Washington DC House Party – Part Two

This posting starts in the middle of a story, so if you missed it, check out Part One before continuing here. Part One starts with me finding myself a guest at a housewarming party in DC where I meet a variety of characters. Thanks for reading! D

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DC House Party – Part Two

I sit down where there’s room and cause some ill feelings from one of the jocks. The girl he has been chatting to now turns to me. She engages me in conversation and I see him rolling his eyes as I reply, “No, I’m just visiting from Canada.” What does he expect me to say? Don’t talk to me, that guy who suddenly hates me was clearly hoping to sleep with you? Of course he thinks we’re on the same team and assumes I’m playing the same game.

To Be CONTINUED

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In the kitchen I am asked where my favourite place in America is so far. “I love Manhattan, but I wish it weren’t so expensive.” No one here agrees, so much so that I find it amusing. It nearly feels like I’ve violated some cultural expectation. Others express their dislike of the noise, the crowds, the traffic. “What do you like about it?” someone finally asks after everyone has shared why they don’t. “New Yorkers are great!” Well, that opinion drew looks of horror all around. “I have never heard anyone say that New Yorkers are Great,” one of them says, scoffingly. I try to explain the warmness of Manhattanites, how they interact with each other so openly and how in crowds it seems more like fish in a stream than the typical herds of beasts other places. How they have less-defined boundaries of interaction. How they accept the people around them. How they are so adept to live and let live. Part of why I feel completely at home there is that I feel like everyone just accepts each other as they are. They’re used to sharing spaces and they play really well together.

This is falling on deaf ears. All they can think is that their idea of life in the big city as being cold and harsh must be right and clearly I must be mentally imbalanced for thinking anything different.

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The artist newly arrived from the Atlanta suburbs oddly suggests that I am best not to visit Atlanta in August, “That’s when all the gays come out.” “Oh, I think we have more gays in Washington,” another guy corrects. “No, Atlanta is a lot bigger than here, I bet they do,” interjects a third. “All I gotta say is that I went out during pride and I will never go out in August again.” the artist continues.

I hold my breath. I hope this doesn’t get ugly because if it does I will need to defend my people. I am disappointed to hear this coming from the gentle artist. I can see Sam across the room and I know that he is not Mr.Out. We met and became friends at an LGBTQ meetup, but in straight company he tends to stay silent. I had asked him about this on the train coming here so as to not cause him any awkward situations. He’s twenty-six and still in that phase when he cares far more about what strangers think than I do at forty. I try to use my common sense, I don’t want to ever put myself in harms way unnecessarily. Additionally, I am finding that often I will enjoy myself and be accepted in friendly terms more when being incognito. Sometimes I regret even sharing that I’m Canadian, as the level of trust sometimes decreases. Oh, I assumed you were one of “us”. The time when “us” refers to “us humans” or even “us life” is coming, sociologists have seen our circles of empathy expand greatly over the years. From immediatel family – to our local community – to those who share our religion – to those of our state – to those of our nationality – our worlds have expanded relationally.

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So I do want to remain incognito with regards to being gay tonight. If someone asked me I would not lie, that would be sending the message to my subconscious that I should feel shame. But, I will not allow a homophobic remark any stronger than Daniel needing to avoid Atlanta for all of August due to pride weekend without unveiling myself.

“Why was it so bad, we’re you raped?” I stop myself from asking, confident that he wasn’t. Gang rapes happen by groups of guys who consider themselves straight. Those pathetic repressed men would not be caught dead near a gay pride event. (To be clear, I’m not saying that repressed men are pathetic, I’m saying that guys who rape – any gender – are pathetic. Beyond pathetic.) I’m just a bit annoyed, I kind of want to know why he was so offended by the event. With so many people still scared to come-out and live their lives as themselves, the event is still essential. The fact that I often need to be invisible to be accepted and to enjoy friendly interactions shows that we really need the visibility of Pride. I’m lucky that I’m a blender, I can come in and out of that closet as desired and as the situation dictates. I can choose when to risk rejection and when not. Not everyone can blend-in the way I can.

I want the artist to know that the guy he talked with for by far the longest at this party is gay. As a former artist, I was very much intrigued by his process, his schooling, his journey. He pushed himself closer on the sofa showing me pictures on his phone after his girlfriend left us to chat. An early twenties creative-type who studied in an art program, I just assumed he would be an open-minded safe person for me, that he wouldn’t care about other people’s sexuality. But when I think about it he did attend an all-male black school. Black guys tend to be extra-closeted, I hear they have a much harder time, so he may not have had the exposure I would have assumed would come from a creative environment. There would have been lots of gay, creative people but if they were not open then that would not have created exposure. I decide to pull the conversation away from that topic before anything more is said. Because Sam is not out to his friend.

“So, you’re Brenda’s brother!” I exclaim to the person on my left and the pleasantries continue. Good. Nothing overtly homophobic was said and I didn’t need to make Sam gay by association. It is HIS CHOICE and he is not ready. I truly believe that one needs to be ready to come-out, otherwise it will not likely be a positive experience.

Isn’t that remarkable. I tend to think that the progress is nearly complete and then rediscover that there is still much work to be done. In 2014 even in cities where same-sex couples can marry, many people are still frightened to come-out and some people are still homophobic, even young creative people.

The party over, we make our way back to our hotel. It was a fun evening overall. The next day we catch a noon train back to Richmond where the adventure continues, although with a change. I had to cancel several social activities to come away on this weekend. In the end, the fellow I came with decided not to stay in touch and most of the people I met with didn’t want to reschedule. It felt like I made the wrong bet. Except with one couple, somehow going away for this weekend seemed to unplug me from the social life I was starting there.

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Another view inside Washington’s train station (other in part one).

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Iconic-type pic from Google Images.

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Random photo of me at my Dad’s home, where I am currently visiting in New Brunswick. Painting behind me is one I painted when I was an artist some years ago. I may show some of my works on here in the future.

Thanks for reading PersonalTravelStories.com! I hope you’ll come along for the ride by clicking on “follow”. You can unfollow with one click at any time. Cheers! Darren

Reinventing Myself in Richmond, Virginia

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Richmond – Week Three Report

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In this posting I do not mean that staying in one place and building your life where you are is unimportant. It is key to a meaningful life. I am simply describing the experience I am currently engaged in as how it relates to my own journey. Eventually I’ll tie all these writing together in to a book and will be able to expand and clarify in many directions then. For now, just little pieces of the pie at a time. Thanks for reading!

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In his book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell writes, “Most of us seem to have a consistent character because most of us are really good at controlling our environments most of the time.” And not just controlling our environments but also keeping our environments familiar. It’s perhaps part of the reason people like hotel chains, they are predictable, we know what to expect. He goes on to explain how we tend to put ourselves in repeated social situations where we shine and where people know us mostly from those situations. Put us somewhere very different, and we will probably seem like different people. Think about it. If you corner a very friendly dog, they might bite. Even if they’ve never bitten before. New scenarios call forth new behaviours.

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He explains a study where divinity students are put in situations to test their characters. It would seem, from some specific study he reviewed, that someone who has dedicated their life to helping others, someone who would usually be described as being especially compassionate can be reduced to indifference to the suffering of others even with three very uncharged words. “You’re running late.” That was enough for the candidates to have no time to help others, to step over and possibly even see someone in distress as an annoyance impeding their way. How important was what they were late for? Only typically important, someone was waiting for their late arrival. Not life or death. For more specific info., read the tipping point. Gladwell is one of my favourite authors and I will probably often quote him in my blog. As I have mentioned before, he is a fellow Canadian outsider.

The point is, the person who we see ourselves as being, that person is not fixed in all environments. We like to think that our character is fixed, but the truth is not that simple. We act and react differently in different environments, to different and unique situations, in the presence of different people. Adapting to our surroundings is part of survival, it’s natural. If this trait had not evolved I doubt I’d be sitting in my temporary apartment in Richmond, Virginia writing this now. And you wouldn’t be reading this either.

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I have always noted that personal growth spurts often come from transition, from change. When I moved from Fredericton, New Brunswick, to London, England I wrote home to my family that I felt, “Like a plant that’s been repotted in new soil.” (Or did I write, “flower”, I’m not sure.) My entirely new environment promoted growth; I was more easily able to change as a person. Without the familiar around me I was better able to move towards becoming who I wanted to become, without the expectations of anyone around me of who I already was. People come to know us as a certain way, and their expectation of who we are has a tendency to keep us there too. It’s like we have agreements together and it’s really hard to break those agreements.

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I think there is a certain core of your person that family and certain friends who come to feel like family can grasp, and that changes in who you are can flex around that. Most of us have had the experience of outgrowing someone, either we changed and they didn’t or we both changed in different ways or they wanted you to stay the same and stagnate when you needed to embrace growth. “You’ve changed.” Of course I have. We are always changing. The people we meet and the experiences we have shape our ever-changing lives. Even beyond movement within personality types, which tend to have one set of characteristics when someone is emotionally healthy and quite a different set when emotionally unwell. Even without great change, one’s state of mind can alter who one seems to be considerably. I am quite a different person when I am feeling loving than I am when I am feeling anxious. I am still the same person, but I don’t seem like the same person. Not even to myself. I think I’ve only lost friends during the latter state although I’ve chosen to weed some people out of my life during the former state too. In respect for myself. I’ve made some mistakes when feeling anxious, and probably some good choices when feeling loving.

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In my third week in Virginia that is what I have most to report. This trip, it’s not mostly about the travel. It’s not mostly about writing. It’s about growing as a person. I am going out-of-my-way to put myself into unfamiliar environments. My writing this month might be completely useless in the long term, but the experiences I am having will have an imprint on my writing for the rest of my life as I continue to grow into the person I am destined to become. As we all continually change throughout our lives. I feel incredibly grateful for the opportunities to experience hurt and pain, love and joy, as I find my way through the world.

During week three I went to a social event where, for the first time in Richmond, I was in a diverse crowd. Richmond has it’s diversity, there are black people and white people, gay people and straight people. But until Wednesday evening of week three, I had only conversed with one person outside of these confines of diversity. A nice gentleman from Libya, a really interesting entrepreneur. Wednesday I attended a wine-tasting event and met people from India, China, Vietnam, Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands. I also met people from several different states as well as locals as this was a mingler for people who are new in town.

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I felt connection with people when they said they were from Bombay, and I could relate with my three weeks in Mumbai. I could picture the life they came from before finding themselves working in America’s IT industry. I’ve not been to Chennai, but when someone said they were from that city I at least had notions as to what that meant too. Of course you can feel connection with others without having visited their homeland, but I think it is like a boost. It’s like dog owners befriending other dog owners at the dog park. It is still possible to make friends with a dog owner even if you’re not one yourself, but it is undeniable that for most people having that little commonness provides an opening. As a writer, I will be better able to connect with readers the more I understand about them. I am sure that my current readers know that I have a great desire to reach out and connect. And that my writing has evolved in a short time from being mostly about sight-seeing to being mostly about life. Real life was always my main interest, and meeting people always the priority over seeing things. Incorporating real-life into my travels is something I am learning how to do. Often clumsily. And often with failure. (And here I mean that it doesn’t always go as planned, not true failure. To me, true failure only comes from not trying.)

My experience in Richmond has been enriching. As an outsider, I have witnessed a separation here. I have been kept at arms-length by some, embraced by others. I have heard stories of success and of progress and of change. I have come to understand that my own culture, that of inner-Toronto which is different than Greater Toronto, is probably more similar to that of Manhattan than most anywhere. I think that most people don’t see that connection at all.

Many American cities seem to be moving in a very positive direction. City centres have changed a lot in the past decade, they are moving towards having thriving city centres and away from having ghettos and dead zones. “You should have seen it ten years ago, it wasn’t safe,” is something I have heard now in LA, parts of NYC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, even Richmond. The era when everyone who could afford to moved to the suburbs is definitely over. I never understood that myself, why would anyone want to live on a street that only has a bunch of houses and where you always need to use your car to get food? How could that ever be someone’s preference? When I can’t walk out my door and already be somewhere, I feel cut-off.

I know it is lots of people’s preference, we all have our own ideas as to what an ideal life looks like. How I and my siblings grew-up in suburban New Brunswick and all developed urban preferences is perhaps unusual. I do think that high-density living is more sustainable and I would argue that it is probably better for most people’s mental health. At least in neighbourhoods where neighbours embrace each other. I found that in London the opposite was true, people kept to themselves and protected their space more, seemingly due to the density. But, I am a different person than I was when I lived in London more than fifteen years ago! Where did the time go! I think I am well-overdue spending some serious time in England’s capital. Again.

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So I am seeing my time in Richmond very differently than I did at the start. It’s like I’m discovering more about myself, at age forty. Who am I in Richmond? And I see it more as contributing to the development of my understanding of the diversity of American culture outside of world-class urban centres. This is a great city and I think I could happily live here. I think it is probably a place where I meet more everyday Americans than I do in places such as NYC and LA and New Orleans which have very unique local cultural environments. I don’t mean this as being good or bad, it’s just that some places are more typical of a general population and others less so.

People may not see me as such, but I am an invisible foreigner here. The influences that contributed to my world view and my place in it are not the same as an Americans. They are perhaps not the same as most Canadians either, but they are more similar.

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Some pretty homes-made-businesses in Uptown Richmond, the area around VCU. (Virginia Commonwealth University)

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Stay tuned for my Final Richmond Report as well as postings from NYC, Philadelphia, Fredericksburg, DC, and more! Thanks for reading and if you enjoy my blog, PLEASE, share it with your friends! Cheers! Darren

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Me showing-off my Canadian hair. When I get another American haircut tomorrow, will I still have Canadian hair, even if most of it grew-in while in the US?