Yesterday I finally got around to hanging some posters that have been sitting under the bed for several months, projects for another day whose day finally came. I did what anyone might in the modern age, I took pictures of my pictures, posting them on Facebook and Instagram and several friends liked them. I realized that for many that is as close as they will ever get to seeing my current place, whether it’s a trick of geography or another reason. I can’t even remember the last time I had someone over that wasn’t a neighbor. I think it was September of last year, and even then it was only because of the BART strike.
This is not uncommon for me. During all of my art hanging, I was simultaneously having an online conversation about the new Green Line and and my former home of Lowertown, wondering about how many times anyone made it to either of my places there. I can count those occasions on one hand. I am no fool, and it’s not like my ego is horribly wounded or anything. I realize that this is a far more complicated thing than no one wants to go to Jane’s place. It’s about getting older, growing up, having less time, making decisions that make it more difficult like moving someplace where you don’t know that many people nearby and it’s always a hike for everyone, and many, many more things. In that sense, Lowertown doesn’t differ all that much from Inner Richmond, where all my friends are points east and south and my place is kind of a pain in the ass to get to. Of course, some of it is that I live in places that are not well-appointed, that I am most likely never going to be the best host or have the best place to get together, because I rarely go through the effort to get more than the basics. It’s rare I have more than a couch, for example. And tables? Forget about it. Again, I don’t particularly feel like these are personal indictments. They are, certainly, facets of who I am and how I choose to (or how I can or want to, etc.) live. And so it is that I live in another place where the board games collect dust but I still manage to drink all that beer that ends up in my fridge for any potential guests. I can, after all, manage on my own.
On Friday night, after a litany of offers, I sold my extra Mountain Goats ticket to the first person who contacted me for face value. I had someone offer me $129 for it, but I have never personally had the ethic of profiting from my concert tickets so much as getting them to people and getting my money back. Not that making money off of it is wrong, just that I don’t roll like that. Some might say this is a questionable flaw considering how many other shows I could pay for with some assiduous ticket purchases and sales. But It’s just not in my character. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a friend to take that ticket, and I was reminded yet again of why I buy one ticket to every show I go to, of how, if I am lucky these days, I will run into a familiar face or two, of how I rarely plan to see anyone when I go see live music. It was strange being back in Minneapolis and just seeing all these people I know at the venues. For as much as I am becoming familiar with the people at the door and the bartenders of San Francisco, still, I mostly see people that I more recognize and less know if I see anyone at all. Of course, I know how quickly that can change, too, as I think of dear friends I miss at every show here. There is no Depot, with its wonderful staff that I miss so, and if they are here, I have yet to find the mock duck tacos. I show up, I see the band(s), and I go home. Last night it was The Notwist, and though the music was different, and the show one of the best I have seen in a while (I will remember this week for a long time to come), it was generically another experience I shared with several hundred people alone. Tonight, it’ll most likely be Cold Beat, Mane, and Pop Crimes, because if you came all the way from Winnipeg, the least I can do is show Manitobans a little love.
I could lie and say a smartphone makes this easier to do, that it enables solo concert going, but I did this before there were really effective smartphones too, with books, or bar tvs, or my own thoughts. It is not that hard to spend a few hours by yourself in a crowd. Like anything, it’s a skill, and it is a skill I have taught myself; it’s actually a skill I am widely praised about. People frequently comment that they wished they did more stuff like that by themselves. And certainly it is a skill worth developing in that regard. I rather learned it the hard way, after I realized that I no longer had any friends who to go to shows with, or at least any that I was in touch with that were in the same place as me in that moment. I found them again, of course, but there was a solid year where I didn’t see any live music. I want you to think about that for a bit, especially if you’ve known me for a while. Or don’t. Just think about it in regards to your perception of me. If anything, my image is that I am at everything. Even old friends can’t help but comment that it seems like I see even more now that I live here than I did there. I am not sure if that’s entirely true. But I am certainly someone who has a reputation for going where there is live music, for picking some pretty good shows if I do say so myself.
So for almost a year, I did nothing. While I had certainly gone to shows by myself prior to living by myself in 2008, it was a rarity. Every so often, something would come up that I just wanted to see, like Figurines, and no one else went. I can think of other isolated examples, like the first time I saw Death From Above 1979 as well. Something about the 400 Bar I guess. But most of the time, it was easy to say, hey, do you feel like going to [x] and find someone, the question was not whether to buy a ticket but rather how many to buy. And while I don’t miss the hassle of trying to make sure everyone is even in terms of money, it was nice to know that you were going to be with friends. Even if that meant sticking around to see a band you didn’t really care about or some needless socialization with people you didn’t particularly know, there was always something interesting about where those sorts of interactions could lead. Suddenly, I was without all of that. Of course, I also bristled at the thought of who I’d run into at those shows, and had to get over the fact that former best friends were now just that, former. But eventually, I did get over it. It took quite a show, and that show was The Rosebuds at the Turf, and that really got the ball rolling again. I knew no one, though I realize now that I would get to know several of the people that were there, and so one show led to the next until I had finally reached a point where it was not a question of going alone, but rather who I might see and talk to, and soon enough I was rarely going to anything alone anymore. Until I moved out here and I had to put that back to use again. I’m still waiting for it to flip back over, though in fairness, it took several years to get to that point in the Twin Cities, so it is perhaps no surprise after a year I am still waiting. Though I did run into a co-worker at the Mountain Goats show. And I have been to a few shows with friends in the past couple months. So perhaps I won’t be waiting much longer. Perhaps it’s already coming together and I just don’t realize it yet. It’s like that sometimes when you’re in the middle of it.
I don’t have an official count of it all, but I’m pretty sure I’ve been to almost every park in San Francisco at this point. Or at least any one of some stature beyond a playground tucked away somewhere in Anza Vista. I have seen a couple sunsets from Grand View. I know that the best time to go to Mount Davidson is not when it is clear, but when it is foggy, ethereal, still sprinkling, always muddy, where it feels like you can cross between the worlds in the misty eucalyptus heights there or on Mount Sutro. The best sunsets are viewed somewhere along the coastal trail, whether you are up on Eagles Point, or down on Mile Rock Beach, though, at the right time, in the right moment, the Sutro Bath Ruins are the best. I have seen the quiet of Candlestick Point, nothing but fishers and wind on a bright, but always blustery day. The batteries of the Marin Headlands, looking back on Golden Gate in the most iconic of its many poses, the quiet beauty of Angel Island, the eerie twilight of Alcatraz. There really is an amazing amount to see here, and like most things in life, I’ve tried to see not only as much of it as I can for myself but also by myself. I suppose that I could spend a bit more effort and look for a hiking buddy, or try a few meet-ups and see how they go, though there are plenty of reasons I’m reluctant to do things like that, because any experience like that just as easily turns south and becomes me gritting teeth through another afternoon of being misgendered. Perhaps my sense of solitude is just as much informed by my being trans and not having the patience to deal with jackasses (whom are legion) as it is by my freedom to be able to do much by myself. It is, perhaps, the best skill any only child learns, how to entertain themselves. I do have friends out here that like to do those sorts of things as well, but unfortunately, like most people these days, their adult lives are full, hard to plan for, hard to plan around. Couple that with a healthy sense of wanderlust, my unending desire to see what’s down that street or over that hill, and I suppose it’s not so hard to see why I’ve made it much further than Golden Gate Park right outside my door.
Of course, I did the same in the Twin Cities. I know where a lot of those bike paths go, and yes, I have rode to Victoria and Dayton and Hudson (though not all in the same day, that’d be exhausting). I know where the paths shift over from pavement to loose gravel, what the houses along Minnetonka look like right there. I never lost the sense of wonder riding by all the Victorians on Summit, as it always was a beautiful stretch, from the Mississippi River all the way back to the Mississippi River again. And though I did manage to get one longer backpacking trip in with a friend, I always found them hard enough to plan just for myself, and so much easier to execute. Less scheduling, less conflict, more that I could just do. I think about that here periodically too as I try to figure out moments that I can get longer bike rides and backpacking trips in now that I’ve knocked out most of the city, and I rarely ever go through the calculus of wondering whether I should invite anyone or plan to accommodate for more people. It’s almost as if I’ve just forgotten how to do that over the years.
This is, of course, not true. I have also done hikes with friends here, and hope that as we all settle into the changes in our lives a bit more that we will figure out how to get them in again. I would like to hope that if I can pull together some of my ideas for day trips or maybe even weekend trips to the various state and national parks that other people will be interested, as they are surely welcome to come. Though I hope people would remember not to confuse the fact that I am active with the fact that I am social. My capacity for socializing is occasionally limited, and sometimes I find the very act of dealing with people is only enervating, that I could be halfway to whatever I am doing if I just did it instead of trying to figure it out. Those kinds of moods don’t strike me all that much, but they definitely do happen. But I’m sure like anything else, it is something that will slowly fill in, that my calendar will not only be busy because of all the solo shows that I’m going to but because of gatherings with friends. Though I know there will always be times for those hikes and those bike rides by myself. Perhaps I rarely take pictures of people because I spend so much time by myself. I’d like to hope that I end up in a few more of those pictures. Until then, though, it’s time to find out what’s over that next hill, with or without you. You are welcome to come, but know that I probably will not wait either.
There are times when I have a lot of trouble meeting new people. I went to a mixer on Friday for a work event, and there will always inevitably be someone who calls me the wrong name or misgenders me. My capacity to willingly deal with people like that is not always that strong. And I know that I should not write people off before even giving them a chance, but you’ll have to excuse me if I have six years of experience with knowing when it’s just not worth the trouble. That, perhaps, sounds like a shitty thing to say. I’m not trying to clock anyone. I don’t go out of my way to identify which person will most likely call me he in front of a bunch of strangers and not even notice or understand the effects of what they just did. But I have learned over the years which people are more likely to do that, though I find my capacity to be surprised is never-ending.
Trust me, it’s an awful feeling when you meet people that seem cool, people that you think you’ll get on with reasonably well, and they end up insulting the core of who you are within a minute of engaging you in conversation. Ever been talking with a guy that you think is pretty cool and attractive and have that happen? It’s a feeling I have far too much experience with. Whether it’s a simple social call out at a bar with some co-workers or a date or at a show, there’s always a reason to be guarded. It’s the converse side to why I do things alone. Sometimes it’s not that I want to; sometimes I could desperately use the company. Just not that company, not ever. Letting people in means being vulnerable, and I am certainly more open to that than I once was. But I have also learned that even when you are steely, even when you are not trying to let people in, even when your guard is up, people will hurt you. I try not to let that hang over every conversation and interaction, but I am frequently waiting for the when, not the if when it comes to someone disregarding my gender, as if they consciously know better or worse yet unconsciously don’t realize what they just did. It doesn’t matter whether it’s malicious or ignorant, it’ll hurt you just the same.
If you don’t see how a feeling like that, how that guardedness could influence whether or not I’ll go out of my way to try and socially engage with people, then I don’t know what to say. Couple that with aspects of me that have nothing to do with me being trans (like the self-sufficiency and lack of patience I learned as an only child), and perhaps it’s not so hard to see why I go to shows by myself. It’s a lot of effort for anyone to let anyone in, I know that. We all have our friends and our obligations and our lives that seem to pretty much run apace without letting other people in. It’s some amount of work to let people in, something we have to consciously attempt, that we have to engage in. The problem I have is it takes a long time for me to let that guard down; I have friends I’ve had for a long time that I still don’t feel like I can totally let that guard down with. Sometimes, I just don’t feel like expending that energy when I want to do anything, though I always have to if there is any degree of interaction with people, not just friends or acquaintances. I’m not just trying to edge into various peoples’ social circles to incorporate them into my own, I’m not just trying to find people with similar interests and tastes, I’m trying to find people who will accept me as who I am. Though I suppose we could all say that.
This is all to say there are perhaps a wide confluence of factors that make me who I am, a trans woman with an endless sense of wonder and exploration who ever so occasionally wishes she found a few more people to go on those journeys with her that recognizes it’s not always that easy. Though I know that not finding people to go do something is not a good reason to not do something. If you want to do something, and you have the means, then I encourage you to figure out how to do it. Sometimes it’s not as important and therefore you won’t; sometimes it’s really just not possible. I am fortunate in that many of the things that I want to do I can do. I recognize that. I used to have a tendency to try and put things I couldn’t do a certain way, like I was always so busy or put upon or whatever. When the reality is, I’m not all that busy. There’s a lot of downtime in my life, and probably a lot in yours too. Busy is a construct. We all have finite time. And some people have greater flexibility in terms of what they can do with it based on their circumstances. I have pretty great flexibility in that regards. I live by myself; I have a decent job; I don’t have children. There are times where the reason I do not do something is simply because I do not want to, not because I have too much going on or anything like that. And there are times where I may want to do another activity going on, where I may want to go to another show or see a friend at a bar, but I have tickets to something that I have prioritized. It doesn’t make me a bad person to say sometimes that I am going to this because I’d rather do it, though it is perhaps impolitic to phrase it exactly like that. I understand why we elide; I understand the construction of busy. I understand that just because I may have time does not mean I want to use it with anyone else, and that other people feel the same way all the time.
I am a huge booster of learning to do things you want to do on your won. Shared experiences are great, don’t get me wrong. It’s awesome to catch up with friends about a show we all mutually caught. And some experiences, I couldn’t really imagine going to by myself, though that’s occasionally a construct, an idea that we have that it couldn’t possibly be that enjoyable by ourselves. People occasionally express wonder at all the things I do by myself, but I shrug. It is simply a fact of my existence, and though I am sure if I agitated a bit more I could find someone to get brunch with, someone to go to the bar with, someone to catch that next show with, I doubt if I could find someone to go to all those things. Besides there’s worse things than being alone. Though I do get frustrated by the last minute cancellations of the modern age, of the constant emails, the constant updates, the fact that solid planning seems to be harder to come by than it used to, not because we are better planners but because we can always hold out until the last minute to see if something better comes along, to try and make our various conflicting plans come together in harmony. And when you are frustrated by that, it’s good to be able to go down to the bar down the street and get a drink by yourself, to head to Eats and enjoy your pancakes by yourself, to pay another visit to Hemlock, which, come to think of it, is someplace I’ve only ever been by myself, though there are certainly always people at the bar and at the shows. If you find that you can never do that? Then perhaps it is a skill worth fostering, as that is what it is, as I said at the beginning. It’s something you learn. Eating at a restaurant or seeing a movie or going to a show by yourself feels a little weird if you are socialized to only ever do them with others, and it can take a little work to unpack that.
But if I may provide some words of caution as you set down that road: remember to still put in that effort; remember to invite people over, to send that text or that email; make that phone call you’ve been putting off; buy that extra ticket sometimes and ask. By all means continue to do the things you are passionate about; that should not be dependent on others. You will meet people who share those passions, and you will be surprised. I made some of my best friends just by going to shows by myself. But remember someone has to make that effort, even if it is just a glib tweet or a joking remark to the person next to you. Much like learning to go on your own is a skill, learning to let other people in on that is too. I would think that after 33 years I’d be better at that, but I’ve always gotta remind myself of it, that I’ve gotta try. While there’s no comparison to having the experiences, some of those stories would not be proper, would not feel right without the people who were also there. Even if I didn’t know it at the time. Was The National show in Oregon the best one I saw because it was musically the best, or because I saw it with amazing people in an amazing setting? Would the show at Berkeley have been different with the same crew? It is of course absurd to attempt to control for all factors, and it is something no one will ever be able to do. Both experiences were fantastic, each in their own way. In both cases, I just had to be open to the experience that I was going to have, not dead-set on a way it was going to be. At a certain point, it does not matter whether I am by myself in the crowd or with some of my best friends, but just that I am ready to receive. The skill then is to be open. To wherever it leads.