I fear snakes. I fear airplanes and being buried alive. And yes, even in my late thirties I have an intense fear of being kidnapped. My mother instilled these fears in me. Nowhere is safe. Not even your own home. My mom’s ‘a million pieces’ speech is burned in my head. Pretty much any situation including staying out too late or making bedroom eyes at the wrong man could and would likely result in me being kidnapped and cut into a million pieces.
I always look over my shoulder. I never let my drink out of my sight. My cellphone is always charged. Seat belts are a must. When my ex told me her OCD grandma used to check under the car with her makeup mirror before they’d leave the mall, I said, “hmmm…I can’t believe I’ve never thought of that.” It made perfect sense that potential rape artists were likely holding onto the back axle. Even if I arrived in the cellar, basement or trunk whole, I would end up in that dark small dank place in a million pieces.
Sometimes we can’t name our fears until they’re right in front of us. I had no idea I had a fear of riding on the top level of an open-air double decker bus at 70 miles per hour on the 101 freeway through Hollywood, but I did.
“This can’t possibly be legal,” I said as the bus picked up speed on the on ramp at Echo Park Blvd.
I’d spent the past two hours on that bus with 40 lesbians, a few men in black spandex and three celebrities, one of which was our tour guide Nicol Paone. Nicol led us on our mobile comedy tour of ‘all the mistakes she’s made in Los Angeles’ aptly called, ‘The Last Show I Do Before I go on Medication‘.
The bus left Hollywood with Nicol at the microphone yelling that she was ready to let go of her fear. Like me, Nicol is Italian. Like me, Nicol’s name is Nicole. Like me, Nicol grew up being told that danger, snipers or worse were lurking around every corner. I wondered what else we had in common as we edged down Hollywood Blvd. leaving behind the tourist beckoning neon of Hollywood and Highland. Unlike me, Nicol is the kind of beautiful woman who has friends that set her up with A-list celebrities. She’s been in a hot tub full of supermodels. I’ve thrown up in a hot tub full of men who were too insecurely chubby to take their shirts off. She’s turned down advances from very very famous actors to sit alone on a couch and doze off while watching SNL. I’ve made out with overweight disabled men in dim alleys. She’s been on television. I’ve been captured singing a parody of ‘Hammer Time’ on You Tube. With the help of her fairy gaymother, She confidently claims her bisexuality. I can’t put a name to my sexuality and simply say, I fall in love with people, not their genitalia and quickly try to change the subject.
You know all those embarrassing things about yourself that you don’t want anyone to know? Nicol told us most of hers. Her stories correlated to places the bus stopped. We pulled up to the Seventh Veil strip club and she told us about her Aunt Sandy who ended up being a stripper near the Newark airport. We stopped at the foot of the eastside hills as she finished the tale about falling asleep on a couch instead of spending the night with a man that most women would leave their partners for. We passed by houses of her exes and she detailed her possibly still raw heartbreaks. Then… there was a fully choreographed dance routine. I don’t want to give away too many of her secrets. Hearing these stories from her is so much sweeter and more bitter. All of her tours are sold out. I urge you to book a spot as soon as one is open.
What I can tell you is that Nicol took a risk. She took strangers and friends on a bus and shared her missteps with us. Nothing was sugar coated. You could tell the experience was transformative for her—that as we learned about her, she was learning about herself.
Listening to Nicol and watching her take a chance made me think about how risky the creative process is. It doesn’t matter if you’re a comedienne, crafter, writer, chef, painter or maker of anything. If you make something and then put it out there, you are risking something. Lots of people go through life without that burning desire to create. Then, there are the rest of us for whom not making is not a possibility. We are self-aware human beings. We try to know ourselves and the world we live in. We go out into that world and truly experience it. Those experiences move us. They make us feel things. We go home and make something out of that experience—a story, a painting, a bowl etc… Then we stand back and look at what we’ve made. We can’t keep it to ourselves. We know there are others like us out there. We want to share what we’ve made with them because it makes us feel better and hopefully will make them feel better as well as a little less alone as they see the beauty, wonder or sadness of life through what we’ve made.
This is not easy, but it’s worth it. Sometimes it backfires. Sometimes you send something you’ve written to someone you respect and they simply say, “that’s interesting.” Sometimes you make a new product and no one buys it. Sometimes you spend hours writing a song and while you’re playing it for a friend they’re talking about what they want to eat.
You probably know all the stories about the failures of highly successful people. Twelve publishers rejected J.K. Rowling’s manuscript for Harry Potter. Walt Disney was turned down 302 times before he secured financing for Disneyland. Vincent Van Gough only sold one painting while he was alive. Thomas Edison said, “If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.” Einstein’s teachers thought he was ‘mentally handicapped’ and ‘slow’. The first time Jerry Seinfeld was onstage he was booed off. Henry Ford’s first auto company went out of business. Yet, all of these people persevered. They didn’t let go. They pushed beyond the fear and kept making and taking chances.
When Nicol’s show was over, we drove back to Echo Park on the freeway. The wind was so intense that I had to hold onto to my glasses fearing they’d be ripped off by a big gust of wind. I ducked my head as we shot through underpasses even though there was a good three or four feet of clearance. I pushed back visions of a passing car clipping our back wheel and the bus skidding, tipping and tumbling over. I thought about spending the rest of my life with a crippling deformity or not having a rest of my life at all. Then I took a deep breath (or maybe ten) and tried to actually be present on that bus.
I thought about what Nicol had shared with us. I thought about my own secrets and fears and the risks I’d taken already and hadn’t taken yet. I thought about a few of my failures: the line of skirts I’d designed that no one bought, being rejected from the best creative writing school in the country and having my heartbroken by someone I thought I’d be with forever. Then I thought about a few of my triumphs: getting my line of t-shirts into Fred Segal, getting a story published, meeting my husband and all the times I’ve flown on airplanes or talked to a handsome stranger and ended up having one of the best nights of my life without being chopped into a million pieces.
Then I let it all go on that bus going way too fast with nothing to shield me from the pavement. I took off my jacket and let the cold of the rushing wind chill me into being present in that very moment.
What was the last risk you took in business, life or creativity? How do you get past that initial fear?