The Fem Spot

Man on wire said “So what!”

Posted in Film and Television, Personal Essays, queer theory by femspotter on September 11, 2008

September 11, 2008

The documentary film Man on Wire chronicles the six-year process by which French high wire artist Philippe Petit planned and illegally executed his famous 45-minute walk between the two World Trade Center towers in New York City, 1974. The movie is a thrill ride. It’s not like you don’t know what’s going to happen. But, for instance, it’s like the inevitability that affects the nerves when watching James Cameron’s Titanic (1997): you know that ship is going to sink but you just can’t look away.

Sometimes, the most important part of human experience is the journey, rather than the destination.

For Petit, the destination was nearly 1,400 feet above ground. His journey would take him on airplanes back and forth between the United States and France…in and out of friendships, romances…and from a time in his life when a little boy ripped a picture of the Twin Towers out of a magazine to the time – about five minutes into the walk – when a 24-year-old man let got of any fear he’d been clinging to and smiled.

The film made me think a lot about fear. I left the theatre feeling exhilarated. I thought, how can I ever give in to fear again? Petit got through six frustrating years of planning and then didn’t back down at the summit, even after evanescent moments of second-guessing the outcome. I have so many little battles with fear on a daily basis…but because of the man on the wire, I can’t let fear get the better of me. If Petit can walk between buildings in the sky, then I can ask three of my professors for letters of recommendation for Yale University’s English literature PhD program. I can apply for that job that seems just a bit out of my reach. And I can wear dark red lipstick if I like it…to hell with what the other girls say behind my back. (Would you believe that the biggest fear of the three is that last one?)

Then I started thinking that if Petit’s fear was barely perceptible, perhaps others have fears, big and small, that they hide. And what’s the difference between the fears common to men and those common to women?

I’ve observed that most exhibited fears align with social pressure and perception. Men, for instance, often fear letting their emotions get the best of them. As most people know, “real men” don’t cry.

I remember the first time I saw my husband crying. His mother was very sick with cancer and was in and out of consciousness. He knelt beside her and wept. If social acceptance for men is contingent upon their ability to remain stoic in times of emotional turmoil, then J*** may not be one of those aforementioned “real men” of the world…but I never felt closer to him than I did when he let his guard down. I understand the fear. The bravest thing to do in such times is cry.

Women, on the other hand, tend to fear manifest emotions less. We’re expected to whimper and cheer during appropriate experiences. But I think we worry more about being judged by others than men do. A man might not worry that others will disapprove of his job or his salary, but his wife probably does. She probably worries that her friends will think her hubby doesn’t dress well/make enough money/say the right things. And in this increasingly demanding world that is challenging the typical heterosexual model of family on multiple fronts – i.e. man at work, woman in the kitchen – a woman might worry that her friends think she herself doesn’t dress well/make enough money/say the right things.

I’ve observed that men tend to be more interested in being the sole victor than most women I know. I’ll share the glory. Some men fear a bit of healthy competition and do everything they can to surround themselves with people who don’t pose a threat to their success. Women, instead, surround themselves with people who don’t pose a threat to their image. Who ever heard of a beautiful bride’s maid’s dress? And how many football quarterbacks are best friends with other quarterbacks? There can only be one “Most Valuable Player.” There can only be one “Prom Queen.”

And there can only be one man on the wire at a time, though Petit had nothing to fear from his cohorts. The only one who wanted to be on that wire was him.

When I think about the most crippling fears we have, I realize that they are just that: crippling. We lose out on so much in life because we’re afraid to fail, or be judged, or be embarrassed. And then we lose sleep later on wondering what we could have achieved were it not for the fear.

We have to employ the words “So what!” more often. What are the risks? He might not like my hair, she worries. So what! She might win that award instead of me, he thinks. So what! Here’s something you don’t use those words about: there are children starving in Africa. Focus on that instead of your fear.

Petit has been quoted as saying, “When I see three oranges, I juggle; when I see two towers, I walk.”

For him, there was an unstoppable force compelling him to climb to the top of the World Trade Center and dangle from a metal cable. And he didn’t let anything keep him from completing his reverie. We can spend time asking the question: Why did he do it? But the better question is: How? If he thought to himself, “I might fall,” he subsequently shrugged it off. If I fall, he thought, I’ll die doing something I know in my gut I was meant to do.

If Petit could walk the high wire and blind Senora Webster could dive horses from a height of 60 feet…then I can muster the courage to ask for recommendations.

But they might reject me?

So what!


4 Responses

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  1. Matt Dernoga said, on September 12, 2008 at 5:57 am

    Hey, I wanted to just let you know that I made my first post of many concerning Obama/McCain on energy/environmental issues in case you’re interested. Many more are to follow looking at various issues and comparing the two candidates in more depth.

    Also I just read your post, it was good. When I think of “fear” I try to use the mantra that fear stands for: “false evidence appearing real” to convince myself to try things even when I am afraid.

  2. femspotter said, on September 12, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    Thanks, Matt. I’ll check it out. I am also looking forward to the presidential debates and getting past the media frenzy to the heart of the matter.

  3. josandpol said, on September 20, 2008 at 12:38 am

    Thanks femspotter.

    This Monday, I will confront my boss with that overdue promotion I strongly I believe I deserve AND explore with a headhunter two other career options – one is as a general manager of a company, the other as a consultant – both will require a 52 year old corporate guy to leave his loving wife of 24 years and our six kids to work in another province or country, respectively.

    I have many fears – the possibility of being told I did not deserve the promotion, leaving my comfort zone, failing as a general manager or consultant and losing a job at my age and our family’s only source of income.

    These fears kept me from pursuing other opportunities that would have also increased my self-worth and give my wife and our children new opportunities for growth.

    After reading your post, I can now much less fearfully say – SO WHAT?! Thank you, femspotter.

  4. femspotter said, on September 20, 2008 at 1:41 am

    I’m glad this helped you. Please keep me posted. Best wishes!

    I will be happy to learn along with you that your family is strong enough to survive these challenges. They are probably strong especially because they know that you are thinking of their best interests.

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