15. Overcome the fear of heights

Is it really possible to overcome a debilitating fear? I don't know, but I have this blog that is making me want to try. I'm not sure that I could properly be diagnosed with Acrophobia (fear of heights), but suspect that I could come darn close. I don't know when it started, I only know that with age it has gotten worse. I am really, really afraid of heights. I don't know what it's like to not be afraid of heights. I don't have any idea what it's like to ride up an elevator in a skyscraper without sweaty palms and heart palpatations. Here's what I can tell you, I can handle being two stories up and looking over a balcony, but that's really about it. Anything higher, and it's weak knees, cold sweats, dizziness, and swearing. To be fair, the swearing happens at any altitude, but increases the higher up I go. I am oddly not afraid on airplanes, at least not of the height thing, but that's the only high up place I can be without finding myself in the midst of a full blown panic attack. I also have a fear of elevators which only makes sense, since the best way to get high (come on, you know what I mean) is on an elevator.

I remember going to Chicago with my family when I was young. My older brother is up for anything, and really wanted to go to the top of the John Hancock Center. Though I was the kind of younger sister that generally wanted to be just like my big brother, I was content to stay at the bottom with my mom and enjoy the sites, from the ground. I never had any intention of completing such a daring act, I knew I wouldn't enjoy it.

I don't know WHY this is such a challenge for me. Intellectually I understand that the construction of such a building is safe enough that it's not going to accidentally fall to the ground, the glass is thick enough that I won't accidentally break it, many people have taken the ride up before me, and they have come down in one piece. No big deal, right? Wrong. It is a big deal, but similar to people who run a marathon just to say they did it (yeah, I'm going to go ahead and make the comparison), I really wanted to go to the top of the Hancock building just to say I did it. So, when my husband and I visited Chicago for a little vacation last weekend, I thought it would be a good idea to check it off my list.

I am aware that the Sears Tower (soon to be known as the Willis Tower) is not only the tallest building in Chicago, but the tallest building in North America, and the third tallest building in the world. I know my limits, though, and I don't need to be breaking any records at this point. So, I settled for the Hancock Center, the fourth tallest building in Chicago. Despite the fact that I knew there would be three other buildings taller, the highest I'd ever been was 50 stories up (in the IDS Center in Minneapolis),and I was frightened because the Hancock Center is twice that.

The good news is that I did it. The true news is that it took a whole lot of coaxing, and a martini. We arrived in Chicago on a Friday, and while we were walking around and exploring, my husband asked me a couple times if we should make the trip. I wasn't ready. Honestly, thinking about it made me want to cry. I really was terrified. During dinner on Saturday night, our friend Clint mentioned to me that there was a restaurant and bar on the 95th floor called the Signature Room. This was the key. There was a destination, and a reward at the top - a martini. I decided it was time.

We hopped in a cab and were soon in the lobby of the Hancock. I made a point to not look up as we were entering the building, in keeping with the theme of not thinking too hard right before I take on a challenge. As I walked into the elevator, I buried my head in my husband's shoulder. To my surprise, the ride was really short, and as long as I wasn't thinking of how high up we were, I managed to stay calm. It sounds really crazy to say this, but I employed the same techniques riding in the elevator as I did when I was in active labor before giving birth. I closed my eyes, breathed deeply, and thought about the martini I was going to enjoy when the mission was complete.

It is really beautiful up there. We were there at night (which was probably best for me because I could see mostly lights instead of the edges of the earth), and it really is beautiful to see the entire city twinkling. I tried to relax and enjoy myself despite the fact that I was restless. I knew I didn't like the feeling of being so high up, but I watched the other people casually looking out the window the way I do when I'm seated near a window at a restaurant on a busy street where I can people watch. It's so different when the people you're watching are literally the size of ants. I tried not to squirm when my husband walked right up to the window and put his head on it ala Ferris Bueller, and was most alarmed when I made a trip to the bathroom to try to get away from the site of the city so far beneath me only to find floor to ceiling windows in the ladies room, too. So much for the escape plan.

I lasted 20 minutes, thanks to the martini. I was pretty proud. I buried my head in Matt's shoulder on the way down in the elevator, and said a private little 'thank you' to the building for holding me up as we walked out to the street. Once we were out there, I looked up, and felt a sense of pride for my accomplishment. That was really high.

I don't know that I conquered my fear of heights, but I definitely overcame it for those 20 minutes. Most importantly, I took that moment to recognize how high I'd been, both literally and figuratively. When you find yourself outside of your comfort zone, when you feel squirmy, and restless, that's where growth happens. Maybe those are the growing pains. I had a goal; to say I did it. I met that goal! Now, I plan to remain as close to the earth as possible for the rest of the days of my life, but if you see me close to the ground, and you ask me how high I've been, I will proudly tell you.

Next week, I will tell you about the experience of taking my clothes off for strangers. Not strangers with stethoscopes, strangers with a camera... Boudoir photography, baby!


14. See an Opera (and attempt to enjoy myself)

I love music. I love musicals. I love rock operas (The Who's Tommy happens to be my favorite, but I could go for a little Jesus Christ Superstar, too). I have never been to a "real" opera... until now. My mom and I have a long history with the theater. As I was growing up, my mom and I had season tickets to see many of the Broadway musicals that travelled through the Twin Cities. It was important to her to share her love of musicals with me, and luckily I loved them too. No matter where the family was financially, my mom always made sure it was possible for us to continue our theater dates. It was so important to both of us to spend the time together doing something we enjoyed. In recent years, my mom has found a passion for opera, I did not choose to go along for that ride, but now she has invited me, and I am ready to try it - and hoping I don't fall asleep at the wheel.

It turns out that Minnesota has a heckuva Opera Company. I suppose having been very aware of the rich arts community in Minnesota, I should have known that, but Opera has always been an entirely different beast to me. I guess I imagined opera to be above me. For the hoi polloi. Appealing to the sophisticated. I find myself in different categories entirely, but I've seen 'Pretty Woman,' and I know that the prostitute portrayed by Julia Roberts falls in love with the opera, so maybe I can too. The major difference: In the movie, Julia Roberts' character is whisked away by private jet to the Met and given an expensive new wardrobe. In my case, I threw on "this old thing," and was chauffeured... by my mom in her PT Cruiser. Totally different.

My mom and her friend have season tickets to the Minnesota Opera, and her friend was gracious in giving me her ticket for a performance of Rossini's 'The Barber of Seville.' This happens to be a better known opera and what insiders might call a "soft entry point" for a novice like myself. Some of the music from this opera has been made familiar through use in animated cartoons like Woody Woodpecker, Bugs Bunny, and Tom and Jerry. It is also featured in a very well known Saturday Night Live sketch starring Eddie Murphy doing an impression of Buckwheat. Now, that's more my speed. I don't imagine the real opera is going to reflect this, however.

Though very comedic, 'The Barber of Seville' follows a confusing storyline incorporating multiple identities for one of the main characters. When you add to that the fact that the opera is sung in Italian, it becomes apparent how necessary it is to read the synopsis before, during, and after the performance. Thank God for subtitles. Yes, during the opera, the English translation was projected above the stage. This was both wonderful and terrible for me. Wonderful, because it helped me remember the key plot points that I was trying to keep straight after reading the synopsis. Terrible, because my eyes alternated between focusing on the action on stage and focusing on the translation above the stage. Like a cat watching a tennis match, the hypnotic back and forth... you are getting very sleepy... well, you get the idea. Yup. I fell asleep. More than once. It was that miserable feeling that I used to get in science class when the teacher was talking about hydrogen, and protons, and blah blah blah, and my head would bob, and I would simultaineously be thinking about how badly I needed to stay awake and how good it would feel to give in to sleep. (A very public apology to my mom's friend Ruth who surrendered her ticket to a performance she surely would have enjoyed immensly.)

I am pretty sure that opera isn't for me. I don't mean that it isn't for "people like me," because I'm certain now that opera can appeal to many different people with many different interests. I mean literally, I don't like opera. There. I said it. Here's the difference between me before seeing the opera, and me now; now I have tried it. I like to throw around the expression, "don't knock it 'til you rock it" a lot. Meaning, you can't really say with great certainty that you don't like something until you have experienced it. Well as far as opera is concerned, I rocked it. I don't totally want to knock it, though. I have great respect for the talent of the performers. Amazing singing, in a different language, and comedic acting layered along with it. That's no easy task, and they performed it with grace and ease. I just was not able to enjoy it with grace and ease, and I am comfortable with that.

The evening was not wasted. I learned something about myself (that's always a good thing), and I got to spend some quality time with the most important woman in my life, my mom. I would have fun reading the phonebook with my mom because she is that cool, and I would like to thank her for opening my eyes, ears, and heart to all kinds of new and exciting experiences my whole entire life. My mom has never knocked something she hasn't rocked - and she rocks so much. I try to live by that example. Mom, thanks for making me.


13. Get Acupuncture

Do you see this? This is probably why I never was too excited about acupuncture. This image was stuck in my head. This scary looking dude is from the movie Hellraiser. I've never seen the movie, so I have no idea how or why he got that way, but I am pretty confident that he wasn't getting acupuncture (though he may have been a prime candidate as he looks like the kind of guy that could benefit from some balanced qi, I'm just saying).

I'm a pretty "woo woo" chick (I guess that's the common language these days to describe a person who is interested in personal development... I am embracing it). I am fascinated by all things metaphysical, and as an extension of that, I like to sample from the buffet of alternative medicine. That said, I also like to sample from the buffet of traditional medicine. Oddly, I have always been much more amenable to being pricked with a needle used to either get something out of me or put something in me than a needle that promises to help realign my energy. There's something less tangible about that, and under most circumstances intangible is a fascinating concept to me (one that I'd be urgent to explore) but when it comes with the possibility of pain, however slight, let's just say I wasn't in such a rush.

I suppose for most people when they are driven to have acupuncture done, they have an issue in mind. Maybe an ache or pain, or some other such malady that they have probably talked to their doctor about. While I have more issues than People Magazine, I was not exactly sure what I wanted to have treated by an acupuncturist. If I am going to get stuck with a bunch of needles and spend an hour or so looking like Pinhead, I better come up with something good -- because it's not going to be worth it if all I'm looking to cure is a little cough or something. So I dug deep and found a very private issue that I believe is just as much emotional and energetic as it is physical, and decided that I wanted to find a practitioner who would be respectful of that.

I have walked by an acupuncturist's place of practice for the past two years. It's literally in my backyard. Just three short blocks behind my house. I have seen the sign that advertises the acupuncture and other healing modalities practiced by this Master of Oriental Medicine, but had not ever honestly considered visiting... until I committed to this challenge. Even then, it didn't occur to me that three short blocks was all that stood between me and getting needled. I actually googled "Minneapolis Acupuncture" and was met with a slew of practitioners with a 612 area code. One in particular stood out to me because I recognized the name of the practice, but I still couldn't put my finger on it. Where had I heard this name "Rapha-El Acupuncture Plus"? It dawned on me when I took a closer look at the address that this is the location that I have taken notice of for the past two years. Remember, I am a woo woo chick so I don't believe in coincidences at all. I dialed the number faster than you can say, "om."

Mary Denison is a very well credentialed Master of Oriental Medicine, and she was able to get me in within the week for a first appointment. I spilled my guts about my super secret personal issue that I hoped she could help resolve specifically using acupuncture (Mary does more than just acupuncture, she's got a lot of different tricks up her well educated sleeve including, but not limited to reflexology and massage) - and was confident that at our first face to face meeting she would not only be respectful of my situation, but that she would have some insights that would aid me in my own resolution.

I had told a couple of friends that I was planning to get acupuncture, and had two very specific reactions. One friend told me that she had a transcendent experience that she believes lead her to ultimate resolution of the issue that she was being seen for, and the other friend told me that she was so bored that she forced herself to recite the 50 states of the Union until she remembered all 50. So, naturally I figured that I would either levitate or fall asleep. Honestly, either one sounded exciting to me, if only I could get the image of Pinhead from Hellraiser out of my mind.

I am not generally afraid of needles. I get blood drawn with an abnormal frequency, so I am well aquainted with those needles, the ones that scare most people. Those needles don't stay in you for prolonged periods of time, though. It was hard for me to imagine that a person could fully relax while they had needles actually in them for the better part of an hour. Here's the deal, I was dead wrong. After a very thorough intake process where I completed a lot of paperwork that informed Mary of where my energy blocks were (and a whole lot of more in depth and complicated things which Mary's knowlege of is particularly impressive) Mary inserted a series of very thin needles into my skin. Now, when I put it that way, it sounds pretty easy. But Mary's extensive training tells her which points on the energy meridian are appropriate for my particular issues. It really is fascinating. I don't know how many needles she put in, and I only looked once. I could feel each needle being placed very faintly and once they were in, I felt nothing. Literally, nothing. I mean I have never in my life been so relaxed. Mary left me alone in the room with the tinkly music, and I was completely out of it. So out of it, that when she came back 45 or so minutes later, I had no concept of how long it had been.

There may not be appropriate words for what I experienced, and actually it was so personal that I am glad there aren't appropriate words. The important thing for you to know is that the needles, while essential to the experience, were a secondary element of the experience for me, in that I did not feel them as I thought I would. I had imagined that the challenge would be acheiving relaxation despite the fact I was uncomfortable because I was covered in needles. In fact, that was what I feared. This was not at all the case.

When we challenge ourselves to do something that makes us even a little afraid, often we are very specific about what we are afraid of. We rarely consider that what we are afraid of may not be part of the experience at all, that in fact by fearing it we are making it part of our experience. I personally don't subscribe to the notion that it is practical or possible to live completely without fear. Fear is often there to protect us, but yes, fear can also inhibit us from reaching our potential or acheiving our goals. Instead of looking at fear as a wall, I am learning with each challenge to see fear as a gateway to possibility. When you are afraid of something, it's a perfect opportunity to examine yourself and become concsious about the life experience you are creating. Not every challenge inspires a fear, but every fear inspires a challenge - and it's ours to rise to the occasion.
Next week, I'm going to my first Opera, and I am going to attempt to enjoy it.


12. Ride a Mechanical Bull... or...

I got a bee in my bonnet about a month ago. One Tuesday morning, the thought occurred to me that I had never been on a mechanical bull, had not in fact ever seen a mechanical bull and I was desperate to find one. I asked everyone I knew if they knew of a place where I could mount one. I came up with a handful of options, and then put the list aside to save for a day when I was ready to do the deed.

About a week ago, my husband called from a bar in downtown Minneapolis where he was killing time before a concert. "Honey, I'm at Bootleggers, they have a mechanical bull! You have to ride it." Of course, in the days before children and responsibilities I would have dropped everything and been there in about... 8 seconds. However, those days are far behind us now, and instead of rushing to the bar for a raucous night of boozing and bull riding, I tucked my son into bed and was not far behind him on the trip to dreamland. The next day, my husband regaled me with stories of the bull and we set the plan for me to meet the bull in motion.

Friends emailed tips, "#1, go to the bathroom immediately beforehand....the laughter combined with the saddle will make you have an accident. #2, do not drink a dirty martini to get loose beforehand. #3, name your bull something like "mean joe brown" and pretend you own that MF-er." Another friend said, "I have some pointers for you that will ensure a successful ride. Tip #1: don't ride the bull wearing a pencil skirt." And yet another suggested, "Ride it sexy like Debra Winger in Urban Cowboy or perhaps you've picked up some pointers for that at pole dancing." These mini-pep talks made me laugh, and more importantly got me excited to ride the bull.

The plan was made that we would meet up with friends on Thursday night for the ride. Preparation for a night out on the town is so different once you are a parent. Sometimes I wistfully recall the days when spontinaity ruled. These days, we almost always have to plan days in advance for even the smallest outings. Not to mention the fact that when we do have a sitter, there is still work involved. Getting the house clean enough, having dinner ready, clothes laid out, snacks lined up, and anticipating and preparing for any and all potential disasters. I get tired just thinking about it. Gone are the days of travelling with a toothbrush in the handbag just in case we never made it home. Before I was a parent, I couldn't imagine why it would be so hard to keep your social life in tact. Of course I knew that my social life would change, but I don't think I ever knew how much. Certainly it never occurred to me that there would be times I would actually prefer an evening of playing animals to an evening of partying like one.

That was the case Thursday morning when I woke up and had one thought in my mind, "I don't want to do this." I am sure you see what's coming. It's true. It was bound to happen sooner or later. I am human, after all. I chickened out. I didn't even try. At about 8:00 am, I told my husband that we could cancel the sitter and tell our friends to make other plans. The funny thing about it is that up until about an hour ago when I sat down to write this blog, I thought I had taken the easy way out. It turns out that the bigger challenge is owning up to the fact that I chickened out. Seriously, the easiest thing for me would have been to just get over the fact that I didn't feel like doing it,do it, and then blog about the profundity of the experience. Fake it 'til you make it, right? There is nothing easy about admitting failure. I am disappointed in myself, but probably more worried about letting people down. I was expected to blog about riding a mechanical bull this week, not about failing to do it.

This email from a dear friend made me feel better: "Don't feel disappointed, you're human and look at all the other things you've done so far. I'm sure your body is thanking your mind for chickening out. Next time you call me and i'll show up with some liquid courage, some attitude, and a pair of chaps. I have several." We all fail at some point. A lucky few of us do it more than once. The important thing is to not make a habit of it, cut yourself some slack, and don't take yourself too seriously.

I'll let you know when I get around to riding that bull, but next week - could it be true that the best way to get unstuck... is to get stuck? I'm going to get acupuncture!

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