The woman within takes aim at life with no fixed target

ALICE STEINBACH

May 02, 1993|By ALICE STEINBACH

I feel like a dangerous woman.

Packing now to leave for Paris and a new life, I feel like someone who's about to trade in her wimpy, gray, four-cylinder Honda for a powerful, unpredictable, fire-engine-red Corvette.

And although this trade-in is only temporary, I'm still feeling intimidated at the thought of getting behind the wheel of this dangerous new life.

The intimidation comes from leaving behind, temporarily, all the familiar, supportive structures that give direction to my days. And the fear that, given such freedom, I'll feel out of control.

But there's excitement, too, about beginning such an adventure. And, oddly enough, it springs from the same source as the fear. Only in reverse.

Which is to say, I'm excited about rediscovering the pleasures of leading an unstructured, spontaneous life. One that has no rigid order imposed on it from outside.

And one that requires me to live up to no one's expectations but my own.

Which is what I plan to do while on a leave of absence from this newspaper for the next eight months.

Most of us, of course, have had at one time or another the impulse to drop everything and begin a new life. But deep down, most of us also accept the idea that once the routine of life gets its grip on you, it's not likely to let go without a struggle.

Nor are we likely to let go of it without a struggle.

But sometimes it is possible to briefly step off the familiar, well-worn path in favor of traveling a road that has no predetermined destination.

About six months ago it occurred to me that I could do this. And, more important, that I should do this.

I sensed that I needed to reconnect with the dangerous woman inside myself: the one who was ready for adventure, for surprise and, most of all, ready to look at the world in a different way.

But I was frightened by the idea of leaving behind, even temporarily, the very comfortable life I've fashioned for myself. Frightened, for one thing, that it might not be waiting for me when I got back.

In the end, though, not stepping out from behind the safety of routine and familiarity frightened me even more.

And so the idea began to take on a life of its own. And the reasons for following my instinct about leaving grew clearer. I told myself:

I want to observe the little things and leave it to others to think about the big things.

I want to find out if I can see and listen in a different way. With more openness and curiosity and fewer blind spots and prefabricated opinions.

I want to change not only my outer geography for a while but my inner geography -- the travels within myself.

I want to allow my Fugitive Self to emerge more fully. Not the Visible Self that is consumed with examining the news each day and rushing about from appointment to appointment, but the Fugitive Self that honors other priorities. It is the Self that stops to examine the snowdrops and spends time watching the moon struggle through a cloudy night sky.

And, most of all, I want to feel like a dangerous woman. Which is to say: a woman in charge of her own life.

I want all of this. At least for a while.

In the preface to one of his books, E. B. White wrote of his decision to leave the New Yorker and move to Maine: "If I was disenchanted at all, I was probably disenchanted with me."

I thought about this the night I made my decision to take a detour off the main road of my life. It struck a chord.

But it took a few more months of unpacking fears I no longer need before I could begin to think about what I wanted to take with me.

So here I am, finally, packing to leave for Paris. And not only feeling but acting like a dangerous woman.

Dangerous because I have no fixed agenda.

Dangerous because I am more interested in asking questions and less in giving answers.

And dangerous because I have the time now to change pace and fall into step with whatever rhythm presents itself to me.

Just the other day, for instance, rushing home from the office, I found myself stopping to study the petals from a flowering tree as they swirled like white confetti in the wind's currents.

What can I tell you?

I felt like a dangerous woman.

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