It sucks to be a rookie. But it sure does teach you a lot.

It was the second class of Absolute Beginner Aerial Silks. I was eager to get started and decided to use the double mat, just in case. Good thing. I shimmied up the silks as I’d learned last week, planting my left foot squarely into the arch of my right, locking in the thick gold silks so that I could climb.

For good cause, I have a lot of faith in my upper body strength. I’ve got two pullup bars in the house and I use them. I could do more, and will, but even so, it’s remarkable how the right technique is supported with strong arms.

the author two minutes into the second Beginner’s class Julia Hubbel

Sally, our instructor, was working with another girl a few mats down. I got good ways up, then decided to come down. Forgot how, and skidded.

That is a good way to get a serious silk burn on your hand, which is precisely what happened. She’d warned us. That won’t be my last. Last week I had been wearing thick rubber hand splints for my arthritis, this week I went without. I’m wearing them next week. I have blisters. Feels like someone aimed a blow torch onto my skin. Looks like it too. Two blisters. And that was three minutes into class.

Well, shit.

Be willing to suck at something.

Okay. Well, I’d have to be more mindful, and pay more attention to technique, huh? That’s part of the lesson when you’re a rookie. Slow the hell down. Don’t get cocky. Ask first. If you’re going to head up, might want to remember how to come down.

Gravity works and it’s pretty unforgiving.

Got it. Not likely to make that mistake again.

I hope.

We spent forty-five minutes learning how to do a drop. Sally, who is half my age and has the lats of a serious athlete, leaped up onto her black silks and rapidly walked us through what we’d be doing. Backward, through the silks. Trusting first that we wouldn’t hit our punkin heads on the mat or break our necks. Trusting that for each of us, Sally’s knot was precisely where it needed to be for the height of each person.

That’s asking a lotta trust.

Each move is designed to use bodyweight, momentum, balance, and control. Sally said before I ever started this that you really have to be present every single second. She wasn’t kidding. That’s part of why I had signed up.

This is what it looks like after you’ve mounted the silks and shimmied up so that they are wrapped around the upper thigh:

The author just before going backwards, Julia Hubbel

Most of the girls in the class, and at 68 they are all girls to me as nobody was over forty, were having an awful time getting to the above position. For you are inverted when you begin, and you have to reach up and over your feet and pull yourself up with your upper body strength. From this position, you let go of the silks, put your arms out, and fall backward.

If you have ever attended a ropes course or done a trust fall, you know the feeling. The difference here is that there is no crowd facing serious liability lawsuits if they don’t make sure they catch you. You are on your own, above the mat, trusting that there is enough room between your noggin and that hard mat to ensure that you don’t end up in a wheelchair for life.

That’s a lotta trust.

Just before letting go, feet crossed, deep breath. Julia Hubbel. BTW the girl to the left is getting ready to do a forward fall. Yes, it’s scary as crap.

I let go.

Scared the shit out of me.

And I was fine.

Pleased as shit, too. I clambered out of the silks, took a breath and did it again. And again. I was delighted. Reminded me of my first skydive.

I missed the mat by perhaps three inches. Plenty of room.

Sally said that by the third class, a bunch of folks never show up again. Partly because they don’t have the strength, partly because it’s too intimidating, or it’s not for them. More often, she said, it’s because they’re not willing to fail enough so that the fourth class, which is when it all starts to come together, they start to feel like maybe they can do this.

Several of the girls tonight simply could not let go and fall backwards. They climbed back down. It happens. They’re a third my age, with a lot less to lose if something goes bump.

I didn’t master it, but I did master my fear of it. Big difference.

Then we fell forward. That’s a different kettle of fish. The first time I was fine.

The second, I flubbed the landing and cranked the holy beJesus out of my left knee. It started to shake and bake. I eased off the mat. Stretched. Walked it off. It’s mad. I was done, and besides, it was the end of class.

Good. I walked it off, and it has ice on it now. I asked Sally for some guidance on a more controlled landing. I’ll be wearing a brace for a few days, see how it goes.

I suck at this.

I’m supposed to suck at this. I’ve got all the grace of a drunk elephant, but I’m not afraid to fail.

Chris, one of the young women in my class, spent some time afterward trying to convince me to get into rowing. She’s a pro at that, even a coach. I told her that the feeling she had learning to row well is the same. Fail fail fail FAIL win fail fail fail flail fail badly win fail win win fail win win fail fail win win. You get it. She’s just coming out of a many years-long abusive relationship.

It’s remarkable what causes us to go try something new. So often we find ourselves out of jail, and suddenly, the wind is in our face and hair, and we start wondering, what was I missing?

Indeed, how much of life are you missing by being afraid to suck at something?

This is how I started last week:

Julia Hubbel

Already, I can do a backdrop, and sorta a front drop. And I can climb two different ways. I still suck at this.

But I am not afraid to fail. I have silk burns on my left hand and a pissed-off knee. Both hurt. That’s all right. The price of being a rookie.

Couldn’t be happier. Because the delight I feel in trusting my body, learning a new skill, and placing this kind of demand on myself far outweighs the side effects.

Each small win, learning how to lock the silks into my arch, learning how to dismount without torching my digits, learning how to fall back without being terrified. Small steps, every single one of them worth celebrating.

Sure, I was injured. It’s that kind of sport. I’ll be wearing knee braces for a few days. See how it goes.

Walk instead of run this week. No big deal.

I suck at this. I’m supposed to. And I am loving every single minute of it.

Are you willing to suck at something new? That’s my best comedy material, my favorite stories. Because we all suck at a lot of things. I get lots of practice making fun of myself. And that’s a shitton more fun than taking myself too seriously.