Three years ago, I sat at a table with a successful, smart, genuine woman at the BlogHer conference. I met many amazing women that weekend but this one said something to me that I’ve held close ever since. Her blog was huge, she was traveling the world sharing her message, and she had a book deal with a major publishing house. She was doing things I never even dared imagine doing. I was still hoping to someday get paid to write (which for the record, I did for the first time, just a month later).
She said, “If something makes me feel scared, that’s how I know I should probably do it.” I’ve been trying my best to embrace the scary ever since.
Which is how, on a random Sunday night, I ended up on stage in front of 200 strangers, under hot lights, with a microphone in my hand, and some words in my head, telling the story of how my attempt to act like the grown-ass 27-year-old woman I was, ended with me crying buckets of tears in the ladies room at work.
Dan and I attended Truth Be Told, Boulder’s bi-monthly story slam, an event where audience members may put their name in a hat (of note, it was an actual hat) for a chance to take the stage and tell a five-minute, true story, without any notes. Afterward, the audience would vote on their favorite.
When we bought tickets, there were two weeks until the slam. Coming up with a story could wait until I’d resolved the pressing issue of finding a sitter.
With one week left, I made a mental note to stop procrastinating. I successfully ignored the mental note for three days. Four days out, I was confident I could repurpose a blog post for my story. But nothing came to mind and I didn’t feel like sifting through the archives. Three days out, an idea I’d never used as blog fodder came to me. All I had to do was write it down and practice a few times. I had plenty of time. Or so I thought.
After you subtract the hours you spend doing necessary life activities —sleeping, eating, bickering with your spouse about stupid shit, asking your kids for the bazillionth time to find their other shoe, picking up the rogue doll shoes waiting to poke sharp holes in your feet, venting about the stress of your life on the phone with your sister, hugging your husband and apologizing for haranguing him about the pile of papers on the credenza, doing laundry, exercising, showering, and reading one more chapter of The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo— two days leaves you exactly four free minutes in which to contemplate the Very Important Matter of Your Entertaining Story Slam Story.
With 48 hours to go, I discovered “just writing it out” was a horrible plan. There was no “just” about it. Like every time I write, demons possessed my fingertips, keeping them turning the genius ideas in my brain into the perfect, beautiful words they were supposed to become. I forced myself to vomit whatever shitty words I could come up with onto the screen and clean it up later.
But dealing with it later became less realistic with every passing hour. (See stresses and time-sucking necessities of my life, above). My first draft was boring, rambling, and well over the five-minute mark. I locked myself in our bedroom, whittled it down and tried it on Dan. We had to stop the timer a few times to field requests for snacks, incident reports regarding serious matters such as “she hit me on purpose!” and “I had it first!”, but eventually I got to the end.
Dan said it had the elements of a good story but needed work; polishing, more details, and more tension.
I hid in our bedroom, set my stopwatch and tried again. I wrapped it up as the clock turned from 4:59 to 5:00. It was within the time limit and not horrible. I made Dan listen again.
“I need more details. More context. Like, why should I care about this?”
Details and context were parts of my story I’d included in the original version and deleted. I cut some pieces out to make room for the discarded nuggets, added them back in, and tried again.
I liked it.
I asked Dan if I could try it again. Dan is many things, but a multi-tasker he is not. At this moment, Lady Bug bounced on his lap while Sweet Pea interrupted us every five seconds to offer insights into her imaginary world. Now I’m pretending my baby is sick and I’m taking her to the doctor. Now I’m pretending I have twin babies. Now lets pretend me and Lady Bug are twins. He made a face like “Are you crazy?”
Once we were alone in the car en route to the show, he was captive. I practiced once more. Dan said it was really good. With twenty minutes until show time, my story was presentable. And with precisely twenty minutes until show time, the idea of putting my name in the hat made me want to puke.
As we handed the ticket taker our tickets, Dan gently shoved me over to the table in the lobby, where I filled out a white slip of paper with my name, my story’s name, and a “fun factoid” about me, and placed it in the hat. Dan has been gently shoving me toward stuff I’m scared of but should definitely do since 2008, starting with learning Excel so I wouldn’t run out of money (again). I’m used to it.
As we took our seats, I officially hoped they would not choose my name.
The 250-seat theater was nearly full. The first storyteller was hilarious. The second was ok. The third was a riot. The fourth blew my mind. The fifth broke my heart. The sixth was me.
As they called my name, Dan gave my hand a squeeze. I whispered, “I’m scared.” Then I stood up and scooted awkwardly across half my row to the aisle and walked down to the stage. I took the microphone and told my story, The Day I Acted Like a Grown-up at Work.
I began just as I’d practiced.
“It was 2007 and I was working as an occupational therapist at the shittiest hospital in the world.”
I kept talking. I kept breathing. I kept my voice from wavering. I paused when the audience laughed. (They laughed!!). At the end, they clapped. I went back to my seat. At intermission, strangers came up to me just to say they liked my story. At the end, we voted. I voted for myself. Dan did, too. Maybe no one else did. I will never know. I don’t care.
One of the luxuries of being an adult is, to a great extent, you get to control your environment. You can make your environment as comfortable as you want. Which is awesome if you’re talking about creating a tranquil bedroom motif based on the mood board you’ve been Pinterest-ing for six months. But when it comes to actual life… it doesn’t work that way. As far as I’m concerned, comfortable is boring. I don’t want to stop learning and changing and growing just because I’m a grown-up and no one is forcing me into scary situations anymore. I’m not on this earth to lie on a couch with a fleece blanket and a Real World marathon (although that would be nice once in a while). I’m here to stretch myself, to explore my limits, to learn about myself, to explore the unknown and the uncomfortable, to feel the exhilaration of turning “I can’t” into “I did.”
I’m here to try and embrace the experiences that scare me.