When I was contemplating taking my second trapeze lesson, one of the thoughts that jumped into my head was “Why should I? I wasn’t very good at it.” I stopped at that thought. Why should I expect to be good at it? Why did I think this completely unnatural thing, in every way unlike anything I had ever done before, should be easy for me? To have mastered it in a single two-hour period? The expectation was ludicrous.
Too often we like to believe that someone who is good at something owes their success to luck. The marathoner is lucky because she has an advantageous body type. The polyglot is lucky because he has “an ear for languages.” The accomplished trapeze artist is lucky because she must just be good at this kind of thing. Rarely do we acknowledge how much effort and persistence go into these endeavors, how many hours of devotion and years of practice. We only see the end result and we think, “Boy, they sure are lucky.” Having, on occasion, been on the receiving end of such comments I know first hand that hard work often gets mistaken for pure luck. Yet, there I was, believing that if I weren’t good at trapeze from the get-go, it wasn’t worth doing at all. What malarkey.
This is one of the reasons I’ve continued to take trapeze classes. I want to show myself that you don’t have to immediately be good at something to excel at it. Success takes patience, effort, practice, and the will to make mistakes and fall down. It’s in the getting back up again that mastery occurs. I’ve realized that in my 32 years, it’s not a lesson I’ve learned well.
So, on Wednesday night I headed out to Belmont Harbor once again and climbed up that loathsome ladder for my fourth trapeze class. As you may recall from my last endeavor, I failed to successfully throw the Straddle Whip. Apprehensions about throwing a blind trick got the best of me and I crumpled underneath the fear. I was determined to get it in my next class. I visualized completing it every day, imagined pushing my body against my arms, straightening out my legs, and propelling myself forward at the “hup.”
But before catches, I learned a new trick. Actually, I learned several new things that day. My new trick was the Split and involved putting one foot on the bar with the other foot extended so my body was in a vertical position. At the back end I extended my front foot, spreading my legs as wide as they could go and pushing my hips forward with the bar pressed against my back thigh. With an arched back, I looked for the catch bar and reached toward it at the call.
I also started learning how to do a one-handed take off. Up until this point I had been doing two-handed take offs, with both hands on the bar and the instructor holding me on the platform by my safety harness. The instructor still held me by my harness, but from then on I was to hold onto the bar with one hand and onto the small ladder on the platform with the other hand, then bring that hand to the bar as I jumped.
You know, sometimes I think trapeze is designed to scare the bejeezus out of its enthusiasts at every possible chance. Whenever I think, “I’ve got this, I’m not afraid,” something new comes along to make me want to pee my tights. I was visibly having issues with the take off. My leg was shaking. “Stop. Breathe,” the instructor said to me after a few failed attempts. I needed that. I collected myself and took off, albeit somewhat awkwardly. On the ground I practiced the move a few times and gave myself a talking to. “You will do this,” I said to myself. “You will not wuss out. You can and you will learn to do this jump.” And I did. Every take off from thereon was a breeze. It’s amazing what an attitude adjustment can do.
The third thing I learned how to do was to remove the safety lines in the net and tumble out unharnessed. That wasn’t difficult to do, but it was nice to know that the instructors had enough confidence in my abilities to allow me to do that. To me, it was a moment of evident progress.
Because there were only four of us in class that evening, we got four rounds of catches, instead of the customary two. With two tricks to practice, I split them between the four opportunities. I successfully threw my first Split (yay!), but missed my second because I released too early. Next I went back to the Straddle Whip. It was not without some drama. On the first attempt I, again, released too early and came crashing into the catcher’s hands with my face. More specifically, with my eye. I fell into the net and did a body parts check. Was my eye still attached to my head? Yes. (I once saw an eye pop out at a Chicago Sky game, so that was a real concern for me.) Could I see? Sort of. It took me a few moments before I realized what had happened and was able to call out to the instructor on the ground, “My contact is gone.” Yes, my left contact had been pushed clean out of my eye. That sounds traumatic, but I’m incredibly grateful that that’s all it was.
I could have quit there, but I was determined to throw this trick, even with my sight severely compromised. That’s the thing about trapeze though…it’s not really about seeing. It’s about feeling and listening and waiting. The waiting is what I needed to work on. “When you think it’s time, wait three more beats. When you think they’ve forgotten about you and you’re just freely swinging out there, wait some more,” was a more advanced student’s advice to me. As I was about to go up the ladder, the instructor ran up to me and whispered, “I have a secret: wait for the ‘hup.'”
I took off. I swung my feet up and opened my legs. I waited. And waited. And I waited, not knowing where I was in space or when the catcher was going to make the call, knowing only that in that moment I was swinging free. Finally it came. I unfurled my body, stretched my hands out to who knows what, and fell easily into the catcher’s arms. That was it. I had done it. It hadn’t come easy to me: I was scared, had failed it three times before, and I was effectively blind in one eye. But, I was successful that day because I’d had the patience to see it through. I’d waited for the “hup.”