Label-maker

The seats at the lunch table were empty but adjacent. The only thing we knew about each other was that we both had come to this conference that emphasized community, but we came because we liked their ground rules. So we set about finding common ground. 

We disclosed the usual sorts of low-key things, I’m sure. I may have mentioned that I came to the conference without knowing anyone first, or it may have been something else. At any rate, she responded, “You’re an adventurous person!”

Who, me?
That’s not me. I am The Cautious One, Like Her Father.

As an infant, I could be left on beds to crawl around, because I never fell off. In fact, I don’t recall any tales of my falling–not from the playpen I scaled up and over, not from the cinderblock-and-board bookcases, not from swingsets or playground equipment.

In new situations, I first watch and listen, sometimes for a long time. I make sure I understand the group dynamics before adding my opinion. I’m told I have a “way” with diplomatic phrasing. I won’t say yes until I am more than confident I can deliver…for the length of the commitment and then some. I make sure no one else will volunteer before I decide to. I am not crazy about sports with balls in them. I have a respectable poker face.

But I have deeply-ingrained Good Manners, so of course I don’t contradict the woman. Which gives me time to think.

I think: I stayed in Girl Scouting through my teen years in part for their “High Adventure” program–trips spent bouncing down the sides of rocks and climbing back up again, or paddling like a madwoman down a fast-moving rocky river (my favorite). Because Girl Scouts traveled, in groups without parents (though with some adults), to everywhere from Greenwich Village, New York City to Cartagena, Colombia. (I was this close to going…). I loved summer camp, including the part where I’d walk in not knowing a soul and come out with a dozen friends.

Friend-making at camp was just another version of moving every few years, after all. Getting to a new city, hearing the voices, tasting the foods, learning the streets, the plants, the things the locals took for granted…so interesting! And so rich, to dip into that wealth in one place after another. I had favorite foods from a half-dozen regions by the time I was twelve.

At twenty-three, I ate my first Filipino food while thinking, “If I eat first and like it, then I can ask questions later.” This while on a trip so adventurous for me that my cautious self didn’t catch up until three days in, when it threw a hissy fit about how far I was from home and how little I could afford to buy a return ticket…if I happened to want one. Luckily for me and my companion, panic got side-tracked by a different adventurous dinner. Besides, I didn’t actually want the return ticket…or for the adventure to end.

My venturesome spirit goes inward, too. I offered my writing for group critique starting at age fifteen. I’m sure I took a deep breath–it’s an intimate and vulnerable thing, to share creative work in order to be told how to change it–but I evidently took to it like a duck to water. I now hate to be without it; it’s as if I had an ear stopped up from a head-cold.

Most of my paid employment I’ve taken in a “Why not?” spirit. In fact, two of the jobs were a stretch beyond my fingertips, so much so that with one I landed a 6-month case of impostor syndrome, and with the other I would remind my boss, “I’ve not done this before; there’s a lot to learn.”

It was this last, recent adventure I thought of first. Signing on to a job you’re pretty sure you can do even though you have no formal qualifications and only a few informal ones? That’s adventurous. To phrase it politely.

As I rolled “adventurous” around in my head, I wanted to pin all my venturing back on my Girl Scout training and not on any quality in myself. To the years of practice I had in trying new things, which is something Scouting excels in offering. And I’m sure that practice was a factor.

But a baby who figures out how to scale her family’s furniture is not a model of caution. No matter how sure-fingered and -footed she is. So she was right. My venturing seems to be woven deep within me.

I’ll practice saying it some more:
I. Am. Adventurous.

Pass me the chapulines (toasted grasshoppers).

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