Today I put on my seatbelt to drive across a parking lot. I locked the car doors, too. It didn't occur to me how ingrained these actions are until my best friend, who grew up in LA and is therefore all things risky in my smalltown mind, laughed and said, "No, you're not really?" My first reaction was indignance, because that's who I am. What's wrong with what I'm doing? It's perfectly reasonable. Shut up. Someone could come tearing into the Wendy's drive-thru and ram into us...But then, because I'm trying to lighten up (stop laughing), I admitted I do always drive home from the Brownie meeting - which is around the block - without my seatbelt on. Call the authorities! What I didn't mention, however, is that I am extremely tense the entire three minutes and can feel the little red laser-like safety light boring into my forehead. I think my blood pressure actually rises a little in that eighth of a mile.
Here is a sampling of some other wild actions I've succumbed to so far in my life: Dancing on a picnic table at the Snake River; making out in a park with a guy I met two hours before at Pizza Hut; wearing knee-high boots with a short skirt (interestingly, it gave me more anxiety when I did it at 37 than at 5); routinely finishing work the night before it's due...I really could go on - there are a variety of things I've worn that made me quite nervous - but I'm sure you're scandalized enough at this point.
At the risk of sounding Oprah-guru-like, I think I try to play this little game of "how bad can I be?" because it gets irritating being constantly thought of as the responsible, play-it-safe, reliable gal. That is the plain Jane character in movies who's stupidly happy to help her hot, ne'er-do-well best friend get the cute guy while she smiles nobly, alone, in the background. The 'smart' one who chooses cautiously, never wondering or worrying about what might be missing. I don't always want to be that girl, yet my brain frequently disallows rebelliousness. I can't help but think through chancy situations to their potentially painful ends; I imagine possible pitfalls as easily as I conjur make-believe conversations with celebrities. It is even physically difficult for me to intentionally misspell a word.
A scene from "Little Children" struck me recently. The Kate Winslet character talks about how her impression of Madame Bovary changed - she used to see her as a tragic fool, giving up a safe, easy life for fleeting, decadent pleasures, but she came to understand that Madame Bovary's choices were more about living life fully and not settling for dull routines. Lest you worry I might be on the edge of a shopping binge followed by illicit affairs and an arsenic chaser, fear not; I'm far too busy for any of that nonsense. And I'm not completely sold on Emma Bovary as feminist icon, but I get the need for letting loose now & again.
Of course, as evidenced by the "no seatbelt around the block, look at me!" craziness, my idea of letting loose is far more tame than that of most people. I like to think I'm doing a decent job of blending my straitlaced self with the dark side to allow for more spontaneous fun, though it usually takes at least two good blood orange daiquiris. Which I guess begs the question, am I blending them or just obliterating the cautious one? Try to get me to jaywalk before I've had a drink and we'll see who comes out...