Any Excuse to Wear a Cape

I’ve been thinking about existence a fair amount lately. (You know, the conception of everyone dying but only a few people living. Only, on a less melodramatic scale.) What is it to be present in a moment, and is it worth being present in every moment, or should energy be preserved for more engaging moments later?

I was at the local shopping outlet today, Assembly Row in Somerville, and it’s a hot day—some 90 and change degrees—and to stand outside on a crowded sidewalk where groups of people suddenly stop, or just as bad, phalanx down the avenue pushing passersby into the street, was a real chore. And the actual road rage even worse as drivers deal with oblivious pedestrians and fighting for a parking space and people who drop off their friends/family/loved ones in front of a store, but don’t leave room to let incoming traffic go around them or bother to put on their flashers or move with any sort of marked efficiency. It’s tough to want to be present then. 

This is a part of my ongoing understanding of what it’s like to be an extrovert and what it’s like to be in introvert, or more specifically my understanding of what it’s like to be an introvert that’s masquerading as an extrovert. Even in the air conditioned shops, when there’s only enough room for one person to get down an aisle but four people roving around the edges—and surprise children who don’t clear your knees but have the energy of three people and the listening capacity of none—when someone all of a sudden stops browsing and is looking directly at me, expectantly, it freaks me out. On one hand, the disorientating nature of public spaces can be fascinating; I was once nearly kidnapped by a woman in an amusement park who mistook me for her husband, laced hands with me and tried to start walking away. Any bright marketing and architectural researcher can use these kinds of spaces to their advantage to optimize their company’s profit line. Not all thefts are committed by thieves. On the other, to be on the receiving end of that disorientation, can be mortifying, like an out-of-body experience—what could only be the exact opposite of being present.

In moments like these, I sometimes think that if I could have any superpower in the world, it would be to read other people’s thoughts—ironically for my own peace of mind. Is the salesperson giving me the squint eye because I look familiar, or because they think I’ve stolen something? Is the guy on the train flirting with me or coveting me my shorts? How is it I can read people enough to know when I’m drawing their attention but not enough to know why? If I had that kind of knowledge, I could put waves of anxiety to bed: no, I wasn’t around last week, and yes they’re linen and probably still on sale. (I did, in fact, see someone today wearing the same brand of linen shorts I had worn yesterday, and was then one of those people who gawked at another person at an outlet mall, nearly stopping in the middle of the sidewalk because I did not think I’d ever be observant enough to ever notice something that specific.) 

Or, maybe my new superpower could be to distract them with conversation, and to listen and engage and learn something new about someone new, no matter how vital or insignificant.