I jumped off a bridge by Daniel’s Park when I was a teenager. I was fairly sure that was really stupid, but bigger, older kids were doing it, and sometimes we just have to know the answer to the question “Would you jump off a bridge if somebody told you to do it?” Obviously, yes. I suppose we could put this into the category of a whole lot of other really stupid things that young people (okay, that was me) can’t recognize as completely stupid. I have to admit I love the feeling of a free fall, at least until the moment of impact. There was a time in college when I wore very high stiletto heels for a fancy date, and then hit some ice at the top of a flight of steps. That glorious second or two of free fall was exhilarating. It was even a little hilarious when I realized that my pretty dress was covering my face instead of my legs, but then the shock subsided and let my pain response into my brain. Ow… Ow and embarrassment. What a horrible combination! I wonder if this had anything to do with why he didn’t call?
I jumped off the Fairport Harbor lighthouse a lot of times. Climbing to the point of departure was okay. The problem came when I was standing 30 or 40 feet above Lake Erie waves splashing against the giant rocks of the breakwall and I started to realize the insanity of my adventure, but by that time I had other reckless teenagers lined up behind me chanting “Jump, jump, JUMP!!!” because they wanted their turn at stupidity. The first jump was always the hardest, but once I got the rush and accomplishment, I couldn’t wait to climb up the lighthouse again to do it again. I’d keep doing it until my legs got wobbly from all the climbing, and then I’d have to sit out for a while watching the other idiots jump into the water. When I was rested enough, I’d climb back up and face the same terrorizing feelings I had the first time I looked at the water crashing on the rocks and realizing the foolishness of it all – until I jumped again and ended up in another joyful cycle of climbing and jumping.
There are people who would never jump off a lighthouse. Some people like that have pointed out moments in my life that have inspired them because I took risks they can’t imagine taking. They don’t seem to notice that not all of my risks pay off. At times I feel a little envy that they have nice, secure, predictable lives, but most of the time I think it takes all types to run the world. Sometimes I think I’m standing on the edge of the lighthouse too afraid to jump, but remembering the joys of a free fall, I know that I’ll do it eventually, or hope that I will, or really hope that at some point in my life I’ll learn something about safety.
My first thought when I saw “jump” as the word for the week was a series of hospital visits for myself and others. Obviously, jumping isn’t a good idea a lot of the time. Sometimes having our feet planted securely on the ground is a very good thing, and sometimes I really need to remind myself of that. On the other hand, my greatest successes were the results of my greatest risks. I could’ve stayed forever at my first job at a regional newspaper. There wouldn’t have been a whole lot of glory in it, but it would’ve been secure. It’s one of the few companies that I’ve worked for that’s actually still in business. But no, I left it for an ad agency who laid me off just months after I started working there. In an unemployment panic, I took a job at an art studio. Way cool place to work, but I didn’t get paid much for the privilege. And so on. Risks, rewards, punishments. I can look at my resume with some pride and some memories of disasters, but I racked up some cool credits along the way.
The same kind of mental contest between security and risk taking happens all the time in art. Should we play it safe or tempt a client with risk? It’s always a gamble how things are going to pay off, but we never know how it will work out unless we’re willing to jump.