Secret Play Date #5: Dragons and bicycles and tiny secret safehouses

The dragon who guards the hill

Hi there, friends! It’s Tuesday, which means Secret Play Date day, which means I spent an hour of my afternoon drawing crazy things and figuring things out. With crayons!

That unlikely orange dragon-creature (who started out as a very abstract little grouping of red and orange lines and only later sprouted wings, teeth, giant googly eye, firebreath and turquoise spikes) was part of a larger map I created:

monster mapping on a tuesday afternoon (doot doot dooo)

Oh hello all this stuff I didn't know was floating around inside my brain

And it was all on the theme of Riding My Bike To Work (which is the thing that I sort of forgot about wanting and then remembered).

See, this is my tiny, secret plan. It’s partly the reason why I’ve been taking a cycling class for conditioning, and partly the reason why I recently bought an awesome new bike.

It’s also the idea I’ve been avoiding like the plague.

Well, it’s also a huge pile of stuck that was just waiting to EXPLODE with information as soon as I gave it some attention and scribbling-time during my secret date with Play.


So many monsters

Oh goodness. They had so many disheartening things to say.

About how I don’t know what I’m doing. About how I’ve set this goal but I keep forgetting that I live on top of a very scary hill and then I’d have to go across a highway bridge and then I might die or get a flat tire along the way, and both death and tire troubles sound equally awful, honestly.

There were so many monsters and they were so vocal that apparently they elected the Big Orange Dragon to represent their interests in this particular map, guarding the steep hill that leads down from my house. (It’s a very, very steep and very, very long hill. The kind where cars can’t maintain their speed going up, even with a running start.)

Every time I thought about the hill, I couldn’t avoid the Dragon. Breathing fire and saying Bad Idea Turn Around You Can’t Do This.

And I was stuck, because how can I do this if the dragon is in the way? The dragon who is actually pretty smart to guard me from that crazy hill, which no one should walk down, never mind bike down at terrifying speeds?

I got to a point in my scribbling and drawing where I literally couldn’t play any more, because I was so wrapped up in these fears.

So I called a retreat.

To the safetyhouse!

(Goodness, what would I do without Havi, who always reminds me of the necessity for safehouses! Safe rooms! Safety havens all over the place!)

From my tiny secret safety house in the forest, I tried to carefully observe the doom-and-gloom monsters and not disturb the Big Orange Dragon guarding the hill.

I decided to put on my anthropologist hat* and tried to figure out the rules and assumptions governing this particular scrum of monsters.

* Not to be confused with the Anthropologie hat that I covet, but you know, they might be the same thing, shhh.

Monstrously monster assumptions

I learned that my monsters focus on the disasters (steep hill! flat tire! death!) because  they don’t want me to have to face the First Try of this particular bike ride. 

Why? Partly they want to protect me from anything scary (so sweet of them!) but mainly because they don’t believe in practice. No amnesty, no experimentation, no play. Only try-then-fail.

This seemed pretty alarming  — do I really believe everything will fail? And not a magnificent failure but a catastrophic one? Clearly that’s not the case, I can think of plenty of successes I’ve had.

A closer eye on the monsters revealed a clarification to this notion: okay okay, failure might not be the only option…success (scary word!) lack-of-failure might be possible, but only if I assume that I will fail. In the worst way. No optimism allowed!

Borrowing a cup of fail

Fail, in this case, has a very specific meaning for me: injury.

Failure = injury comes from the very scary time when I broke my ankle. Suffice it to say that not only was it horrible at the time, but it happened five years ago and I am still dealing with the strangeness of having an ankle full of metal, which doesn’t like to bend, and a leg and hip and spine full of resulting torsions and tensions. And it happened in the context of trying a new thing which was scary. So it seemed to be proof: risk leads to catastrophic injury and failure.

So I’m afraid to ride my bicycle is actually: I’m afraid of the descent into pain, self-recrimination, depression, helplessness, anxiety, PTSD and painful recovery that sent my life that year into a tailspin. I’m afraid of losing control over my body. I’m afraid of losing everything I have built up since then. I’m afraid of losing my self.

And I knew that I would say to myself, with shame and anger, I knew this would happen.

Oh, it is a terrible feeling to hear that phrase.

What would Compassion say?

I took a step back, here. Compassion reminded me: it’s comforting to think I can predict the future, because then I can control everything.

But also, everything is my fault.

That is a very sad and scary way to face the world. To know that failure is inevitable; to know with seeming omniscience that failure is going to be big and is going to trigger an avalanche of depression and pain and loss of self.

That’s the scary black pit of fear that generates the orange dragon and stops me from taking any steps in the direction of this dream.

But what if I took the easy road?

What if I believed that this was an easy task, riding my bike to work?

What would that bizarro reality look like? What if I eliminated the hill and the dragon, what if I bypassed the highway bridge and the other scary stuff just by driving in my car to the easy bit and biking from there?

This was the dumbfounding moment, I have to admit.

Because I realized I had already solved my own problem.

Not as in, ding, problem solved! As in, oh yeah, didn’t I come up with this solution a couple weeks ago?

Geez, brain, really? Remember when we freaked out about this and then decided the sane thing is to avoid the scary bits and drive partway and then bike the rest of the way?

Oh yeah. Huh. I guess I did think of that.

I guess I’m smarter than I thought — and I’m so sneaky that I came up with my own solution and then hid it in my own brain until I needed it in order to secretly and stealthily sneak past some of my deepest, darkest fears.

And all of a sudden, there was no dragon. No hill. No self-imposed limit of failure and struggle.

Just one exciting plan to ride my bike.

And that was a very, very nice way to end my secret play date.


About jesse k.

Writer. Mama. Spy in the house of self-awareness. Occasional crafter, letterpress geek, and academic snob.
This entry was posted in Sovreign Symbols, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Secret Play Date #5: Dragons and bicycles and tiny secret safehouses

  1. Claire P says:

    Loving your SPD reportage Jesse. LOVE it.
    Haven’t been feeling so connected to the part of me that knows how to play lately… She Who Thinks Everything Must Be Astonishing And Profound And It’s Much Smarter To Stay Where Things Remain Potentially Brilliant We’l Never Know We Never Tried (ahem) has been driving things lately…

    Even PLAYING. Like there’s some f***ing STANDARD that must be met for the QUALITY of my mucking around with crayons and paper. Seriously, Me??!!?

    Yes. Seriously… sigh

  2. Cynthia Salbato says:

    Ha ha! I LOVE the Dragon. He (or she?) who is guarding this crossroad-like hill is filled with magic and play. I’m wrestling with my own Dragon right now (mines red and gorgeous in a different way) and your Dragon is reminding my Dragon that playing is a very very valid path to adventure, thanks!

    • jesse k. says:

      It *is* a very playful dragon, when you get down to it — not every dragon is willing to go for such daring stripes and contrasting spiky bits, that’s for sure!

      Your red and gorgeous dragon sounds lovely — I hope you get to play and dance and work with her/his red & gorgeousness soon 🙂

      xo! Miss you, Cyn. We’ve got to get together when you’re next in town!

  3. jesse k. says:

    Glad you’re liking it!

    I absolutely understand how that part of the brain can drive things. It drives me nuts sometimes for months & months at a time — I absolutely credit the Society of the Secret Play Date for helping me get back to it! For a tiny price, my first time getting back to play added in accountability and structure, and it made all the difference to me. YMMV, bien sur.

    I hope when you have your joyous reunion with your crayons that it is every bit as fun as my play dates have been — it’s a delightful, relaxing surprise, nearly every time.


  4. Pingback: The hardest thing | my seed house

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