The Roller Coaster Bluff and James T. Kirk
There are moments (not drawn out episodes of existential crisis or waves of self-doubt but moments) when I take a look at the chasmic change of discarding (not exactly discarding because I’ll have all the many methods of communication via the internet at my disposal but leaving behind, I suppose) the friendships, professional contacts, and soaked in the bones familiarity I have in Chicago for the relative unknown (not strictly unknown as I spent third through sixth grade in the desert of the Southwest but, Christ, I was a kid and what the fuck did I know anyway) landscape of Las Vegas, Nevada, and I look up in the sky like Andy Dufresne after climbing through a sewer pipe and yawp out to the universe
“WHAT THE FLYING FUCK AM I DOING?”
The thing about the high dive is that short span of time between hopping, one foot on the board and the other still on the ladder, onto the plank and wondering if this time — this time — the plunge into the water below will kill you. Despite the knowledge it most likely will not, you get that shadow cascading over your grave, so to speak, and it gives you pause.
I know a few things.
One of the few things I know is that when you hop on that old rickety roller coaster located on the west end of that Dollar Store theme park just on the outskirts of Smallville, and the chain starts the climb to an impossibly steep drop, you experience a physiological change. Your heart beats faster, your mouth goes dry, your pits and hands get moist, your breath goes shallow. Of the few things I know, I know that this biology occurs at the nascent stages of either fear or excitement. Whether you are experiencing one or the other is entirely your choice. The bodily reactions are the same for each and you get to decide which you are experiencing.
A friend wrote, in response to a recent article I posted regarding taking risks, that she is more cautious with her big decisions, and while she appreciates my stance on taking bold, often stupid, risks she isn’t necessarily kin in that specific idiocy. Another friend asked me if I was just that fucking confident in myself that I didn’t ever feel unsure of these high-dive drops.
In “The Paradise Syndrome,” the third episode of the third season of the original Star Trek, Kirk, Spock and Dr. McCoy transport to the surface of an earth-like planet, from which they are to deflect an approaching asteroid. They discover an obelisk with strange markings, and observe a settlement whose inhabitants, according to Spock, are descended from indigenous Americans. Kirk, while out of sight of the others, falls through a trap door into the obelisk, where a beam shocks him into unconsciousness. Spock and McCoy are unable to locate Kirk and are forced to return to the Federation starship USS Enterprise to complete their mission.
Kirk awakens with amnesia, and a pair of women, including Miramanee, the tribal priestess, see Kirk emerge from their temple. He is hailed as a god, and taken back to their village, where the tribal elders demand proof of Kirk's divinity. At that moment, a drowned boy is brought in. Salish, the medicine chief, declares the child dead, but Kirk uses mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to revive him. The elders accept Kirk as a god, forcing Salish to relinquish his position to Kirk.
At a certain point, Kirk and Salish have to go head-to-head and Salish wounds Kirk. When he sees that he has done so, he points it out to the rest of tribe and cries out “The god bleeds!”
Being the hyper-confident somnabitch that I am, while not confused as a god by stereotypical and perhaps problematic portraitures of Native Americans, I am often seen by many as one without self-doubt or fear of humiliation (both aspects of the most god-like in our doubt driven, humiliation averse culture). Trust that I bleed, gang. I definitely bleed. I am, however, not crippled by these things. Like the roller coaster, I choose to reframe my self-doubt and anxiety of probable failure as excitement. Some of this, of course is bluster. Fake it til you make it and all that jazz. Most of it, by virtue of decades reframing, is simply second nature and thus seems sort of like a super power or a magic trick.
Because I do this daily, I’ve grown to see it in others and find a deep respect and admiration for those who employ the same method.
When I witness:
Five comedians speak out against Louis C.K. for his sexual deviancy and harassment in the face of immense pressure to not do so
A former Annoyance Theatre member opens a theater in Lake Villa (talk about your Smallville theme park) and posts about the first gate receipts
A black man in Streeterville simply going to a Subway alone
The aforementioned Louis C.K. get up on a stage after mountains of shame and vitriol
A local Chicago poet promoting her odd show in the back of a bar for a crowd that is perhaps not there for poetry
A woman go up in front of the Senate to counter a Supreme Court Justice nominee
…I am overwhelmingly inspired by them all. Not Kirkian gods who must battle the medicine chief but flesh and blood humans, consumed with self-doubt and anxiety, whose breath is shallow and hearts are racing, and who nonetheless choose to undertake the risk of failure and humiliation.
One of the other things I know among the few is that the worst part of making choices is that each choice is followed by more fucking choices. Once you say “Yes” to taking a path, each step forward is a choice, each turn in the road is a choice, each breath taken is a choice. Fun fact: at least 50 percent of your choices will end in failure. The best way to deal with these failures is to continue to make more choices but, like ye old Grail Knight tells Indiana Jones “Choose wisely.” The wisdom comes from failures. A grand and awful loop of fucking it up, regrouping, learning from it, and doing it again but differently.
I suppose that’s why I love those time loop stories: Groundhog Day, Edge of Tomorrow, Russian Doll, Bandersnatch. While engaging tales of people caught in a spiral of choices made and unmade and made again, these stories are perfect metaphors for life.
So, as I turn upward and squawk out a disbelieving “WHAT THE FLYING FUCK AM I DOING?,” I suddenly calm down and remember that I am merely making another choice in the roller coaster chain, link by link taking me up to the plunge ahead.
Confidence isn’t a super power or a magic trick. It’s a delusion that can reap amazing benefits in the real.