I had an epiphany watching Ru Paul’s Drag Race last week.
Don’t roll your eyes. Well, whatever…roll your eyes if you want. It’s not like I can see you.
For years I scoffed at people who watched the series thinking they were vapid and silly until pandemic boredom finally convinced me and my husband Saul to check it out. We started with the sixth season because we figured they had all the kinks worked out by then, and became so hooked we went back and watched every single season which takes about two years if you watch one episode a day.
Basically, I would describe it as a variety series like the old Carol Burnett Show performed by people who grew up feeling like freaks and outsiders until they matured into gifted artist who found power in their oddness. They discovered their true self in drag. Trust me… it’s fun, funny, emotional, uplifting and kind of deep. And it got us through the pandemic with a few shreds of our sanity intact.
On the episode of my epiphany, a drag queen was talking about how they had stopped believing in themselves for a while until they finally realized it was up to them to use what unique talents they had to embrace life again.
“That’s me!” I exclaimed to Saul. “I mean without the wig, make up and contour dress…but I understand now! It’s up to me to find the joy in life again!”
Let me backtrack….
A little over a year ago, to get out of our Covid funk, Saul and I drove across country with our dog Alfie (leaving our cats safe at home with our very good friend, Jamie) to rent a house in Palm Springs for two months. I have always loved Palm Springs and the healing energy that seems to exude from every desert rock. And on top of that, it is also the epicenter for middle-aged eccentric gay men. I had found my tribe! With a population that tilts towards the elderly side, I also felt young. When I walked through the door of the local coffee hangout, I actually turned heads again. Most those heads had hearing aids attached, but I’ll take whatever attention I can get.
“I’m not leaving!” I said to Saul. We already have the dog and the car here. We just need to get the cats and a few of our things.”
The only thing we didn’t really think through was that we moved here in the middle of a pandemic.
It can be quite a struggle to find a community when theatre is shut down and you can only eat outside at restaurants in 115-degree weather. You can’t make new friends at the office when the office is a few feet from your living room. You can’t run into someone nice in town when your face is half-covered with a mask and you’re screaming STEP SIX FEET AWAY FROM ME OR I’M CALLING THE POLICE!”
Very slowly…without even noticing…I fell into an isolated funk. It was so slow I didn’t even realize it was happening until watching that Ru Paul episode.
“I’ve become disconnected from the world.” I said to my husband.
“You’re connected to me,” he sweetly replied.
The first response I wanted to make: “Oh my god. I’m so sick of being connected to only you that I want to crawl out of my own skin” might have been taken the wrong way, so instead I said something like, “That’s wonderful dear, and I’m so lucky to have you, dear, but it’s healthy to feel connected to a community too.” Being married means you have to think on your feet.
A month ago, Saul and I visited New York —our first time back to the area since we moved. As I prepared to go into my NYC office to see coworkers, some who I hadn’t seen in person for over two years, I looked in the mirror and took a deep breath. I knew I needed to show up and be my best self. I couldn’t very well schlump in with a bad mood after all this time. And then I realized I hadn’t felt this way in a long time. I knew right then it was good for my soul to be required to shine for others.
I needed to become part of a community again. But how?
A large part of Palm Springs culture involves large pool parties where people wear as little clothing as possible. Unfortunately, these are not the events I would choose for myself to “shine” at unless you count the sun reflecting off of my pale Irish skin.
First of all, I hate small talk. I’m terrible at it especially when I’m nervous which I usually am. They say to ask people about themselves at occasions like these but I absolutely hate when people I’ve just met ask me questions about my life. I claim up as if I’m a spy holding government secrets. I don’t know why. I guess it has something to do with stranger danger. If they ask me an innocent question like what I do for a living, I’ll respond with a vague answer like “I work for a network” and then I’ll scowl at them daring them to probe deeper until they usually pretend they see someone at the other side of the party and–to my relief– wander off. Really I’m lousy at it.
Second of all, I wish I was one of those people who didn’t care what anyone thought of my body because I believed beauty comes from within, but I’m much more realistic. The guy with washboard abs wins those party every time. I’ve even tried to to present myself as a sexy chubby bear-type but it only seems upset people and make them sad and depressed
So instead, I came up with a list:
HOW TO GET CONNECTED TO A COMMUNITY
Saul and I volunteered at a soup kitchen in NYC and made wonderful friends with people who we never would have come in contact with in our everyday lives. I am much better getting to know people when we have a common task.
“That would be a good way to get connected here,” Saul suggested.
I thought for a moment. “I’ve always wanted to get involved in hospice,” I said.
Saul was a little doubtful. “I’m not sure that’s the best way develop long-term friendships.”
He may have a point, but I was inspired to do something like this years ago by Princess Diana. I was transfixed by her when she would visit people in hospital rooms. She was so kind and you could tell she really saw people and she listened to them. I thought to myself if I can do that for someone in need then I will have done something good in my lifetime. And besides, if the connections I make aren’t long-term…they are still connections. How could I not feel a deeper sense of belonging to this world?
Hopefully I will be able to keep from scowling at people in my care if they ask me what I do for a living.
EVERYONE seems to play pickleball out here. I had never heard of it until I came to Palm Springs, but since we arrived all I hear is PICKLEBALL, PICKLEBALL, PICKLEBALL. PICKLEBALL this and PICKLEBALL that.
My curiosity is peaked.
And it seems to involve physical exertion so maybe I could develop some late-in-life washboard abs.
I have other things on the Connectivity List…Take Yoga Classes, Learn Square Dancing, Join a Cult (one that is not too weird or makes me have a lot of kids), but I’ve decided to start with these two things and see how they go.
In the last few weeks, Saul and I have taken two Pickleball lessons, and I sat for a two hour interview to be a hospice volunteer.
Hospice and Pickleball is a strange combination, and they may both end up being false starts– but even taking these small actions has made me feel like part of the world again.
About the Author: Keith Hoffman is a PICKLEBALL player who finds his inspiration in long walks in the desert, PICKLEBALL and drag queens. He plays PICKLEBALL.