Do I Dare? (redux edition)

Last summer, I wrote about not being able to resist a challenge. I was writing specifically about the 24 Hour Project and about seeing that I respond to challenges the way I responded to dares as a child … the way I still quite often respond to dares as an adult. And that got me thinking about other challenges I’ve taken on. And I realized that the challenges definitely take the form of wanting to make a point, wanting to prove something to someone, wanting to be clear about not accepting anyone’s underestimation of me.

I learned to throw darts primarily because men seemed to think women couldn’t be good at it, and I enjoyed beating them. I didn’t throw “the right way,” and that made my victories all the sweeter. Men would see me playing darts in my old roommate’s bar and feel the need to help me understand how to throw correctly — I didn’t stand where or how a “real” darts player should, didn’t aim properly, blah, blah, blah. I’d let them blather on a bit and then tell them I was perfectly happy with my stance and my aim. This always seemed infuriating to them, enough to make them challenge me to a game so they could demonstrate how superior their methods were to mine. I didn’t always win, but even when I lost, I put in a strong enough showing to shut them up. And when I won, I shut them down entirely. Or, nearly entirely … there were always guys who insisted I was experiencing beginner’s luck. It was that much more satisfying to beat them two times, three times, five.

I became a strong enough darts player to be invited to join a couple of teams. I didn’t join. I wasn’t so interested in the commitment of league play or spending that much time in bars, so thus ended my career. I’d had a similar experience with pool as a college student. I wasn’t ever good enough to be a true hustler, but I had fun seeing the looks on men’s faces when I made particularly impressive shots, when I cleared a table without them having the chance at more than a turn or two. Occasionally now I’ll make a shot that would have made 20-year-old Stacie proud, but I play so infrequently, all my real skill has faded.

I do the National Chorale’s Messiah Sign-in because it’s so very much fun and also because it offers a number of challenges:

  • Am I still a soprano, can I still hit those highest notes?
  • How many choruses can I get through without having to look at the score?
  • Have a gotten over my shyness about leading a group of sopranos around me who are just as shy as I am about coming in first on certain passages?
  • Am I able to fake my way through when choruses I haven’t practiced are added to the line up?

These are small, relatively harmless challenges. I enjoyed and enjoy them immensely, but none of them put me in any danger, offer no risk of physical harm. I haven’t avoided scary challenges because they were scary. I just haven’t come face to face with too many. I can really only think of two. Two! That’s surprising and a little disheartening … but maybe it’s also true that I have a wonky measuring stick for what constitutes danger or risk, and I’ve actually done many more potentially-unsafe things than I realize.

Forever-ago I was hitchhiking with my friend Rachel in the south of France. We were on our way to Italy (or, really, anywhere … we didn’t have too many hard and fast plans on that hitch). We’d made the mistake of staying out too late. We should have gotten ourselves to a town before nightfall and found a hostel or cheap hotel. Instead, we’d stayed on the highway and were stuck somewhere on the road to Monaco. A van stopped and someone inside pushed open the side doors. A cloud of smoke blew out at us as the men in the front seat told us to climb in.

Although Rachel and I are no longer friends, I have to say here that I continue to be grateful to her for insisting that we not get in the van. Because yes, I was totally about to step willingly into my certain doom. It was late and I was tired, and that van was the only vehicle to even pause on the way past us. I pushed aside the rules I’d made for myself about staying safe while hitching. I knew we shouldn’t get in that van … but I was going to get in the van. Until Rachel grabbed my arm. Dangerous challenge avoided. Score one for me (well, for Rachel).

Fast forward to my late 40s when I scaled a barrier wall meant to keep commoners like me away from the beach in front of a swanky resort on the north coast of Jamaica. Resorts like to claim their beaches are private, but Jamaican law says beaches — all beaches — are for everyone, that beaches belong to the people and are, therefore, public. There’s something in there about where private property ends and public beach begins, but I don’t remember the specifics. Resorts, determined to create a private beach where there isn’t one, sometimes go to great lengths to keep the riff-raff away from the rich folks. One of the ways they do that is to build walls off the end of their property line stretching out into the sea.

I’d set out on my walk that day with absolutely no plan to do any rock climbing. I was wearing a ground-sweeping sundress and flip-flops. I had my crazy-expensive, brand new DSLR in my little cross-body bag. I was just going for a stroll.

When I ran into my first barrier — a chain-link fence that was annoyingly high, I didn’t consider climbing it because a short walk out toward the road offered the option of just walking around it, so that’s what I did.

But then I ran up against the wall. It was maybe 20 feet high and made of some unkind-looking, very large rocks. I thought I should turn back, but the wall pissed me off. The nerve of people blocking access to a beach. And there were a couple of people climbing the wall, so I figured I could do that, too.

I’ve never been a rock climber. Neither am I particularly muscular. No matter. I put my flip-flops in my purse, tied the skirt of my dress up above my knees, slung my bag to the back, and started climbing.

I realized almost immediately that I’d made a terrible mistake, but I was determined. I’d taken the challenge. There was no chance I was going to back down.

The climb was ugly. I had to go up several feet and then out over the water so I could continue up and top the wall at its lowest point and wind up on the open-to-everyone part of the beach. Pretty quickly, my dress was up around my waist because I needed the legroom to make wider and still wider steps.

I made it, my butt flashing all and sundry in my wake. I didn’t fall into the ocean and destroy my new camera or my precious body. I came down on the fancy side of the wall, sorted my dress situation and began strolling the beach. The resort guards gave me the fisheye, but they left me alone. I made the most of that beach stroll … because I was terrified thinking about how I’d get back over the wall without dying in the process. When I finally worked up the courage to take on the return trip, I was lucky enough to be guided by a man who was on the other side of the wall. He told me where I could find each of the hand- and footholds I needed to move over, across, and down the wall. Yes, it meant I was flashing him the whole time, but we both survived it. (That random man was one of many guardian angels who’ve appeared just when I needed them. He saved my life that day as surely as Rachel did on that highway in France 29 years earlier.)

Don’t tell me you think I can’t play that game. Don’t tell me I’m not allowed to take a walk in a place I am absolutely allowed to walk. Danger? Ha! I flash my quite sizeable butt at danger. And I will use whatever strength or cleverness or stubbornness I have to put your arrogant presumptions right back in your face. Do not have the audacity to count me out.

I like this piece of my personality mostly. I would, actually, like to expand it. I don’t want other people to count me out … but I count myself out all the time. La Impostora elbows her way past my bravado and shuts all my shit down. Perhaps one of the secrets to besting her is hearing her criticisms and put-downs the same way I saw that beach-blocking stone wall: just hike up my skirt and get the hell over it.

Hmm … That bears some more thinking. I like it. I need to marinate in it a bit and see if I can actually practice it.

It’s Tuesday, so that means it’s Slice of Life day over at Two Writing Teachers! Click over and see how the other slicers are starting the new year!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

24 Hours: Do I Dare?

What is it with me and challenges? I can’t resist them. Cannot. I never used to think of myself as a competitive person, but I so am. And that’s part of the driver behind my saying yes to challenges. I’m competing: against the ridiculousness of the challenge, against myself.

I think it throws me back to taking a dare as a kid. Someone would thrown down some petty or foolish gauntlet, and I would immediately feel the pull to dive in and prove … who knows what, but prove it all the same. Clearly, I’ve never outgrown the inability to resist that pull.

All this to say I can’t resist. Generally speaking, the challenges I take on are fairly mild. They come in the form of, say, doing NaNoWriMo. Or the 30/30 poetry month challenge … and sweetening the pot by choosing a poetry form and writing that form all month long. Not easy for me, but pretty harmless.

The 24 Hour Project is one of the challenges that keeps captivating me year after year. It tests me on different levels:

  1. Can I stay awake and mostly functional for 24 hours?
  2. Can I find something or someone to photograph every hour of the day?
  3. Will I be able to imagine a story to write for each photo I post each hour (this is the “sweetener” I’ve added to the basic rules of the 24HrPrj)?
  4. Will I be able to get all the photos of people that I want without being spotted (I fail this every year, always get busted at least once)?
  5. Will I venture into neighborhoods I haven’t visited on previous 24HrPrj days?
  6. Will I post all my “leftovers” after the day — all the pics that didn’t go up on the challenge day but which I still want to make stories for (I haven’t succeeded with this one this year … yet)?
  7. If I’m going out alone, will I settle into the fun of the challenge and not let the worry and discomfort of being alone on the street in the middle of the night sour my good mood and make it hard for me to take pictures (this one is really a crap shoot and has as much to do with me as it does with who else is out on the street in the middle of the night)?

Is it any wonder that I love this challenge when it has so many challenges baked in?

I had a lot of fun this year … after I managed to succeed at Number 7, calming down about being by myself. Both of the friends who’ve gone out with me in the past weren’t able to do the Project this year. I did wind up running into my friend S, the person who introduced me to the challenge. I spotted him in Times Square around 4 am and hung out with him and a few other 24 Hour Photogs for a couple of hours then met up with him for another couple of hours in the evening.

I was rusty with the story-making. Not only was the Project Covid-canceled last year, being in quarantine for the last forever has meant not being out and about that much, not taking pictures, not having the catalysts/inspiration to make up stories.

So yes, quite rusty. But after a couple of hours it began to feel easier. There’s a picture from the two o’clock hour that was the turning point. I had found an all-night diner (key establishments for making it through the Project, to be sure) and took a picture of a police officer who was having dinner and a very involved conversation with his partner. In the picture, he is studying the menu. The combination of his serious face and the fact that he reminded me of a friend’s son and echoed her older brother who had been a police officer all clicked for me and the story just fell into my head. From that point forward, the stories came more quickly and smoothly.


I miss my city. Eighteen months in my room is a long time to be separated from people watching, grabbing a coffee at a favorite café, chatting with store employees, having random and excellent encounters with strangers.

That last one is one of the things that struck me hardest during the 24 Hour Project. I miss talking to strangers, something I’ve always done quite a lot of … but not since Covid came to town. Around 7:30 Saturday morning, having seen my way through the long midnight-to-dawn of the challenge, I was headed home to charge my devices and recharge myself. I stopped in my grocery story because I still needed a photo for the hour. I saw an elderly woman I wanted to take a picture of. I did take a picture, but she surprised me by starting to talk to me.

Not only did she talk to me, but she was funny and sweet. At two moments in our conversation, she reached over and put her hand on my arm. You know, the way you reach for a friend’s arm when you’re talking and you want to emphasize your shared feeling at that instant. And she did it twice.

I am a toucher. I like affectionate physical contact. Not with everyone, of course, but yes, I like it. Having this woman touch me in this conversationally intimate way — after a forever of almost no physical contact, when we were strangers, when she was a tiny elderly white woman and I a big, Black woman — it was absolutely beautiful. It made my heart smile.

I have missed this type of sweetness my city has always given me. Yes, the city has given me some ugly moments, too, for sure. But I get much more of the random kindness and connection of that exchange in the chips and cookies aisle.

* * *

(My 24-Hour experience this year was a warm welcome back to my city. But what a difference a couple of weeks can make. I was out taking my pictures on July 24th … and now, Delta is threatening new lockdowns. I’m glad we got the Project in before the tide started to turn, and I really hope we can stay on the safer side of this variant wave.)

Do I dare? Well, I certainly always do when it comes to the 24 Hour Project. It’s such a great idea and a fun event, and I love following people from around the world, getting to see a day in their cities. This year I followed two Italians, a Pole, two Mexicans, one Turk, a couple of Australians, and a handful of people around this country. In a sense, I guess it’s a virtual way to have a random conversation with a stranger.

I need to get back to posting my leftovers … and some of the shots I’ve captured since the event. I’m already looking forward to next year!

It’s Tuesday, which means it’s Slice of Life day!
Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the other slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

What I Would Give for Surprise

Officer Rusten Sheskey of Kenosha has returned from administrative leave. He will not face any disciplinary action for shooting James Blake.

And it’s Tuesday. A Tuesday like any other. Nothing shocking, nothing out of the ordinary. One more in the forever line of days of being at constant risk in this land of the free (whites) and home of the (trigger happy) brave.

* * *

Let’s talk about Golden Shovels, shall we? I’ve been so tired the last few days, I haven’t had time to think about how hard this form is for me. All I’ve been able to do is churn out a poem and get it posted. I posted a comment earlier that showed me at least part of what the road block is for me with these poems. Yes, having a prescribed set of words and word placement is restrictive. The bigger issue is that the lines I’m using as my source text are from Clifton’s poems. Using them feels rudely audacious and makes me even more self-conscious than I would normally be. So yes, the task I’ve set for myself for this month is specially designed to trip me up. Brilliant!

Despite all of this, I am actually starting to feel more comfortable with the form. Not snuggled in the way I was with the tanka. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel that cozy in another form, but I am feeling less like a combatant, less under siege. That’s a good sign, of course, and it’s kind of right on time. It’s usually around the middle of the month that I stop approaching my chosen form as if we’re cage-fighting. It remains to be seen if I can approaching something closer to actual ease with this.

Tonight’s source text is from “the times.”

No Charges

That confidence, safety, certainty is so white,
so very, blindingly white, and
the heat of it burns, glowing, as I
watch it dance, saunter, flaunt its might.
I understand.
I do. I might be the same, except
nothing in this unwelcoming birthplace has afforded me that
freedom, that comfort. Instead, I
have built every good thing I am.
And today what I feel is tired,
as again I spit out a bitter draught of understanding.

National Poetry Month 2021: the Golden Shovel

As I’ve done for the last forever, I’ve chosen a poetic form, and I’m going to try to write a poem in that form every day for the month of April. I don’t always succeed, but I always give it my best shot. The “Golden Shovel” was created by Terrance Hayes in tribute to Gwendolyn Brooks. I learned about it from my friend Sonia (aka Red Emma). I’ll be using Lucille Clifton’s poems as my starting point this month. Here are the rules:

  • Take a line (or lines) from a poem you admire.
  • Use each word in the line (or lines) as the end word for each line in your poem.
  • Keep the end words in order.
  • Give credit to the poet who originally wrote the line (or lines).
  • The new poem does not have to be about the same subject as the poem that offers the end words.

If you pull a line with six words, your poem would be six lines long. If you pull a stanza with 24 words, your poem would be 24 lines long. And so on.

Should be interesting!

Endings and Beginnings

We finished the giant work project that has been consuming so much of my brain space for the last three months. We finished it, in fact, a full day early. I am exceedingly grateful for the massive effort made by the team I work with. There were more than a few times in the last weeks when I wasn’t sure we would reach this place, wasn’t sure we would finish, but here we are.

I spent the evening on zoom working with Fox, my sister, mapping out a project that she and I will be undertaking. I feel as if she and I have just completed a couple of months of pre-reading activities and are about the dive into the book at last. (Today is also Fox’s birthday!}

Today is the last day of the 2021 edition of the Slice of Life Story Challenge. It’s been a long and often difficult slicing month for me. Yes, I’ve posted something every day, but I haven’t been as much a participant in the community as I usually am, and I’ve missed that. I haven’t had the strength to join in, all my energy sapped by work. I’ve missed catching up with some of my favorite veteran slicers, missed getting to discover new slicers. The end to this year’s challenge feels too soon, too soon.

And tomorrow is the start of National Poetry Month, the start of my 2021 poetry 30/30. I had thought I would give this month to exploring the pantoum again, but I’ve changed my mind. I was zooming with my friend Sonia (aka Red Emma) last night for our biweekly writing date, and she introduced me to a form I’d never heard of, the “Golden Shovel.” Apparently, poet Terrance Hayes created this form as an homage to Gwendolyn Brooks. The idea is to take a line from a poem or other text and use each work in the line as the end of a line in your poem. Hayes’ idea was to do this using lines from Gwendolyn Brooks’ poems. Sonia learned about the Golden Shovel in a NYTimes article that introduced a twist on the form: use, instead of a line of poetry, a headline from a news story. Sonia’s going to do a 30/30 using the headline version of the Golden Shovel. And I’m going to do the Golden Shovel, too … but I’m going to use lines from Lucille Clifton poems. We’ll see how it goes.

And maybe, if I don’t chicken out, I’ve got another couple of beginnings on the horizon for April. We’ll see how they all play out.

It’s the 14th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Under the Sea

Okay, one last Grand Cayman story. At the end of yesterday’s post, I mentioned that there was a lot of snorkeling on that trip. It makes sense, of course. We were in the Caribbean, of course a lot of our activities would involve the water and seeing what was in the water with us.

I’m not a great swimmer. I can swim, and could probably swim well enough to swim out of trouble if trouble approached me slowly, but Diana Nyad, I’m not. I’m fascinated by the ocean, however, and by sea creatures.

Backstory on me and snorkeling: The first time I went to Jamaica, I was excited to go snorkeling. My friends and I got gear and marched ourselves into the water. And the ocean didn’t disappoint. I saw lots of fish — including a beautiful moment when a school of silversides swam around me. I saw sea urchins, a conch, lots of coral … After I’d been paddling around a while, I was annoyed because there was a terrible noise that was distracting me from my leisurely sea-gazing. It was a loud, rasping noise, as if Darth Vader was about to tell me he was my father. I kept looking for what could be the source of the nuisance. Finally I realized that I was the source. What I was hearing was the sound of my own panic breathing, loud and terrified, amplified by the snorkel and maybe by the water. I don’t know, but it was LOUD.

Panic breathing even though I was totally fine … and would always have been totally fine because I was snorkeling in such shallow water I could just stand up when the going got too unnerving. Seriously. The second place we snorkeled on that trip was a sand bar. I couldn’t even swim there. I just lay on the ocean floor and looked around.

Why panic breathing? Because I am fascinated by the ocean, but I’m also pretty entirely afraid of it. And when I’m fully in it, swimming around with the beings that live there, I’m out of place. I’m the alien, unable to adapt, inserting myself into someone else’s territory. The landscape is foreign, the atmosphere is inhospitable — I can’t breathe there unless I have special equipment — and no one speaks my language.

And being underwater in the ocean, I discovered, makes me feel claustrophobic. Really, really claustrophobic.

All of this adds up to panic breathing. I consciously calmed my breath and forced myself to keep going. There was so much I wanted to see. And I got to see a lot, but my snorkeling fear took hold from that first day. I snorkeled a few more times on that trip — even had a barracuda swim on his own leisurely path right in front of my nose! I kept snorkeling, but my fear didn’t abate.

So when I agreed to be a chaperone on the Grand Cayman trip, I knew there would be snorkeling on our agenda. I figured it would be like what I’d done in Jamaica, and I’d make it work. I also figured that, with two other adults sharing the chaperone duties, there would be times when I could opt out of being in the water. And then the other chaperones announced that they had no intention of swimming because they couldn’t swim and were terrified of the water. So I would have to do all the snorkeling. All. And keep a brave face on while doing it so the kids who were nervous would feel better about giving it a try.

Our first outing, we got on a boat, and motored out further from shore than I’d ever snorkeled before. Our captain and guide announced that the spot he was taking us to would be great for seeing lots of things … and would be between 75 and 80 feet deep. And, while the kids were oohing and aahing at the thought of such deep water, I was repeatedly confirming for myself that no, in fact I wouldn’t be able to just stand up if I was freaking out. I’m tall, but I am woefully human-sized, so no toes on in the sand and head above the waves options there.

We put on our gear when we reached the designated spot, and our guide and his crew began helping the kids into the water. I descended the ladder and pushed off from the boat and, before I even put my face in the water, I could feel my panic breathing start. Under the guise of monitoring the kids, I treaded water and did some deep breathing exercises to calm myself. I finally got my breath back to something that could pass for normal, and went under.

And I saw lots of fabulousness, including rainbow parrotfish, who I fell in love with instantly, and gorgeous, enormous sea fan coral (gorgonia ventalina), which is one of my favorite corals. I also saw how far the floor was below me, and I had to fight back the panic breathing again. And I saw a stingray … and I decided to swim back to the boat … which at first I couldn’t find but located before a full panic attack could erupt.

I don’t remember how many snorkeling outings we had during that week. At least five, including one day when we snorkeled at two different venues. Vidalys, one of the older girls who had held my hand across the aisle on the plane because she was terrified of flying, told me she was excited to get better at snorkeling because she could see how much I loved it. I almost laughed. Then I realized that a) my “Whistle a Happy Tune” approach to being a snorkeling chaperone had worked for both Vidalys and for me because b) I was loving the snorkeling. I was loving seeing all those rainbow parrotfish and seeing corals and seeing all the other underwater-world things there were to see. And by the last couple of excursions, I no longer had to calm myself because the panic breathing had stopped clawing at my throat.

I’m still not Diana Nyad, nor will I ever be. I am, however, making some undersea plans. I have a gift I want to give myself when I hit my 60s, and it involves some serious undersea activity. Just thinking about it calls up the old panic, but Grand Cayman taught me the cure for that: I just have to keep diving in.

It’s the 14th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot