Yesterday, I went to see Lincoln at Grand Lake Theater in the middle of a rainy Bay Area afternoon. It was the perfect and normal thing to do on an afternoon like that. Go inside, and forget the world for a few hours.
I realized, during some moment when I didn’t want to strain to follow the “let’s summarize judicial procedure in less than 20 seconds so that the audience knows what we’re talking about,” that this movie was complete distraction. The moments of engagement = What cancer? The moments of non-engagement = Utter and complete awareness of my mortality.
I’ve heard that all of our distractions, indeed most of what we do in life, is as a distraction against the reality of our finiteness. Many people don’t have the “gift” to be as aware of their mortality as I do right now, and so their distractions may not seem as blatant. Whereas, with me, I am acutely aware of when I’m thinking about life/death and when I’m in a moment not thinking about it.
Distraction comes in many stripes, and I’ve noticed that lately, one of mine comes in minor flirtation mode.
I’m not laying it on thick. Partly because, say what you will about the marvelous shape of my shaved head, I don’t feel the feminine mystique quite as powerfully without the mane and locks. Partly because, I’m not really dating at present, so why flirt with anyone when I know right now that it won’t “go anywhere.” And partly because I don’t have the energy for it. Flirting takes a lot of energy! You actually have to listen to what the other person is saying in order to make some coy and playful response, and, meh, I just don’t have it in me right now.
That all said. It’s been nice to flirt in the low-key, nothing-sought/nothing-gambled way. Though it is quite weird to consider how unfeminine I feel right now. I shaved my head once when I was 21. (Ironically… the morning after I shaved it, I went to the diner with a friend, and the waitress said she was going to ask me if I had cancer until she noticed I had eyebrows and lashes. -- I will let you know that, at present, I still have them both!) ;P I shaved my head partly as a test for the rest of the world (HELLO?? Can't you see past the facade that something's seriously wrong here?), and partly as a test for myself (Am I anything except pretty?).
I knew how to be pretty. I knew how to do make-up from my junior high visit with my mom to the Christopher Street MAC flagship in the Village in NY (although, some people reported I got a little overenthusiastic with the purple eye shadow). I knew how to put on the face and the façade and walk in the world like I had a secret self under layers of foundation. Without my hair, I asked then, was I anything else? Without my mask, who was I?
Well, as it turned out, I came to realize part of my identity was how I looked. It felt as though something intrinsic to my being had been sliced off, like my hand, or my belly laugh.
I carried then, and now, a knowledge of how I look in the world, not out of egotism, but simply an awareness: I've crafted what I am showing you. Even if that “craft” is t-shirt, non-skinny jeans, faded sneakers – the craft there is “I am confident in who I am, no matter what I’m wearing.” The craft there is, “young woman taking a walk in the Piedmont hills.” Even when we don’t care or craft carefully, we’re still putting something in the world. Even if to say, I choose not to craft carefully. We're telling the world something about who we are, and how we choose to be in it.
Luckily, I now know that I am a lot more than “just pretty,” but I also know that how I look in the world is important to me. I want to express my confidence, my quirkiness, my optimism, and my grace when I encounter the world. Though sometimes I'm feeling emo, and I want to express my desire to blend in, or fend you off with a black leather jacket.
There have been two days so far when I’ve gone out without a hat on. I’ve carried one with me, mind you. But I’ve gone out into the world, decidedly unblending, specifically acknowledging that I am expressing, Yes, I have cancer. Yes, I’ve lost my hair. But, by god, I still have the rest of me.
That all said, it doesn’t make me feel sexy.
And I guess that’s the long and short of it. The flirting - it’s about feeling sexy. And though I may look confident, or attractive, or however I may look to you – I sure don’t feel sexy at the moment. A part of who I am - that feminine, sexy part - is in hibernation, right now, is how it feels - and I miss it, so I notice more acutely when I'm tapping into it.
To somehow make some point of all this, I’ve enjoyed the mild flirting. I've enjoyed feeling the little thrill in the pulse of my veins - and elsewhere. I've enjoyed feeling that I can still do something fun. That I'm still desirable, and therefore relevant. I've enjoyed, in those moments, feeling that I'm still alive.
I’ve also been tempted to do more than flirt in order to sustain the distraction. But, as tempting as that iron-clad, ensured, for-certain, billboard distraction would be, I know I’m not equipped right now for the fall-out of that – positive or negative.
(Besides, I really can’t help but recall that bald, scarf-clad woman in Fight Club who pleas with her cancer support group for someone to have sex with her before she dies … she has toys, she begs. … Lord, don’t make me that woman. !!!)
So. Here I am. Finding myself in moments totally engaged in the distractions of the world, movies, men, food, and in moments completely outside the frame and aware of the massive ticking clock.
I imagine there is some middle ground, or as a friend put it, “a third thing.” I don’t really know where that ground is now though. Having had the veil between distraction (read: life) and temporality (read: death) ripped away, I’m not really sure where I’m supposed to be standing.