#OldDogNewTricks

the faerie thorn aw.inddRemember my 365 Days of Adventure project that I did in 2014? I followed the thread of adventure ‘all the way home’ and I ended up writing a book, The Faerie Thorn and Other Stories (Blackstaff Press, 2015). As a result of the book being published, more adventures grew: some of the stories were adapted for the stage by Big Telly Theatre Company (and I got to be part of the creative team); I secured several storytelling and writing commissions – and even a residency or two; and I wrote a show called The Wonder Tales and toured it (oh, and I performed in it as well 🙂 ).

The last 4 years have been both exciting and nourishing. I’ve continued to follow my adventuring instincts and enjoyed the rewards of a creative life. I’ve met interesting, astonishing people who are very different to me – and that difference has taught me more about who I really am. I’ve found myself ‘at home’ in a place where I didn’t expect to experience such a deep sense of belonging (in the theatre).  And this has all been brilliant, and I’m continuing to follow the thread of creativity that keeps unravelling before me.

Io 9But. Yes, there’s a but. And I felt the ‘but’ arrive on the scene last summer. My only son finished his A levels and left for university in England. I knew I’d been preparing for this ‘letting go’ for a while: the emotional current that goes with an emptying nest has driven my writing and performance for at least the last 4 years.

I decided that I’d feather my empty nest with new things and make new connections with different people. Just as I did with the 365 Days of Adventure project, I waited for an impulse to arise. If the impulse felt expansive and positive and full of life, I would follow it. I would also follow it – make a decision to do  the thing – before any kind of conscious rational processing kicked in. My year of adventuring taught me that this kind of decision-making leads to the best kind of adventures. That year of adventuring also taught me that there’s a part of me (outside my current conscious awareness) that really does know what it’s doing. It’s heading somewhere and I just have to follow the signs – even though I don’t know where I’m actually going!

crossfit HSIn September 2018 I joined the local CrossFit ‘box’, CrossFit Causeway. If you’ve known me for a while, you’ll also know that I’m a keen runner and endurance athlete (you can read about my 203-mile running odyssey over the Scottish islands of Islay and Jura here, about my experience of running the Mourne Way ultra-marathon here, and about my recumbent trike adventure here). Physical activity took a bit of a back seat while I wrote and promoted The Faerie Thorn, but I got back into serious training a while back, running on my own and lifting weights at home.

To be honest, running and lifting weights was my ‘alone time’. I cherished it! I couldn’t for the life of me understand this sudden impulse to train with other people. I didn’t question the impulse, though – and I’m so glad I didn’t.

Jane Talbot trike adventureCrossFit has (literally) turned me upside down and shaken me back into my body. And whilst it’s been shaking me about, it’s shaken awake parts of me that have been, well, ‘waiting’ to be roused. (I think that’s the best way I can find to describe the experience.)

Every time I train in the box, I feel adventure ‘waking up’ and moving inside me. And every time I train in the box, I’m surrounded by fellow adventurers! (I’m not sure they see themselves as adventurers, but that’s definitely how I see them. They hurl themselves at freshly laid-down challenges, not always sure whether they can complete the challenge. They adapt in all sorts of ways to make sure they ‘get the job done’ and they actively support each other, no matter how the challenge is being tackled by each person.)

I can honestly say that the box feels like ‘home’ to me and, even though the athletes are from all walks of life and are all different ages, there’s a real sense of common purpose when we’re training together. I like that. I like the energy of that. I like the community feel of that. I like the striving and celebrating of that.

kitchen adventureIn December 2018 all sorts of adventure impulses started to appear on my radar – and I decided I would follow them. The common theme is the physicality, but I’m certain the outcomes of these adventures will not necessarily be strictly related to the nature of the adventures themselves. Unlike the 365 Days of Adventure project, only 4 key impulses have emerged (so far 🙂 ). So, I’ll not be doing something different every day. Instead, every day, I’ll be working towards completing 4 key adventures:

  • In March 2019, I’ll be taking my very first musical theatre (singing) examination. I’ve never taken a musical theatre exam before in my life, and I’m going straight in at ‘the top’ (grade 8). Singing is not only a very emotional activity, it’s also a very physical activity. Add a hefty layer of theatrical performance and you’re talking hard work!
  • In June 2019, I’ll be competing as a track athlete. I’ll make my first appearance 🙂 at the West Midlands Masters Championships in my home town of Nuneaton in early June. (This will give me the chance to get a feel for what track competitions are like.) At the end of June I’ll compete in the Northern Ireland Masters Track and Field Championships. At this stage, I’m not sure which events I’ll compete in. 400m/800m are contenders at the moment. And 400/800m running is NOTHING like marathon running and ultra-running!
  • In July 2019, I’ll be competing in a powerlifting competition. (Yep. Sometimes I do have to wonder what my unconscious mind is up to. I’m all ‘daddy long legs’ and look nothing like a regular powerlifter. This could all go horribly wrong, but I’m going with it anyway 🙂 .)
  • In August 2019, I’m going to learn how to swim the butterfly. (This is me revisiting major childhood humiliation. I’ve no idea why this impulse arose, but I’m following it.)

jane wonder (2)So far, it’s clear that I’m going to be adventuring physically rather than creatively. (I’ll admit, you’re a long time sitting when you’re writing books 😉 . After a while, all you want to do is MOVE.) It’s not that my creative work will stop; my adventuring will be fitted in around my creative work. (Even typing those words, I’m smiling and just noticing myself smile. For me this means I’m up to something I definitely don’t understand, but I’m certain these adventures will have some unexpected and glorious impact on both my creative work and my regular training/coaching work!)

I’m in my 50s now, and my rational understanding of my impulse to adventure like this in 2019 goes like this:

  • I’m well on the other side of the menopause. I’m fed up of society’s messages about ‘being in decline’. I want to challenge what it means to be a woman in her 50s.
  • People talk about women being ‘invisible’ once they get to a certain age. In fact, Yann Moix recently caused a controversy by saying (amongst other things) that women in their 50s were ‘invisible’ to him. Now, I don’t really care what men think of me – and I certainly don’t care for Moix’ attitude towards women’s bodies, but there is something to this whole invisibility thing – and not in any bad way. I do feel invisible, but I find that very freeing. It’s like I’ve left one world and now exist in another world or dimension. In this new world are other older women; they can pass back into the ‘younger’ world, but it’s like being a shadow or having a cloak of invisibility. With my cloak of invisibility I can do all sorts of things. I want to explore and understand how this ‘fade’ works and what it really means.
  • Doing new things (and things that I’m not necessarily going to be very good at) will help me to learn more about who I am – and who I am not. There’s an excellent chance that my venture into powerlifting is going to be disastrous (unless there is no one else in my age and weight category 😉 ). There’s also a very good chance that I’ll come last in the track events and that the butterfly may defeat me. It wouldn’t surprise me if the examiner for my musical theatre exam mentioned the word ‘pantomine’ in my results script. In spite of all this, I’m sure I’ll find new treasures and I’m certain that I’ll have a great deal of fun. #TheCraicWillBeMighty
  • I’ll be engaging with people in new and more meaningful ways. Whilst it looks like I’m adventuring solo, I will actually be working with a range of coaches, experts and ‘moral supporters’. Some of the people I’m working with are people I’ve never met before. Some are not, and some are friends with hidden and not-so-hidden talents. I know that when I’m engaging with people who are ‘in their element’, the air crackles with positive energy and you can’t help but be affected by that. Such people are vibrantly alive when they’re doing their thing or talking about their thing. I don’t mind a daily dose of vibrantly alive, I can tell ya!

And that all sounds quite rational, doesn’t it? A post-menopausal woman who is challenging what it really means to be old. It’s a good reason to call the project #OldDogNewTricks (although I quite fancied #FarFromFinishedAt50, but that’s maybe a bit too long for a hashtag 😉 ).

jane balancing (2)The issue is this: I think there are other reasons for me doing this that I’m yet to discover. I think the impulse to adventure is a call to some kind of vital learning – and that learning may be nothing to do with the physical challenges. It may be that the challenges provide the context for the learning. I’m curious about this and I’m keen to take the new thread of adventure and follow it ‘all the way home’. Already, one month in, and the insights are flooding in thick and fast. For example, to be a sprinter, I’ve had to give up very long Sunday runs. And do you know what? I grieved – and I realised the grieving was nothing to do with the long runs.

Just like the 365 Days of Adventure project, I’m going to keep a blog. I’ll introduce the adventure support team in the next few days and keep you posted throughout the year. Do keep me company along the way!

In the meantime, I’m just going outside and may be some time 🙂 .

Jane Talbot – 04/02/19
Musical theatre performer, track athlete, powerlifter and butterfly specialist (inter alia 😉 ).