Four New Scary Things

“Do one thing every day that scares you”?

Eleanor Roosevelt didn’t say that. It was probably Mary Schmich, a Chicago Tribune columnist who wrote it in a 1997 essay.

Whoever it was, the point stands. Last week I noted four times I did something that scared me. None of them, I had done before. Some of them turned out well. One went badly but it was okay. One, I failed at entirely and didn’t feel good about. Maybe none of them are scary to others. It’s cool. The point stands. Here they are.

1. Hot Yoga.

I’ve been avoiding yoga in heated rooms for years. I’ve been scared of not being able to breathe, and sweating so much I can’t focus on the workout, and vomiting and passing out.

But there’s a studio in Fremont a lot of people like and most people I know say they love hot yoga and don’t even notice the temperature after a while, so I pony up the introductory special rate and read lots of articles warning me to hydrate well and then I go to the studio. It has concrete floors and condensation on the walls in the lobby. The locker room smells like a pool. The man up front gives me a towel and bows to me like they do in that gym on Broad City.

I learn that this isn’t just any hot yoga. It’s Bikram yoga.

Bikram yoga is a regimented routine of 26 poses and two breathing exercises that is always the same, whichever studio you go to.

Bikram yoga is when you take your clothes off and go into a hot room and a man yells at your for an hour.

“This is my torture chamber!” he announces at the start of class, and shuts the door to the hall.

If you did the poses he has you doing in an unheated room, it wouldn’t even be a workout, but here, the sequence is nearly impossible. He tells you to move your arms back an inch when you’re in a twist and you get angry but smile so he goes away. When you feel the vomit coming, you lie down and then he hovers over you and says, “Hey, what happened? Bengal tiger strength! Bengal tiger strength!” When you stand up again he says, “That’s right: 60 minutes of suffering for 60 years of health.” He says, “I’ll be easy on you all: you all can have a five second water break.” You try to remember that he’s a human and you shouldn’t hate him. Or the people around you.

The women have glowing, euphoric faces and wear bikinis. The men have six packs and perfectly slicked hair. But there is one guy who makes you smile: his wife has dragged him to his first ever yoga class and he’s enduring the double shock of the heat and the poses. The instructor gives him special treatment, introducing him to each asana and checking in with him.

“How does half moon pose feel, buddy?”

He just grunts.

“Yeah. Bengal tiger strength!”

Later: “How’s the new guy feeling?”

“Awful.”

“You’ll be stronger when you come back!”

“No.”

After class, I showered and went to PCC to buy pecorino as a reward for not puking or fainting. I was in line at the register when someone tapped my shoulder and I turned around and there was the instructor.

“LOCK YOUR KNEES!” he shouted. Then he smiled and disappeared down an aisle.

2. Learn About Publishing.

My friend Kristal texts me to say she’s caught wind of a webcast due to start in a few minutes. It’s a crash course in publishing.

I get off work and go to my room just in time. I’m in the house alone, but it still feels vulnerable to click the link, because this isn’t idle curiosity, for this is a step toward the goal of publishing my own book and I don’t want the webcast to intimidate me or confuse me or try to sell me stuff or waste my time (because this is time I ought to spend writing).

But I jump into the world for the first time and for an hour or two, I listen to a woman in the publishing industry explain how writers publish books. She introduces me to concepts I need to know: platforms, query letters, traditional versus self publishing, different kinds of editors, the importance of good cover design. I write it all down. Facebook has seen what I’ve been doing and puts up an ad about a webinar the next day about blogging. I sign up for that too. This is the beginning of learning how to sell my writing. This is time well-invested. This is a step.

3.White Pants on Ash Wednesday.

Monday’s challenge involved taking clothes off and today’s is about putting them on. I’ve got these bright white culottes that I haven’t worked up the courage to wear. I bought them for six dollars from the Anthropologie sale rack (down from $120!) and was thinking about dying them a more conservative color. They’re big white pants: if I wear them, I’m choosing to take up visual and physical space. I can’t tell if they make me look dumpy. I don’t know if my turtleneck goes with them. They’ll probably be out of style in a year.

But today is the day. I’m wearing them and only after leaving the house do I realize that I’ve chosen to wear four yards of white cotton on the day I’m playing piano for two Ash Wednesday services, when they make the sign of the cross in ashes on your forehead.

But I play the first service, and do the blogging webinar at a cafe, and I learn about building an audience and the importance of having an email list and being a consistent presence and leveraging the audience you already have, and I don’t spill any coffee on my pants in the three hours I’m learning, and I go back for the second service, and my pants are pristine and no one has said they make me look too large. I integrate a little bit of Gungor’s Beautiful Things into a hymn and the pastor makes the sign of the cross on my forehead as I’m playing, saying, “Chelsea, remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” and it makes me uncomfortable to think that. I go to Bellevue after the second service to watch The Martian with friends who don’t care about Valentine’s Day. There’s a guy I haven’t met there. He approaches me and points at my forehead.

“They got you good,” he says.

“Yeah.”

“I like your pants.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, you’ve got a great style.”

“Thanks!”

“I’m Christian.”

“Me too.”

“No, my name’s Christian. I was raised Catholic in Mexico.”

“Oh. My name’s Chelsea.”

I wash the pants with a red shirt and now I have pink culottes. Maybe for Easter.

4. Get to the Seattle Center and Back on My Own Body’s Strength.

I’m teaching a workshop at Seattle Children’s Theatre, which is in the Seattle Center. It takes 15 minutes to drive there. It’s six miles away and a nice day. I resolve to make the journey a human-powered one.

I always get excited when I have time for a long walk, but walking Seattle isn’t like walking the camino. There are yellow arrows everywhere, but they’re on the ground and I don’t know what they mean. People walk in both directions and ignore each other. I wear jeans. When I don’t know where to turn, I take my iPhone out.

Still, there are marvels on the way I wouldn’t have met if I’d driven. The wind is so severe on the Ballard Bridge, it could blow me into traffic. The bridge crosses the multitude of commercial fishing boats which are dingy and complicated-looking in the sun.

An RV passes with an entire tree branch stuck to the back of it. I assume it must not be on purpose, because it’s just barely hanging on and there are no ropes keeping it there. But how could an RV have taken a whole branch? It’s the size of a maple sapling.

I turn left and climb up Queen Anne and see a white church, bright in the sun. Behind the church is a grotto. I get closer and see that a statue of the Virgin is inside and stained glass likenesses of Jesus overhead cast light on her white veil. There are a lot of words in Polish on a plaque. Some important Polish person once prayed here.

After the workshop (which was rife with Hamilton and poop references in the improv games), I’m tired, but I start home: 12 miles total isn’t crazy. I’ve done that before. I bike part of the way back, up Lake Union, and if I weren’t outside, I wouldn’t be feeling the most blessed thing: warm sun on my shoulders. Spring is coming. The sun’s getting closer.

I’m on the Burke-Gilman Trail behind the Google offices when I pass a woman walking her dog. I know the woman and the dog. She’s an actor and singer I worked with two years ago at the 5th Avenue Theatre. She’s nice. And what’s more, after months of not thinking of her, she came up in conversation with someone this very morning who was looking for a voice teacher and I passed along her information. Of course, I should stop and talk to her and pet her dog and ask if she’s accepting new students: it’s the right thing and the fun thing to do.

But it must be out of my comfort zone, because in the second I can choose to stop, I choose to go. I’ve got momentum on my bike, and shyness turns my head forward like I didn’t see her and I go on. Turn back, turn back, why are you afraid to turn back? I think, but I don’t listen. I bike all the way home. So that’s something I fail to do.

 

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