Last night, after doing the dishes, straightening the living room, scrubbing the floors with a toothbrush and replastering the ceiling (ok, I lied: I never straightened up the living room), I sat down for some laundry-folding time in front of the TV. HBO has been running “Yes Man” this month and it was just the light humor I needed.
When I first saw a preview for this movie when it came out in 2008, I was taken aback: did someone in Hollywood download my mind? Were there cameras behind a glass mirror? Was I being watched?
The premise of the movie is simple. The main character, Carl (played by Jim Carrey), is recuperating from a bad breakup – that happened a while before (and the girlfriend has more than moved on). For him, this “recuperation” manifests itself as just going through the motions. He hates his job. He avoids his friends. He hides from life. That is until one day he stumbles into a self-help seminar where he is challenged to say yes to everything – which is interpreted as he MUST say yes to everything.
You know the story from here: hi-jinks ensue, with a great moral to the story and a perfect Hollywood ending.
Almost a year before the movie came out, I had started a similar trek myself. I was “done” with active treatment for cancer. I had just recently found myself unexpectedly single. I think with either situation, people often come out with a “my goodness, I am tired of my life being on hold. I just need to get on with it” feeling. Post-cancer, I felt stronger than ever, more willing to face the challenges that would ultimately come my way and really looking forward to embracing life’s highlights.
With all of this new physical and emotional freedom I had found in myself, I decided I was going to experience new things. I wasn’t even sure what that meant. I just knew I had been holding myself back for far too long and my time had come.
I knew I was going to date, but not look for anything. By that, I mean I knew that after the end of a 14-year relationship, I had no business trying to find another until I figured out myNEWself. But I also knew that I couldn’t avoid dating. As anyone who has re-entered the dating world after a long hiatus can tell you, it’s freaking scary. And weird. And scary. Did I mention weird? And when scary comes a-knocking at my door, the first thing I have to do is get rid of it. The only way I know how to get rid of scary is to face it head on.
But this isn’t actually about dating. That would be boring. Well, sort of boring. Ok, it wasn’t boring at all. The truth is I’m afraid my mom is going to start reading my blog again, so that’s where this part of the story ends.
So, there was dating, but there also was just a whole sense of “I have got to get out of the house and LIVE.”
I spent a few weekends at a friend’s house trying to get my head around this new life I had. Her regular social life – where every weekend there was a house full of people and I didn’t know any of them – was like a tutorial in how to act like a single adult.
I knew what I wanted to do. I’d been having this urge to just pursue new experiences. I wanted to travel. I wanted to read a lot more. I wanted to write. I wanted to get out. And pretty soon, I also realized I wanted to dance and had just forgotten how important it was to me.
I decided to be open to anything. I actually decided to say yes to anything (just like Carl/Jim Carrey). Unlike Carl, who has no rules holding him back, I had a few: “anything” had to be budget-friendly and I couldn’t feel like I was putting my life in jeopardy. Now, those might sound like two big limiting rules there. Maybe they were. But I just didn’t have (still don’t!) any money, so I couldn’t go running up credit cards and spending cash I didn’t have on crazy adventures. As far as not putting my life in jeopardy, my definition of that is pretty different from a lot of people. On a daily basis, I have no problem with minor injuries or Fear Factor moments. For example, bungee jumping was high on my wish list. Playing chicken on the interstate was not. I wasn’t going to be afraid to push the limits of the law, but I was going to avoid situations that could lead to, say, losing my daughter, my home or the functioning of my extremities.
So, armed with these really very minor rules, I set out on this journey. And right away, I learned that when you are open to new experiences, they just find you.
One of the first things I found is that there is an entire world of 30- and 40-something divorced people (and empty-nesters) out there knocking around on weekends when they don’t have their kids and holy cow do they know how to have fun. It’s like compressed fun: the kids will be back on Sunday night and I won’t get to do this again for two weeks, so let’s stay up from Friday through Sunday and paint the town red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo AND violet.
I found myself dancing like a fool on most “kid-free” weekends. I was downloading music that brought words such as “shawty” and “Petron” into my vocabulary. (Thankfully, my daughter is not yet old enough to be embarrassed by me. The dog, however, hides his head in shame when I get out my iPod.)
This is me (woman on the left) and some of the “island of the misfit toys” members at a Jimmy Buffett concert. There was much dancing that night.
I pulled a lot of all-nighters for no reason other than to dance, followed by breakfast at the greasiest greasy-spoons ever.
Besides the fun to be had with those hooligans, I found all sorts of opportunities to experience life. In this first “yes” year, I traveled more than I probably had in the previous 10 years and spent very little money doing it.
I spent time with several individuals of a different political bent and found out we are far more alike than I’d ever allowed myself to imagine.
I talked to people from all walks of life and found out I was a freaking elitist who needed to take herself down several notches. I did. It was good.
I once followed a cab driver into a crowded Las Vegas casino – I had absolutely no idea why I was following him and I was very concerned that the trap he was laying for me was going to end in my rape and murder – only to find myself holding a very cheap ticket for a third row, center stage seat to an amazing Cirque du Soleil show. Ah-may-zing. I could see the expressions on the actors faces. I could see every ripple of every muscle on their bodies! Spectacular. For $30. Uh-huh!
And then I walked three miles of the Las Vegas strip back to my hotel at 1 a.m. by myself because I was scared the same cabbie would pick me up and expect something for his generosity. By the way, Las Vegas is unbelieveably beautiful at 1 a.m. with the neon lights and sparkly things. And I got to eat dinner at midnight at the Bellagio.
During this year, I said yes to a frightening but important surgery and found out the aftermath wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.
I went out with a man 15 years older than me and one 15 years younger than me in the same month. For those of you doing math right now, he was totally legal. Barely, but totally. And I’m saving the rest of that story for the book I’m never letting my mother read.
For most of the year, I slept with my laptop and piles of books on the “other” side of my big bed. Best … bed partner … ever. It was so awesome to wake up in the middle of the night, unable to sleep, to roll over and start reading or writing. Books are unbelievably cuddly!
I believed my sister when she said that a jungle gym at a Nashville children’s museum was “easy, with a spectacular view at the top” and I found out on the way up it was really about 372 stories tall and narrowed at one point in such a way I thought my ass would be lodged in it forever, while the little children for whom it had been built charged over and around me. It totally had a spectacular view at the top.
This is me at the same museum, hovering three stories over Nashville, pretending to be an astronaut. (That is my daughter in the lower left corner begging to be unharnessed. Wuss.)
I did karaoke for real for the first time. I was not very good, but I didn’t die of a heart attack on stage. (Sorry, Lisa, I don’t count our “Stand By Your Man” duet with our added lyrics as a “real” attempt at karaoke.)
I accidentally gave a full-body naked show to two very innocent Jehovah’s Witnesses, while shouting obscenities. (I should have thrown a caffeinated beverage in their faces to seal their fate in hell.) All I really learned from this experience is that my house isn’t quite as isolated as I tend to think it is.
I traveled a lot: Las Vegas. Palm Springs (for a minute). Indio, Calif. Los Angeles. Chicago. Jacksonville. Nashville. Columbus, Ohio. (Yeah, my heart is not into selling you on that last one.)
This is me and 800 (some not pictured) of my BFFs in Jacksonville.
Believe me when I say that I could go on. It was a big year for me. I didn’t actually mean for it to end. I was planning to make it more of a “life movement” rather than a year. But a couple of things happened that put on the brakes and my adventures rolled almost to a stop.
First, the surgery took more out of me than I wanted to admit. (Then, I followed up with another surgery five months later. The physical toll just seemed to compound.) Almost immediately after my surgery, my parents’ lost their home in a flood. That put a damper on my spirit – I didn’t feel like I could have too much fun while my parents (and many others) were not having any. Then, a project at work consumed me for months on end. All of this left me depleted in many ways, with little time for loved ones; I could scarcely imagine adding “pursuing life” to my “to do” list.
I don’t regret slowing down the adventure for the last 18 months or so. It was what I needed to do at the time. It wasn’t like I went without fun. I cut my travel back, but I still did it. I spent time with friends and my family. I went out less, but I got to know one person much better.
But I haven’t been dancing. I haven’t been doing karaoke. I haven’t been reading or writing nearly enough. I haven’t been taking many chances, either. Silly me! It’s time to double down.
So, last weekend, I went to see a movie by myself. (That’s one of my all-time favorite “to heck with the world” past-times.) I went dancing, too. It was a blast. I remember now … the break was necessary, but the break is over! I gotta dance, people! This weekend, I’ll spend quietly at home with my daughter (we might go see a movie together or with Andy and we might go swimming, but we are also going to clean that rat trap she calls a bedroom and do laundry).
But I’m also laying plans to travel again soon – to see my friends, to visit new cities, to learn something about how other people live.
When I’m not dancing, I’ll be working on that book. Just do me a favor and don’t tell my mother.