Last year, the Cooke Street Carnival was ridiculously fun. Ridiculously fun, and also moderately embarrassing, in that I inadvertently ended up competing in a donut eating contest. It was my first eating contest of any kind, and it’s not a particularly graceful and ladylike thing to do. I’m not all that concerned about being graceful and ladylike, but still. It’s hard to maintain any sort of dignity while facing a dozen donuts, and a crowd of hundreds. It’s my friend William’s fault. I was walking past, and he said, “Hey! We need some people for the donut eating contest. It’s a bunch of NCSU College of Design people. Will you do it?” And I said, “Yes!” Because, coincidentally, I had just solemnly vowed to “Just Say Yes To Everything And See What Happens.”
What happened on this particular occasion, this first yes, is that I thought I was on a team, and I could eat a donut and play around with the rest while the men of the College of Design did most of the actual eating. It became apparent that I was not on a team; I was an island unto myself, competing against 4 other designers. All men. My strategy was going to be stack-and-smush; I figured one of the 6′ 4″ guys would down a dozen in about 30 seconds that way, and my exposure to the whole thing would be minimal.
We took the stage. A drag queen introduced us, and thankfully got my name wrong. We opened the boxes, and…..it was a dozen cake donuts. Per person. Pumpkin Spice cake donuts. My friend William just laughed. Quite a bit. Stacking and smushing was not an option. The contest lasted forever, absolutely forever. I was two donuts in when Handsome Cowboy, of all people, strolls by, with some girl who looked like she had better sense than to be on a stage with a dozen pumpkin-spice-flavored anything. It was brutal. The guy on the end eventually got down a dozen and was proclaimed winner. I made it through 3 1/2. I have not been able to face anything pumpkin flavored all year. Surprisingly? It was also a lot of fun.
I can’t remember the impetus for “Just Saying Yes To Everything,” although I’m sure it had something to do with trying to treat my daily life more like my travel-around-the-world life. But I do remember that Cooke Street Carnival was where it started, and I realized tonight that it’s been a year of “Saying Yes,” or at least “Saying Yes First, And Then Figuring Out How To Make It Work.” There have been many more successes than disasters with this plan, although there have been a few disasters. Roughly in order, October to October, according to my calendar, this is how it’s gone down:
I lost a donut eating contest. I bought an inappropriate sequined dress. I went to a party I thought I wouldn’t enjoy, and I didn’t enjoy it. I worked in the kitchen tent at Shakori Hills, and I got serenaded (kind of). I volunteered for an election. I volunteered to visit senior citizens. I volunteered for a road race. I saw the Carolina Chocolate Drops at the State Fair. I ate at my first food Triangle Food truck, after waiting in line for over 2 hours for a sausage, and it was totally worth it. I painted every room in my house. I worked at the Troika festival. I went to an Indian wedding feast. I won $100 and beat 49 scary-smart looking people in the Motorco Spelling Bee. I painted a Scheherazade wall of lanterns over my bed. I agreed to help a an 89 year old write her life story, and she immediately turned into one of my favorite people. I bought an inappropriate fringe dress. I threw myself a bluegrass birthday party. I ate at Balthazar. I took a group beginner fiddle class. I did a Silent Retreat. I hung my work in a First Friday photo exhibit. I sold my first piece of art. I bought mod furniture. I volunteered for Band Together. I went to the Structures for Inclusion Conference in Chicago. I sat on the front row of a fashion show. I started a blog. I ate at Finch’s. I wore a strapless dress during the day. I stayed out till 3 am on a school night at Tir Na Nog. I went to a prom (and it was a disaster, but we made some friends.) I made eyes at handsome hipster cowboys (unsuccessfully). I took an advanced beginner group fiddle class. I camped at Merlefest. I watched the Royal Wedding with veterans. I square danced. I went to church camp in the mountains. I volunteered for cornhole tournament. I volunteered at ComeUnity Now. I met the Raleigh Planning Director, mayor, and pretty much all of the Urban Design Center. I stayed out past my bedtime lots more. I heard Loretta Lynn. I went to the Yum Yum Supper Club. I saw the Rollergirls. I got rained on at the amphitheater. I went to a 90th birthday party way up in the mountains. I invented cocktails. I ate at more food trucks. I entered Mystery Build and won a prize. I went to two first birthday parties the same week. I got drunk on pirate rum. I danced on the furniture at the Pour House. I critiqued a design review at an architecture summer camp. I heard close to 120 bands in six months. I sang out loud in front of another musician. I wrote a honky tonk song. I got rained on at the amphitheater again. I kissed the Blarney Stone. I went to Newgrange. I worked at Hopscotch. I chatted up a handsome traveling musician. I road tripped to the French Broad Festival. I entered the Bacon Competition at the State Fair.
That’s quite a few instances of “yes,” for someone who is by nature a pretty serious introvert. I would have done plenty of the things on that list, no matter what. In the beginning, though, I suspect that forcing myself to say yes to things, even when they’re inconvenient, or past my bedtime, or flat-out scary, really got the ball rolling. Also, one of the best things that happened to me traveling around the world was that I felt conspicuous, out of my comfort zone, and outright embarrassed, pretty much every day at some point. And it was fine. It was much better than fine, in fact. If we’re not out of our comfort zones, we’re probably not putting much of ourselves out there. And that would be a shame. Self-consciousness aside, it’s much more fun to enter things, and show up for things, and participate in things, and orchestrate things, and contribute to things.
And so. Bookending this entry with the Cooke Street Carnival, in celebration of a year of “yes,” I’ll be there working Saturday at the advice booth, dispensing opinions and cookies with the other Advice Ladies. I’m willing to barter cookies for reverse advice as well: topics on which I need help include airstreams, family Christmas plans, and handsome cowboys. Come on out and enjoy the festival, and this Carolina fall weather, and say hello. Hope to see you there!