felt like the universe had split into two parallel dimensions and I had transformed into this alter ego. 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: “Listen, I all I know about her is that she loves wearing hats.”
In fact, no one in New York knew. No one knows about my faults, my worries, failures unless I tell them. I could be anyone one I wanted for these people and, in their eyes, I am instantly transformed into that person. I can be that confident person who’s good with conversation, quick with a smile, and quicker with a comeback. That idea of a ‘clean slate’ was starting to fall into place. No one had to know how anxious I am.
With a determined zeal, we claimed an area roughly the width of an old mop head that we had to fight to maintain. I ended up clambering on top of the metal road barrier that was leaning against a building. It allowed me to both see over the crowd and shielded me from it. Pretty clever, I thought. From my elevated perch, with the music and confetti swirling around, I felt like the crowned queen of the celebration.
Only one other person rivals for my 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 with blue trim that comes down over her ears and ties under her chin. The top splits off into two cock-eyed bunny ears with 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 demeanor is unlike most toddlers I see at a loud event. Nothing bothers her. She had no control of what she is wearing or where she ends up in a given day, but she is content. She is perfect. I tip my hat to her, mentally.