Day 40: Standing out and blending in.
Note: The Rules & Guidelines for the Yes Quest can be found here.
Now that I've established myself as the only gringo in Santiago and have entered into an hourly routine of kicking myself for not ever learning Spanish, I'm forced to change the focus of the Yes Quest from directly saying "yes" to making choices I wouldn't typically make, like buying an faux fur lined turquoise puffy coat that makes me look like a marshmallow peep on acid or a Soviet prostitute, circa 1991. It is winter time here in Santiago, but it's one of those deceptive San Francisco-like winters where it's either 68 degrees and partly sunny, or it's 50 degrees with a 10 degree wind chill.
I've realized, after nearly a year of this sort of travel, that it's far easier to pack the basics in a carry on and buy whatever weather accessories you need, as opposed to packing a year's worth of weather wardrobe in a gigantic suitcase. Of course, that means I'm vastly unprepared to most places when I first arrive, because I'm either walking around in canvas slip-ons when there's snow on the ground or black leggings and a grey sweatshirt when it's 90 degrees outside.
It's that whole monochrome look that pushed me to buy the traffic light colored puffy coat. Over the past year in particular, I've been particularly wary of standing out and outing myself as someone who actually has no idea what she's doing. Coming from Manhattan, there's a built in understanding that everyone you pass on the street is both successful and special enough to live and work in the city, but also unsuccessful and damaged enough to rationalize the grind that justifies $3000/month in rent. It's an island of 1.6 million people who are walking around with impostor syndrome, and the only place in I've found in the world where you can be totally alone while surrounded by people. There's no such thing as standing out in New York City, because there's thousands just like you and thousands of people who are far weirder than you will ever be. So we wear black on black and black, blame it on fashion and not the color of our souls, and go on our merry, delusional way.
Meanwhile, everywhere else on the planet, I've found that my shades of black wardrobe pulls me inward. A smudge of mud on the canvas of a colorful world, the black pushes me to become small and cause as little disruption as possible. Don't take that picture, you'll out yourself as a tourist. Don't share your writing, you'll out yourself as self-involved. Don't try to communicate, you'll out yourself as ignorant. Don't stand out unless the world gives you permission.
Highly irrational? Maybe. And yet, as I stood in a small shop on Merced in downtown Santiago, staring at a rack full of rainbow colored puffy coats, I instinctively grabbed a non threatening dark bluish-purple one that reminded me of a Mr. Sketch smelly marker from the 90s. I put it on, and called to my friend to ask his opinion on the color.
"You're looking a little...monochrome, lately. I like the bluish-green one."
"I was sort of looking at that one," I said, "But it's so...bright."
Thirty thousand chilean pesos later, I walked out in my hard-to-miss jacket, warming with each step as the sun beamed its spotlight directly onto me.