Sara Paretsky’s Blog

Jumping off the High Board
November 19, 2008, 5:39 pm
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My favorite cousin has been visiting me and just took off, which leaves me melancholy.  She’s an amazing woman: she’s a skilled trekker and wilderness guide, she’s a feminist who started two small women’s presses.  The second,  Aunt Lute Books, survives to this day.  She ran the oldest women’s bookstore in America, Amazon Books, (no connection to the behemoth, which it predates by more than two decades) for twenty-two years.  And now she’s on her way to Ukraine with the Peace Corps.

My cousin Barb is a warm and loving woman, a bright presence in the lives of the people who know her.  She’s also a risk-taker: she kayaks around Alaska, making camp wherever she sees a flat bit of rocky shore. But I’m especially in awe of her right now for jumping off the high board and starting something totally new in her life.  She and I are the same age, 61, but here I stay in Chicago doing the same routine over and over.

I’m curious to know what risks you may have taken in your own lives, what new directions or challenges.  Let me know.






19 Comments so far
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I’m a former Peace Corps Volunteer who served in Ukraine (Crimea – Kerch 2005-2007) – I’m in my late 50’s. It was an amazing experience and I am soooo grateful for the experience. Since returning to the land of choices and comfort, I have served a year in AmeriCorps*VISTA with an adult literacy program. My next adventure is a 500 mile trek across northern Spain (the pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago de Compostella) – that’s in April. Life is good…just too short!

Virginia J. Pulver

Comment by Virginia J. Pulver

Well,we are conspicuous by our absence! I am not a physical risk taker but I have taken certain risks at different times in my life. I am, by nature, a cautious person which is at once safer and yet restrictive. I have made decisions at points in my life which have totally changed it, thankfully for the better, and feel freer for doing so. I cannot spell out the details but it certainly felt like jumping off the high board at the time!
Incidentally, I still can’t swim!

Comment by corkhead

Well obviously, as Corkhead says, we are a bunch of very careful people. I’m a lifelong coward, myself, so felt I had nothing to contribute. But it’s good to know others are different.

Comment by bookwitch

I love to read about other peoples’ risks and adventures, when they involve the sorts of risks that I could never contemplate. I find climbing a ladder frightening, failed hopelessly in my twenties to get beyond feeling sick and sad when I tried skiing, and suffer gusts of fear at the vulnerability bestowed on me by having two beloved sons, so I am very admiring of people who go into war zones, or difficult areas, or undertake physical challenges. When I uprooted myself and my two sons five years ago and moved us all to Italy, friends and family found my move impossibly risky, yet for me the benefits outweighed the fear from the very first moment.

Comment by Tamsin Hickson

When I was a junior in college, I wanted to drop out to do a year of community service. My father bullied me into foregoing my plan, and in a way, I don’t think I’ve ever recovered from that–I don’t think I’ve ever felt up to leaving aside the conventional in favor of a big risk. I wish I could, but I don’t even know what that would mean in the context of my current life. Is it enough to imagine stories? I wish I believed that was so, that Thoreau was right when he wrote, “I have traveled much in Concord”, but I’m not so sure.

Comment by saraparetsky

I’m not a physical risk taker— I don’t really like heights, etc.

As I come closer to my 60th birthday I look back and think I have taken different paths that might have been expected. Nothing so astounding as trekking across Europe or joing the Peace Corp, but you can put yourself in situations where you take emotional risks–not knowing for sure how things will work out. Taking a more traditional path might have lead to getting married in my early 20’s, kids, etc. Fortunately I met my future husband at a time in my life where I recognized what was important to me. 30 years later is still wonderful.

Comment by genny

Oh dear … I am itching to contribute but I don’t know how to handle the subject. Risk-taking should reflect things I should be proud of – but yet, what have I done that’s so special?
I often took risks when I was playing ice-hockey, I took risks when chose to study palaeography although no job was ever going to materialise, I took risks when I decided to live in London and left without a suitcase, as a French woman I took risks when I married an Irishman, I took risks when I had three children in three years, I took risks when I returned to my native Strasbourg to set up my own business, I took risks when I wrote this silly note knowing one of my favourite writers would read it.

Comment by Pascale

As I read what other were saying here, I realised that we were only having this discussion due to serendipity. A few years ago I accidentally arranged for my teenage son to interview his great hero, Philip Pullman. This in turn gave me ideas “above my station”, so a year on I was doing the interviewing, starting at the top with Jacqueline Wilson.

One thing lead to another, and with inflated confidence I asked Sara Paretsky for an interview. (Well, if you don’t ask…) That in turn made me far less scared of suggesting to Sara that a blog would be a good idea. And here we are.

Where I come from (Sweden) you are always told not to think that you can be anything special. So I suppose one isn’t supposed to even try. Writing is easy, though. You’ll never find me climbing mountains.

Comment by bookwitch

I’ve been away for a week with no access to a computer so I am really pleased to get back and discover more posts on this blog!

Comment by corkhead

A whole week?

Comment by bookwitch

At 50, I walked out onto the floor of a DoJo for my first lesson. At 55 I received my Black Belt. I now help teach women self defense and rape prevention. I couldn’t have done it without my sensei, who at 64, is not a force to be trifled with. It empowered me to leave the safety of the insurance field and return to school to work in psychology. It was tough to leave the safety of the 9-5 world.

Comment by whitecrane

Thanks for all these inspiring and thought-provoking ideas. It is tough to leave the safety of the 9-5 world–it took me quite a while to make that jump myself, and I still miss the camaraderie of a team of co-workers.

Comment by saraparetsky

I took a big risk earlier this year after I was laid off from my former company. I couldn’t find a job in my chosen career so I took a job teaching chemistry at a community college. So different than corporate life! But it’s one of the best things I have ever done with my life.

Comment by Kristine

Oh I can relate to this too ! I was laid off too, years ago, and I took the opportunity to set up my own business as a copywriter. It was one of the best thing I did but I do miss the co-workers … I try to remember the bitchy bits, to fight nostalgia, but there weren’t many !

Comment by Pascale

I was a risktaker as a kid. I loved climbing hight trees and find exciting routes up steep rocksides.

All that had to be left behind when my kids came along. You don’t take risks that could leave them without their mother. But now they are all grown-up and I’m going on a bit, so maybe this is my time to take risks again? 😉

Comment by ab

Similar to Thoreau, a line I like is by Bob Moses, an inspirational organizer with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee in Mississippi in the 60s. He talks about “casting your bucket down where you are.” I believe I have taken many risks doing this both personally and politically.

Personally, it’s the struggle to overcome the legacy of shame that is so much a part of the Irish Catholic tradition. Being a survivor is a lifelong struggle. Politically, it’s staying committed to building a movements for transformative change even when you see former comrades drift away.

Continuing to empower myself while I empower others, entails many risks. It may not look dramatic from the outside but embracing the tension that goes with challenging oppressive systems (internal and external) feels just as scary on the inside. At 54, the motivation to keep pushing is still there.

Comment by solidarity

All these responses are deeply moving, profound, remind me that risks come in all sizes and guises. Solidarity–yes, it’s a lifelong struggle; I like the image of continuing to empower yourself while empowering others.

Comment by saraparetsky

Last spring, at the age of 82, I decided if the memoir I had written about my 16 years trying to save my schizophrenic son couldn’t get published (“powerful,” agents & editors said, “but how to market it?”) I’d publish it myself. I embarked on that enterprise, risking a bit over $1,000 — a lot in my circumstances — and was about to ok the final proof this November when I got word that my manuscript was runner-up in a contest to which I had submitted it over a year ago. So now I’m waiting to see if my work will win, which will mean publication by a small press. Whichever way it turns out, I’ll be happy — and will then have to work my fairly diffident self up to promoting it, also a risk — but if not now, when?

Comment by Phoebe Hoss

Phoebe, let me wish you the best of luck.

Sara, maybe you should have done your journey? But you are doing so much good now as it is.

Last year, I almost bought a farm I couldn’t afford. In a sudden rush of courage I decided to finance it by parting off land, build houses and sell them. The reason I wanted the farm (without animals) was that I wanted to create a cultural center of sorts, have a wonderful tranquile place where I could invite talented and politically interested people, people who can write, make art, who wish to make society a better place. The owners wanted me to have it.

At the last minute, for several reasons, I ended up not doing it. Wise or unwise? The people living there now have really no use for the whole place, they like it but are a little apprehensive – and there turned out to be leaks from the bathrooms and some roofs. Could I have handled that?

If it comes on the market again – will I dare, and will I want to…?

Comment by ab

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