I have a refined taste in Facebook events.
While you cultureless plebs hit "Interested" on "Movies on the Hudson: Karate Kid", I'm eyeing the locationless release party of a harsh noise band with three followers on SoundCloud. The theme is "desolation".
With only a few weeks left in New York, I figured I should explore the outskirts of the city. I already knew how "Karate Kid on the Hudson" would turn out, but I had no clue what a three person harsh noise release party entailed. Well I had some clue-- I knew it’d be unbearably awkward when I showed up in a tech t-shirt not knowing anyone or what harsh noise even is-- but sometimes curiosity trumps my aversion to embarrassment so I spent some time showing up to obscure Facebook events to see how different communities gathered.
After a weekend of screaming in a dark room with three strangers and watching a fifty year old man mash hand puppets together and call it a "Puppet Sex Show", I scope out a less intense event, some kind of dancing meditation.
On a Thursday night the address leads me to an apartment in Brooklyn. It looks residential, but I open the door and walk inside.
No meditation in sight. Just a bunch of people milling around, living life in what looks like a normal apartment. This can't be the right place. Inhabitants start to notice me. I let out an awkward chuckle to acknowledge that I've made a mistake, turn around, and leave. I linger on the sidewalk triple checking the address.
While I'm figuring out where I'm actually supposed to go, I see a hippie looking girl walk into the building. She seems like the type to do a dancing meditation. This has to be it.
I ask her if this is "VENUE_NAME", and she says "yes welcome" with a big smile and I say "ah great thanks" but I'm still a little confused because no one seems to be dancing or meditating. Unsure of what to do with myself, I make the arbitrary decision to walk up a staircase in front of me. I run out of stairs to climb and end up in a kitchen. People are cooking dinner.
I see the girl I questioned before. She looks confused now.
"So do you live here? Or are you a guest?"
"Uhh, I'm actually here for this dancing meditation thing. Am I in the right place?"
"OH! Dancing meditation! That was yesterday actually, you're a day late."
Ah. I relax. An honest mistake. I'm not a home invader, and now I get to leave.
"Oh. Sorry about that. Don't know why I thought it was today. I'll just head out then."
"Wait, I feel bad you came all the way here! I'm actually the one who teaches that class. We can do a session with just us if you want."
"Um, uh, yeah, ok, sure! Thanks."
Normally, the class is in a dark room and everyone's blindfolded. The anonymity frees anxious people from their self-consciousness enabling them to dance freely. I am both anxious and a shit dancer, so my enjoyment and dignity in this matter is highly contingent on the blindness of those around me.
I look around, wondering where the dark room and blindfolds are. I don’t see either. The girl starts playing jazzy instrumentals off a portable speaker in the corner of the kitchen and begins educating me on the basics of improvisational dance.
I'm not listening. It's slowly dawning on me that we're about to dance, "ecstatically" (in her words), lights on, unblindfolded, in the middle of a large kitchen with a growing crowd of strangers trickling in to cook dinner. And I'm still not even over walking into this random apartment on the wrong day, the residual self-consciousness trapped in my shoulders.
She wraps up her explanation. "Oh and last thing, I know you've said you've tried dancing meditation before, but this method is slightly different. The contact tends to be sensual. Do you have any boundaries I should be aware of?"
Contact? Sensual? I thought this would be a solo endeavor. Like, we play some mongolian flute sounds and I wave my arms in the air. I have no idea what to expect anymore. I can't even conceive of what a boundary would be. What if I said “don't touch my belly button”? Our eyes are closed right? How the fuck is she supposed to know where my belly button is with her eyes closed?
I give up and shake my head.
"So that all sound good then!?"
No. Not at all. Sounds mortifying actually. I don't know why I'm going along with this-- I think my body just gets off on throwing my fragile mind into social situations it can't handle.
I let out the fakest "Yup, sounds good!" of all time.
We stand back to back, eyes closed, marinating in the amused gaze of our unblindfolded spectators.
She starts to move, rolling her back into mine, kind of falling into me. I impulsively open my eyes and make eye contact with a dude holding a tray of roasted carrots. It's only weird if you make it weird. Don’t be weird. I try to relax, channel my slug energy, and "move intuitively".
It's bad, but not terrible. There are moments where I'm truly feeling the music and touch and the movement comes naturally. But as soon as I slip into peace, my attention starved mind comes clawing back, forcing me to think about what she must be thinking and what her roommates must be thinking and how ridiculous I look, and I'll tense back up.
After a few minutes of rubbing our backs and shoulders together she realizes that I’m not one of the naturally relaxed and intuitive partners that normally attends these sessions. She turns around mercifully and says, "you know what, let's actually start with some mirroring exercises."
Mirroring. Yes. Sounds reasonable.
We face each other and she puts her palms against mine and slowly moves them like a mime. Much more manageable. I relax a bit. She senses this and starts to spice it up a bit, throwing in facial expressions that I’m supposed to mirror. I relax further and she starts leaping and jumping and I follow, increasingly thoughtless.
I'm getting into it. It's almost fun-- prancing around this random apartment. My mind quiets. Roommates continue to shuffle around nonchalantly. It's obvious that they're used to this kind of shit and that makes me feel better.
She kicks it up another notch and gets on all fours. I follow. We look at each other for a moment and she makes a clawing motion and starts to crawl around the kitchen. With complete confidence, she weaves through her roommates legs, letting out meows, clawing her hands in the air. She looks back at me because I’m supposed to be mirroring and so I start crawling around the floor of this kitchen meowing like a cat and I meow and I hear myself meow and-- wait what the fuck am I doing.
The self-conscious part of my brain has reclaimed the intercom and is losing it's shit .THIS HAS GONE TOO FAR. THIS HAS TO BE A PRANK. YOU ARE GOING TO END UP ON YOUTUBE TOMORROW AS "hipster IDIOT thinks crawling around like a cat is MEDITATION". THERE IS A CAMERA IN THAT LOAF OF BREAD. YOU NEED TO STOP. THIS IS RIDICULOUS EVERYONE IN THIS APARTMENT THINKS YOU ARE INSANE. YOU ARE GOING INSANE.
As my ego continues its meltdown, the new playful zen part of my brain, free from social conditioning and fear of judgment, pulls my arms forward and I continue to crawl like a fucking cat on this kitchen floor, smiling like an idiot, in the middle of these people I don't know that are just trying to cook dinner, and now we're both splayed out next to the fridge with the soles of our feet pressed together bicycling erratically like we're possessed and her roommate tries to open the fridge door to get some kombucha and the door hits my thigh because of course I'm lying on the fucking floor next to the fridge and so I scooch over while continuing to bicycle.
As all this happens the war inside my brain rages on and at this point the guy yelling in my head is clawing out his eyeballs and it's so surreal watching everything happen.
Finally, she says, "well I think this is a good stopping point." I wonder what the criteria for a good stopping point is. We get up off the floor. I thank her and wander to the front door like I’m in a dream.
My brain has twisted itself into submission and so I walk home in a trance, vaguely confused, but also proud of myself.
Can you imagine me crawling around the floor of a strangers apartment meowing earnestly? Me. Because I fucking can't. Maybe it's not a big deal for some of you, but in no universe could I ever myself doing that .
Which is actually kind of sad. There's nothing inherently wrong with meowing. Sure it's not normal, but what's wrong with being weird once in a while? Why do I struggle so much with letting loose?
I think that's the reason I kept crawling despite the internal screaming. Over the last decade, I’ve carefully constructed this cage around myself to keep me from acting out of line and I’m fed up with it. I was crazy loud and animated as a kid. My favorite class in middle school was improv, but now at 22, I'd rather eat glass than do improv.
What happened? I can’t point to a specific trauma. It’s just the gradual accumulation of trivial failings. Years of small social missteps and improportionate self-doubt that came with it. Your joke falls flat and you embarrass yourself a few times and your teacher says you're being offensive and disruptive and this keeps you up at night and so to protect fragile ego you ease up on the confidence and blend into anonymity. You staff your conscious mind with a team of no-nonsense deputies that monitor your every action and if you're about to be vulnerable or let loose or express yourself in a way that could draw judgment they hit a big red button and you freeze and shut up to protect your fragile ego. You walk with trepidation, arms stiffly at your sides, judging each action you take, never committing more than 50% of yourself to anything because the other 50% needs to stay inside your head and run this whole self-consciousness operation.
Life’s too short for all that. My craving for release finally overpowered my conscious guards, largely due to stepping so far out of my comfort zone-- missing an already strange event and landing in something much, much stranger.
Events like these are beautiful because pull you out of your normal life script. They separate who you are from who you think you are.
Now, this is all as long as you don't come with friends. If I had even a single friend watching, red faced, forehead veins pumping, desperately trying to stifle their laughter, there's no way I'd have loosened up like that.
The gaze of those you know fixes you in the role you play for them. My friends don't expect me to meow. It's hard to be unconstrained as it is, having to also defy their expectations makes it that much harder.
Strangers have not yet created a character of you, and in this fluidity you have a chance to form into something new.
"Both my shame and my pride stem from the fact that I have an 'outside' or 'nature,' a self which exists for the Other and which I am unable to determine or even to know. Thus although I can never, even if I try, be an object to myself, I am made an object for other" - Sartre, Being and Nothingness