Self Discovery for Scaredy Cats

March 20, 2010

A couple weeks ago when I was leaving the Kansai airport in Japan, I was listening to my iPod when I heard this line in a song by Everything But The Girl: “When we meet what we’re afraid of, we find out what we’re made of.”

Now, I wouldn’t say I’m one of those people that thinks my iPod is secretly sending me messages from the heavens. (Don’t be silly! If God wants to send me a message, he will either text message me or send the message emblazoned on a piece of toast.)

But I did feel like this line was profoundly appropriate for the year of travel I had ahead of me.

If anything, this is definitely my year to face my fears and find out exactly what it is I’m capable of doing.

Unfortunately, for me, I have a lot of fears to face. In fact, in order for me to face all my fears, this year had better have about fifty-three months to it.

You see, as the name of my blog implies, I am what you’d call a big fat scaredy cat.

I am not an adventure traveller, intrepid wanderer or no-holds-barred holiday-maker. I will never jump out of an airplane, drive a motorcycle or pet a tiger.

I would sooner eat a snake than pose with one around my neck.

After a number of failed winter sports attempts and one disastrous roller-blading incident that removed all the skin from my left thigh, I have made a firm commitment to never, ever, ever again separate myself from the earth with any slippery surface or surface containing tiny unstable plastic wheels (this applies to snowboards, skis, roller blades, roller skates, ice skates, skateboards, toboggans, bob sleds and those wheeled platform thingies that you use to move large furniture with).

I don’t do adventure sports even if there’s a promise of some hot, rugged man being strapped to my backside as we tandem paraglide our way through the Australian Outback.

I have learned to stay away from water-bearing vessels and animals with large hooves.

I always sit in the aisle seat on the airplane because I was once told that only those in the aisle have a chance of surviving a plane crash.

And in my spare time (in between begging for the aisle seat and staying off of kayaks), I read the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Travelers’ Health website to find out all about the diseases that could kill me while I’m traveling (In Thailand, I get to worry about typhoid, Japanese encephalitis, dengue, malaria, something called chikungunya and, yes, even the plague).

Sure, all this fear may be holding me back from doing amazing things like cuddling with a Bengal or finding love with some strapping hunk named Mic on a paraglider built for two.

But I’ll tell you one thing it’s not holding me back from:

Death.

Fear may get a bad rap, but it keeps us alive.

An article on HowStuffWorks.com, explains the purpose of fear is to promote survival: “the people who feared the right things survived to pass on their genes.” Well, I’m not so sure I’ll be passing on my cowardly DNA anytime soon as I’m deathly afraid of giving birth and being responsible for a whole new human life — not to mention a whole new human life who may grow up to resent me and write angsty blog posts about me in some fifteen to thirty-four years.

But, you get the point, fear is not bad; it’s good. It keeps us alive, healthy and in full-possession of all the skin on our left thigh.

Aside from my travel and adventure-sports-induced fears, I wouldn’t say my list of day-to-day fears is all that irrational.

I’m scared of the usual things: snakes, heights, dying alone, huge man-sized spiders and ceiling fans. (You tell me, you’ve never been lying in bed looking up at a ceiling fan whirring away and haven’t thought, “That thing could come crashing down here and slice me apart at any moment.” Okay, maybe you haven’t had that thought before, but I dare you to get into bed, stare up at your ceiling fan and not have that thought now that I planted it firmly in your head. See, not so irrational, right?!)

In the past two weeks of house-sitting in rural Northern Thailand, I have had to face all my day-to-day fears.

I’ve even got to add a few more fears to my list: fear of falling into a well, fear of being chased by wild dogs and fear of having to self-butcher a chicken.

Admittedly, I wouldn’t say I’ve faced these fears bravely.

In the case of the huge man-sized spider which showed up uninvited in my shower one morning, I screamed the entire time it took me to kill it. And killing it took at least twenty minutes: I trapped the spider with the toilet plunger, attempted to drown it with shower water (this is when I learned huge man-sized spiders can swim which made me scream even more), trapped it again with the plunger, grabbed a bath towel to wrap around me, ran from the tub to grab insect repellent, sprayed the insect repellent at the spider, ran from tub again to grab a flip-flop from outside and pounded the spider with the flip-flop until I was certain it was dead. I’m surprised I didn’t keel over from hyperventilating from all the screaming I was doing before I managed to to send the thing off to huge man-sized spider heaven.

In addition to the occasional spider-killing screaming fit, I will also admit to being more than a bit skittish as of late.

I try not to venture out of doors much at night, and when I do I stay strictly on the stone paths.

I stay away from the leafy part of the yard where I spotted my first (and, please, please, please, hopefully my last) snake.

I always check under the bed.

I sleep with a machete and a high-powered flashlight next to me at all times.

I never get into the shower without making sure there isn’t a man-sized spider in there waiting for me.

So, while I can’t say I’ve been facing my fears with any level of aplomb, I can say I’ve been facing them… at least (and beating the heck out of them with the occasional flip flop).

And, you may ask, after two weeks of facing my fears, what is it exactly that I’m made of?

Well, I’d say: twenty percent sunblock, thirty percent sweat and fifty percent insect bites.

I’d also say that I’m made of a bit more courage and capability than I usually give myself credit for.

No, I’m still not brave.

Thank God for that, as I’d hate to have to change my blog name. It took me eight hours to get my stupid RSS feed to work yesterday… and I’m still not even sure what an RSS feed is… so I can’t imagine having to come up with a whole new blog.

But I am capable of killing a man-sized spider and cutting the head off a chicken (and now that I know that I’m capable of these things, I never need to do them again, thank you very much).

Yesterday, I came across the preview online for the new movie adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s travel memoir, Eat, Pray, Love.

The book, in case you haven’t heard of it (like if you’ve been living under one of those rocks that doesn’t get Oprah), followed Gilbert as she ate, prayed, and, well, loved her way across Italy, India and Indonesia in an attempt to find herself.

The preview shows Julia Roberts, cast as Gilbert, riding her bike through the crumbly back roads and the jungly backdrop of Bali. I, myself, have been riding my bike through lots of crumbly back roads and jungly backdrops. Admittedly, I don’t look anything like Julia Roberts while I’m doing this, but I couldn’t help feeling like this preview was speaking to me a bit.

Again, I do not think that God is using Youtube to send me a personal message. (God on Youtube, that’s ridiculous! Now, God on a Cheeto, that makes sense…).

But I do feel a bit like I’m on a mission of self-discovery like Gilbert was on.

You have to admit that the similarities between Gilbert and myself are, well, uncanny.

She was in her early thirties; I’m in my early thirties.

She left her life, job and belongings for a year of travel; so did I.

She was trying to break a cycle of destructive relationships; so am I. (Granted, her relationships were with men; mine happen to be with chocolate… and French fries… and the occasional margarita).

Sure, there are also a few differences.

She had three previously published books and a hefty book advance to support her travels. I have this, ummm, blog. As for what I’m using to support my travels: well, that would be a piddly three-months of savings, two credit cards and my ability to grovel for free accommodation.

So, I guess we’re not exactly in the same boat…

In the end, Gilbert is able to discover herself through mozzarella, prayer and a Brazilian man living in Bali.

Unfortunately, Thailand isn’t exactly known for its Italian dairy products, but I can say I’ve been praying a lot more than usual (as in, “Please, God, let that be a hair ball and not a huge man-sized spider in the tub right now”).

As for the Brazilian man, I can’t say this would be a bad way to end my journey of self-discovery…. I just hope he’s not into tandem paragliding.

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