A few years ago I participated in a community art project modeled after Harrell Fletcher and Miranda July's Learning to Love You More called Champion This. One of the assignments borrowed from LTLYM was to "photograph a significant outfit." I don't have the photo anymore--I lost the print in one of many moves and/or purges, and it's digital version is probably floating around in some lost pocket of cyberspace. I doubt I'll ever stumble upon them again. I don't have the outfit anymore either, I think I cut the pants off into shorts, gave away the top, stopped wearing weird green jackets. I think I still have the boots. My cat was in the picture too--she loves sitting very close to things that I'm trying to photograph.
I wore this outfit while I was on a business trip (because I had a job where you went on business trips) to San Francisco. I remember sitting on the plane to leave and feeling SO SHITTY about my life. I was unhappy in my marriage. I was miserable in my job. I was worn out from raising my two boys who were ages 3 and 7 at the time. I was generally unsatisfied, and had started feeling like a hollow shell of a person. Sitting on an airport runway en route to a city I had always wanted to live in gave me the rare opportunity to look at my life with a little perspective, and it wasn't good. I became terrified that I would have to meet new people and have conversations with them, that I would have nothing interesting to say, that I wouldn't have my children to hide behind and distract people from paying any attention to me, that I wouldn't have my extroverted husband around to socialize for me.
I used to hang out in San Francisco as a teenager while visiting my dad in Marin county for the Summer. I'd borrow his Volvo (damn that sounds bougie, even though it totally wasn't) and drive to the city where I got to be anonymous and smoke cigarettes on the street without being hassled, and buy cool clothes like lace bloomers and steel-toed doc martens that would blow people's minds back in Idaho. I'd drink coffee and eat burritos and shop and maybe talk to people but usually not. San Francisco made me feel awesome.
As the plane took off I connected to that 16 year version of me, giddy to be flying into SFO, a naive and self-assured knowing that I had something--not sure what--to offer the world, and knowing for sure it had something to offer me. When I allowed these feelings to take over, something lit up in me. A flicker from deep within that I feared maybe was extinguished started to burn again. By the time the trip was over, I had realized something profound, and I'm only now starting to understand the impact that that significant outfit had on my life. I realized that people are not awesome in a vacuum. Awesomeness is not something a person either has or does not have. It is not a possession. Being awesome is a choice. It's a choice I could just make right then and there. I didn't have to tell stories about being a dissatisfied advertising executive or unhappy wife or exhausted mother. I could just be awesome, and I was, and life has never been the same since.