Do Something That Scares You
I'm ready to be thrilled, again.
Welcome to my substack #13. Soundtrack to this post: Dopamine playlist
1. I think, possibly, my therapist is trying to quit me. I think, possibly, she might be right. Gone are the health issues, the estrangement issues, the grief issues – these issues are never gone-gone, of course, but I can’t seem to find it necessary to talk about anymore. The urgency and fear with fighting to survive were gone, or maybe numb. Or more likely, normalized. All I can seem to find to talk with her is feeling untethered to linear time. That in my ability to house myself, and feed myself, and survive myself, that in this cocoon of safety in the middle of a global pandemic, that all time had disappeared. I think, possibly, this might be more of an issue to converse with a philosopher or an imam. Or an expert on time. But for now, I think, I am safe enough to have nothing substantial for my therapist. Which, I guess, is a good thing.
2. When Dad texted late at night, “Sad the war started,” I immediately wondered what news channel he was watching. Why was this of all conflict phrased as “war” and which news outlet was telling him that this war was the one to have feelings for. I had somehow missed the start of World War 3. I went on twitter to see that some nation was being invaded by another and I had a hard time understanding why THIS land capture was more war-panic-worthy than those of Palestine, or Yemen, or Syria. Why does the potential killing of Ukrainians matter more than that of the Uyghers. Why are these people the uncivilized but Ukranians the civil? If Russia was really the enemy, then why wasn’t Trump arrested for being Putin’s puppet president? Almost a million people dead from coronavirus in the U.S. and two years in an isolated pandemic. Exactly two years ago to the day, I got a call from my OBGYN that I had cervical cancer. Eleven years ago, my mother died abruptly. I have lost all ability to comprehend the spectrum of fears. Everything so scary that I had nothing left to empathize with.
3. I told my therapist that my life was tepid – there was nothing exciting, even though there was nothing frightening. I had worked so hard to make an environment for myself that felt safe and stable – that it all felt like platitude. Neutral, bland, beige. The risks you need to take in life to let dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin in were no longer there. My fight or flight had been managed, but what was left in the murky liminal space between surviving and thriving?
4. This all is best explained by telling you my astrologic sign is the Cancer, the crab. We are emotional, creative, and passionate. We are also homebodies with hard shells. Nesting is what we do. My shell had grown thick.
5. I told my therapist I wanted to do something scary this year. Not life-threatening scary, I’ve had enough of that. But thrilling scary. Endorphins and serotonin scary. It had been so long since I’d touched another human in this pandemic, much less that 20 second hug with the oxytocin rush of reset. I am safe-fine, but I wasn’t thrilled-fine. She told me I should do something about it, then.
6. I would like to think I was always a risk taker, a thrill seeker. But my parents used to tease me and called me a scaredy-cat when I was a kid. Looking back on that, it didn’t seem fair. They never put me in sports or made me do anything physical for fear I would get hurt. They never let me go to sleepovers. I had to come in when the sun went down. I wasn’t allowed to do a lot of things – for being a girl, being a brown, being not American. As a kid, I was most scared of making new friend every time my dad’s new job would land us in a new city and I would have to start all over again. At the playground or at dawats, my parents would grab my hand at drag me to the closest kid and demand that I “Make friendship.” I was scared of being home alone at night when the sky was dark. I was scared of making my parents mad.
7. There was always that one friend that convinced you do all the thrill seeking things you would never do otherwise. For me that was my high school turned college friend Ruth. She’d keep a wrench under her car seat, and after the parties and punk shows, we’d drive around back alleys off Rodeo Drive and steal signs – never the signs that would cause accidents, just confusion. We knew all the lines to Lil Kim’s Don’t Want Dick Tonight and would often sing it loudly at inopportune times. We’d kiss strange men in Vegas casinos after playing all of the Ms. PacMan machines on the strip. We played ping pong in garages of boys we had crushes in strange cities. I’m pretty sure we crowd-surfed together. I’m pretty sure we went to our first strip club together. When I moved to D.C. after college to work in politics, she flew out to visit, and we took an epic road trip to Durham to see Weezer perform. It was on that trip that I met the guy who would become my boyfriend at a bar called Hell. She got married in her twenties and had two kids – I haven’t seen her in over a decade.
8. Do you remember when scary was thrilling? Going on upside down roller coasters at Six Flags or fighting zombies in a maze at Knott’s Scary Farm because a hot guy was in front of you in line. Sleeping in cars on spontaneous road trip because all the hotels were booked – only to wake up to a cop knocking on your window at 6am. Kissing strangers in clubs and then giving them a fake number. Sex on a public beach where, maybe, nobody could see you. Skinny dipping in daylight where, maybe, no one could see you. The fear of being caught, in public, indecent. The sheer recklessness and freedom of being in your twenties.
9. Moshpits were the most thrilling because it seemed like you were going to get crushed to oblivion by the mohawked spike wearing punk, but actually, if you tapped him on the shoulder nicely, he would be the first one to lift you up and careen you into the mass to crowd surf and get some serious air to only be caught my an ocean of hands. The thrill of being so small you would fly over the crowd at punk shows and land without a scratch. All my teen angst came out in the pit, the first place I was able to express my uncontrollable rage at the world. Elbows up to your chest, counter clockwise in the pit, take up obnoxious space around the obnoxious mean girls. Nothing quite as thrilling as body slamming a mean girl at the punk show. Still is.
10. The key to a good scary thrill is to feel like your life is at stake though you know the chances are slim that you will die. At most injured. At most, you might give someone a bruise, but never bleed.
11. What is there to be reckless about anymore? If you leave the house without a paper mask, you might die and kill all the people around you.
12. Why is it that as you get older scary-thrilling just turns into scary-boring?
13. I can’t remember the last time I was scared to the point of thrilled. This is different than the last time happy or joyful, which are plentiful.
14. Falling in love is thrilling, but dating in your 40s on apps in a pandemic is very boring. It used to be that you would lock eyes across dance floors or vinyl racks or at bookstore and those sparks were enough to fuel first date excitements and the risk of a first kiss. It used to be your heart would race in anticipation and your skin would tingle at a slight brush. But of course dating on apps with men like Tinder Swindler and Dirty John and guys that are White Bread boring only interested in “Nothing Serious” or married men looking for fun. I miss the thrill of a crush, a flirt, the anticipation before the first kiss. It was scary, but it was worth it.
15. My first skateboard was a 21st birthday present from my college crew. It was a Sector 9 pintail with red hibiscus flowers on the bottom that I named Loverboy. I was stunned, because I had never ridden a skateboard before. But my friends bought it for me because they said, it fit my aesthetic. I looked like I was made to ride a skateboard. So at the ripe age of 21 years old, I taught myself to ride and it was frightening. I was so scared of falling and breaking a bone I would just jump off and chase to grab my board. I could not figure out how to stop my board while standing on it, though I tried. I was jealous of all the kids that learned these skills while their bones were still cartilage and that my core muscles had no memory of working. When I lived in D.C., I would walk around with Loverboy as my transportation – and would only ride him when I knew confidently there was no one in front of me to run into. Learning to skateboard and riding it across the country was easily one of my most favorite scary-thrilling experiences of my life.
16. I think most recently the most thrilling thing of my life was zip-lining in Costa Rica. It was something I never would have chosen to do myself, but my sister was an adamant. She always wanted to be “doing something” when on vacation. We ended up zip-lining with a group of 20 French teenagers on a school trip – all skinny and speeding down the ropes. We went down multiple lines of the course – each one making the heart race, each one inciting a scream. My sister’s fear grew with each ride – she wanted to quit halfway down. Me on the other hand, I’d probably do it again. The most thrilling part of that trip though is when Google Maps took us through a “short-cut” on single lane steep roads in the rain across the mountainside. We really thought we were lost and thrilled when we made it on the other side.
17. Two weeks after making this resolution, Jenny invited me to join her for a mountain trip. I had never been on any snowy adventures – my parents never could afford it. It was White people hobbies. I bought snow-pants, special snow gloves and $15 socks that go up your shins. I bought the pass with the two hour lesson. I had never spent so much money on a hobby in my life. My instructor was confident that with my skateboarding expertise I’d be flying down the hill in 30 minutes. He held both hands as body refused to learn how to stop. My thighs were not having it and I careened into the snowbank willingly. My instructor was ever so patient and showed me videos on his phone of his toddlers snowboarding down the mountain. I failed, epically. I failed so epically that I had to go to my chiropractor later that week. But it was scary, and thrilling and I tried.
18. I write this post from Pismo Beach, a place I first came to with my friend Ruth on a super late drive. We walked on the moonlit beach at extreme low tide and I was thrilled by the expanse of it all. Exactly 2 years ago, after I lost my job and ended our podcast, I also planned a week in Pismo Beach – it was on that drive up that the OBGYN called to say there were cancer cells on my cervix. I pulled over at an In-N-Out parking lot and researched oncologists on my phone. I was so scared on that trip, trying to self soothe myself by the sound of the waves. I’m back, again, to the same hotel, same dates. I wanted to make new muscle memories, to celebrate being alive and cancer free. I was so scared, the past two years of the pandemic was all about being safe – I’m ready to take a risk and be thrilled again.
19. In the sweep of clouds coming out of the ocean, I swear I saw an angel. It was thrilling.