November 8, 2013

Sitting in a Starbucks


Oh wow. Has it been eight days since I posted anything? I feel so lazy.

In my defense, I have spent much of my free writing time the past week failing at NaNoWriMo. I should be cresting 10,000 words right now; sadly, my novel is lingering in the mid-6000s. Why did I commit myself to this torture once more? Ah, yes, for the joy of the craft. <Cuts self repeatedly with own ego.>

This has been an interesting NaNoWriMo, from an identity perspective. As with all the writing I do now, I’m participating in NanoWriMo as myself, and not as Him. It makes the whole experience feel different — more authentic, I suppose. I can’t say that it’s affected the quality of my writing, but then I can’t say that it hasn’t, either. What I’m writing now is certainly better than what I wrote in 2005, but then, I’ve had a lot more practice in the interval.

One thing that NaNoWriMo has given me is the opportunity to be out and about more as myself. As being in “Ali mode” has become less and less an event and more and more something I simply do when I go out, I find myself looking for more excuses to go out. I want to be seen. I save errands until I can change out of Him mode; I am bolder in my interactions with store clerks and even other shoppers despite my lack of voice training; even menial tasks around the apartment complex, like checking the mail and walking out the trash, I’ll actively wait to do it while I’m presenting as myself. No more sneaking out when no one’s in the hallway and dodging furtively from my door to my car.

Still, when I’m out in “Ali mode” I tend to be very hyperaware and very utilitarian. I go into a store, buy what I need, and then get out; and the whole time I feel eyes on me, real or imagined, judging me, finding me lacking. I’m always focused on the task, because then I don’t have to pay attention to the reactions of people around me. I’m not trying to put myself on display; I’m just trying to live my life. I don’t want to give people the opportunity to stare. It’s almost like I’m in “fight or flight” mode whenever I’m out.

However, like all frustrated novelists in this day and age, if I want to spend an evening writing I don’t want to do it at home. I want to do it in a Starbucks. And if I’m going to Starbucks, I want to go there as myself. This has meant doing something I have been loathe to do previously: Lingering.

It feels silly to say it out loud, but I’m proud of myself because I have stayed inside a Starbucks. Twice! Coffee in hand and iPad in lap, I have stayed there — I have lingered. I’m still nervous to even make eye contact with anyone and I’m constantly tensed for someone to say something or to do something, but I’ve stayed. I have felt like I’m disruptive to the establishment, like I’m putting myself on display, but I’ve stayed.

And the result is … nothing has happened. Have I gotten a few looks? Sure. But the baristas take my order with a smile and make my coffee like they do anyone else’s (though with a complete lack of gendered honorifics), and the other customers keep to their own conversations and comings and goings. If they’re making comments or insulting me, they’re doing it out of my earshot.

This transition is an ongoing process. It’s crazy sometimes how doing something I wouldn’t even think about enough to take for granted suddenly becomes a daunting challenge. But it’s the effort I must make, and the instincts I must overcome, to be me.

Hmm. This post is 640 words. Does that count towards my total?

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