Nearly ten years ago, a friend articulated to me the distinction between a costume and an outfit. We were living in a warehouse, renovating it ourselves, dust masks and goggles a part of our daily outfit.
"An outfit is something you wear because it emerges from you", he said (or so I remember), standing on a ladder, scraping concrete off from a ceiling. "A costume is something you have to 'put on', something external that becomes a layer between you and the world."
in actuality, I'm sure his words were different, that he said none of these things exactly, 9 years ago, but he did articulate the difference from a ladder. Since then, these are the words that I've since gradually spun up, replacement words I've gently placed in his mouth.
is social media an outfit or a costume? there's a fine line here, but what's clear is that the only person who gets to decide is the wearer themselves. Some people slide into something spectacular and it's their outfit; others put on a tshirt and jeans like a costume. The needle that draws this line is hair-thin but rock solid, guided by the unconscious intuition of the heart, a faint murmur sometimes barely detectable but immovable.
A costume certainly isn't a person; neither is an outfit. This account isn't me either, these posts aren't me exactly, but this post is an attempt to wear this Social Media Identity as an outfit, not a costume, if I must wear it at all, if you or I or any other tenant has any stake here in this online condominium of a platform. I'd like to wear it like the outfit I'd want it to be, rather than the covert costume show it can act as: a presentation of selves, a world on display. (Is this you, or me, or your outfit, and mine, or is this the costumed space where our Personal Brands pretending not to be brands meet, good talking to you, your people will talk to my people?)
I get it, too. An account can be a job uniform, pajamas or loungewear, a set of armor, a status or social symbol, and so on. Sometimes it needs to be. Such is the way of clothing. We are out in public here, or at least a kind of publics, like plazas in a company town, somehow always borrowed. It makes do. Usually.
These days, there are conversations I've been having more often with friends that I want to keep central: the psychodrama of our lives, of who we are and have been, and how those came to be; what constellations do you hold inside of you, and how do they make particular shapes to propel you into being, and operate in certain ways to bloom out into the daylight as work, love, play, art, faith, and everything else. The whole ecology of internal and external family systems in concert. And if in concert, where are these concerts held? Not at a hotel, or an Airbnb, or the internet versions of those, but at some place more sacred and special, that's for sure. Maybe that site, some sites, you have to hike to; some sites, there aren't any trails; some sites, you just have to be looking for it.
I can tell I'm starting to mix metaphors, now, adding dry ingredients to the wet, things are getting out of hand. So I don this outfit to say, here's a trail:
During the thick of Covid, when I used to live right across the street from Prospect Park with some dear friends, I got into the occasional habit of bringing a camping stove and making a cup of tea in the park by myself. I thought this was both silly and deeply satisfying, which was perfect in those uncertain days, an outing as a treat.
Sometimes I would try to go in the mornings before 9am to a part where dogs could be let off-leash. A hundred dogs and at least a hundred owners would arrive, leashes would get unclipped, and then the field would explode into galaxies of social dynamics of all sorts, hierarchies and curiosities and anxieties and eagernesses and drama and stress and confusions and happinesses. In this dog world there was dog, dog chasing dog, small dog wanting to be big dog, excited at everything dog, anxiously looking back at owner dog, Top Player at the Chasing Game dog, shy dog, sniffing the butts dog, curious about that butterfly dog, here to eat things I shouldn't dog. This dog, that dog. Many exuberant dog.
One morning I was drinking tea on the hill over this wondrous chaos when a dog peeled away from the whole scene and approached me. The dog was large, dark brown, shortish hair, with defined facial features. Quiet clarity in his demeanor. He walked unhurriedly near me in a manner that was clear that he was a) curious about me and wasn't hiding it, and b) taking his time, in no rush.
He drifted nearby, got closer. walked away, walked back. stood near me for a few moments. looked at the dogs. looked back at me, as if deciding. Smelling me out. I looked at him, looked at dog world, looked at him. He waited. I waited.
When he decided to sit next to me, he didn't face me, but faced the dogs, as I was doing too, so that our bodies were parallel. I checked his collar, tried to give "Cooper" a pat and scratches, but he didn't really care; he stood unresponsive to typical human-to-dog gestures in a way that became surprisingly clear that he wasn't here for that. with infinite possibility that a hazy memory allows, he looks at me mid-pet and gives me a little Look, simply and neatly saying, hello, nice to meet you, now please, I'm here to sit together and look, too.
So, I stop and turn back towards the dogs. We sit together, just watch them, galaxies and swirls of emotion and joyous chaos and complexity, you come here you what's that you oh hello you how's it going you what's that smell hey oh wow hey you oh can I join oh you haha can't chase me oh wait huh.
This was July 2020 or so. remember what it was like? vaccines were just a sci-fi rumor, life strangely urgent and on pause at the same time. the dog owners were distant, masked and reserved, carefully isolated, but the dogs were dogs, doggedly dogging dogs dogs dogs, a whole rambunctious society on display, inevitable and ineffable. We watched it all in silence, Cooper and I, momentary companions on a beautiful summer morning, when it still seemed like anyone of us could all just die at any moment, at a rare time when parts of life seemed to become laid bare, exposed, the ribcage of the world showing for a moment underneath its fur, the texture of a life, its skeleton, and the stuff that really constitutes us coming into contrast for a moment.
After some time, Cooper got up in a steady, unhurried motion, and walked away without much ceremony. His walking seemed to hold a silent acknowledgment, a "nice sitting with you", a "see you around". Since then I've spun up an memory that I said, out loud, "nice sitting with you, too". It was time for Cooper to leave, and so Cooper left, and that was that.
This meandering story is a hike, not a tour of where I've been and what I've been up to, but the hike I share, the outfit I choose to wear here. The outfit is of a story of momentary friendship, of what it means to sit, and just look together. The outfit is about what it might mean to appreciate the teeming galaxies and complexities of our lives and how they intersect and crash and chase and sniff after each other, and amidst everything, the outfit is about how the sun felt on the skin that morning, how the park smelled, how dewy the grass after a night can be.
I write this in a California desert, lying awake in my sleeping bag under a full moon, just a few days into 2023. In moments like these, things seem to become clear, a sober moment directly explaining what a life is made of, like slicing a radish thinly and holding it up to the light to see its internal structure. Last year was the hardest year of my life, for reasons I've gradually gotten to understand, and there were times I thought I wouldn't make it, not ever literally, but worried that I might become dessicated, dried out, raisin-like, in an attempt at self-preservation against misunderstanding. But in the desert here, I feel so full, so plump, neither lacking not overflowing but simply enough with moisture and water, from special friends and family and loved ones, and I will not tag anyone here, I refuse to play the Instagram Game for something like this, but will say that if you've heard my story and we've spent real time together in the past year, then I love you, friend, thank you, let's sit together more often, I miss you, and I hope to see you soon.
And if you haven't heard my story, or think you have, but haven't heard it directly from me, well: come join me in a park sometime! It's a good, deep, sad, complicated, hurtful, surprising, outrageous, ultimately beautiful yarn of a story.
About six months after that first encounter with Cooper, I was in the park again. Winter had passed, vaccines and hopes were on the rise, so it was spring 2021. I hadn't been to that part of the park since; I had moved south of the park, which meant that going to the dog hill was a bit more of a trek, more an intentional choice than a regular ritual.
I get there in the morning, greet my little hill, set up my stove again, settle in to brew the tea and watch the dogs. And then --- guess who trots up to me, but Cooper!
He says hello. I'm so happy to see him, and I can tell he is too, because this time he accepts a pet and scratch or two, maybe puts his face closer to mine for a (brief) moment. And then he settles back, finds a seat, sits with me to look over the dogs, as if we've done this not once but many times before.
We sit together, looking out at the whirling landscape of emotions and drama on display, quiet in momentary companionship. Both of our heads occasionally swiveling to track an especially fast sprinter, looking over sheer life, until the sun gets a little higher, the grass is noticeably less dewy, 9 aye em arrives and dog world ends, and Cooper takes his leave.
I haven't been back to that hill during the dog hours since. I've wondered why. As I write this I am realizing I've always known, just embarrassed to admit it to myself. On one level, I'm fearful that he won't show up. I could go again, a year and a half since the last time I was there, and I'll watch the dogs, and even if I pretend I'm not, will secretly be waiting in the back of my head for Cooper to show up -- but he won't. A year and a half is enough time for things to change and lives to shift, after all. Cooper's owner(s) could have left New York, or Park Slope, or might not use the same dog walkers, or any sorts of other possibilities.
Maybe even more embarrassing has been the fear that I'm making too much of this. I realize I have a fear that I will go, and he will be there, but won't remember me, or notice, or care. It's embarrassing because, I say to myself, he's "only" a dog, an animal, ("you're an animal too", I quietly retort back) and you only spent like, what, twenty or thirty minutes sitting together total? Why do you care so much?
But I know, actually, in a simple and intuitive way, that if Cooper was there he'd recognize me. My thoughts are skeptical, they beg to differ, but the delicate needle of my intuition is firm and sure, immovable, and it says: the look of recognition you can find in another's eyes is unmistakable. That look, when you both find a familiar look in the other person's eyes, and you See each other, meet in a moment, gazes touching, maybe even sit for a bit together, looking out at the world? That's real, it says, as real as anything else we have in this life, and I have faith in it.
My past year was intensely difficult, but I'm finding that it's also been occasionally beautiful, otherworldly. I chalk it up to these deeply precious looks and sits I've shared, usually with friends, sometimes with total strangers.
Maybe when the weather warms up, I'll head back out to Prospect Park, and see if my friend is still there. And if they're not, then I'll sit and bask in a nice memory. Sometimes, I know now, friends come and go, go and come. Lives change, or rather, seem to simply follow the wiggle they already will. And right now, this dark morning in the desert at five thirty-one, shivering lightly in my sleeping bag, I am full, simply enough, a full belly with memories and the continual present and the open future, and simply so grateful to have had the connections and friendships and families I have had, have, and will continue to have, in whatever shapes and constellations they might decide to continue to take.
In other words: Happy New Years!
(written on january 6, 2023, 5:31 am, edited)