Caroline Paul, one of the first female firefighters in San Francisco, is a real life Wonder Woman who has done things like thermal flying, crevasse rescue, luge sliding, and scaling the Golden Gate Bridge in the middle of the night.
She has a new book out this week called The Gutsy Girl: Escapades for Your Life of Epic Adventure. Reading it is sort of like watching an emotionally insightful action movie with a woman as the protagonist. It’s beautifully illustrated by Caroline’s partner, Wendy McNaughton, and has lots of fun journal prompts like:
“When was the last time you built something with your hands?”
The book got me thinking about my own relationship to adventure. I’m pretty fearless in many ways. Public speaking is supposed to be the #1 fear of the general public, but it doesn’t leave my knees knocking in the least.
I’m mostly myself in most situations, which is both a product of privilege — it’s easier to be authentic when much of your identify fits mainstream norms — and also bravery. I don’t mind being a new person in a new situation, as long as people aren’t snobs or too cool for school. I genuinely like receiving feedback when it’s given within the context of a respectful relationship and with the purpose of making me better. Travel has always thrilled me, even if I get a little nervous en route. I don’t fall in love easily, but when I do, I give over my whole heart and know that it might be broken. I somehow decided early on that this was a prerequisite for a worthwhile life, as scary as it can be.
But when it comes to physical risks, I’ve always been a little wimpy or, more accurately, uninspired. My husband runs marathons, and I just don’t get it. I was a pretty serious high school athlete, so I like running after a ball, but put me on a track and I lose motivation. Sky diving? Meh. Just doesn’t feel worth all the money and the logistical preparation. Same with skiing, which I grew up doing, but now find all the equipment a total turn off. I’d rather snuggle up by a fire and read.
Then again, I did give birth. Is there a bigger physical risk/adventure than that? While I’m the first person to embrace a woman’s decision not to have kids — there are so many really good reasons not to have kids), I do feel like carrying and birthing a child was just one totally wild, completely fascinating, so extreme-as-to-be-surreal thing that I’m glad I’ve experienced. It pushed me to my absolute physical limits, to the point that the labor and delivery nurses said they’d never had a woman curse so much. It put me in utter awe at what the human body has the capacity to do and heal from. It terrified me and changed me.
I’ve ducked bullets in Cape Town, debated Bill O’Reilly on live national television, and hiked topless through a desert, but if childbirth counts as adventure, then I guess that’s my grandest one yet.
I look at my daughter and I know that I want a life of adventure for her. A safe life is only partially used up. But the particular kind of adventure or sort of safety she seeks is up to her.
Maybe she’ll be a daredevil like Caroline Paul, breaking bones and gathering amazing tales. Or maybe she’ll be an emotional daredevil — telling truth to power or creating art that cuts to the marrow of the human condition. Maybe she’ll be both. Maybe she’ll sail around the world on a tall ship or put the firmest roots down and take the risk of committing to one beautiful, imperfect community. Maybe she’ll give birth to her own kid some day. Maybe she won’t.
As long as she knows how to taste fear and push through it when it matters, then she’s gutsy enough for me.