serious stuff

Engaged and Enthralled

In Hunger Made Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein, of the punk 90s rrriot girl band Sleater-Kinney and ultra-alt comedy show Portlandia fame, she eloquently talked about what it’s like to love something you’ll never really see the reciprocal benefits of. Her particular drug of choice was being a true fan of music. She wrote that being a fan is when you give yourself total permission to immerse yourself because you understand it can be better to love something than being reciprocally beloved.

Her book is fantastic and there are several great dialogues she pursues but for some reason, her love of music and descriptions of getting knocked around at concerts because she’s dancing so hard, literally trying to jump into the sound, really struck me. I mean, she got bruises because she kept crushing herself against the metal fence, trying to get closer to the stage. It’s wild how much she committed herself to the experience so she could one day emulate it. It fascinates me, because it’s so not me.

Recently I was in a conversation with someone and they seemed frustrated that I wasn’t responsive enough, remarking “you don’t talk much?” like an accusation and an inquiry. I replied nonchalantly “this is me engaged”. They moved on and kept speaking, while I thought of the witty retort I should’ve said. L’spirit de l’escalier and all.

I’m always consistently a little aloof in case I need to make a quick get-away.

But like every thought I should’ve said, it stayed with me. Mostly because it was so true. I’ve never been big into any band; the idea of merchandise embarrasses me. I can’t stand the idea of taking pictures with characters at a theme park, or being pulled onstage in a theatre, or saying hi to performers still in costume after a play really freaks me out. I’d never yell the loudest or jump on the dance floor first or participate in the bridal bouquet toss. I’m either ruefully disengaged or act loftily superior.

It could be that events like this are actually, objectively lame and embarrassing, but I think for me it’s always been about staying safe- from humiliation or disappointment or regret. So I’ll dip my toe into the water even if I’m dying to jump. Even if something looks totally enjoyable, I’ll hold back with an excuse at the ready. My “this is me engaged” is always at a sleepy 50%.

Ironically, I’ve participated in programs before in which the goal is total immersion, be it language learning in northern France to intentional community at Christian college to relationship-building in Hong Kong. And I think as much as these experiences stretched and challenged me, I’m not sure I was totally there. Perhaps I’ve always tucked away some part of myself in the safety of my subconscious. Maybe it’s my pride or my trust that I can’t seem to ever surrender in order to lose myself in total abandon.

The closest I think I got was in the calanques of Cassis near Marseilles. Swimming out to the sun-soaked rocks in the lazy cove dotted with sleepy sailboats and half-naked French children, laughing with the gulls, I realized there was no room for self-consciousness and reservation. I’ve felt that similarly in small doses, sitting in the shade with the kids in Haiti, or playing “You-no” with my students in Hong Kong. What I would do to have that complete ease last.

I’m heading into a new period of life, the one that’s supposedly going to shape everything, from relationships, to career choices, to locations. It’s not just traveling. My hope and my greatest fear is that I completely give myself over to it, The Great Perhaps, to have every part of me open to the experience, to fill my lungs with the present, and to never have an ounce of self-consciousness, only love.

If I never see the benefits, know the unknowable, or be beloved, I want that to be enough.


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