Thursday, March 16, 2017

Do Something That Scares You

I am terrified of spiders. Little ones aren't too terrible, but we live tucked into the woods and get all kinds of creepy spiders, including ones in the tarantula family that show up in the garage and occasionally in the basement. Thankfully most of the time I only see them when they are dead because a cat got one, but even dead and curled up they are the size of half dollars at least. Shudder.

A few weeks ago in the English class I co-teach, we were working on 5 minute presentations that the students needed to develop, on any topic. When figuring out thesis statements, I had used the bird-eating spider of the Amazon as an example. So when it was time to give an example of a good versus bad presentation, I offered to do one. On the bird-eating spider. The teacher I work with had one for the classes I'm not in (he teaches five sections and I am in only two), and it had been a tricky week with adoption stuff and migraines, so he said to do it if I had time. 

Well, I tried to put one together but just googling pictures of the damn things had me in tears. Literally in tears, because those things are HIDEOUS. I felt like giant hairy spiders with eyes you can see were crawling all over me. It was terrible. I choked and didn't get past three slides (that I even got to three slides was fairly miraculous, I think). 

Fast forward to last Thursday, when we had no school due to the giant windstorm that devastated our area. It's the busy season for special education, and we had no internet, so I had to go in to Bryce's office at the university where he's getting his doctorate to get anything done. He has a coworker there who, no joke, RAISES SPIDERS. Big ones. Horrific ones. To him, fascinating amazing creatures. To me, a zoo of death. 

He brought in shells of various tarantulas. Shells, you might say? YES. Shells. They molt, like lobsters or crabs. They leave behind hollow simulacrums of their hairy, leggy, multi-eyed selves every so often. That right there made me yark in my mouth a bit. We stopped down on our way out for a walking break, and he said, "You want to see them?" 

Here is where I feel proud, and like I am doing my New Year's Intentions justice. Maybe I'm falling down on the decluttering right now, but I am certainly doing things that scare me. 

I not only said "sure" to seeing horrible hairy shells of spidery doom, but I TOUCHED THEM. I'm not crazy, I didn't hold any of them, because nightmares forever...but I give myself huge points for touching the hairy, sticky legs of giant spiders from Eastern Africa and the Middle East. I touched the hairs one way and then the other (surprisingly soft one way, sticky the other for CLIMBING ON THINGS...), and felt the creepy claws at the end of the legs to help with climbing (bigger on the arboreal tarantula that lives in date palms and is "rather aggressive" according to the spider guy), and felt the sticky pads that were bigger on the arboreal meanie for climbing on trees and such. While it was genuinely interesting, it did not improve my relationship with spiders. Still terrified. 

Another thing that I did that pushed myself in the fear department was audition for Listen To Your Mother, an annual event Mother's Day weekend involving a show where people read pieces about some aspect of motherhood. It's a woven tapestry of pieces with a theme that presents itself to the directors as they hear all the audition pieces, and you just don't know what that thread is going to be. 

I auditioned March 5th, after working my behind off writing a piece. I wrote two, actually, as the first one I had worked and worked and worked and edited and edited and edited (can't be more than 5 minutes) and in the end, didn't like. I had tried to fit too much in. I was not taking all my own advice for students about narrowing my topic and finding a focus. So I rewrote it a week before the audition and then read it aloud to virtually anyone who would listen. I was a reading bully, and I thank every person who listened and timed me and gave feedback. 

The day of the audition my best friend was visiting. She said, "I don't think I've ever SEEN you this nervous!" And she was right. I can talk in front of students all day long. I get more nervous with adults, but I am not afraid to be the person who shares out in awful group activities in faculty meetings or professional development, and I am a participator possibly to the Hermione level. But this was different. I put my story out there in this space all the time, but I don't have to read it out loud. I don't have to perform it, per se. You read it if you like (and I'm always amazed at how many people do read what I write), and I stay in my pajamas or whatever, clicking away over here and not having to see your face when it's read. 

The audition was different. It was baring myself in a way I don't usually. It was opening myself up for rejection (even if that rejection is presented in the most supportive, kind way possible). It was way, way out of my comfort zone. 

But I did it, and I am very proud of my piece. The women who listen and put the show together said lovely things about it afterwards, that it was powerful and an important perspective to share. 

I didn't make it into the show, though. The email letting me know was incredibly kind, and was not (entirely) a form letter as they again noted specific things about my piece. I won't know if it wasn't up to snuff or it just didn't fit the thread, and I sort of don't want to know. 

Because what I want to take from this is how proud I am of myself for stretching myself beyond what's comfortable. For actually writing a piece to audition with and then giving it everything I could in front of those ladies, even if my voice was trembly at times and I was clearly nervous. I did something out of the ordinary for me. And so even though I didn't make it into the show, I feel that this is a first step in taking more risks, in opening myself up to "no" so that maybe I can get some "yes" when it comes to my writing. 

It scares me, not quite as much as giant hairy spiders, but I think it's good to do things that scare you every once in a while. It's good to take a risk in order to possibly have more opportunities. 

Sometimes just taking the risk at all is an accomplishment in itself. 


  1. Omgosh, you just made me squirm and shiver...I freaking HATE spiders, and I have never personally encountered the humongous ones you speak of. I can't believe you even could touch their shells( and seriously, they have shells?!?!) You just, um, go! Lol
    And the performance piece...just WOW. SO incredibly proud of you for writing and sharing your story OUT LOUD. That's amazing you found the strength and courage to do that. I am the worst public speaker...I hate it. I could never stand up in front of people like that. Rock on Jess!!

    1. I don't understand how people keep spiders as pets. PETS! Although after touching the hairy legs it was surprising how soft they are. But still, EW.

      Thank you so much for the pride and encouragement. It was definitely a worthy thing to do if a scary one! I wish I'd made it, but I'll try again next year. And figure out how not to be so trembly. Thanks!

  2. wow good for you for pushing yourself out of your comfort zone! Urgh to the spiders though! Will you post the piece you wrote here?

    1. Thank you! Yeah, Urgh is right on the spiders. Bryce has pictures of the shells but I thought I would spare you. The pictures make me want to cry, too, even though I touched them. :)

      I think so, I want to let it sit just a little bit and then I will share. Toying with Lori's idea of videotaping it and posting it, but that sounds nearly as scary as the show. :)

  3. I'm so proud of you! And sad for me that I won't get to watch the video. Maybe you can put something together anyway and let all your fans hear/see you tell your story.

    Laughing at yarking in your mouth, and you being a reading bully. You truly have a way with words, Jess <3.

    1. Ha, "my fans" -- that sounds so funny to me! I'd have to figure out a way to do it without putting it on youtube. And then you'd have to hear all my flat vowels from moving up to the Great Lakes area after having a perfectly reasonable Westchester NY accent... (a year after I moved my dad said, "what is that sound? Oh NO. That's not an attractive sound. Get RID of it." Oh well. I'll have to think on it, having a video of me out there that's not sanctioned by an event sounds scary! But again, things that scare me... ;-)

      Also, thank you so much for the compliment! "Yark" is Bryce's word and I have stolen it utterly. It's perfect.

      Next year, next year I will audition again... I am grateful for the experience but the competitive side of me is super bummed not to get picked. Although, I said to Bryce, "I'm REALLY good at rejection thanks to all this infertility and adoption stuff." So there's that. Ha!

  4. Yeah, spiders. I once sat through a talk on spider silks (notice the plural) with many up close shots of different types of spiders and how the weave their webs. My graduate advisor sworn I looked like I was going to burrow myself into the seat to escape.

    So on that note, you are my hero. But the fact you are stretching yourself well outside your comfort zone is also inspirational. It's hard to do as we are naturally creatures of comfort. Which makes you a super hero

    1. I would have cried. I mean, spiders are very cool creatures (from a very far distance), and I love seeing the orb spiders in my garden (but again when I have advance notice and am not looking in their many eyes)...but they are also so very cringe-worthy. Web weaving is seriously cool. Their bodies are seriously creepy. I can't get over it. :)

      Thank you so much for your kind words! I am trying to do more pushing of myself, without pushing myself into a nervous breakdown. Hard balance. We'll see how it all plays out in the long run, but I appreciate the encouragement for trying!

  5. I am not hugely fond of spiders, but for me, it's snakes, like Indiana Jones. And why do so many pictures of them keep turning up unexpectedly in my Facebook feed??? :p You are very brave!! (Both with the spiders & with the audition.) I hope you will try again next year... and hopefully by then you will have a somewhat different story to tell! <3

    1. Oh no! See, I love snakes. Even when I see them in the wild, which can be startling but also amazing. Spiders not so much. But, the funny thing is I hate them more inside than outside...outside I'm in their house.

      It would be lovely to have a different story to tell. Thanks for the encouragement!