Meanwhile, Somewhere in California… (aka: Bay to Breakers)

Last Sunday, my 16yo daughter and I went to a huge party. Well, actually, it was a party disguised as one of the world’s largest footraces. Bay to Breakers is held every spring in my favorite city, San Francisco. With tens of thousands of participants dressed in zany costumes and ready for fun, it is a race like no other. The goal? To run 8 miles, from San Francisco Bay, through the heart of the city, all the way to Ocean Beach.

My daughter and me Bay to Breakers

My daughter and I joined the throngs in our corral, as we have done in other races. Only this time, we were all decked out as the Sun and the Moon (or Night and Day, I still haven’t decided).  To have time for our costumes and makeup, then to commute to the city by car and by BART train, we had to wake up at 4:00am, and then do a little shivering until the real sun showed up to warm things up a little.

It was crazy how many people there were in the streets! We were surrounded by bananas, flamingos, superheroes of every kind, cowboys, pirates, and then some. We found Waldo again and again. We spotted a school of Salmon running upstream. There were too many furries to count. And, in true San Francisco fashion, there were also way too many naked runners to count. That made us giggle at the start of the race, but after a mile or two, we were like, “Eh. Just another costume.”

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Before the race began, we joined in the time-honored tradition of throwing tortillas in the air. Why? I have no idea! But it was super fun (except for that one my daughter accidentally threw at the back of someone’s head. Whoops). We also threw beach balls around the crowd, and cheered until our voices were hoarse. And then, it was Go time.

Bay to Breakers salmon swimming upstream

I was a little nervous at the start, because this was my first time ever running beside another person. I’m pretty used to running alone, with music in my ears, and didn’t think I could make it very far without that. I also didn’t think I could keep up with my daughter, who runs cross-country and has far better stamina. But she slowed down, or I sped up, and we managed to carry on conversations and laugh our heads off the whole way. We weaved in and out of a group of people dressed like In ‘N’ Out Burger staff. We chased a dozen giant doughnuts. We orbited around an Earth, ducked under a limbo stick, and sang along to music playing from my iPhone and the numerous speakers blasting around the city. And yes, that was us doing gran jetés and piqué turns through Golden Gate Park. We couldn’t help it. Blame the gymnast / dancer in both of us.

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What was just as much fun as running in Bay to Breakers dressed as the sun? Giving sunshine to the other runners. I was having so much fun, that I couldn’t help but reflect it back to those around me.

“Eh-oh!” I called out as I passed a Teletubby.

“Vive la France!” I called out to a runner wearing a beret and waving a French flag.

“The emperor has no clothes!” I called out to a naked guy wearing only a crown and short cape.

“Imposters!” I accused an entire running group dressed like suns.

We were having such a blast, that both my daughter and I were surprised when we reached the finish line at the beach. So soon? That felt more like a five or six mile run than eight miles. But lucky for us, that meant we still had energy to enjoy the huge finish line area extension of the party, with a live band, free swag, and all kinds of great free food. We even took home an entire case of vanilla flax milk (so yum).

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I am not much of a party person, but I would run Bay to Breakers again in a heartbeat. Next year, I may dress as a superhero. Or a flamenco dancer. Or a soccer mom. But no matter what I choose to wear, I will always bring the sunshine.

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Party Girl (a Short Story)

Did you catch a glimpse of those three guys, as I was walking down the street?

“Hey, Party Girl!” called the tall one in the baseball cap. “Come and party with us!”

So of course I did. My heels clicked against the pavement as I sashayed up the walkway. “You guys ready?” I asked.

What? Did you think I should have kept walking? Did you expect me to say no? Then clearly, you don’t know who I am.

I’m Party Girl.

And let’s face it, a party’s just not a party without me there.

Like this party. An ordinary Friday night crowd of tense faces, drowning in Taylor Swift pop at the bottom of a plastic red Solo cup. Pathetic. But those three guys knew what was up. The minute they sensed my presence, they invited me in. Like any good partygoer should do.

And just like that, everything changed.

It’s like Disney magic sparkles floated in the room after me. Suddenly, the music began to pump, and faces came to life.

“Let’s get this party started!” I said. I popped the cork of a frosty bottle of champagne (what, like you don’t carry your own champagne to parties?) and dowsed myself in the bubbly rain. “Whooooooot!” I cheered.

All around me, voices echoed my cries. The music turned up a couple of notches, and soon, there wasn’t a single person sitting. We jumped and twisted and gyrated our hips to the music, lost in the release.

That’s how it usually goes.

But one night, things got a little out of hand. Sometimes that happens. I don’t know why the party spirit hits some peeps just a little too hard, you know what I mean? Like, the high they get isn’t enough, so they have to throw dangerous crap into the mix. Illegal drugs. Stupid stunts. When this kind of thing happens, I usually take off so that no one can blame me when someone gets hurt.

But that time, I was too slow.

There was an underage kid at the party. A skinny, hungry little thing who wasn’t ready for liquor. Especially the amount of liquor they got him to guzzle down, like he was a car, and they controlled the gas pump.

“Stop it!” I said, trying to push the kid toward the front door. “Let him go home.”

But they wouldn’t stop. They pushed and pushed. Then, next thing you know, the kid was out, flat against the discolored carpet, surrounded by the discarded booze of the partygoers who’d fled the scene. In the spotlight of whirling red and blue lights, the remaining fingers pointed at me.

So the officer did the unthinkable. He fastened cold handcuffs around my wrists and locked me away.

“No more Party Girl,” he said with a sneer.

I waited until he walked away. Then I smiled.

The very next night, while I was lying on a lumpy mattress in my cell, a party began. No, not where I was. Somewhere across town. I could feel the vibrations in my bones.

Somewhere, in an ordinary house, a group got together to let off steam. Someone opened the front door, and in walked a boy wearing bright red sneakers and a grin as bright as the daylight. “Let’s get this party started!” he cried, then pulled out a frosty bottle of champagne (I’m telling you, it’s a thing).

And all around him, the party came to life.

The next night, same thing. Only it was a girl with high ponytails and dance moves like Britney.

Then the officers let me go. Because it finally occurred to them that, no matter how hard they tried to lock me up, you can’t stop Party Girl. Anytime a group of peeps is gathered together, Party Girl will be there, too. I am that guy turning up the stereo volume. I am that girl dragging you into the circle to dance. I am the shine in your glow necklace, the beat in your dance tunes, the cherry floating in your drink.

A party without me just isn’t a party.

So open the door and invite me in.

Are you ready?

Party Girl

Used to Be (aka: Seeking Community When You’re a Nonconformist)

colorful latex balloonsWe used to have parties. It is one of those observations, briefly uttered by one of my kids, marking the contrast between who our family is now compared to who we used to be. Or maybe it is less about our family, and more about who I once was. I used to throw parties. Big, noisy parties full of distant relatives or church group acquaintances. Small, intimate gatherings with close family friends. Colorful and silly children’s parties, messy with icing and confetti and cupcake crumbs.

Used to.

Back when I was a different person, I used to throw parties, which are now distant memories of music and laughter and food successes and failures. I used to receive invitations to parties, too (and not just the everybody-come-and-spend-your-money types, either). And every now and then, in moments of loneliness, or perhaps in a passing celebratory mood, I think, how nice it would be to invite a few people over! How nice it would be to have an excuse to cook some special dishes and mix up drinks and dust off the party games which have not been opened in several years. But then I think, now whom shall I invite? And just like that, my sense of enthusiasm for party planning deflates like a loosely tied balloon. friends party

Whom shall I invite? Who is my group? Planning a party was so much easier back during the days when I was part of a primary group or two. Now, I am no more than a drifter, skirting around communities of people which either change so rapidly that I rarely see the same faces twice, or are so large that I wander around, lost; or are so well-established, that I do not see how I can possibly contribute.

I recently tried to make friendship a tangible goal. Throughout the summer, I made it my personal growth project – like a mission, to try things that I had not tried, in order to change the situation. Make friends. Join the group. Be social in real life. And so, I attended Meetup event after Meetup event. When I met interesting people, I asked for their contact information, so that I could stay in touch. I said “yes” to going out on a few dates. I put away my iPad and forced myself to join the conversation, or even (gasp!) start a conversation with someone I did not know well.

The results of the summer project? Well, I had some enjoyable conversations with people I will probably never see again. I did a few fun things that I can now check off on my personal list of Neat Things I Got to Experience in Life. I learned some new ideas from strangers which continue to change me in small but significant ways. I learned that coming out of my cave is not always scary and disastrous. And I think that I even managed to make a friend (though at times I am still unsure if I have yet earned the right to use that term).

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But as positive as the results of my summer project may have been, I am still sadly lacking in the social department, with little more than superficial connections. Perhaps I could squeeze my way into some social group the old way – by watering down my personality so that I can conform to the norms of the group. As much as we like to think that our society honors the individual and celebrates diversity, the truth is that nonconformity makes us uncomfortable. It is human nature to form our social groups based on commonalities. Be yourself! We preach. But if “yourself” happens to be too weird to fit into a group, then learn to love yourself, be your own best friend, save yourself, date yourself, treat yourself, enjoy time alone, because obviously, you’re going to have to.

Sometimes I wish that there were some website for people seeking meaningful non-romantic social connections. Something like Linked-In for bestfriend wannabes, where you can post a personality resume. Something like:

Name:

Tiare (aka The Girl From Jupiter)

Roles You Could Potentially Fill in a Social Group:

Comedian

The Melancholy Intellectual

The Clueless Airhead who has no idea what is going on down here in the real world

The sweet, cookie-baking Nice Girl who still feels guilty when she says bad words

*The Storyteller

Things You Are Into:

Writing stories & poetry

Sports (esp. soccer and tennis)

Classic literature, films, music, and other esoteric shit

Silly memes, YA books, vampire shows, and other shallow things that keep life from being too serious

Camping, hiking, geocaching, nature

Cooking and baking

Talking in a British accent, like a valley girl, or in Spanish when the mood strikes me

Handicrafts

Daydreaming about world travel

 

Then, anyone who registers for the site can come along and browse one another’s Desperately-Seeking-Social-Group ads, and say – ahh! Just the right type of weird individual to fit into my ideal social group! And with a few clicks of the mouse, I have created an instant community of people to invite to a real-life party at my house. Friends Wanted Advertisement

Okay fine. Maybe the world couldn’t work that way, exactly. And maybe it would be foolish and dangerous to invite a bunch of carefully-selected strangers into my home for fun. People do lie about who they are, after all. But I suppose I am feeling nostalgic, or wistful, wishing that there were some way to fast-forward to the magical day when life will cease to be about who I used to be and what I used to do and will suddenly be what I wish it could be.

But some goals simply are not tangible.