They say you should challenge yourself. Stretch yourself. Do things that scare the bejesus out of you. I don’t know who they are, but in the last three weeks I’ve done three things that scared the bejesus out of me – four if you include having to cut my mother’s toenails – and one that set my bowels aquiver, but wasn’t quite as bejesus-y as the others. Why on earth did I do them? For the reasons above, to stretch like a laggy band and be challenged like a Krypton Factor contestant? Well, yes, actually. Yes, partly…
The first bowel-contracting thing I did was take to the stage. Become a thespian. Tread the boards. Break a leg. Friend Chloe, who I work with at Hull Truck Theatre, has written a beautiful script, I’ll Bring You Flowers, which was being showcased at The Roundabout in Lincoln, and she needed an actress in her forties. Having only actor friends much younger, she turned to me. Obviously the first thing I said was that I’d have to age up significantly, that people might not believe I was older than thirty. The second was that I’m not an actress. The third was a nervous yes.
So we rehearsed. Amelia, the other actress, suggested after two read-throughs that we go off-page. Off-page? Without the page? Without the words in front of me? Already? I put my script aside like I was abandoning life-saving medicine; then stumbled through while the other girls spoke with grace and confidence. On the bus, I listened to a recording of us to help me learn. At home, I listened to Chloe’s lines and tried to respond with mine in the gaps. I didn’t want to let her down. Look like a fool. Then we spent a weekend in Lincoln, rehearsing over and over and over, for hours and hours and hours. I realised something. I was enjoying it. I knew my lines. I was the character. But then we had to go on an actual stage and actually do it for actual human people. I waited in the wings for my cue. And went on. And bloody loved it. The buzz. The audience. The adrenaline. The applause.
Will I go on stage again? Never say never.
The next bowel-contracting thing involved being thrown wildly into the air, risking life and limb. Well, maybe not exactly like that, but I want you to read on. On a weekend walk around Hull Fair with husband Joe – where palmists who have ‘done’ celebrities like Mavis Riley, Jack Duckworth, and Sonia Fowler, will tell you your future – I suggested we go on the Big Wheel. This isn’t just a big wheel – it’s a fuck-off, mahooosive wheel. I’m petrified of heights but thought I’d get a nice snap of the view. Nope. I just clung to the central post like a really crap pole dancer and begged Joe not to move, not to breathe, not to speak, because then we would fall to our deaths. We didn’t. I recovered and got a bag of brandy snap.
Will I go on a Big Wheel again? Never.
The next bowel-contracting thing I did is something that most people fear. Public speaking. Can there be anything more stomach-churningly horrifying than standing in front of eighty people, alone, and talking for an hour? No. And guess who did, last week, for a Ladies Group? Me. Just days after the Big Wheel. Could it be worse? Actually, no. There was tea and good biscuits, for a first. There was a prayer at the start, for a second. Then I walked up to the front, thinking, ‘You’re not going to die, you’re not going to die … well, unless that huge cross falls on you.’ It didn’t. And the ladies could not have been more welcoming. I ended up loving it.
Will I do a talk again? Yes.
Now, the other thing. The thing not quite as bowel-quivering or bejesus-y as the others. On Friday, I interviewed another writer as part of the Festival of Words literature event. I loved the book so much – a beautiful memoir called I Never said I Loved You – that I was only excited to chat to Rhik Samadder about it. That excitement almost eclipsed my fear of public speaking. Almost. I still felt fluttery in the green room beforehand, but Rhik was so warm and kind and funny, that it was like going onstage with a long-time friend.
Will I interview anyone in public again? You bet.
I wonder now what it is I’m actually so afraid of. I guess, I’m afraid of failing. Of being criticised. Of being an idiot. Of being laughed at (for the wrong reasons). Of being ugly. Of being stupid. Of being utterly vulnerable. Don’t we all feel that way though? Is it just me?
So was it worth it, doing things that scared the bejesus out of me? Did I learn anything? Yes. I’m still alive. Yes. I felt chuffed for succeeding. Yes. Proud that I stepped out of my comfort zone. But has it prepared me for the next scary thing? The scariest thing of all. I’m not sure. I’ll only know when I click Open on my new Word document. On the file called Daffodils. On what might be my new book. On my own words. Not fiction. Not escape. Not adventure. Just me. A memoir.
PS – Back to my mother’s toenails. No. No. Never again. Well, until she asks me…
PPS – I also went to the dentist, but let’s just keep things simple.