Sunday, December 13, 2015

I'm a little bit country and a little bit rock & roll…so what?

My boss made an interesting observation about me the other week during morning conference. It had absolutely nothing to do with my job performance…unless I missed his point completely.

We were talking about the company Christmas costume party that evening, and he was trying to get everybody into the party mood at 8am.

Now for those who have never lived in Australia, let me explain something about Aussies. They love their themed costume parties, and they take dressing up for them very seriously.

As I confirmed while putting together my latest party get-up, it's easier to find a costume shop in Sydney that will help you transform yourself into pretty much anything from the ankles up than it is to find a shoe store that sells gladiator sandals for men. Go figure.

Costume parties are particularly big here around the holidays. That means the December beach weather that I still can't get accustomed to after eight winter, er, summer seasons in the Southern Hemisphere isn't the only thing that has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas in New York.

I may not be able to adjust to the holiday climate in the South, but I've surprised myself by becoming the guy who always dresses up for a costume party. Back in my New York City days, that guy was never me…and he generally used to get on my last nerve.

I used to insist on going to everything as myself, and all the dress-up people only made me feel more out of place than usual. Maybe that's why I never really got into Halloween. Last October 31, though, I started the day wearing a truly frightening pirate mask, and by the end of the night, the power of make-up had transformed me into a black male Siouxsie Sioux circa "Hong Kong Garden" from the neck up.

The good thing about the costume obsession here is that you can walk through the streets of Sydney dressed as Captain America, or Julius Caesar, and not a single soul will give you the side-eye. They know exactly where you're going. You can also pick up a guy who has no idea what you actually look like until he tracks you down on Facebook the next day.

But getting back to morning conference, for some reason, my boss directed his attention toward me.

"Jeremy, you're coming, right?"

His phrasing suggested that there might be some doubt. Plus he looked slightly concerned, as if he was thinking I was thinking dress-up holiday parties were beneath me.

"Excuse me. Don't you remember last year's Christmas party?" I was overdoing the incredulousness for maximum comic effect.

"I wouldn't miss it. I already have my costume all picked out."

I could tell that Thursday night in mid-December 2014 was starting to come back to him: the dancing, the drinking, the unforgiving Captain America outfit. Of course, I was going to be there…with bells on…possibly literally.

My boss was clearly amused by the memory of me as the Yankee superhero, and he was confused, too.

"You know, Jeremy, you're an interesting set of contradictions. You're kind of shy, but at the same time you're this exhibitionist. There are all of these hidden sides."

Behind my poker face, I was pretty shocked. He was dead-right, but I didn't realize he had even been paying attention over the past 13 months and one week.

The more I think about his spot-on description of me, though, the more I'm not so sure about the "contradictions" part. While I know he wasn't being critical, the word itself has such a negative connotation. It suggests not only inconsistency but perhaps disingenuousness, too. It implies that one oscillates too wildly, never staying still long enough to actually stand for anything.

To be fair, it's a word I've often used to describe myself because it always seemed to fit. I'm uncomfortable in crowds and in social situations that aren't one-on-one, but I can work a room with the best of them. I'm the classic loner, yet to see me working that room, one might assume I'm a social butterfly.

I'm meticulous in the way I present myself (last week, during another offsite event, a colleague commented that I can even making bowling shoes look stylish), yet I've never been particularly crazy about a sharp-dressed man.

I'm driven by wanderlust (they don't call me "the world traveler" for nothing), but in my mind, there's no place like home…on the couch. I shy away from commitment, but I've often been a paragon of stability and longevity (so much so that I remained at my first job out of college for eight years). I have no problem being half-undressed in my gay-app profile pics, but I'm uncomfortable sleeping in the nude.

My music taste is all over the place, but when it's time to eat, I rarely venture outside of a handful of options. My friends can usually guess what I'm going to order off any given menu, but most of them would have a hell of tough time picking out a gift for me that I wouldn't have to pretend to love. I'm predictable and unpredictable like that.

My brother once described me as a "recovering introvert," and I don't think anyone has ever nailed my two-sidedness quite as accurately. He reads me better than anyone I know and has occasionally pointed out things about me that are barely perceptible to the naked eye.

After he read my book, he described it as "sometimes prudish yet sexually manic," perfectly encapsulating both the book and its author.

While I might seem maddeningly contradictory to some, I'm less about contradiction than duality. I like to think of myself as being the embodiment of yin and yang. Why do I have to be just one thing? Why can't I be a little bit country and little bit rock & roll...or New York wine and Tennessee 'shine?

I don't see the various sides of my personality opposing each other, or even contradicting each other, so much as complementing each other. Yes, I'm shy, but I never threaten to fade into the background, and for that I can thank my exhibitionist side. And yes, I appreciate attention, but I'm too timid to really work for it.

My shyness keeps my exhibitionism in check, while my exhibitionism stops my shyness from turning me into wallpaper.

And thank God for that. It was the emergence of my modest streak that kept me from going to this year's Christmas bash as a commando Julius Caesar. The evening was blustery enough that one unexpected gust of wind might have led to the worst wardrobe malfunction ever.

And that's one side of me that the entire world doesn't need to see. My inner exhibitionist might have kind of loved it, but my shy side never would have lived that one down.

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