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Oct 04 2011

Karaoke, First Times, and Some Thoughts On Adventure

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.

13 comments

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  1. 1
    Janee

    I’m always too nervous to try most new things, because most of the new things I’ve tried didn’t turn out well.
    Also, I didn’t know you like Radiohead. It’s slowly becoming one of my favorite bands because of a good friend of mine. =]

  2. 2
    Lou Doench

    Some sexual things that I’m not going to tell you about. Okra.

    Now I can’t stop thinking of Okra sexually… thanks a bunch.

  3. 3
    Simon

    Didn’t like black olives? What is the world coming to. *Shakes head*

  4. 4
    Cobalt

    Karaoke in America isn’t the same as karaoke in asia (Japan is where I did it).
    In America, you have to get up in front of a bunch of alcohol-drinking strangers and sing.
    In Japan, you go to a soundproof room with your friends, drink what you want to, and sing.
    Much easier to do, and much more fun. (Although the number of English songs is limited in Japan.)

  5. 5
    asmallcontempt

    If ever you’re given the opportunity to have unbridled, passionate sex with Thom Yorke, you’ll have to fight ME for it first. Love, love, LOVE.

    And as to this blog post: WORD. Since losing my job two months ago, it’s been so difficult to break out of my usual, somber routine and mind-numbing repetition of job searching. Though my partner and I don’t have the disposable income to go out and do fun things now, I still try to go out and do new things instead of wasting away on the couch.

    Maybe it’s just me, but switching things up feels awesome – even choosing to work in a different spot in the house, or doing things out of the typical order. It makes everything feel fresh and new, and makes that comfy spot on the couch where I do my Tim Gunn impression even better. :)

  6. 6
    StephenS

    My cousin the performer likes to say, “If it doesn’t scare you, is it really worth your time.” I’ve found the more I challenge my own assumptions about what I like and don’t like, what I can and can’t do, the more I discover new things about myself.

  7. 7
    oneMerlin

    Cobalt alluded to it above, so let me say it explicitly: if the bar scene isn’t for you anyway, when you try karaoke again try to find a Japanese-style Karaoke box place. There, you do it in a small room with a few friends (usually the rooms don’t hold more than 6 or so), and the vibe is completely different. It may be much more your cup of tea.

    That said, the bar vibe in Japan is very different too. There’s a competitive/judgmental aspect to US karaoke bars that’s just not there in Japan. It’s an aspect of a fundamental cultural difference, not just a karaoke thing. But it does mean that the small-room vibe is much different and may be better for you.

  8. 8
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    If ever you’re given the opportunity to have unbridled, passionate sex with Thom Yorke, you’ll have to fight ME for it first.

    How conventional… :P

  9. 9
    Chana Messinger

    I completely and utterly love this, and it is so true. You get to look at your life at the end of the day, and say, look at me, look at the things I can do and try and think about and then decide. Look at all the knowledge I am building about the kind of person I am and want to be. Look at the magnificence, the thrill of being alive.

    I’d also love to hear about your thoughts on alcohol sometime.

    Chana

    P.S. Can’t wait to see you in Hyde Park in March!

  10. 10
    Beth

    I love this! It doesn’t even have to be about proving yourself right or wrong, or shifting your assumptions, just the willingness to try something new. Awesome.

  11. 11
    Greta Christina

    I’d also love to hear about your thoughts on alcohol sometime.

    Chana @ #9: I have complicated feelings about alcohol because I have alcoholism in my family. So (a) I have to be careful with my own alcohol consumption, since a tendency towards alcoholism runs in families, and (b) I have a lot of bad associations with it. I also have many good associations with it and do enjoy it… but it’s complicated. And since bars tend to have a higher proportion of alcoholics and problematic drinking than other places, they’re usually not my favorite places to hang out. I can enjoy them… but it’s a very mixed pleasure.

  12. 12
    CailinBan

    Excellent article Greta. My philosophy entirely. Things are worth doing for the experience of doing them, I believe. Good, bad or indifferent, they add to the some total of your knowledge and perspective and awareness. And yep, a lot of it can be fun. Go us!

  13. 13
    ajb47

    I was engaged to someone before I met my wife. It’s a much longer story than that, but the part that goes along with this blog post is that one of the big reasons I broke it off was lack of adventure. As a representative or symbolic explanation, when we went out to dinner, 90% of the time we went to Olive Garden, 5% of the time to Bennigan’s, and 5% of the time to a local burger joint/diner called Nifty Fifty’s. As I said, quite symbolic of our whole relationship.

    But I wanted more. I wanted to try new things, and had started to, that she thought me strange for doing. I got into wine. I wanted to try different foods, and styles of food. I wanted a dog. I wanted to hit the PA Renaissance Faire in costume (which is fantastic). I wanted to travel, at least a little.

    So now, I love seafood, have become a wine snob (in a box? how gauche), have been to New Orleans (twice), been to Scotland, have eaten Chinese, Japanese, Moroccan, and Greek foods (to name a few that I hadn’t had before breaking off the engagement) (Oh, and Scottish food — properly made haggis is great). And now I get to try to keep my children’s horizons broad.

    AJ

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