The STSM List

DONE! The New York Marathon. Scare Factor: 7+

I’ve been a runner for over 20 years, so the real fear here, of course, is that I won’t finish the 26.2 miles. The furthest I’ve ever run is 16 miles, so any distance beyond that is an unknown. I’m following a pretty specific training program, and I’m hoping that will be enough to carry me across the finish line. Who knows? I once I finish this sucker, I might even like it and want to do more. At this point, though, I just want the day to come (November 6) so I can put it behind me. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go for a run…

DONE! Improv. Scare Factor: 8

I trained and performed in theater from childhood all the way through college, so being on stage is familiar to me (though I did develop some wicked stage fright around the age of 16 that has never totally gone away). The fear here is a natural one, and one that I think most people can relate to: you’re up there with nothing but a group of people, a couple of chairs and no script. Yikes.

But people do it. And I’m glad they do, because seeing really good improv is one of my favorite things. It astonishes me to watch the pros at work, to see how quickly their minds work. My mind doesn’t really work that way, so it’s going to take me WAY out of my comfort zone to attempt this. Nonetheless, I’m currently taking a great class with Ari Voukidis at Upright Citizens Brigade here in NYC, so I’m working on absorbing everything that’s being taught. Mandatory performance date is October 22. Strap in!

(One side note: UCB has a strict “two absences and you’re out” rule for their classes. I’m going to do my best to make sure I attend every class, but due to the fact that it’s held Monday afternoon, there’s the off chance that voiceover work could get in the way. But we’ll cross that bridge if/when we get to it…)

– Standup. Scare Factor: 8+

Nothing much really needs to be said about this one. Public speaking is the number one fear of most humans on the planet, and when you couple that with trying to make a roomful of apathetic drunks laugh, well, good luck to ya, Charlie. But I’m going to do it anyway…

– Become Conversant in a Language. Scare Factor: 4+

This one probably falls more in the Bucket List category, but I’m putting it on here in part because I’m afraid I’m too damn old to really acquire a new language. For this challenge, I’m choosing French, because even though I took five years of French in school, I still can’t speak in anything other than the present tense. I’ve been to Paris a few times, and it is true that a language comes back to you when you’re in the proper context, but even then I can only manage to spew out a few incongruent phrases that usually make Parisians stifle a smug smirk (they are French, after all). And worse, when I get a response, I have NO IDEA what’s being said. Actually, a fundamental inability to understand and connect with others is a key tenet of existentialism, which was born in France. Hmm…

– Boxing. Scare Factor: 7+

Did you know I’ve never been in an actual fight? It’s true. Well, save for that one time with my neighbor, John, when we were in 6th grade, and it was really just a lot of flailing of arms. I wound up with a bloody nose, but I got bloody noses all the time when I was that age. All you had to do is tap it. (Pause) Okay, technically I lost. Whatever.

Anyway, the point is, I’ve never actually gotten in a real fight. Any time it’s come down to a situation where things might get serious, I’ve either talked my way out of it, or been physically larger than the other guy, and he had to talk his way out of it. Truth be told, physical conflict scares the shit out of me and always has. Therefore, I figure training for and getting in the ring for a bout would qualify as a serious STSM outing.

I’m actually kind of looking forward to the training. I love films about boxing, or even that story line with Dennis from ‘The Wire,’ where kids with nothing but guts and heart work out on speed bags and heavy bags, and guys with mono-syllabic names like Mick or Mort or Hank shout encouragements at you in a rundown place that you KNOW just stinks to high heaven. The actual bout, on the other hand, well… Here’s what I know. I’m only doing a couple rounds, I’m definitely wearing that big-ass head-pad thing, and not doing it with anyone who outweighs me. But, hey, I figure if scrawny old George Plimpton could do it, I can do it.

DONE! Triathlon. Scare Factor: 6+

A lot of people I know have done triathlons (many of them women), so it really shouldn’t be something I’m afraid of. Here’s the part that scares me: when I see all those people running into the water all at once, diving over each other for position. A couple people drown every year from that. So there it is: the thing that scares me about triathlons is the swimming portion.

I’m a very solid swimmer and have swum the requisite distance many, many times, but only in a pool. Whenever I’m in open water, I get this panicky feeling if there’s nothing to hang on to. My brain starts to think, “What if you cramp up? What if you catch a lungful of water?”, etc. etc. Once I get past the water part, I’m home free.

Those of you who have done triathlons or other open-water swimming events are already formulating responses to the above in your heads about how to combat such fears. Please post those thoughts in the comments section. I’ll need ‘em.

DONE! Zen Retreat. Scare Factor: 6

This one isn’t so much scary as daunting. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with what happens on a Zen retreat, so here’s the rundown. You sit, in front of a blank wall, for seven to eight hours a day and pay attention to your breath. That’s it. That’s the whole shebang.

I’ve done some form of meditation off and on for about the last 20 or so years, and it never gets easier. I have a brain that won’t shut up. Yes, I know, so do most people, but mine REALLY won’t shut up. My internal monologue began when I popped out and it hasn’t stopped since, lo these 43 years later. So the idea of sitting and facing a wall while trying to silence your thoughts for seven or eight hours a day for a weekend (or however long I’m going to do this—I haven’t decided yet) is frightening to me. Plus, they don’t serve beer. Are you scared for me yet?

– Mud Run. Scare Factor: 4+

I’m not particularly scared of this one, it’s just something I’ve always wanted to do. They set these things up like military-style obstacle courses, only the whole course is entirely run in mud. Some of them are more intense than others. I’ll probably pick one somewhere in the middle.

DONE! Skiing. Scare Factor: 4

Can you believe I’m 43 and have never been skiing? Well, technically, I’ve done cross-country skiing, but never the downhill kind. There’s nothing to be terribly afraid of here, as I’m sure I’ll be relegated to the bunny runs. But maybe I’ll work my way up. What’s after that? Green diamond? Orange hearts? Yellow stars? Green clovers?

– Waterskiing. Scare Factor: 4+

See above, for the most part. I’m told you can’t even really water ski anymore, that it’s all wakeboards. This throws a wrench into things a little, since I’m not a very good skateboarder and it’s the same principal. But unlike downhill skiing, there’s not the same learning curve. You can’t start out slowly. They punch the accelerator on the tow-boat and it’s off to the races. Anyway, I’m anticipating this one will be fun, provided I can stand up.

– Surfing. Scare Factor: 5

I had a boogey board as a kid and went out a few times, enough to get the basic idea (and also to get stuffed by a few waves and swallow about a gallon of seawater). But actual surfing is a whole different animal. I’m going to stay at it long enough to stand up on the board for a whole wave. This is my promise to you.

Another challenge of surfing, I’m told, is finding places to do it when you’re just starting out. Veteran surfers hate new guys (or, “Barneys”), because they don’t know what they’re doing out there and they get in the way. Sometimes it comes to blows. Hey, maybe I can kill two birds with one stone and scratch boxing off the list, too…

– Read “Ulysses.” Scare Factor: 4+

Reading “Ulysses” has been on my list since college. Still haven’t done it. I consider myself a rather smart chap, so the fear here is that I’m going to the get to the end and be all, “Huh?” Plus, that shit is totally LONG.

– Write a Novel. Scare Factor: 7+

I’ve written quite a bit over the course of my life. If I may brag: some 200 songs, four screenplays, a few short films, two sitcom pilots, two animated series, countless treatments, a stage play, and hundreds of poems, not to mention I used to be a writer for a couple of local papers in San Francisco back in the day. Point is, I’m not afraid of writing. What I’m afraid of is writing a novel.

Why? Partly because it’s the one thing I haven’t done yet. But mostly because I’m not much of a prose writer. My brain doesn’t work like that. You’ll notice in the above list that you won’t find short stories. It’s because I haven’t written them. I like writing dialogue. I like writing description. I like lyricism. It’s just that they just don’t seem to come together for me in straight-ahead narrative story form.

I’m not going to lie: I’m not planning on reinventing the wheel here. Probably what I’m going to do is a multimedia-style “novel” that will incorporate poetry, scenes, art and photographs. I promise not to get too po-mo on y’all. But the finished product will be a novel-length endeavor. I have the story pretty much mapped out, too. But there’s only one way to get there: Butt + seat = pages.

DONE! – Travel Internationally Alone. Scare Factor: 7+

This is another one that a lot of my friends and relatives have already done. Technically, it shouldn’t be that scary. I love traveling. It’s one of my favorite things to do. Finding yourself overseas in a country where you don’t speak the language and having to figure everything out for yourself is where the fear comes in. But I understand that’s also where the exhilaration comes in. So this one will be a win-win, if all goes well. I promise to take lots of photos!

– Skydiving. Scare Factor: 9+

This is the granddaddy. Just thinking about stepping out the open door of an airplane makes my sack clinch up (guys, you know what I’m talking about). When I think about things that scare me that I could voluntarily do, this is pretty much number one, and for exactly why you’d think. And the only reason it’s not a 10 is because when you do it, at least for your first time (as if there would ever be a subsequent time for me), it’s with an instructor strapped to your back. So if you pass out, he’s there to pull the chute for you and make sure you don’t end up a big pile of road pizza.

I’m gonna be honest here, gang: I may not do this one the first time out. I hear that’s common. But I’m gonna do it. Come hell or high water. And then I will give myself one million high fives.