My mother used to irritate the shit out of me whenever we had a party because inevitably she’d haul out the same four stories about the only four interesting things that ever happened to her and tell them over and over. Even though we’d all heard them about nine thousand times.
Sometimes when I was an especially bad daughter, I’d finish the story.
“Ya. Ya. And then the Dalai Lama asked if he could use that line in one of his talks.”
Sadly, three of the four exciting things that happened in her life are completely made up.
This weekend my family hosted a BBQ. Once the drinks start flowing, I get that familiar itch to be the center of attention with one of my witty stories. I’m about four sentences in when my husband fake coughs.
“I think you’ve told that one before.”
“Ya like a million times,” my daughter pipes in.
Some of my friends nod or stare at their drinks.
Not one to so easily give up the spotlight, I launch into another one. When a voice from the crowd says,
“Isn’t that the one where you meet Tommy Chong at a salsa club?”
And it hits me. Every single notable, exciting thing I’ve done in my life happened 20 years ago. My stories are old and tired. And now so am I. Total humiliation.
So I do what most middle-aged women having an attack of social anxiety do – pretend to be busy in the kitchen.
I recently watched a Netflix special about the Queen of England. In this one scene, Elizabeth realizes that the only two topics she can speak intelligently about are horse breeding and dogs. Bent over the dishwasher, my nose prickles and I frantically blink away tears. I’m just like her. I’m like the Queen, except for my table manners and also I don’t have a yacht.
It’s a scary moment when that realization hits: my life has shrunk. That free-spirited, adventurer who’d take impossible risks has morphed into the cranky, play-it-safe woman I swore I’d never be. What’s next? A pair of mom jeans, a mini-van on the slow, steady descent to death?
But when the Queen slammed up against this realization, she shook it up and got an education. You go, Beth!
Now it’s on my radar; I notice other women who refuse to succumb to the boring, conventional life of a middle-aged, middle-class Canadian.
There’s this one woman I met on the playground. In Columbia, she was an engineer. For too long she slogged it out here, trying to find decent paying work in her field, then settling for a shitty job in on-line marketing. She could have plodded along indefinitely.
“This is how I’m spending a third of my life?” she says throwing up her hands.
She remembered a dream she’d socked away, to open a cooking school.
When I ask her why she didn’t do it, she replies, “I don’t know how.”
Next time I see her, she’s positively glowing.
She is also one who looks for signs, and when she sees an ad from a new restaurant looking for a sou chef, she gets this feeling in her gut. Against all rational advice, she applies for the job and gets called for an interview.
“The chef was Latino. I told him about my dream. He understood immediately.”
She got the job, beating out thirty people, all younger than her, all with culinary arts degrees.
Now every time I see her, her hands are covered in bandages, but she looks happy. Like one who’s stopped reading shitty job-search articles on LinkedIn.
There are others, but I’ve been told no one reads Blog Posts over 500 words – so you’ll just have to look for examples on your own.
But for me – all my best, craziest adventures happened when I was traveling solo. And since I can’t just skip off anytime I like anymore; I boil my itch for solo travel down to its essence.
Travel rocks for the random conversations with anyone who catches my attention. On trips, I say YES to any opportunity to break the habitual. Like the time in Amsterdam when I did mushrooms with a homeless dude from Germany because he offered to exchange lunch for a story (which was very good.)
Or the time I accepted a ride from a guy who nearly came in 5th at an Elvis Impersonation Contest.
So, I look for opportunities that fit in my daily life.
The other day, I’m waiting and waiting for a cab. Finally one pulls up, and a couple (obviously on a first date) jump in. I jump in right behind them.
In response to their shock and growing outrage, I say,
“Everyone says Vancouver is cold. That people are not very friendly. Let’s change that right here and now by sharing this cab.”
The other thing about folks from Vancouver is that they’re usually too polite to say, “fuck off.” So I take full advantage.
I won’t lie and say we became friends, but at least I got one new story out of it.