I was about to jump off a trapeze platform 23 feet in the air when my instructor remarked, way too casually, “We are all dust.” I thought I must have misheard him — after all, death, in this scenario, was a not completely crazy possibility. Not a time for nonchalant pronouncements about my mortality.
“What?” I said. The instructor was a friendly twentysomething guy with California-tanned skin and messy brown hair, like a crunchier, older Seth Cohen from The O.C. He didn’t seem like the morbid type.
“All we are is dust. You gotta enjoy your time on this earth because it’s short. That’s why I do this,” he said with a proud smile as he caught the swinging trapeze bar and pointed out to the horizon, the Santa Monica Pier and beachfront in front of us.
I really did want to embrace that idea — that humans should fling themselves into an abyss for joy — but instead this trapeze class had started to feel like a very bad, very unsafe plan. It was very clear from this moment that I would never be one of those “thrill-seeking” people who jump out of planes or get tattoos of their significant other’s name. I would make a horrible Bachelor contestant.
“Ready?” he asked as he gripped the back of my harness. I didn’t answer as I leaned out over the ledge to grasp the bar. It already felt like I was falling.
I could only think one thing: This is the last time I am doing this. And I jumped.
It pains me to admit that the idea to take a trapeze class in the first place was planted in my head after seeing it on Sex and the City. That episode — where Carrie tries a trapeze class but fails to make a “catch” (because, you know, MEN, GODDD) — aired 11 years ago.
But it didn’t cross my mind to actually do it until recently, when I woke up at age 28 and realized I’d spent the last few years gradually withdrawing from anything that didn’t involve sitting on my couch reading magazines, pointless interneting, or producing amateurish nail art while finishing off a bottle of wine.
I blamed L.A., in part, for making me more relaxed: Things move slower here than they do in New York, where I grew up; in a seasonless climate, moments seem to last longer. I stopped feeling pressure to “be somebody” like I did in New York’s boozy media circles or in the expat crowd of artistic individuals in Paris, where I’d lived for a couple years after college. I felt quiet. It was nice. I ended up spending a lot of both my working and spare time sprawled out on my couch — grounded, anchored, held down to something familiar and secure.
After a few years, however, sitting still became my default. I’d often feel guilty about doing nothing (especially on weekends after I went to a full-time job) but settled on the rationale that L.A. just wasn’t a city where you go out and do things, especially alone. Walking, visiting museums, reading at cafés: All of this somehow seemed like things you did in other cities. I did manage to work on and accomplish one great project — a book I co-wrote with my sister — but I’d given up on working on anything of my own. There must have been hundreds of days I told myself I’d spend the afternoon writing, and I never did it.
Then, after two years of being single, I met Drew, and we found ourselves having lots of new experiences together. My personal sense of adventure, however, still seemed lost. I knew I wasn’t challenging myself, or even trying to tap back into my creativity.
Drew told me I was being too hard on myself. That inspiration can’t be forced, and who knew? Maybe I hadn’t really found my “thing” yet. Maybe it wasn’t just writing, but something else.
“Like what?” I asked him.
“I can’t tell you. Maybe you do something more physical. Make things.”
I pictured myself opening an Etsy shop filled with handmade animal figurines. Tiny crocheted mice. Or miniature stuffed squirrels.
I thought maybe I needed a jump start. Something that would literally get me off my ass and flung into something new. And for some reason, the idea of a trapeze class seemed to be the answer.
When you see someone take the trapeze from the ground, the activity looks graceful and freeing, and that’s something I wanted to feel: the experience of weightlessness, the rush of flight. To do twists and turns in the air, I imagined, must feel like pure elation. Just the type of adrenaline rush you might need to reset your view of the world.
There’s another thing about looking at the trapeze from the ground: It doesn’t seem so high.
When my turn came to climb the ladder, I got halfway up when I realized, Jesusfuckingchrist, this is high. The top seemed days away. And while I knew the ladder was sturdy and safe, I felt like something bad was about to happen to me.
Hyperaware of every micro-movement I made toward the top, I wondered if it was too late to reverse and climb back down: I could just make something up and run out of the class. Lady problems. A meeting I forgot about. Diarrhea. I could be back home in about 35 minutes without traffic.
I reminded myself that this is a challenge I’d given myself and when you are in a situation where you are uncomfortable, the grown-up thing to do is face the issue. So I kept moving up.
By the time I reached the platform, I was quaking with fear — but also trying to imagine how much fun it would be once I just went for it, flying through the air with all the greatest of east and whatnot. I thought of one of those Nike ads with a sweaty woman running with determination and focus. Just do it.
But when I actually, finally jumped off the platform, it was nothing like I’d hoped. My fear quadrupled as I braced through the giant swoops, but my body didn’t know what to do with all the confusing sensations. Besides the horrible awareness of falling, it also feels like the world is moving around you. And then imagine trying to invert yourself to lock your knees over the bar.
It was torture, but I forced myself to go for a second jump, and then another. Five total. And after each one, I told myself, That is REALLY the last time you’re doing this. It did not get easier or less scary with each go.
At some point, I scrambled off to a corner in a break area to text Drew about the scary trapeze. He told me to “go big or go home,” and I laughed because GBOGH was an affirmation constantly thrown around when I was an assistant at my first job, a glossy women’s magazine. That was when I was 22 and had all the ambition in the world and also way too much ego. A time when all I did was put myself out there. When it became normal to live in extremes — much like a swinging pendulum.
By my last swing, I managed to get my legs up over the bar and release both hands so I was hanging upside down. When I came off of the net that time, there was clapping and encouragement all around me. It was actually pretty embarrassing. Everyone else in the class got the hang of it so easily. I felt like a toddler who’d succeeded in not pooping her pants for once and it was a big achievement.
I drove away from Santa Monica with my hands still shaking, and I let go of all the fear and tension bouncing around in my body only when I walked in the house. Drew was watching Dance Moms. I plopped down on the couch next to him, and I didn’t even care that my sweat and sunscreen were getting all over the cushions.
“So, how was it?” he asked.
“But do you think you’d do it again?”
I started to say no, but then I actually thought, Well, maybe? Because as much as jumping off that ledge was pure terror, I was actually feeling more aware and alive. And part of me wanted to see if I could get to the point where I wouldn’t feel afraid of swinging up and down.
There’s probably a balance.
- The family of Sandra Bland, who died in a Texas jail cell in July three days after she was detained during a traffic stop, filed a wrongful death lawsuit in federal court.
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