Embarrassment and the urban panopticon

It’s hard to be your witchy self when you’re always being watched.

I live deep in the suburbs, and while I appreciate the convenience of having useful amenities within walking distance, I can never truly relax surrounded by so many people. I struggle to commit fully to trances as even in my own home I could be and have been interrupted.

Some time ago, when walking home late one night I paused to enjoy the quiet and warm darkness.
I sat on the pavement with my back resting on a fence, legs tucked up and out of the way. The street was empty. Walking around the suburbs, I rarely see another human soul outside cars.
A man passing by stopped and asked if I was ok. I said I was fine but declined from further justifying my behavior; thinking him to be a responsible, concerned citizen. I did not wish to either lie or engage in a lengthy explanation.
In the moment that followed I realized it wasn’t compassion for my welfare that stopped him, but scorn. I was breaking a social norm; a cause for moral outrage.
‘It’s very weird. Sitting there in the dark. Very weird.’ I was at a loss for words at his tone and just dumbly agreed with a ‘Yep. Sure is.’
When I refused to engage further, he left in a huff. I wondered if he’d call the police.
It was a tiny microcosmic reflection of how much pushback I receive from society for merely existing. Much of the time I just wish to be invisible, but being an outsider removes my right to privacy and autonomy in the minds of many. The social panopticon of the suburbs leaves me feeling watched, scrutinised and judged. In the city I can sometimes disappear in a crowd, but suburbs are stark, territorial and judgemental; not a hive of blinkered workers but a landscape of tiny anxious kingdoms.

More recently pokemon go motivated me to walk to a place I was only fleetingly familiar with. An old racetrack converted to a park, with a man-made lake and vast lawns. It’s a friendly and engaging spot, raucous with birds. As I walked my thoughts turned to community, my own poverty and the private ownership of land.
Coming up a gentle hill on the return trip, I received a view of the shops I often visit from a different angle-how perspective changes things.

I paused looking at the remains of a dead tree; pondering how much science fiction idealistically divorces man from nature. An extension of the lie of endless, perfect suburbs. The total eradication of the wild, the untamed, in favour of wholly servile machines. Manufactured food and fake wood. It’s deeply troubling and unrealistic. I’ve never seen a farm on Star Trek.

Approaching the tree carefully, I touched it, gentle and loving. It was very tall, straight and old. I listened. It spoke. Dropping into a light trance I saw it was a native hardwood, uppermost branches kissed by the sun and whispering like ocean waves in the wind. It mourned the red-blooded creatures who had sheltered in its branches, who had died when it had been cut down.

The sound of a rustling plastic bag rudely snapped me back. A person had just passed me by, carrying their groceries home.
What they would have seen in me is a strange-looking person hugging a telephone pole.
It took a few minutes of self-talk to convince myself that even if they did see me (it was dark and I was wearing all black) that it doesn’t matter. I should not be embarrassed and ashamed. I have a right to exist, no matter how odd. The dangers of oppression are real but the walls are imaginary.

Nonetheless, snapping out of a trance state involuntarily leaves me jittery, disorientated and even woozy. The feeling that had caused me to shy away from trance work after one too many interruptions.
Like most people with PTSD I have a heightened startle response. The conversation with the tree was over, abrupt and jarring, like the lives of the creatures who had once sheltered in its embrace.

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