Pushing Myself to Learn New Things

Kerepsi Cemetery Budapest Hungary Mason Statue

I have a soft spot for stone masons…

Fear tends to control me, dictating way too many of my decisions. I realize, on the surface, many of you might say this isn’t true. After all, we sold our things and moved to a country we had never visited. Further, that country, Slovakia, is in central Europe – not exactly the capital of the American comfort zone.

For that one decision, my fearlessness score is high. But that’s a small part of my story. Stupid fear dictates way too much of my day to day life. Immobilizing fear which manifests itself by:

  • Refusing to ride my bike on city streets (I hadn’t ridden my bicycle in the 18 months since moving to Budapest – until Saturday.)
  • Avoiding French because I am twice as old as the next participant, and those kids kick my sagging derriere and aging brain.
  • Turning down writing offers because I fear the feedback and revisions – taking criticism as a complete condemnation of my being.
  • The list goes on and on and on

And while each of these items are individually silly, non-life altering events, collectively, they are the essence of life. The essence of my life.

Friday night, Pat suggested we bike out to the Kerespi Cemetery the next morning – past Keleti train station and way on the other side of Budapest. The cemetery is huge, and the only effective way to see it is to bike.

“Pat, you know I don’t like to bike on the streets. Besides, I can’t even get my bike down the elevator.”

“Julie, It’s OK. Follow me. And I’ll help you.”

I executed the elevator move flawlessly (or at least good enough). In this move, I must kick the bike straight up onto its rear tire using the frame as a fulcrum and then dance it onto the tiny elevator in a full standing position.

We biked across town – often in the road – the breeze on my face felt fantastic; cooling on a day which was setting up to be sultry. I was fearless. For 18 months I denied myself this pleasure. Why?!

We explored every nook of the cemetery – riding up one lane and down the next in a zig zag past tombstones only the most talented artist could produce. (Kerespi is like Central Park, with a smattering of dead people and fantastic memorials.)

In the furthest corner, I found the tombstone pictured above. I’m a sucker for a stone mason. My dad was a mason. I let out a little squeal when I noticed it, and directed Pat to take a picture. “Look, it’s a mason!” Pat immediately set to work, not needing to question my request. It was a find only made possible by riding my bike.

After covering all of Kerepesi, we set off to locate the adjoining Jewish Cemetery – which we eventually stumbled upon past the abandoned Budapest Józsefváros train station in a neighborhood which felt like the embodiment of the phrase, “the wrong part of town”.

Watch for two blogs covering these fantastic, yet so very different, cemeteries.

In October, Pat and I will venture to Athens to attend the European TBEX (the Travel Bloggers Exchange) conference. Last month, I received a solicitation to participate in a two day writing seminar – “first come, first served – only 12 students”. An accomplished travel writer, David Farley, is teaching this class. Every cell in my body screamed, “Don’t do it! You’ll make a fool of yourself!”

Finally, I forced myself to enter my credit card details and push submit (damn it, just push SUBMIT!) In spite of the fact that I will probably be the oldest in the class, the least trained writer, and somehow the most self-critical (as evidenced by this sentence), I have to do this.

Learning a new skill is never easy, and it becomes harder with age – even when that skill is relearning to ride my bike (that’s the one you are never supposed to forget, right?)

Intellectually, I realize everyone in class will be too absorbed in their own self doubts to notice mine. Besides, I’ll be a rarity, the only student who is an American living in Budapest. That fact alone is almost always an entree into the lunch conversation.

And if they go home and say, “Wow, I met this interesting old lady in my class, she works in corporate America and is trying to improve her writing skills. Crazy, huh?” – I can live with that. To steal a line from Woody Allen, “Eighty percent of success is just showing up.” That makes sense. Showing up takes guts.

Saturday I rode my bike. It felt good. Actually, it felt fantastic. In two months I’ll take a writers class. Progress is made in baby steps. I’m okay with that, as long as I continually push myself. As long as slowly but surely, I keep moving forward.

Categories: How To

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2 replies

  1. Being in a different age group is beneficial to all! Good for you for pushing submit!

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