May 25, 2012

Twenty Seconds of Embarrassing Bravery.

A Short Tale of Stripping Bare to Find My Self

This past weekend we drove to San Francisco from Los Angeles. The landscape in between was desolate, a literal dust bowl.

However, as soon as we arrived into the Bay Area, there was nothing but water and a chilled out vibe, which made Los Angeles look like the pretentious creature she is.

We only stayed about 24 hours, but in those hours I saw a mini utopia.

People of all shapes, colors, preferences and ways to dress be together in one concentrated, ocean-filled space that is San Francisco. Here, the people seemed to live—swimming in the bay, sunning in the park, eating at the cafes. Street people selling their wares, a bard signing his songs (for money, of course), even a guy who hid behind palm leaves peeking out only to stick his tongue out, or scare little children as they walked by.

An eclectic mix of bravery and authenticity, and it rubbed off.

On the drive, I wore a pair of comfy sweatpants and TOMS, but would change into a tight pair of jeans, a Burberry poncho and a pair of brand new, heeled ankle boots for dinner and my daughter’s play, which is why we were there. I dressed in the car, as we did not have a place to stay yet, and when I got out to walk to dinner, I thought: who the hell is this person? This Burberry wearing woman is not me anymore. I felt like a fraud.

You see, there was a time in my past life where I had some money, and bought myself designer clothes. I liked those clothes. In fact, I still like that poncho, but back then, I wore things so the world would think I was okay. That I had it together. To prove I was better, and yet to show I fit in.

But I’d left that life. I lost that money, and didn’t find much use for my Missoni coats in this new life.

It wasn’t until I put all that gear on again, after years of being stripped of that person I was, that I realized I am not her anymore. And I am definitely not someone who wants to walk up and down really steep hills in San Francisco wearing stupid boots that hurt my feet, or be wearing jeans that wouldn’t  fit once I ate the burger I planned on eating.

When we got to the restaurant, I went straight to the bathroom where I tried to stretch out my pants. While doing so, and I admit a bit violently, they ripped. The zipper broke, and I had a big, gaping hole near my crotch. Good thing I had the poncho. I started to cry, left the bathroom and told my husband I didn’t care about cheeseburgers—I only wanted his car keys.

Up the steep street, in those stupid boots and tears streaming down my face, I walked and got into the car. I literally ripped off the rest of my jeans, put my sweatpants and my TOMS on and walked back to the restaurant where I found a trash can and threw away not only the ripped pants, but the new boots, and went to go eat my cheeseburger.

In the movie, We Bought A Zoo, the character played by Matt Damon remembers the advice from his older brother:

You know, sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.

At first, it seemed nothing great came of my 20 seconds of embarrassing bravery. While I ate my cheeseburger the tears were still streaming down my face, and I felt the loss of who I was, but even more, I felt the emptiness in between her and who might, or might not be next, and yet, that moment of throwing away a new pair of shoes without attachment felt like the absolutely right thing to do. It felt like liberation. It felt like I was not only starting to know myself, but starting to become and declare myself.

In my stripping, I become.

I heard these words from the voice inside while I walked back to the car after dinner. In my stripping, I become.

It is true, I’ve been stripped.

I went on a journey thinking I’d end up with more of what I thought I wanted and ended up with less. But, I have more of what matters. More of me, and who I really am. In the past, how I lived was like saying: World, I really don’t feel okay on the inside, but let me show you how together I am on the outside.

And just like I saw the BMW drive by the other day on my walk in “pretentious L.A.,” and heard myself say, “Who cares,”  I now say, “Who cares to all the artificial crap that no longer feels like me!”

My dad tells a story about me dressed as Cinderella on Halloween when I was a little girl. It was a costume from the 70s where it came with the dress and the little plastic mask with holes poked out for my eyes. When we went to the first house to get treats, I took off my mask, looked at my dad and said, “I just want to be myself.”

Almost 40 years later, I ripped off my jeans, packed up the poncho, and threw away my new shoes in the middle of San Francisco and declared, “I just want to be myself.”

What does this mean and what great thing is going to come of it?

I am not completely sure yet, and this is good because who we are is immense and constantly expanding. I suppose I need no definition, or even any great thing other than to know I am more me than I was before.

What I do know is that I have a new formula for the journey now:  Be who I am, where I am. Walk a little farther, and the road will continue to open.

Soon I will be in someplace new.

We think putting on more, we become. But truly, it is in the stripping that we become. The more we become who we are, the more we will notice when we are being a fraud, and hopefully in noticing, we will grab those 20 seconds of courage and do something insanely brave—and then become even more.


Editor: Brianna Bemel

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