Sunday, March 20, 2011

Laugh, Don't Scream

Okay, so when I meant “soon” I meant “a week later.” So what. I claim Birthday Excuse, I get to use it once a year, right?

I’ve been panicking that we’re three months into 2011, and I have no major adventures to my credit. For example, by this time last year, I had battled a plagiarist, encountered Snoopyologists, and worked as a stand-in for an awards show. There’s plenty of writing stuff swirling behind the scene that I can’t talk about right now, lest I jinx everything, but regardless, stuff needs to start happening.

So it seemed perfectly logical that I should take trapeze lessons as a birthday present to me this year.

Though I was willing to do this alone, my friend Beatrice immediately said she was in (and confided that she had wanted to do something like this for awhile, but wanted to have someone to do it with her. Our circle of friends appear to be huge chickens when it comes to heights.) Since one of my favorite adventures from last year involved Beatrice and zero gravity , I knew she would be the perfect partner for this.

So off we went to Hollywood Aerial Arts. It’s pretty unassuming from the outside, and inside you can take lessons on things like the Spanish web, tissue, hoops, standing trapeze…

But we want the SWINGING trapeze. Hell YEAH, we do! And that’s in the back. It’s thirty feet up in the air. We’ve got three instructors, a class size of about 6 people, three newbies, three regulars. And it really doesn’t matter what your skill level is, the newbies learn things from the regulars, and the regulars learn things from the newbies.

We have a really happy guy as our main instructor. He rivals Dr. Chuckles, my dentist, as the Happiest Professional I’ve ever come across, so let’s call him the Flyin’ Optimist. He’s on the ground, calling the shots, and holding our safety ropes connected to the harness around our waist. Up on the ledge thirty feet in the air to help us grab onto the trapeze are two really laid back guys, Zen Guy 1 and Zen Guy 2. They do this all day, every day, and they are far from bored, they just greet every terrified girl that scales the ladder with a blissed out, “Heeeeeeeeey. You’ll be fine.”

It is true, that I have been on the trapeze before. First time, I was 14 or 15, and on a family vacation to one of those Club Meds in the Caribbean, and they featured a lot of circus activities, including a show at the end of the week featuring the staff, and guests, and I was part of a standing (not swinging) trapeze act that worked WITHOUT AN F’ING NET and to this day I can’t believe some of the tricks I did WITHOUT AN F’ING NET AND WITHOUT AN F’ING HARNESS! I’m pretty sure Mom and Dad have blocked the whole thing out, but we have photographic proof, people. Sadly, no video.

It is also true that I was a gymnast for my high school years. Because of my family’s notorious history of physical inflexibility, I was not a great one, but I was renown for my lack of fear. No, I cannot do the splits, but tell me to do a roundoff back handspring off the balance beam, and I’ll TOTALLY do it. Regardless if I land slightly on my head (which happened once) or not.

And yeah, I took a circus class at college, and can do a Spanish web routine with no problem (and that was without a harness too, WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH ME?), but the point is I am not a ringer. I simply have no fear. There is a difference.

And maybe that’s why I settled on this as my adventure. I wanted to put myself in situations where fear was a totally reasonable option, stare it down, and kick it in the ass. Flyin’ Optimist said that’s why a lot of people take these classes. It’s less about the physical ability, than about challenging your mental fears. To literally leap off a ledge thirty feet in the air, holding on to nothing but a trapeze bar. And then maybe do some tricks on top of it.

Flyin’ Optimist gives us about maybe five minutes of instruction before sending us up the ladder to the ledge, “I can talk your ear off about physics, and pendulum swings, but nothing is going to be as helpful as just getting up there and doing it!” Flyin’ Optimist like to talk in sentences that end in exclamation points. He really is a happy happy guy, and even though he met you only five minutes ago, he is convinced you can get up that ladder, swing out on the trapeze, and then do a back flip, and by the middle of class, hook your legs back onto the trapeze, and even do a catch by the end of the class. He is convinced that you can do this, because by mere virtue of the fact that you’re here proves that you want to TRY. Which puts you heads and shoulders about the rest of the population that maybe thought about it, but never went through the motions of signing up for it.

And this is why he’s a really happy guy. “I love my job!” he says. Because he loves meeting people that want to TRY. He loves coaching people who want to overcome their fears and are actively working toward it. And when he puts it like that, you really do think that he has a great job. There aren’t a lot of whiners here, just people who wanna stare fear in the face and fight it.

And you wanna prove that his enthusiasm in your as yet untested ability is warranted.

Climbing the ladder was maybe the second most uncomfortable part. Especially since the safety ropes weren’t connected to your harness yet. They had the utmost faith that you could scale a ladder thirty feet into the air without falling off. You’re carrying your safety ropes over your arm and when you get to the ledge, Zen Guy 1 would attach them to your safety belt around your waist, and pull the trapeze to you to grab with one hand, while you’re holding onto the ledge bars with the other hand.

That trapeze bar is heavy. Flyin’ Optimist had told us this ahead of time, but words are not the same as trying to hold a twenty pound bar with one hand. It’s f-ing hard people. (also, from this angle, thirty feet up in the air, EVERYONE'S thighs look fat. It's not just me. Even though that is me in this picture.)

Zen Guy #2 is standing behind you, holding your safety belt so you can lean out far enough without falling to grab the trapeze bar. and when Flyin’ Optimist gives you your verbal cues, “Ready…. Set… Go!” you go.

Ready = mentally prepare yourself to go.

Set = bend your knees to prepare to jump for takeoff.

Go = jump.

What happened to all of us, at least once, was this:

Ready = Yep, yep, I’m gonna swing out on this bar.

Set = I know I’m supposed to bend my knees but…

Go = I don’t wanna.

Here is every girl’s biggest fear, the one they wouldn’t say to Flyin’ Optimist on the ground who wants to know why we’re not swinging in the air after he’s cued us to do so.

It’s a uniquely female fear, and it trumps the whole I’m Too Heavy and My Body Weight Will Drag My Hands Off This Bar, and also the I’m Going To Fly Off, Burst Through The Net And Smack Into A Bloody Puddle On The Pavement.

And the fear is this:

My Butt Is So Big It’s Going To Smack The Ledge As I Jump Off And Wreck My Swing. In Fact, My Big Butt Will Hit The Ledge, I’ll Let Go Of The Trapeze Bar, It Will Smack Me In The Forehead, And I Will Tumble To The Net In Pain And Embarrassment.

EVERY girl thought it. Regardless of butt size. Here's Beatrice swinging off and this is EXACTLY what she's thinking, she told me so afterwards.

It’s totally not true, and if you see video of yourself on the trapeze, you see the laws of physics and geometry of swinging that prove it’s not true, but that was the horrible Fear whispering in every girl’s ear.

Sidebar. I like my laugh. It’s distinctive, it’s nice to listen to, my actor friends always know when I’m in the audience because they recognize my laugh.

So I’m a big fan of my laugh. My screaming, not so much. I have the world’s girlish scream. It’s embarrassing. It’s not throaty, it’s not worldly, it doesn’t build from the bottom of my toes. It starts at the top of my head and suddenly, I’m a fluttering pin-curl girl from the 40s, all skirt rustles and wide eyes and hand clutching the throat. My scream, quite, frankly, is dumb-sounding.

(When I went to visit Agatha, Mr. Agatha and Bug last October, Mr. Agatha and I went on the Incredible Hulk roller coaster. And after we got off, Agatha asked how it went. Mr. Agatha chuckles and says, “Amy was screaming half the time and then laughing the other half.”)

So I do let out a small scream as I jump off the ledge. All the newbies let out some form of verbal terror the first time. But none of our butts hit the ledge, and we’re off on swinging. We work on building momentum by kicking back when cued to, kicking forward when cued to, feeling the momentum of the swing and the natural rhythm that comes from it. My hands instantly flash back to high school gymnastics, oh GAWD! Are we doing this again? Back to the days of forming calluses that rip open, and then your parents chase you around the house with Vitamin E that you never wanted to put on your palms, because it wouldn’t absorb and then you had gooky hands with Vitamin E everywhere... ARE WE GOING BACK TO THOSE DAYS!? SERIOUSLY!?

I discover quite quickly that it’s simply easier to listen to Flyin’ Optimist on the ground and do what he tells you do, rather than hear what he’s telling you, weigh the possible outcomes (death, pain, dismemberment), wonder how what he’s telling you is possibly going to work, and THEN do it.

Nope, nope, just easier to perform when commanded. Easier to trust the Flyin’ Optimst who loves his job and does this all day long. Easier to believe he knows what he’s doing, than to listen to the armada of voices in your head that are more concerned with High School Calluses Days and Your Scream Sounds Dumb And Your Butt is Big.

Feel free to insert your own religious metaphor here. God = Flyin’ Optimist on the ground. Trust God, take the leap into the unknown, God’s got your safety ropes, blah blah blah.

Yep, it’s all there, just waiting for you to pick it up and be all smug about it.

If only God actually called out to me. I have no doubt He’s got my safety ropes. I have no problem trusting Him. You never jump off the ledge until Flyin’ Optimist tells you to. And I’m still waiting for God to call out, to say Hey! You’re gonna do a back flip this time! You’re gonna hook your knees over the bar and then let go with your hands! It’s gonna be awesome! You can totally do it!

But then we run into a roadblock. For the life of me, I cannot pull my legs through and hook them over the bar. It’s baffling. I have the ab power to pull them in, but there’s no room between my torso and the bar to hook them over. I used to do this all the time when I was six. What, when I grew up, my arms grew shorter? Is the safety belt in the way? Is the safety belt and the three layers I’m wearing because it’s kinda cold outside in the way? Dunno. But this is something that my lack of fear cannot help me with. The only thing that’s gonna work is practice practice practice. Beatrice wants to sign up for a package of classes. And I just might do that with her. We’ll see.

Here’s video of me doing the only trick I could master, the back flip into the net. I got pretty good at this one, to the point where I was laughing all the way down. which is better than screaming.

No comments: