Friday, April 1, 2011

Observing the Ritual

I just returned from Provincetown and a much-needed break from the cold, gray cloud of winter that has gripped NYC for the past two months. It may seem odd that this escape took me into Massachusetts and what could possible have been an even colder situation, but it isn’t.

Provincetown is located at the extreme tip of Cape Cod. It’s about a six-hour drive from Manhattan. One friend described his first visit there as feeling like he was at the end of the earth. It didn’t feel that remote to me, but I could understand his description. P-town is known for it beaches, harbor, artists and tourist industry, but most importantly for me, its status as a gay village. It's very New England and very welcoming to gay people. That is the comfort food of mac and cheese, the relaxation of a nice bottle of wine, and the warmth of your grandmother’s afghan all rolled into one. There was no fear walking down the street. There was no judgment. There were however, friendly people running businesses adorned with high-flying rainbow flags blowing in the wind.

I could hardly keep the smile off my face.

As wonderful as it was to be there in a peaceful place that was not only judgment free, but celebrated the diversity of people, I couldn’t escape a fundamentally challenging part of me: my fear.

We went dancing. I haven’t danced in years. I used to love it, but I just don’t do it here in NYC. Obviously I haven’t outgrown it because I stayed on the dance floor as much as I could. I could have stayed longer, but my friends wanted to mix it up with a little bit of dancing and a little bit of cocktail time. I wasn’t in mood to drink that evening. I just wanted to dance. I had no idea how the thump of the bass was going to affect me until we stepped into A-house. Again the smile was plastered on my face. I couldn’t wait to ditch my coat and just lose myself in the crowd of bodies and drown myself in the music. Surprising ones self is an amazing thing. I learned that something I once loved had only been buried. It didn’t so much claw its way out of me as burst forth like the fireworks in Katy Perry’s video for the song “Firework.”

Here’s the downside. That little tattoo of the word “courage” that I have tattooed on my right wrist was elusive. While my friends were enjoying their cocktails and conversation at a table in the back, I found myself standing on the perimeter looking at the action. I stood on the outskirts and watched people smiling and moving to the beat all the while wishing I were doing it too, but without the courage to do so.

How sad is that? What a waste. I wanted to just throw caution to the wind, rip off my shirt and dance with carefree abandon. I couldn’t take the first step. I couldn’t find the courage to face the fear of dancing alone. I didn’t allow myself the possibility of having a good time. Fear sucks!! I was afraid of making a fool of myself by dancing alone. I was afraid of being uncomfortable dancing alone. More importantly, I was afraid someone would dance with me. WTF!! Do I want to have sex? Do I want to share my life with someone? Was the possibility of someone dancing with me that fear inducing? OMG I need to burst through my shell and be the firework.

I was angry with myself. I couldn’t stay there anymore. Instead of just facing the fear in a place that was full of understanding, accepting gay people and dancing on that dance floor, I chose to leave. The bartender had just called last call. The bar was closing in a matter of minutes. I couldn’t be bothered to stay. I had to get out. I told all of my friends that I was leaving. Amidst their protests and declarations of coming with me, I left them in the bar. I walked home alone.

It was during that walk in the crisp sea air I realized I don’t like being an observer from the sidelines. I want to be in the action. I watched the whispered words that led to smiles that led to kisses on the dance floor; the end-of-the-night hook ups if you will. I’m not saying that I wanted that, but I didn’t even give myself the opportunity. I observed the ritual and could easily figure out who was going home with whom and who was going home alone. This guy went home alone. Typical. When you’re not in the game you can’t win.

The next day my departure from A-house became the joke that I left in a “huff.” I didn’t see myself as having left in a huff, but I was able to laugh with my friends about it. That ability to laugh at myself was progress. It was me not taking it personally. I’m still working on being able to laugh at myself. The truth is I left because I was angry at my own fear-inducing inability to join the action. It’s a heart-pounding, breath-quickening experience to put myself out there into the mix. I want to be in the mix.

There would have been no anger, no huff, only sweat and energy if I had been a participant instead of an observer. The question is: will I apply this knowledge to my life?