This morning I’m on my way to work, making the left turn out of my street and I stop to let a cyclist past. I call him Bike Guy, and he’s a feature of my morning commute: one of those ultra-fanatical cyclist-commuters on an expensive bike, with high-end saddlebags, good quality helmet with one of those little mirrors on an arm hanging off the side of it. He wears a visibility vest, which I appreciate. I see him every day, and I’ve only got one complaint about him: He rides on the sidewalk.
And you know what? I’m willing to forgive that: It’s a very busy road and there’s no bike lanes; I can understand why he’s not comfortable in the middle of morning traffic. So I make sure to stop my car well back from the pedestrian crossing lane while he whips past the front of my car without touching the brake, and just like every morning I try and make eye contact so that he knows I see him. And he goes past, and I make my left turn, and overtake him as he rides down the sidewalk, and that’s the extent of our daily interaction.
Except today, as I go down the street, I realize that I’m low on gas, so I pull into the gas station about a kilometre down the road, and start filling my tank. And as I’m doing so, Bike Guy rides past – on the sidewalk – meets my eye as I’m standing there next to my Suzuki… and he sneers.
He sneers. He looks at the gas pump, looks at me, then ostentatiously curls his lip and shakes his head as though to say “Look at you, ruining the planet by pouring gasoline into your car!”
And then he’s gone, pedalling off down the sidewalk with what I can only describe as a smugly self-righteous air.
A few days ago, I ran into a somebody I used to know. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I work for a small IT consulting firm whose offices happen to be on the edge of the student ghetto, just across the street from this shitty old student townhouse where I lived for three years, so occasionally I see a familiar face from my past. As I was getting out of my car somebody came up to me in the parking lot and said hi; he recognized me from the old days and stopped to talk.
His focus had been on music and mine was on politics, so he and I never really talked much, but with me being heavily involved in the anarchist/activist community and him being a hanger-on in the local punk scene we clearly had overlapping social circles. I suppose you could say that we we knew each other socially. I think the only really memorable interaction we ever had was a discussion at a party with other friends where he maintained that activism was a pointless waste of time, and I disputed his statement; during our discussion he opined that the only reason I was an activist was to “get girls” and I took offence and replied that I was trying to accomplish something important in the world, and that maybe he’d understand if he stepped up himself, instead of just being a poseur hanging around the fringes.
We never really talked much after that.
Anyway, I ran into him as I was getting out of my car at the office. It’s been well more than a decade, and he approached me, so I’m perfectly willing to be polite and have a chat on a fine spring morning. And it turns out he still lives in the student ghetto, he’s still “writing about music” (by which I assume he’s still churning out self-published punk-music zines) he’s “got some stuff on the go with a band” and so on. He’s still dressed like your typical punk scenester – combat boots, fatigue pants, black band t-shirt (the Ramones), denim jacket with band patches badly sewn to it, lots of leather and chains and a bandana – pretty much how I used to dress, actually, except that my patches and t-shirts tended to feature political slogans, not bands.
And when it comes to be my turn I explain that I’m working in IT, my office is downstairs, that I’d gotten married and we live out in the west end, and so on. And he looks me up and down, in my khakis and button-down shirt and leather jacket and he says “Huh. I guess I always knew you’d be a sellout.”
Yeah, that stopped the conversation pretty much dead in its tracks.
I find I’m having a bit of an existential crisis at the moment. Maybe it’s the stress at work, maybe it’s the recent upheaval in our SCA canton, maybe it’s what this guy said, or maybe its just the springtime… but I’m really having trouble with my self-image right now. I’m feeling bad about myself, I get down on the person I’ve become: some days I really do think that I’m a sellout.
And on the surface of it, it I know that’s stupid. I’m not an activist anymore, in the sense that it’s been years since I’ve been to a demonstration, but I still care about those causes. I contribute money to them when I can, and I frequently write about them. I’m as politically engaged as I ever was – and in some ways more than ever. But I’m also thirty-five. I’ve got a job, a house, a car, and a marriage. I live in the suburbs, for chrissakes. I commute in the mornings, I barbecue in the evenings, and I spend my weekends on various hobbies. I worry about my diet, I pay my bills, I live my life.
The bitter truth is that I’m not anyone’s vision of a revolutionary anymore… not even my own. And for a long time, being a revolutionary was a huge part how I measured my self-worth, even when I started to get burnt out and disillusioned by the movement. And now I find myself, a thirty-five-year-old commuter working in IT, wishing that I was back in my mid-20s, living that life again. Longing for the time when it was all so simple… even while I ruefully acknowledge that it wasn’t simple at all while I was living it.
God, I hate being a cliché.
But I also hate being judged and I feel like I’ve been getting a lot of that lately. I can understand, intellectually, that I’m still the same person I ever was… but I’m feeling pretty emotionally fragile about it. Or maybe fragile isn’t the word; I’m feeling emotionally bruised and raw. Like when you scraped your knees falling off your bike when you were a kid; the last thing you want it somebody poking at it. And if I’m emotionally sensitive enough that a couple of incidents of strangers (or near-strangers) passing completely irrelevant judgements on me simply because I don’t ostentatiously display my politics by wearing combat boots or eschewing motorized transportation has managed to get to me this badly, then maybe there’s some stuff I need to work out.
Maybe it’s not that other people are judging me. Maybe it’s that I’m judging myself.