For my 30th birthday, I put on a show.
One that included red leather boots and a peek of thigh for an audience of onlookers at a Brooklyn bar. I’m not now nor have ever been a burlesque dancer, but that night I got close. I risked the judgment of an audience about my body and my sense of rhythm and I channeled a sexiness I didn’t even know I had until I was 22.
That night was the same autumn I took another big risk: applying to grad school for creative writing. And by my 31st birthday, I had risked again by moving to Las Cruces, New Mexico. It was a long, lonely first semester in grad school and I questioned my decision to move to New Mexico often in those next three years. I know now it was a risk well worth it. So, was that dance.
I wouldn’t call myself a daredevil, but there is an instinct in me that has enabled me to take risks: moving to New York straight out of college, quitting a job to pursue a dream, moving to the Southwest after a decade in a city I loved, and moving to Chicago with little more than a graduate thesis of short stories, a broken heart from a painful breakup, and a car with a busted gas tank. But the busted gas tank is another story for another time.
Risk doesn’t have to take the shape of an unknown city or a resignation from a job. Sometimes risk is just allowing yourself to be open to a new possibility.
A couple of months ago I was reading an article about the co-founder of an app called Hitlist, where you select places you’d like to go in the world (your Hitlist) and get alerted when a good airfare comes up. I downloaded it and started seeing prices to places I’ve been before (London, Rio, San Francisco) and places I’ve only imagined I might see one day (Tokyo, Copenhagen, Dakar). The possibility of bold new experiences were presenting themselves all the time.
And one afternoon, a fare to Paris came up. I forwarded it to my Traveling Sister with a lot of wistful language and instead of being wistful right along with me, she did what any good risk taker and supporter of other risk takers would do, she told me to buy the ticket. A few hours later, I did.
Today is my 37th birthday and tomorrow, I leave for Paris.
It will be the first time I’ve traveled internationally by myself and the first time I’ve been to Paris since I was 14. I’m scared and ecstatic and scared. It’s risky what I’m doing, even though the greatest danger in Paris is probably pick pockets and that I will eat too much food and do too much shopping. Those last two dangers are guaranteed to occur, in fact.
Risk isn’t about what you actually do—what form the risk takes—it is that you are taking the risk at all.
I don’t know what this 37th year will bring. I didn’t know that my 36th year would bring me a relationship or this website. What I do know is that even without a big move or a career change or another trip to a new destination, I know I want to take risks.
Before I got on that stage in Brooklyn, the fear fueled voice in my head, did her best to stop me. You shouldn’t do this, she said in her panicked voice. I could have listened, backed out of my birthday dance, instead, I thought: Fuck that.
So, with apologies to my mother and my aunt and the elementary school teacher I may not even know has been reading this, in honor of my 37th year, I’m developing a Fuck That manifesto to take care of those internal and external doubters:
1. It’s better if I don’t even try because if I do and I fail, what will people think of me? What will I think of myself?
Fuck that! Fear and I have had a long and intimate relationship. I don’t want fear to go away, I recognize its place in getting me to floss so I won’t one day have to gum everything when I’ve misplaced my latest set of dentures. But fear in my creative life? My relationships, romantic and otherwise? My life choices? Fear is not doing me any good. In the immortal words of a good friend of Tim Gunn’s: Fear never conquered anything.
2. I didn’t accomplish all my dreams and goals by 30, so now it’s never going to happen.
Fuck that! Here is where I could cite all the people who started living their dreams far past 30, but what they did doesn’t even matter. Do I want it? Am I committed to it? Am I willing to do it even when it’s hard? Beautiful. Then, I’m superhuman, unstoppable, unable to be vanquished. And if you think any different about me and my dreams, I encourage you to instead use your dream crushing powers to stop Donald Trump from winning the White House. Please.
3. All the good ideas are taken. All the best work has been done. Don’t even bother.
Fuck that! If I had been told at 13, in the early years of thinking I wanted to be a writer, that part of the way my work would get out into the world was through a thing called the Internet, I would have nodded and blinked and gone back to imagining what I could write for an It Happened to Me column in the newly created Sassy Magazine (Rest in Power, Sassy!). Change is inevitable. What is now, might not be later. Think your thoughts. Make your work. Be you.
4. If my life doesn’t look exactly the way I thought it would at 10 or 20 or 30 (or 37!) then I’m a big, fat failure.
Fuck that! Nothing ever looks the way we think it will. I did not know I would be unmarried at 36. I also didn’t know I would be living in my fourth city or that I would have gone ziplining in Mexico or watched the cult classic The Warriors underneath the stars of Marfa, Texas or eaten feijoada in open air cafes all over Rio de Janeiro or run the Marine Corps marathon. What a beautiful mystery life is.
5. Don’t listen to your gut because I heard that So and So’s gut is smarter, prettier, and more refined than your gut.
Fuck that! I hope So and So is enjoying their gut and their point of view and everything about their life. I’ll be over here doing the same.
And that’s really the biggest risk any of us ever take: listening to ourselves.
When I’m in Paris this week, I’m going to be doing a lot of listening, maybe to some jazz, certainly to the sounds of French accents, and the life of a city that I don’t know. In the midst of all that, I’ll also be listening to myself, to what I want, to what I love, to what I want to bring into my life, and to what I want to get the hell out of my life.
Any risk that gets me closer to any of those things will definitely be a risk well worth taking.
And if the manager at the Moulin Rouge implores me to do some high kicks, I’ll send these thirty-seven year old legs to the sky!