Back in January, I watched Man on Wire, the documentary about how Philippe Petit fulfilled his dream to walk a tightrope stretched between the Twin Towers of New York’s World Trade Center. In 2009 this film won the Oscar for Best Feature Length Documentary – and with good reason. It’s a compelling story about dreaming big and not being afraid to fall – figuratively and literally.
The story seems simple yet so ridiculous: in the early 1970s, a rebellious young man with a love of heights sets his sights on the then-tallest building(s) in the world, the World Trade Center in New York City, as the location for his next high-wire act. With the help of his friends and an “inside man”, he manages to sneak up to the roof, get his equipment set up and actually crosses back and forth between the towers for 45 minutes. He’s 1,350 feet up in the air, without a net. Just typing that last sentence makes my heart race.
While the entire movie was incredibly captivating, there was one scene in particular that stood out. It’s right when Petit is preparing to go out on the wire and he is having a crisis of faith. It isn’t until he gets out to the middle of the wire – did I mention it’s 1,350 feet up IN THE AIR? – that Petit begins to smile. He ends up walking – nay, dancing – between the two buildings for nearly 45 minutes. While there’s no video footage of the event from the aerialist’s perspective, the still photos show the incredible rapture and joy Petit felt as he finally achieved his dream.
After watching this film I sat for a while, just thinking about the courage involved in making this walk happen. Not only did Petit have to be fully committed to doing this, he had to have buy-in from his partners in crime, as it were. One close friend had to bow out of the mission, it was that intense.
How many of us are not taking that chance to step out on that wire, to go beyond the feats of derring-do already accomplished? Yes, it is scary, and there’s no guarantee it will end well. But just as Philippe had a support team helping him achieve his dream, we all have people who are ready to help us create that path to success, even if that path is narrow and treacherous. I’ve learned this firsthand over the last couple of years.
When I first started writing this post back in February, I knew it was time to step out on that wire and I was scared shitless. It was high time to leave LA, but where to go and what to do was unclear, at least to me.
And then the answer came. In late March, while I was in meditation at my favorite place in Los Angeles County, the answer came. And the answers kept coming…in the form of a place to live up north, in the form of friends and strangers and opportunities.
To put it simply, I’m here to tell stories. My stories, others’ stories. And by sharing these stories I help myself – and others – process and heal and move forward.
As my first step in honoring this path, I applied to attend the Tomales Bay Writers’ Workshop this October. It’s run by Pam Houston, an amazing writer who also happens to be the director of the creative writing program at UC Davis. I’d never tried to get into a workshop before, as I always thought my writing wasn’t good enough. But this time, with the help of a great friend who read a piece I’ve been working on and gave me unwavering support, I stepped out on the wire and applied.
And I got in. Holy cannoli, I GOT IN.
Now comes the bigger challenge: paying for this shindig. I applied for a fellowship, but with only one per genre (fiction, nonfiction and poetry) there was a slim chance I’d get it. So I have to look for other funding, which is where you, dearly devoted blog reader, come in.
T-Wizzle advised me that I put a PayPal link for donations here on the blog. “You never know what people are willing to do to help,” she said. And while that’s another big step forward, I keep finding, over and over again, that she’s right: you never do know what people are willing to do to help.
With that, I’m taking another step forward on the wire and telling the world: I want to go to this workshop and I need $1550.00 before July 15 in order to attend. The Donate button is in the right-hand column.
The more I think about how far I’ve come, as a writer and as a person, I wonder if I’m truly ready for the next step. But like Petit, I know I have prepared myself. I have set my sights on other goals and achieved them. So I’m going forward with my own high-wire act. I don’t know if I will reach the other side safely, but I’ve gotten this far, dammit, and turning around now would just piss me off. And more and more I have this sneaking suspicion that, like Petit, I will reach the middle and realize just how effortless it is to reach the other side.
To me, it’s really so simple, that life should be lived on the edge. You have to exercise rebellion. To refuse to tape yourself to the rules, to refuse your own success, to refuse to repeat yourself, to see every day, every year, every idea as a true challenge. Then you will live your life on the tightrope.
– Philippe Petit