Yesterday I was standing in line at a local coffee shop. A couple stood in front of me and chatted about the menu. A few people sat and huddled over textbooks and laptops, out in public but hiding their screens from wandering eyes. A group breezed through the door. One person stopped and studied the pamphlets and papers lining a nearby shelf, ignoring their friends, lost in the search for something to pique their interest, a useful distraction. They picked up one of my broadsides, scanned it, looked around the room, then at me directly. I felt a sudden connection, a link of shared words, written in haste but destined for this moment. I wondered if they had some way of connecting me to the piece. It seemed implausible, but I guess anything is possible. My mind was racing nonetheless. They folded the piece, put it in their pocket, then joined their friends.
The next day I received an email. Someone had read my latest piece and wanted to know more about the project, the objective, the concept, everything. Feeling forthright I immediately drafted a response, something about the ephemeral and anonymous other, tilting at windmills, the quixotic analog quest for a moment of attention in a digital and distracted world. Or something like that. The answer to those questions always changes. I edited, and edited again, ensuring the response was just right. I hit send then forgot about it. A week later I checked my email. Only one message. A response from the same person. Turns out they are a segment producer for a local radio show and invited me on for a short interview. I agreed to do the interview over the phone, maintaining the mystique of anonymity. Let the work speak for itself. The very next day my email box was overflowing. Invitations from anyone and everyone looking for access and their piece of the now expanding and formerly non-existent pie. The American dream had arrived at my doorstep, bearing flowers, a box of chocolate and wide open arms. Asking me to bask in the ever-fleeting warm glow of mass attention. I felt naked in the spotlight. Seen for the first time.
Out of nowhere I felt a light tap on my shoulder. I turned around and saw someone standing behind me in line, hoping to nudge me forward to the coffee shop counter, where the barista stood ready to take my order. I excused myself, placed a quick order, then rescanned the room. The fresh stack of broadsides sat in a neat pile, nearly untouched since they were dropped off. Someone I thought I recognized sat in the back, not catching my gaze. I took my order and left.
There I am. No over there. Now here. Yes, here. Here I am. Passing you on the street, sitting at the next table casually enjoying a meal, behind you in line, in front of you in traffic not moving fast enough for your liking, leaning against a wall, talking while you tune me out, standing in your way, keeping to myself. There but not.
I’m narrating every event, methodically, taking notes. Watching every move. It’s nothing personal, or no, maybe it is personal, to all of us at the same time. To be in our own heads, thinking almost exclusively of ourselves, auto-pilot minds, programmed to be the hero of our own life stories.