Saturday, June 2, 2012

Out of comfort, out of mind

It feels strange to be writing about going out on a Thursday night. That's just not me. It couldn't be. I'm the girl in the plastic bubble who prefers to sit around and watch Sherlock, rather than force myself to take in the company of a bunch of college-aged riff-raff, ahem kids, ahem young adults. Call me old-fashioned or just old, but the environment of parties, even formals, just clashes entirely with my personality.

For one, I don't drink. As soon as you're in the presence of a group of teens and young twenty-somethings, you realize what an anomaly this is. In today's college society, it's like the prohibition era has never stopped hindering the youngest generation of underage drinkers and they are hell-bent on setting up speakeasies in the backs of school buses.

For the longest time, I thought this would be a problem for me. If I'm in the company of a group of drinkers, I will end up feeling more uptight and alienated than I would otherwise with those same people. Why would I put myself in that situation?

It was true in the beginning. I sat around on the bus pretty much moping and crossing my arms as protection and as an expression of angst. But once we got to the venue, a hotel in Chicago which shall remain nameless, what began as a lack of understanding and disdain settled into relative familiarity.

"Sprite on the rocks" was my drink of choice. Holding a glass of non-alcoholic liquid didn't do much to make me feel like one of the many though.

I walked around, hesitating to socialize and trying to consider topics of the same depth as "Nice weather we're having" when I was introduced to new people.

Which brings me to my first revelation. I'm not as terribly socially inept as I like to say or believe I am. Though I'm not the most loquacious companion to those I don't know well, and though I don't drink alcohol to try and curb my inhibitions, I'm not abrasive or disinterested either.

For a while, I felt this was a taste of older, sophisticated life. The DJ spun every Frank Sinatra standard in the book while one member of our table recounted the brief history of the Rat Pack and argued over which decade(s) Sinatra was most prolific. So this is what life will be like as a professional writer hanging out in an artist's circle in New York in 10 years, right? At least it's what I'd like it to be.

Soon, what was quiet and comfortable - albeit with the exception of one couple that was eager to showcase their equal penchant for flirting sitting across the table - became something different with revolving multi-colored lights encircling the room and a new DJ playlist of popular music turned to heavy bass and electronic beat-filled club tunes.

Half of my problem with this is that I simply can't dance. The other is that, even when I'd like to, there's something about this music that is foreign to me (whether it be modern pop, hip-hop, etc.). It has the inherent ability to force any enthusiasm out of my soul.

Standards of high school formals danced around in my head while the dance floor filled with literal dancers. But there was little personal incentive to join in.

Until, that is, everyone started bothering me to take part. After I'd been goaded into joining the festivities by my date, told by one of his friends that I have to participate in one dance by the end of the night and then brought onto the floor by two other people, I finally decided to try out my two left feet. By the end of the night, while I was still feeling shy and incompletely free of inhibitions, I'd tested the boundaries of my own comfort zone and forced myself to play a role other than my fail-safe: the wallflower.

Second revelation: it's better to take yourself out of comfort sometimes in exchange for a few moments of letting loose, even if you feel like a fool as a result.

But beyond anything, my most treasured pleasure of attending a dinner and dance formal was to get a glimpse into a world I've never seen before.

A few years ago, I was visiting a friend who lived far away from me and she invited me to come to a low-key party with her. By the end of the night, I'd been pushed into "joy riding" with a group of people she barely knew and I was frantically texting my friends messages about what they should I die in a car crash. I was taking no chances. But despite my unfettered fear, I was glad that I no longer only knew that life in theory. For one night, I'd watched high school kids be high school kids. I may never have wanted to do it again, but at least I could say I did without citing films and television as my only insight.

This formal was infinitely better than the joy ride, for more reasons than the fact that I didn't fear for my life at any point during the evening. My favorite thing about it was that it taught me about myself while allowing me to observe a life so unlike my own. If only all parties could be so instructive.

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