Some months ago, a friend who works at the Bangkok hotel where I live made an odd, unexpected observation in the form of a question.
"Jeremy, when you walk through the lobby, why don't you ever look around?"
"Oh, yeah, I have tunnel vision. I always have. When I walk anywhere, unless I'm lost, I tend to look straight ahead, focusing on where I'm going."
"But no, you don't look straight ahead. You're always looking at the ground."
He offered a positively unflattering re-enactment of my lobby gait, which was not at all what I imagined it to be. It was like hearing your own voice on a tape recorder for the first time and being appalled by how terrible you sound. He looked like a hermit who had been forced out of his retirement shell. Everything was pointing downward -- even his shoulders were slumped!
But wait! How could that possibly be? I've always been known for my distinct, confident strut: toes pointed too far out (a bad hard habit to break, which my friend did get sort of right), chin up, eyes looking straight ahead. One of the best compliments I've ever gotten was from a model in New York City: "Jeremy, you always look as if you're stepping onto a runway!" I imagined myself preparing for take-off on the tarmac before I realized she was referring to a different kind of runway. Was it my outfits or the strut? I like to think it was a lot of both.
Another time, I made it into a backstage scene of an Alternative Press cover story on Radiohead. In my bit, after being snubbed by Thom Yorke, I "sniffed" something catty and "sashayed" away. Sashayed! Apparently, I didn't merely walk -- I sashayed off-screen.
Now I was hearing this and watching an imitation of me that was veering dangerously close into the realm of parody? It was hardly poetry in motion. Was that really how I was getting from point A to point B? Whoever heard of anyone walking down any catwalk outside of a church -- or sashaying -- with their head bowed? It was my first clue that my confidence was sinking. It was about to go even lower, down to the depths, until it was submerged in that dank, poorly lit place where my self-confidence spent the last week or so.
Then this morning during my morning jog, as I was making my way around Lumpini Park for the second time, I realized something promising. I saw a ray of light that had nothing to do with the sun rising. For nearly 45 minutes, not once had I bothered to look down. I had my chin up, eyes focused forward, and I still hadn't tripped or stepped into any pesky puddles. As I was coming to that realization, I had another one, one I wouldn't have had if my head had been bowed as usual: Everyone seemed to be looking at me. Not just at my face. But down, too, at my... feet?
I was doing so well, I didn't want to look, and for several meters, I avoided averting my gaze from straight ahead. Then I couldn't bear not to look any longer. I glanced down at my running shoes. Aside from the fact that they're ugly as hell, and if you look closely, you can see my big toe beginning to peek out from a hole in the right one, there was nothing to see there. So why was everyone staring at them?
I felt like I was back on the playground, and all the cool kids were pointing at me and laughing. I ran a little faster hoping that the increased velocity would push that mental image out of my head. Then... Oops! I came thisclose to flying forward and landing on my hands and knees. Did anyone see that? Nobody even seemed to notice. In fact, maybe they weren't looking at my shoes at all. Perhaps they, too, are suffering from their own crises of confidence that lead them to look down more often than they should. Maybe they're too busy wondering why everyone is looking at them, staring down to avoid locking eyes, to even notice that hole in my shoe, or me at all.
I continued onward and homeward, chin up, eyes focused forward, delivering a mental message to anyone else who was unlucky or foolish (or both) enough to be up so early.
Dear passersby: If you should come across me on the street, and you must glance my way, whatever you do, don't look down.