Dangling Woman

Risk and adventure. Stretching boundaries. Exploring new terrain.

Every day, I find myself thinking about how to move beyond. Some days, this has a self-critical feel, a sense of being stuck and trying to get unstuck. Some days, I’m full of energy and enthusiasm for novelty.

And some days, I ask myself, “Am I taking care of myself or running away? Running into or running out of?”

I tell myself a story: ten years ago, one pathway I was following closed due to a catastrophic collapse of intentions, and I “went back” to work in a place where I was embraced and celebrated.

Suddenly, I was ready to try new things. I stood on stage in front of friends, family, and strangers and stripped to my underwear. I talked about sex in public — I mean, in public, I talked about sex; my sex in public past is private.

But that story is only partly right, like so many of the stories that I create to contain the world in a safe and familiar way.

Here’s a different story: I left home at 18 to live crammed in a tower full of 18-year-olds to study in a big, strange, beautiful city. I tried new things: social dance class (quit), intramural volleyball (women’s, which was great, and mixed, which was less), a wild goose chase with a guy in the same hamburger line.

Pearl, Pearl, Experimental Girl

And I experimented with sex and love. I tasted and tested and tried things out, made guesses about who would make a good companion and who would make a good fuck. I was wrong more than I was right, but I was never wrong to try.

Then I chose him. Until that point, I had been the one chosen, chased, wooed, enticed. This one, I chose to talk to endlessly in the middle of campus, circling each other like two magnets. We did that dance over and over, around the perimeter of a coffee shop, in and out of the computer lab, up on top of the computer lab building. Rooftops! Nothing more romantic than a new perspective.

He called me Experimental Girl, and though that was more than 25 years ago, it was only last night that I thought to ask, Was I the experimenter, in his mind, or the experiment?

The answer? Both/and. For him, I was an experiment in following a powerful woman’s desire, an experiment that ended because he couldn’t let himself be led. For me, I was the experimenter, testing the field for opportunity, trying out my dominating, heartbreaking, flame-for-the-moths personality.

I’m not much on the scientific method, so no matter what my experiments, I rarely start out with a hypothesis. Mostly, I start out by wondering. What if I said yes? What if I was the one to ask? What if I invited others into my circle, my project, my life?

These “what ifs” have guided my experimentation overtly over the last few years and probably well before then.  Here are some of the recent ones:

  • What if I auditioned for a play in front of people who don’t know me?
  • What if I stayed up all night making a movie?
  • What if I raised my hand at a meeting and walked away with a directing job?
  • What if I volunteered to rescue a dying theater company? What if it was allowed to die rather than live in my hands?
  • What if I stopped teaching so I could focus on freelance writing?
  • What if I joined a networking group?
  • What if I took an online business course?
  • What if I had business cards printed before I had a website? What if I launched a blog on the way to a conference?
  • What if I picked up heavy iron weights and started swinging them?

Inspired by Fear

I was listening to an interview between Aisha Tyler and Dean Winters, an actor who appeared in HBO’s series “Oz,” among many other places. Winters said that Tom Fontana, the series creator, would meet with every cast member annually to ask where they had never gone before that they wanted to go, what risks they wanted to take.

Hearing this, I started thinking about what scared me and what challenges I could take on. My first instinct was to do burlesque, so I’ve been telling people I’m going to do a burlesque performance on my 50th birthday.

I’ve plunged in: by announcing my intention, by inviting my friends and family to a venue to be named later, by going out for beer with a burlesque aficionado who hardly had time to drink her beer, she had so much wonderful stuff to tell me about.

I also signed up for an aerial adventure high above the ground at a ropes course. And I said yes to a public-speaking gig.

The biggest risk I took recently was to release myself from an unproductive work situation. That was scarier than swinging off a platform 50 feet above ground, and the landing was safer and easier than I could have imagined.

Today, I’m ready for a new risk, a new adventure, a new scare. It starts here, with a piece of writing.

What risk have you taken lately? How has it paid off? I’d love to read your comments below.