Sunday, January 14, 2018

Facing Fear: Reprise

I just came across this piece I wrote, just a few months into The 52/52 Project--the journey that would eventually become my book, Finding My Badass Self: A Year of Truths and Dares.

The message was something I made sure to emphasize in my book. But I believe this says it well:

My second voice lesson was scheduled for this evening. Unlike last week’s lesson, which focused on breathing techniques and scales, tonight I would actually have to sing. An entire song or two. By myself. In front of a near stranger.

Early this afternoon I got a call from my instructor. I felt a huge rush of relief when I heard her voice, certain she was calling to cancel. Instead, she said she had another commitment and wondered if I could come just a bit earlier. Rather than postponing or indefinitely cancelling this experience that I so dreaded, I’d be facing it a half-hour sooner. My stomach literally churned.

I relayed this story to a friend in my office.

“You should mention that on your blog and Facebook page,” she said.

I shrugged. “Hmm. OK, maybe.”

“No, I mean it. I think sometimes with your humor and your nonchalant quips, people don’t realize you’re actually afraid of some of these things you are doing.”

Really? Was this possible? In the snippets I've posted online, have I somehow come across far more carefree and courageous than I am? In the name of humor or a poignant story, have I minimized or even omitted the fears and anxiety that have accompanied several of these experiences?

As I’ve mentioned before, The 52/52 Project is about venturing outside my comfort zone. And with that, my friends, has come more than a bit of fear.

Sometimes it’s been manifested in small twinges of trepidation. Other times, I’ve felt a heaving sense of anxiety. Fear takes many forms, depending on its source and the particular situation.

Some of my experiences have entailed the fear of fear. Strange how you can talk yourself into being more afraid by focusing on how horrifying something is likely to be. Case in point: A Brazilian wax.

I’ve been terrified of the resulting repercussions. How could I protect myself on a police raid, if I suddenly found an escaping suspect’s gun aimed at me? As the SWAT team and vice squad stormed the front porch, it hardly seemed far-fetched. My blood pressure has never hiked so high.

I’ve feared failure, especially when an experience has involved my talents or skills—or lack thereof. My belly-dancing class was a hoot, in retrospect. But in the days leading up to the class, and in the midst of stepping right when everyone else was pivoting left, my frustration mounted. The fear of proving inept—and of being judged as inept by someone else—may be the primary factor that holds most of us back from trying anything new. I know it was the underlying reason behind my volatile stomach before tonight’s voice lesson.

Most of all, I’ve been afraid of not being able to follow through. When it finally comes down to it, will I truly be able to stand up on a stage and entertain a hundred people? I’ve gone over this scenario countless times: If my heart palpitations don’t kill me first, surely the stone-faced silence of the audience will. And what of the fear of not seeing this project through to the very end? Of not finishing the book I’m writing? Of not seeing it published?

Yet, with each new experience these past four months, I have grown braver. Just a touch. I shrug things off more easily now. I’ve learned I can endure some things I never before would have dreamed of facing. I doubt anyone ever becomes desensitized to the anxiety of going outside their comfort zone, but each success—and even each failure—has taught me I just might be capable of facing the next.

Any challenge is filled with ups and downs: a full array of emotions. Those include fear. If we never feel afraid in life, we probably haven’t pushed ourselves far enough.

The fear of facing new life experiences, if we're fortunate, is ultimately replaced by a sense of self-satisfaction and joy. And even if we fail, maybe we succeed simply by trying.

I have doubted myself and felt afraid through many steps along this journey..

But I’m afraid I also have never, ever had so much damn fun.

What are you most fearful of? Have you ever talked yourself into being afraid? What was the most frightening experience of your life that turned out far better than you anticipated?

Monday, November 27, 2017

Finding My Badass Self--In All Kinds of Places

Finding "Finding My Badass Self" next to Sedaris never gets old.
It continues to amaze me that Finding My Badass Self, the crazy little book I envisioned primarily as humor, often is not found in a library or bookstore’s humor section at all. It’s frequently shelved under memoir/biography or—surprisingly—under self-help.

In fact, Badass Self is listed tonight on Amazon as the #15 bestseller in “self-help/midlife.” Huh.

I’ll take that ranking, gladly. Why argue with sales?

Sure, several readers and friends have said my journey and words have inspired them to venture outside their own comfort zones. Some have embarked on their own “unbucket lists.” And, three women told me that by realizing the status quo isn’t always what we want or need, they finally found the courage to leave an unhappy relationship.

But many other readers have simply said they enjoyed laughing with me—and often at me. I’m OK with that, too.

When I first started visiting bookstores and libraries that had the book shelved under “self-help,” I wanted to correct that. But maybe a book doesn’t have to be pigeon-holed into one category. Maybe it can cross genres. Perhaps it offers a bit of different things to different people.

Humor or inspiration? Who knows? You tell me.

If you’ve read “Finding My Badass Self,” what made you laugh most? And what inspired or helped you? What category would you shelve the book under, in your personal library?

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A Partridge Family Thanksgiving

In early December 2014, a group of friends and strangers joined me on a bar crawl in Milwaukee—on the Partridge Family Party Bus.

Sure, Keith Partridge and the rest of his television brood didn’t actually accompany us, but they were there in my heart—as they had remained ever since I was nine years old. Because I hadn’t been just a young teenybopper infatuated with David Cassidy. No, our relationship was SO much more.

When the Partridge Family came on the scene, I was first love-struck with the drummer, young Chris, who was closest to my age. But after Jeremy Gelbwaks was unceremoniously dropped after the first season and replaced by a different actor, I turned my attention and fully devoted my heart to David Cassidy.

Oh, David, how you made me swoon! Sure, you were a much older manchild, but you were everything I ever wanted as a fifth-grade girl. You were handsome, and sweet, and you sang to me every Friday night as if you knew me. I was sure, deep down, that you truly did.

Over the next few years, I bought every single Partridge Family album, plastered their posters over my bedroom walls, and joined their fan club. My favorite outfit at the time was a red jumper, just like Tracy Partridge wore in those early episodes. I spent hours in the basement of my family home, banging along on either a tambourine or on my sister’s cheap drum set as my favorite Partridge Family albums played on my cassette tape player.

And along the way, I envisioned my future with David Cassidy, as well as the rest of his fabulous, fabricated TV family.

When I look back on some of the happiest times of my life, they surely would include those preadolescent and carefree days of having David and The Partridge Family seem a part of my own family and my life.

And the music? Maybe it’s simply nostalgia or just maybe the music remains way underrated. All I know is I still appreciate the songs. I’ve kept a few Partridge Family CDs in my car and have listened to them long before I heard David was ill and possibly dying.

Childhood idols die, yet they live on in our hearts, in our memories, and sometimes in our music.

Today, when I listened to “I’ll Meet You Halfway,” I smiled as I remembered David Cassidy. I would have met him halfway, for sure. Hell, I would have traveled miles for the opportunity to tell him how I felt.

Thanks for everything, David.

Even after all these years, I think I love you.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Turn the Page

Over the past few months, I’ve been spending a lot of time in libraries.

I remain in awe of the architecture, particularly in an older structure. I enjoy the helpful attitude and enthusiasm of the librarians—I mean, why wouldn’t they be enthused? They have the best job ever! And then, there’s the books. Oh, the shelves and shelves of books—a free bounty for our browsing and borrowing.

Several months ago, someone asked me about the books and authors who most influenced me as a writer. I named several, with ease: those that awakened the fledgling writer in me as an eight year old girl as well as the fiction writers, memoirists, and humor essayists who still inspire me now.

Yet this also prompted me to recall those books that first made me a reader, too: picture books, paperbacks ordered through my grade school Scholastic flyers, and early chapter books.

I remembered, particularly, a single moment of raw reader excitement. I was six or so, newly able to tackle an early reader independently. On one of my weekly trips with my mother to the library, I checked out a book at the librarian’s suggestion. When we returned the following week, I told the librarian how very, very much I loved it.

She walked with me to the children’s section and pointed to a shelf. Waving her hand, she noted that it was just one of an entire series by the same author. I stared, wide-eyed, at a dozen or so books lined up there, simply waiting for me to take them home and escape into their stories.

It may have been one of the most joyous moments of my life.

For months, I have tried to remember the name of the author or the title of the book series. I knew it was about a family with a last name beginning with B. That’s all I could recall. After all, I had been only six or seven the last time I read one. I searched online, but with little else to go on, it was a futile quest.

Last week, out of nowhere, it suddenly came to me.

I discovered the books were no longer in print, so I ordered a couple from an online used book site.

When they arrived in mail, I picked one up. I brushed my fingers over the pebbly hard cover. I opened it up and paged through. And then, I instinctively sniffed the pages.

Within seconds, the musty book smell returned me to my childhood library, 50 years ago.

When I was little, I believed the library was the most magical place in the world.

Some things never, ever change.

Is there any better smell than that of an old library book? What are your most beloved childhood books?

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Badasslands: You Have to Live It Every Day

Public speaking is among those life experiences that still remains outside my comfort zone.

As an author with a new book, I have to do it anyway. A lot.

Speaking at book events has proven simultaneously exciting and intimidating. Like any challenges in life, I find it becomes easier and more successful the more times I put myself out there. As I mention in my book, the anticipation of what we fear is generally far worse than the reality. So far, speaking at book events has definitely proven that to be true.

And book events are less painful and weigh FAR more on the amazingly fun side when a reader in the audience holds up a sign like this.

Speaking in front of a crowd? A yay or a nay for you?

Friday, September 29, 2017

Seeing the Light(s)

When I first envisioned what would become “Finding My Badass Self,” I mostly hoped it would push my personal boundaries and shake up my life. I never expected it might nudge others to venture outside their own comfort zones or change their life in any way.

As delighted as I am that my story has invoked a few chuckles, I am also pleased it has prompted readers to reconsider aspects of their own life and to open the door when the winds of change—or else a breeze of pure serendipity—comes knocking.

This review isn’t necessarily the highest praise the book has received. (Whodathunk I was so punny? Well, surely when I had a colonoscopy. You need to find some way to laugh at that shit. Oops. Touché.)

But the reviewer’s note about how my journey encouraged her one night to embark on an impromptu and rewarding adventure was incredibly heartwarming to hear. I hope, as she mentions, that she will indeed hold onto the book and open it back up 20-30 years down the road, when she may need a little adventure in her life.

And if an untimely opportunity like heading out to see the Northern Lights ever comes your way? I hope every one of you will follow her lead.

Adventures and fulfilling experiences arrive in all kinds of packages. And you never know exactly what gift you’ll receive—or how unexpectedly gratifying it may prove to be—unless you unwrap it.

When's the last time you did something for the first time--especially when you were inclined NOT to?

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Lights, Camera, Anxiety

I've been a bit occupied with book promotion, and it appears this includes public speaking--and even TV.


But I'm pretty sure I heard somewhere that it's good to go outside your comfort zone...

Like most things, the anticipation has been worse than the reality. And my latest TV appearance at least went better than the time I ended up on 20/20 in a segment called "The Moochers."

You can watch it here.

What happened the last time you faced your fears--or faced a TV camera?

Monday, August 21, 2017

Cowgirl in the Stand

Reason #819 why I don't believe in coincidence:

My book cover for "Finding My Badass Self" was designed in January, with the cowgirl artwork provided through a stock photo my publisher bought the rights to use.

Realizing that the cowgirl figurine was probably an old toy or statue, I set off on a mission to find one. I have been searching the Internet for over six months and have never found anything similar except that photo.

On Saturday, in the midst of my book launch event, an old high school friend posted a picture on Facebook of a toy her husband found at an antique store. She recognized it immediately--but she had no idea I had been looking for one for months.

She brought it to me yesterday.

Nope. No such thing as a coincidence.

What do you believe in? Fate? Karma? Coincidence? Or just dumb luck?