It may seem weird to say that since I spend lots of my time talking in front of people-- even TEENAGE people-- with no trepidation. But that is because I am solely talking about subjects that I know very very well-- reading and writing and learning new ideas-- all that is as easy and reflexive as breathing in an out.
And in years past I've spent quite a lot of time up on stage, performing. Singing and playing instruments, performing in plays and musicals-- I had no fear of stepping out into the spotlight. It wasnt uncomfortable to be at the center of attention.
But because some things-- some fairly big, loud, obvious things-- come easily to me-- people around me-- my audience of peers-- can read me as Brave. Secure. Confident. A comment I hear, when friends stand next to me and peer down at the top of my head, is, "you are shorter than you seem."
I'm never quite sure what to make of that comment. I think it is code for, "you take up a lot of space in a room."
But the truth is, I'm a coward. My familiar firm ground is so hard packed beneath my feet that I don't dare put a toe into the murkier waters of things I can't do instinctively.
This is partly a natural byproduct of the ossification of aging. I'm a dinosaur at 33-- I know what I like, I know what I can do, and I know my strengths. And I have no reason in the world to go anywhere near my weaknesses or blind spots.
But that sounds a lot like being dead. Or like being alive only in a hall of mirrors-- where I grow fatter and fatter on my comfortable competence and fill up more and more space with only images of myself-- concave and convex iterations of sameness. I am boring myself with my safe little world of only-doing-what I'm good at.
I don't want that-- I want to feel more alive than that. I don't want to make all of my decision outof prudence or habit or fear.
I am sitting on the ground. My sweatshirt is a little damp between me and the stones. My pony tail is leaving a cold damp spot below my shoulder blades. And I am shivering-- either from nerves or from the ice cold smack of river water. My arms and legs are pricked with goosebumps and red as if I ahave been slapped over and over, up and down my body. I'm all by myself, which is a singular event. I left my friends behind at their picnic-- the kids' laughing and shouting interspersed with the plunk of java plums plopping into the water, flicking up little splash tails as if fat little fish are leaping suddenly. Concentric rings mark the pivot of entry for a moment.
A yellow-bodied dragonfly is skimming across the water, dicing down and swatting the surface with its tail.
I came out here with my new-found call to adventure prodding me on. When the others shooed me away with assurances that they'd look after my kids, I intentionally decided to Find Someolace New.
I want to be addicted to unfamiliarity.
I crossed gates. I went around ramshackle barbed wired fence posts with hand painted No Tresspassing signs. I am invited here, near a friend's house, but still-- the chill of not honoring a barrier? A tiny thrill.
I passed a garden of green onions carved into a riverbank, and a stand of cacao trees, with the shiny red-brown pods slung across the truck of the tree like grenades on a bandelo. Then the path dropped off at a rock wall over a culvert. I jumped across the water and followed the ditch. I could hear the river sound getting louder, the rocks chuckling against each over in a small falls. Across a wide low platform of rocks and tall died grass, and then a wide spot in a river.
I was quite alone, but I still stood there frozen. Do i dare? Am I really willing to push myself to newer braver experiences? Am I able to hush that voice that tells me to be comfortable, be reasonable, to be safe? But what if I am found out?
I counted to ten for myself, and then, feeling panicked, stripped off all of my clothes and waded quickly out into the river. I was laughing and my teeth were chattering immediately-- shivery and giddy inside and out. I ducked under the water and the cold forced the air out of me. I came up gasping and grinning like a mad thing. The mud on the bottom of the river sucked at my sandals and I circles my toes hard into them to keep them from sinking down or floating away. The water is deep-- I stood on the edge of the drop off and balanced-- not secure enough in my swimming to risk going in over my head.