Monday, September 28, 2009

Taking Flight

So admittedly, it's been a while. Life somehow seemed to get in the way of a regular post to this blog. Which theoretically means I've been out living my life instead of writing about it, and is a good thing. So let's just go with that. It relates to my topic anyway. My current environment, which I'll get to in a moment, got me thinking about the idea of facing fears. Which may mean owning up to exactly what you are afraid of in the first place, i.e. difficult challenge number one. And then it comes down to determining whether or not that fear is actually holding you back in life. If so, it may well be time to face it, head on.

At the present moment, I'm in London, crashing at the home of generous friend, who happens to be off running around somewhere else in the world. Meaning I'm on my own. This isn't my first trip to London, so I'm starting to feel pretty comfy about the place, but there was a time when it was my first trip, and I didn't yet know the above generous friend. Didn't know anyone in the city, as a matter of fact. About four or five years ago, I took my first solo trip overseas. Flying over on the plane, I was terrified. I've had the great fortune to have a wonderful set of traveling companions in my parents. There have also been a few friends over the years with whom I've had great out of town adventures. It's easy to set off for parts unknown when you've got a partner in crime.

But I was writing a book and the story was set in London, so I needed to do some firsthand research about a city I'd only previously dropped in on for a day or two here or there in my family's travels. And I needed to do it alone. After the death of my sister, there was both a fear of being alone and a strong desire in me to fully understand the limits of my own independence. To know if I could really take care of myself when it came down to it. Which meant facing the fear of being able to travel on my own. So off I went and settled in to my tiny hotel room in a nice part of town. Armed with a map and an unlimited pass to the London Underground, I set out each day with a litany of places to visit, sights to see. And I had a brilliant time.

Sure it was scary at first, and I was careful about my outings at night, but I made friends and found my way around. I enjoyed it so much, I've been back several times and now the city is familiar and friendly. And of course, I still love to travel with others and have had some great trips this past year with my favorite partner in crime, screaming children on flights to Portland aside. And yes, even London is better when you have friends, family, loved ones to share it with. But it's also better knowing that I'm sharing the experience because I want to and not because I'm too afraid to go it alone.

There's a bit of a rush involved with facing that which scares the living daylights out of you. I'll warn you, it can be addicting. And might drive you to some interesting new hobbies. Case in point - I have a fear, not so much of heights, but really more of falling. I descend staircases with a death grip on the handrail, though I am neither old or infirm. I am simply terrified I will lose my footing and tumble to my demise. I cannot stand on a fire escape. I don't like high balconies with low railings. You get the point. After my trip to London, I might have been turning into a fear facing junkie, but I still had my limits. I was not, nor am I ever, planning to jump out of a perfectly good airplane to face that particular issue. And let me just say that I think that is completely okay. Facing your fears is not about how extreme you can be, it's about what you get out of the experience, and how that applies to the bigger picture.

So I took up aerial silks. Yes, the kind you see in Cirque du Soleil, though let me please note that I am not, nor will I ever be as graceful as those talented artists. You will also probably never catch me in a shiny unitard. I approached my first climb up the impossibly flimsy looking fabric with sweaty palms and a racing heart. I'm not kidding. My incredibly kind teacher took his time showing me the proper way to climb and was patient when my first attempt took me only halfway up the fabric, not from lack of strength but purely from a desire to not go so far away from the floor.

Over the eight or nine months I've been in the classes, I've climbed my way to the top a zillion times and learned to hang upside down by my ankles and twist the fabric around me so that I can drop through it and still safely end up hanging above the ground. I don't so much fly through the air as I do dangle, albeit as elegantly as I possibly can. I definitely do not have a future as a circus performer, but I've learned to trust that my own strength and skill will keep me from falling. I'll be honest and say that I'm pretty sure I haven't conquered that fear and I'm still not about to strap on a parachute and find out. But I have learned that I can work with it and that it doesn't have to impede me from doing the things I really want to do. Which is a pretty good metaphor for other parts of my life.

Which brings me to the point of writing this blog. I'm literally facing a fear as my fingers fly across the keys of my laptop, and I'll have a minor moment of panic when I push the publish button. Wondering if anyone will read what I wrote and if they'll like it or hate it. I'm a writer with a fear, not of writing, but of having it read. Oh, not my school essays, or business writing - I've always been confident about my ability to tackle a specific topic and wax poetic on it. I'm less confident about my fiction standing up to public scrutiny, and the personal musings of my possibly addled brain? Those are the ones that really make me nervous. But I'm a writer with lofty hopes of becoming an author one day. Which means I can't be afraid to let people read what I write. That's not true. I can be afraid. I just can't let it stop me.

And I think that's the point, really. It's okay to have fears. In fact, it's pretty darn normal. And some of them are good to keep in your back pocket - they keep you alert, they keep you honest and sometimes they keep you safe. But if it's a fear that's ultimately holding you up in life in some way, whether you're afraid to love, or to begin or walk away from a career, or to try new types of food, or whatever it is for you, be it monumental or seemingly insignificant, I say dive in. Face it, embrace it. You might not get over it, but you just might get through it and you'll probably learn something about yourself when you get to the other side. Maybe it'll even be something good enough to make you go back for seconds.