So if you try something new, and you don’t really like it — does that mean you made a mistake?
As some of you may already know, I did karaoke for the first time a couple of months ago. I did it as part of this Camp Quest fundraising challenge, where two teams of atheist bloggers (or rather, one team versus PZ Myers all by his lonesome cephalopod self) competed to raise money for Camp Quest… a competition that turned into an escalating series of silly forfeits if our side won. Our side won — Go Team Awesome! — which meant Adam Lee had to grow a beard, Matt Dillahunty had to do the Atheist Experience show in drag, Jen McCreight had to learn to ride a bicycle on video, and JT Eberhard had to wax his legs and shave his head. And I had to pop my karaoke cherry, and post video of it on my blog. (I know. Ridiculous. We ought to stop acting like children. We raised over thirty grand for Camp Quest. So shut up.)
Back on topic: I was more than a little anxious about the karaoke thing. It wasn’t like a massive phobia or anything (although I did play up the “fear and loathing” aspect of it for entertainment/ fundraising purposes). It was just something I didn’t particularly want to do. But a lot of people said, “Oh, you’ll like it. Once you get over the nervousness, karaoke is big fun.” And I was open to the possibility that this might be the case… and while I was apprehensive, I was also prepared to enjoy myself.
As it turns out — yeah, not so much. I do actually like to sing, I have a reasonably okay singing voice, and I’m happy to sing in groups of friends. But I don’t like doing being the center of attention doing things that I’m not especially good at. Particularly when it’s in an unfamiliar situation. (And particularly not when it’s being put on YouTube.) The fact that my voice was shot from being at the conference all weekend didn’t help. Plus I’m generally not that crazy about hanging around in bars (don’t like crowds, don’t like noise, have complicated feelings about alcohol). So, yeah. Standing at the front of a room singing into a cheap microphone in a loud, crowded bar? As it turns out — not my cup of tea.
But, in a weird paradox, while I didn’t enjoy the actual experience of karaoke, I very much enjoyed the fact that I was doing it.
Largely, of course, because I was doing it for a good cause. (Go Camp Quest!) But also for its own sake. And while I think it’s unlikely that I’ll do it again (although I suppose that, if I’m going to follow my own advice about being willing to try anything twice, I ought to do it at least one more time), I’m not in the least bit sorry that I did it.
Because that’s the nature of adventure.
The nature of adventure is that you sometimes wind up doing stuff you don’t like… and stuff that’s annoying… and stuff that’s scary… and stuff that doesn’t work out so well. Not just sometimes. Often. You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you meet a prince. And you have to sing karaoke and eat black olives and bleach your hair blonde and live in Orange County and go Irish step-dancing and do a reading of a comedy porn story at an orgy (long story, I’ll tell you another time)… so you can figure out that no, you don’t like those things, but you do like folk singing, and green olives, and blue hair, and San Francisco, and English country dancing, and reading overly personal non-fiction at sex readings. When you try things you’ve never done before, some of it is going to turn out to be stuff you like, and some of it isn’t… and by its very nature as stuff you’ve never done before, you’re not going to know ahead of time which is going to be which.
And I think that may be even more true the older you get.
I’m 49 now, and I’ve tried an awful lot of the things that have occurred to me might be interesting. And while there are still a whole lot of things left on that list, I’ve run through many of the ones on my A list, my “Oh, my God, that seems like it’s so me, I totally have to try that” list. I’m now much more on my B list; my “Oo, that’s intriguing, I’m not sure about that, but it seems like it has potential” list. And I’m getting into my C list as well, my “Hm, okay, that hadn’t really occurred to me before, but what the hell, you never know” list. And the B list and C list are, by their nature, somewhat less likely to pay off.
But they’re also more likely to surprise me. The things from my B and C list that have paid off? They rank as some of the finest pleasures of my life. Salt and pepper ice cream. High-heeled shoes. Radiohead. Project Runway. Some sexual things that I’m not going to tell you about. Okra.
I love these things. I love the surprise of them, I love that they’re still fresh and exciting — and I love them for their own sake. And I would never have these things if I hadn’t been willing to try them and not like them.
And what’s more… the things I do like, the things I know I like, the things I don’t even have to think about whether I like, the things I’ve liked for years? Without new things in my life — whether crappy or awesome — the old favorites wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.
If I only ever did things I know I like to do? I’d just be doing the same things over and over again. And at some point, I wouldn’t like doing them anymore. They’d get tedious. They’d feel like a prison, or a trap. But when I come back to something I know I like, after a stretch of trying new stuff — some of which worked out, some of which didn’t — the old favorites become a genuine comfort. A deep delight. Adventure doesn’t just bring new possibilities into my life. It sheds new light on the old possibilities.
So if I’m trying new things that I don’t like? If I’m trying black olives and spitting them out; if I’m bleaching my hair and then dying it blue the next day because blonde looks wicked stupid on me; if I’m trying karaoke and going, “Jesus fictional Christ, this sucks”?
It means I’m having an adventurous life.
And that is a pleasure all its own.