Wednesday, April 20, 2016

my red nose

For the past few years, the first of April has been a special day in my life. It was on that day in 2013 that I published the inaugural post on this blog and announced it to a select group of people. In 2014, I stated why the blog exists. There were no commemorative posts in 2015, but I made the decision to become a linchpin. While I erred in my quest afterward, let us be clear: an important decision was made, and on that day. So now in 2016, I wanted to make something happen, having remembered the anniversary only in the middle of March. Given the state of mind that I was in at the time and what I had done in previous years, I felt the urge to do something that was just as meaningful, but new and certainly different.

Different, as in wearing a red nose during my morning commute to work. Conveniently, I already had one, gifted to me by Corinne after a clown exercise that she had us do in theater class several years ago. I had actually worn the nose since then, in 2012, but only around the block of my apartment building. At the time, I found the idea of doing that so daring that I labeled it an Operation Original. This "originality", I owe it to Hypnotica, an artist of sorts who once decided to wear a dildo taped to his forehead while walking through a shopping mall. It was his attempt to conquer his fears of uncertainty and public ridicule, which he saw as obstacles to the ability to think freely. I cannot sincerely say that I had the same motives as him, but I was captivated by outrageous nature of his experiment and motivated to emulate him. Not quite with a dildo, but with a red nose.

If truth be told, it took me four years to take the plunge. I had imagined wearing the red nose in an everyday situation, while going to work via subway or shopping at the supermarket, but the doing that seemed too daunting for me at the time. I just could not will myself to do it. The stuff that I did in my neighborhood was only a small test, a simulation that lasted less than five minutes and had no practical objective ‒ I was not going anywhere to do anything useful. I remember having felt great nevertheless (and relieved) when I made it back to my apartment after the test, even though nothing really had happened except some curious looks from several passers-by and from a client seated on the terrace of a cafe. But something had happened; something within me, that is. I had stepped out of my comfort zone. Now, four years later, I felt more ready to go beyond the test, to "do the real thing". The idea was at the back of my mind, and even though I did not think about it everyday during that entire time span, it was never forgotten. It ended up remaining the lone social experiment ‒ among those that I had conceived ‒ that I had not dared to perform yet, notably because it was truly "out there". Besides, when March came by, I found myself often down in the dumps, while at work, among others, or even alone. I knew more or less what I had to do to pick myself up, and it boiled down to becoming more engaged, among other things. So I decided to get engaged ... with myself. That is how life starts getting better, right? Given my despair, it only seemed right to do something big. Big like red-nose big. And then, sometime later, out of the blue, I remembered it would soon be April 1st. It would be on a Friday, a work day. I began to realize what that day had meant to me. Memories and thoughts converged naturally to give birth to the perfect idea albeit a scary one. I asked myself, "Remember that young, tall, blond lady that you saw that morning some time ago when you were heading towards the office building from the RER station? Remember she was wearing a red nose, looking so casual as she walked and talked with someone? What if ... that was you?"

The decision to strike, so to speak, was made two weeks before April 1. During those two weeks, which seemed longer than they really were, I experienced waves of excitement and anguish. Not only was I trying at times to discourage myself, uttering things like "Who wears a red nose in the metro, in the RER or even at work?" and "Do you look like a kid?", I found myself worrying about how people would react to me, or to something so unusual. Would I get arrested? Would I get beat up? Would my phone get snatched from me? Questions that remained without answer. However, I did find it a bit comforting that this non-stop inner monologue revealed something fundamental. The fears of public ridicule and uncertainty, the same ones that Hypnotica said that he was trying to overcome, I had them too. Despite the temptation to give in to the fears, I fought to embrace the opportunity that laid before me, an opportunity that I had myself created. What's more, in the moments that I was lucid, I knew that I did not want to be saddled with regret on the eve of April 2. So the best that I could do was to prepare for battle.

I kept my motivation up by consuming my favorite quotes, my favorite articles, and my favorite videos, over and over again. I even read a couple of my own blog posts, such as the love and responsibility piece, which was particularly instrumental. I also used basic visualization techniques on a daily basis, to reinforce the belief that I could perform on the big day. At work, with friends, in the metro, or while group sketching in Paris, I found myself sometimes preoccupied with the task that I had set out to do. Surely, it was not something to be shared with anyone. At least not until the task was accomplished.

At the time of the test four years ago, I imagined some aspects of the ideal game plan. I especially had the vision of myself in the metro wearing all black ‒ shirt, pants, socks, shoes ‒ except for this red thing that did not fit. One of the 2016 touches to this plan was something of a security measure: "changing" into my red nose at the bus stop in my neighborhood (rather than at my place) and leaving my valuables in my apartment. In addition, I would leave for work during rush hour, take public transportation during rush hour, and arrive during rush hour. I would take off the nose in only two instances: 1) once I was at my desk and 2) if I needed to get in air without obstruction for a few seconds, after which I would put the nose back on. Besides that, I would act like I normally did during the commute (which was keep to myself, like most people, with something to read if possible). In other words, nothing would change in my behavior. And I would certainly not try to bury my face in a newspaper.

During the 45-minute trip to work, everything went according to plan. It was rush hour. I left home. I walked to the bus stop. I changed. I walked to the metro station. I got in the metro. I got off and walked to RER station. I got on the RER. I got off and walked to the office building. I went inside. I took the elevator. I got off on my floor. I arrived at my desk.

I experienced a variety of things. It all began during the night. I had immense difficulty falling asleep. After succeeding eventually, I ended up awake on several occasions, each time earlier than the expected time. It was highly unusual, but I understood that the anxiety had taken over me. My mind was very occupied and focused on the same thing: what I had vowed to start at 8:55am. When I got up for good, around 7am, I had slept little. Having no time for discouragement, I had to follow through. Around 9am, at the bus stop, I hesitated for a moment. "Going in or not?", I asked myself, painfully. Before I could answer, I pulled out the red plastic from the inner pocket of my coat and rammed my nose inside it. At the same time, I made a U-turn and headed towards the metro station. I felt a bit strange, all the while staying focused on my path. I got some looks, many of which I looked out for as I passed by people or stood in a crowd. During a metro ride that included two stops, I noticed a boy glancing at me several times, always discreetly, while holding his father's hand. I saw few smiles here and there as well as some turned heads throughout my journey, though people seemed largely indifferent to my presence. Some simply did not notice me, and others who did ended up looking elsewhere after a couple of seconds. Could you blame them? After all, it was not like I was performing a clown act in attempt to retain their attention. I was either just walking by or just standing there. The lack of a notable reaction from anyone ‒ except from the guy distributing free newspapers to passers-by, who made a joke that I did not hear well but that I thought was friendly ‒ made me wonder if the experiment was a bust. Maybe I just no longer cared that much about what people thought of me? The interrogation gave me the thought of stopping to wear the nose. But I discarded that thought almost immediately.

Upon entering the office building, I managed to escape the sight of the people seated at the reception desk and especially that of the two security guards in front of the turnstiles leading to the elevators. I had briefly sought eye contact with the guards out of habit, unsuccessfully. While I was not trying to dodge them, I was not at the same time trying to show up in front of them and say "Hey look at me! I am wearing a red nose!" Oh well. In the elevator area, there was a guy who worked on my floor and with whom I had gone to speak about an issue several months before, when he was still new in the organization. Seeing me, he looked puzzled, though he seemed more pleasantly so after I said "Bonjour" to him (he returned the "Bonjour"). Out of the elevator with him, I made it to my desk without seeing anyone else on the way. The members on my team in the vicinity were busy talking and did not notice that I had arrived. I found two options for what to do next ‒ 1) take off the nose, congratulate myself, and go greet the colleagues or 2) keep the nose, go greet the colleagues, and then return to take the nose off. Obviously, the second option was more interesting, so I went with it. As I appeared, I left everyone somewhat bemused, drawing more or less favorable reactions from the majority of them (about seven people). A few others remained in a mild state of bewilderment, completely speechless even while I shook hands with them. In the midst of the commotion, someone guessed that it was an April Fools' joke, which I neither confirmed nor denied. In fact, I did not give much justification for my particular appearance, nor did anyone inquire that I do so. What happened just happened, and in less than a minute, having made the rounds, I was back at my desk, alone. I took off the nose. Finally.

Like many other colleagues, I settled into the events of the day as usual, as if nothing had happened. From time to time though, I wondered if I really did arrive at work wearing a red nose. And each time, I accepted that I must have, otherwise I would not have asked myself such a question. So how did it feel for me being exposed in the public eye, especially before entering the office building? A little funny, a little uncomfortable, but nothing truly frightening. I did my best to walk through the crowded areas, after having consciously made the choice to appear during rush hour, but it seemed as if people were fewer than usual. And, once again, no one really seemed to care at the end of the day. What I had been fearful about turned out to be a non-event. A few looks here and there, and that was it. Nevertheless, when I put things in perspective some time later, I experienced a particular satisfaction. A kind that seemed deep and durable.

Yet, I ought to be very disappointed. Why? Because I did only half of the job that I had imagined for two weeks. The undone half? Just the trip back home ‒ or to the bus stop near my place ‒ with the red nose on, starting from my desk. Essentially, the same thing that I did in the morning. Except that around 6:15pm, when I was getting ready to leave for the weekend, the momentum from the morning had dissipated and the old anxieties were free again. No way was I going to let myself look silly in front of all these familiar people that, for the most part, had no idea how I arrived at work in the morning. So I didn't. The nose safely hidden in the inner pocket of my coat, I got up from my seat, said my goodbyes, and left. Uncertainty and public ridicule would remain things to fear ...

But the red nose will return.