Friday, February 4, 2011

Danger! Change Ahead

by Deborah Sharp

In Frisbee-flat Ft. Lauderdale, the 17th Street Causeway bridge to the ocean soars sixty-some feet above the Intracoastal Waterway. It's south Florida's version of a mountain.

On a recent bicycle trip home from the beach, I watched as my husband sped down the bridge. I brought up the rear, riding my brakes the whole way.

''Slow down,'' I yelled. ''Be careful!''

My voice was lost in the wind as he flew down the concrete span, jumped the curb, and pumped his fist in the air like a 15-year-old in a BMX race. It struck me as a pretty good metaphor for our marriage. A globe-trotting TV reporter, Kerry is the risk taker. A leap-before-looking type. I'm the worrier, cautious and careful. I'm always ready to apply the brakes and end the ride, should any risk appear suddenly in the road ahead.

When I turned 50 ... uhm, a few years ago ... I resolved to break out of my life-long habit of holding back. I decided to do one thing a month that terrified me. Not necessarily bungee-jumping or sky-diving, though I did climb into a small plane for a flying lesson. The challenges I set were more emotionally risky; more threatening to my shy, spotlight-shunning self. Singing karaoke. Performing on stage. Visiting a nude beach, my Lutheran conservatism be damned.

I met these self-imposed goals for six months, a period I dubbed The Half-Year of Living Dangerously. It was liberating to shake up my dull, middle-aged life, though I hated almost all of the challenges as I was doing them. It only felt good once they were done. Well, except for the nude beach. After that, I picked prickly grains of sand for days from crevices I didn't even realize I had.

Anyhow it's been ... uhm, a few years ... since I've done anything similarly risky. I'm back into a rut so deep I'm just barely peeking out over the edges. Meanwhile, a mystery writer friend in south Florida just announced she's chucking her college-teaching job, taking off alone on a small sailboat, and plans to write from the world's exotic ports-of-call. Risky. Scary, especially without the cushion of a spouse with health insurance and a good-paying job.

I look at some of my fellow authors at Midnight Ink and elsewhere, trying all sorts of new endeavors: writing second, even third series; doing stand-alone books in completely different genres; ending successful runs with well-loved characters to move on to new writing challenges. They're not riding their brakes. They're not coloring inside the lines. They're not afraid of getting too close to the edge and plummeting over.

So, enough. I'm not sure how I'm going to do it, but I'm going to shake things up. Maybe it'll be the writing. Maybe I'll try to do a comedy routine on stage. Maybe I'll travel someplace where I don't know the language or another soul and spend a week on my own.

How about you? Are you a leaper or a brake-rider? Any risks you'd like to take, but haven't?


Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

If you haven't noticed, I'm a risk taker. When faced with a new challenge, I leap off the edge of the cliff screaming yippie yi yo ki yay. After, when faced with the consequences of my actions, I'm an obsessive worry wart - "Crap, now what am I gonna do?" I think, Deb, you and I should get together and find a middle ground we can both inhabit.

Alan Orloff said...

You went on the Today Show. more than once. That's pretty bold! Me, I'm not a risk taker. I put the "fuddy" in "fuddy-duddy."

Lois Winston said...

I was more a risk taker before I became a mother. I hitchhiked up the PA turnpike, backpacked through Europe, and did all sorts of things that now when I look back on them, it's a wonder I survived. (Hey, let's take that shortcut across the train bridge. There are never any trains on that thing. Right!) Motherhood definitely puts the worry wart in even the biggest risk taker, and once it's there, it never leaves.

G.M. Malliet said...

And I put the "duddy" in "fuddy-duddy."

Beth Groundwater said...

Like Alan said, Deb, I think your Today Show appearances were pretty darn gutsy. Often what seems ordinary to us seems risky to others. I fly all the time, but for my mother, it's a heart-thudding ordeal. And skiing and whitewater rafting are routine undertakings for me, while others view them as risky. And, I think just writing a book and putting it out there for agents and editors to review and reject, with the hope that eventually you'll get an acceptance, takes a lot of guts!

Deborah Sharp said...

Yep, Sue Ann: you were in my head when I was writing about the leapers among us!
Alan, AKA Fuddy: Bold, only when I get a really hard push.
Lois: Glad you made it through your risky phase. Now you get to worry about your kids taking the risks you took.
Gin, AKA Duddy: Ha!
Beth: You're right. Nothing riskier than putting yourself on the line as a writer. Scary stuff.

Keith Raffel said...

Deb, it is interesting how couples match up. Ms. Conservative with Mr. Globetrotter. I guess you two are the Odd Couple of South Florida?

Darrell James said...

I guess I've been the risk taker. I've riden motorcycles cross country (more than once), sailed the Caribbean without a plan, and cliff dived off eighty foot cliffs into uncertain waters... that was a few years back. Age makes us wiser and more cautious. I still think I take some risks with my writing, however. I like to shake it up from time to time.

Beth said...

Maybe once you reach our age...not old, just a bit can take " reasonable risks".Something that challenges your comfort zone, yet won't win you the Darwin Award. Call me when you need some company on one of those adventures...I could use some shaking up myself!

Victoria Allman said...

I vote for travel to a foreign country (may I suggest Morocco...or Vietnam...or...) There is nothing more liberating that solo-female travel. You will come back embolden and full of life. With a few good stories thrown in...I LOVE the idea of going off on an adventure WITHOUT Kerry (no offense Kerry) but how liberating! I'll lend you my backpack.
But, that said, I have to agree that going on the Today Show is a whole lot scarier and bold than anything I've ever done. A challenge is different for everyone. What challenges your plummet-down-the-hill husband is completely different from what challenges you, or I, or the kid next door.
Enjoy what you do!

Deborah Sharp said...

Keith: who's the risk-taker in your relationship? (Hmmmm, former Internet exec? I'd say YOU!)
Darrell: Shaking it up is good; maybe I'll follow your lead in Book No. 5.
Beth: I could live with ''reasonable'' risk. Let's come up with a good one.
Victoria: Does your backpack have a pouch for worry beads? If so, I'll take you up on it.

Keith Raffel said...

Deb, me a risk taker? Well, I did support myself for awhile as a horseplayer but that was before I was married.