by Niall Doherty

Today is the last day of Random Acts of Courage. Sad face.

I presume you there reading this know what the deal is by now, but just to be safe, here are links to a few prior posts for reference:

Today’s loose theme is letting go. The goal is to confront your fear of change and/or uncertainty.

Here are the challenges:

  1. Sleep at the other end of the bed.
  2. Go commando.
  3. Donate a bunch of items you don’t use regularly.
  4. Visit a park or museum that you’ve never been to before.
  5. Eat something you’ve never eaten before, or try a new recipe.
  6. Get on a random bus. Get off after five stops. Find your way home.
  7. Burn an old diary.
  8. Ask someone very different from you to share their viewpoint on a controversial topic. Don’t resist anything. Just listen.
  9. Shave your head or dye your hair.
  10. Take a class in something you’ve never tried before.

Something in there for everyone, methinks. Feel free to tweak the challenges to suit yourself. It doesn’t matter exactly what you do; the main thing is that you step outside your comfort zone.

Here’s how I got on working my way through the list in Cork on Thursday…

1. Sleep at the other end of the bed

I finished writing the previous post late last night, only getting to bed at about 3am. Before hopping in, I moved the pillows to the other end of the mattress and turned around the duvet.

I slept nice for about five hours, but awoke well before my alarm thanks to the fact that I have no curtains in my bedroom and the morning light was shining right on my face. Ah well. Up and at ’em.

2. Go commando

I left the house on Douglas Street a little after 10 and headed straight for the RTE offices on Father Matthew Quay. A few folks had told me that this whole Random Acts of Courage project might make a good documentary, so I figured I’d pitch it to the biggest broadcast network in all the land.

A nice lady named Hilda greeted me at reception.

— Hello, how can I help you?

— Hi, I was just wondering if ye’d like to make a TV show about me?

Naturally, Hilda thought I was a nutcase. I went on to tell her the whole story and describe some of the challenges I’d undertaken earlier in the week. I then pulled out the latest list and let her read down through it. She was laughing and shaking her head in disbelief, then paused and pointed curiously to #2.

— Go commando?

— Yeah. I’m not wearing any underwear.

Twas true. My boys had been set free from the tyranny of my Fruit of the Loom boxer briefs. They weren’t yet sure how to feel about it.

Hilda ended up giving me a mailing address for Colm Crowley, RTE’s head of TV Production. I was advised to send him an outline of what I had in mind. She then bid me farewell and good luck, probably still believing me to be a nutcase, but of the harmless and adorable variety.

3. Donate a bunch of items you don’t use regularly

My next stop was the Gorta charity shop on North Main Street. Just before I got there I spotted John across the road. He was the elderly gent who told me about his greatest fear in the Peace Park a day earlier. I called out his name and he threw me back a wave.

Inside Gorta I introduced myself to a shy girl behind the counter. Twenty-odd years before, her parents had christened her Angela. I took out a pair of pants, a t-shirt, and a CD from my backpack and laid them on the counter. I was only going to donate those three items, but given that I owned a grand total of 60 things, that was quite a lot for me.

Still, I had no more need for those items. It was time to let them go. Most of us have a tendency to hold on to possessions long after we’re done with them, you know, “just in case.” You probably have books sitting on shelves at home that haven’t been opened in a decade or more, or clothes that have been sitting undisturbed in your closet for several seasons. You’re better off getting rid of that stuff, giving it up to people who actually have a need for such items. Trust me, you won’t miss 99% of the things you give away.

I asked Angela to snap a picture (above right) of me posing with the shirt and pants before I handed them over.

Quick plugs:

  • That’s a Megaphone NOLA t-shirt which was kindly gifted to me on my last night in New Orleans by the best improv comedy troop I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing, Stupid Time Machine. Not that I dislike the shirt; it’s just too big for me. And you should totally watch this short STM skit about stalker dating.
  • The CD I donated was a recent gift from a Cork-based DJ named Dr. Herringbone Dread. Some legendary funk/jazz/hip-hop mixes on there. I copied the tracks to my iTunes and they’ve served well as my writing music for the past two weeks. Catch the man himself spinning at the Pav every Saturday night, or go listen to his work right now on SoundCloud.

4. Visit a park or museum that you’ve never been to before

After Gorta I was heading back towards Patrick’s Street when I heard someone calling my name. It was a lad named Andrew on a fold-up bicycle. I’d met him by chance on New Year’s Day outside Charlie’s on Union Quay. He turned out to be the man behind those nifty WhazOn guides you see all around town.

Andrew asked where I was headed. I told him I was in search of a park or museum I hadn’t been to before. He suggested Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral and asked if I knew the story behind it. I shook my head. Come with me he said.

A minute later and Andrew was showing me a sprawling mural hidden away down Mutton Lane. Painted by a local artist in 2004, it told the story of Cork City. Part of the mural showed two youths clambering over a large gold statue of an angel, depicting the incident back in 1999 when the crown jewel of the cathedral lost its horns. The angel, you see, is supposed to blow said horns when the end of the world arrives. Fortunately, they were found and returned to their rightful place not long after the theft.

I thanked Andrew for the info and had the following picture snapped…

Then I was off in search of the cathedral.

It wasn’t far from the city centre. Admission was €4. I met three men named Bill, Cliff and Con inside. They let me use their private bathroom. I zipped up carefully.

Afterward I shot a short video, with Cliff in a supporting role…

5. Eat something you’ve never eaten before, or try a new recipe.

I decided I’d take the quick and easy option with this challenge. I walked back to the English Market from the cathedral and hit up the Superfruit veggie shop. Mio and Nara were working the registers. I told them about my project and asked if they could point me in the direction of the weirdest thing they had for sale.

A moment later I had something called a kiwano in my hand. Apparently it’s known as a horned melon in certain parts of the world. Mine was about the size of a nice potato, but bright yellow and spikey. I believe it had once called Colombia home.

Nara found me a knife as I handed Mio €3, and then my camera…

It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t worth €3. I’ll stick with my bag of apples next time I’m shopping at Superfruit.

6. Get on a random bus. Get off after five stops. Find your way home.

I exited the English Market out onto Patrick’s Street. There was a city bus stopped at the traffic lights. I ran over and knocked on the door. The driver let me in.

— Thanks!

— How far are you going?

— Fifth stop, please.

— [looking at me, confused] … But where to?

— Wherever the fifth stop is.

His name was Pat. I explained to him what I was up to. Seemingly he had never heard of someone hopping on a random bus before. He was amused, and agreed to let me know when we reached the fifth stop.

I took a seat next to two ladies named Linda and Yvonne. They were sisters, and had overheard my exchange with Pat. They wanted me to tell them more about Random Acts of Courage, and I happily obliged.

A few minutes later, Pat slowed down and gave me a shout.

— This is the fifth stop. Do you know where you are?

— [looking all around] No, doesn’t look familiar.

— [opening the door] Alright then, best a luck!

I thanked Pat and got off the bus. I had landed on Pouladuff Road, right outside a house with the same name as my former employer (small world). I had a fair idea which direction the bus had just come from, and therefore what direction I needed to be walking in to get back home, but I decided to wander the opposite way for a few minutes.

After turning left at some traffic lights, I shot the following video…

After taking another left turn and getting some quick directions from three young lads, I came upon a park I recognized. I realized then that I was only about a ten minute walk from home. Hmm, a little too easy. Perhaps I should have gotten off at the tenth stop.

Halfway home I passed a man walking a pair of shihtzus. He looked remarkably liked Ian McKellen. I asked him if he was in fact the famous actor. He assured me that he wasn’t. I believed him.

7. Burn an old diary

I had to pass on this challenge. I actually do have some old diaries that need burning, but they’re hidden away at my parents house in Slieverue. You’ll just have to trust that I’ll set fire to them next time I pay a visit.

Why burn an old diary? I feel that we’re often held captive by such things. They can keep us trapped in the past, identifying with old, stale versions of ourselves. The reality is that we’re free to reinvent our lives at any moment.

Your present situation is the result of your past thoughts and actions. Your future situation will be the result of your present thoughts and actions. You get to choose your present thoughts and actions, therefore you get to choose your future. I recommend choosing a future that’s even better than your past. Letting go of old memories will help you get there.

I understand this challenge can be quite difficult for some people. A few of you might even find the notion offensive. I’m not suggesting that you should forget where you came from or that you should never reminisce. I’m simply saying that the past is predictable and we’re prone to take refuge there, rather than face the reality of the now and the uncertainty of the future. That tendency can end up biting us in the ass.

8. Ask someone very different from you to share their viewpoint on a controversial topic. Don’t resist anything. Just listen.

After getting home from my random bus adventure, I fixed up some falafel wraps for lunch, complete with tomato, lettuce and a few generous dollops of hummus. A couple of hours later and I was leaving the house again.

I’ve been vegan for 18 months now, and during that time I’ve come to appreciate and support many of the common arguments for plant-based diets. So for this challenge, I figured it would be a good idea to find a butcher willing to share his views on veganism. At the English Market, I found just such a person. His name was Michael Bresnan…

(Note: If you take issue with any of the above, please hold your tongue in the comments. I’d rather not get into any veg vs. meat debate at the bottom of this post since that’s not what Random Acts of Courage is about. Feel free to share your views on these more relevant posts instead, or comment on the video on the YouTube page. Thanks!)

9. Shave your head or dye your hair

After chatting with Michael I bought some dark chocolate and got talking to a Polish girl named Dominika at Mr. Bell’s Oriental Food store. I told her about my next challenge and she recommended I go see her friend Basia at the Turkish barbers on Oliver Plunkett Street. Sounded like a plan.

But let me back up for a minute and tell you how this challenge originated.

When I woke up at the wrong end of the bed this morning, I looked through the list I had prepared almost a week before and realized that two of the challenges were very similar. Besides hopping on a random bus today, I was also supposed to go get lost in a strange neighborhood and then rely on strangers to direct me home. So I combined those two into one and racked my brain to come up with another challenge that fit the loose theme.

That’s when I first got the notion of shaving my head. But I dismissed it immediately.

See, I’ve long thought my ears to be ridiculously big, and I knew they’d look even ridiculouser alongside a bald nogin. I remember several of the lads back on my old college basketball team shaved their heads as a sign of solidarity heading into a tournament, but I was far too self-conscious to join them. I was afraid someone would laugh at me and my big naked ears.

And the truth is, I was still too self-conscious this morning. I was still too scared. So I wasn’t going to put it on the list.

But then I remembered all those things I knew to be true about fear and courage. You know, how courage is not the absence of fear but the mastery of it; how you don’t first overcome the fear and then take the action, but the other way around. And I remembered something Tim Ferriss once said in a TED talk:

Fear is your friend. Fear is an indicator. Sometimes it shows you what you shouldn’t do; more often than not it shows you exactly what you should do.

With those words recalled, I knew I’d be bald by the end of the day.

Fast forward to 5pm and there I sat in Basia’s chair, telling her to shave it all off. She asked if I was sure, and then if I was sure I was sure. I told her I was. My friend Orla stood by with the camera.

Five minutes later, I looked like this…

And you know what? I like it 🙂

10. Take a class in something you’ve never tried before

Orla and I left the barbers and walked through the city. It was cold and I had a woolly hat in my bag, but I didn’t want to wear it. I was proud to be flying the bald flag.

We got to Costa Coffee and chatted for a while before meeting up with a bunch of folks who want to change the world. A little after 8pm we were off walking again, across the river and down MacCurtain Street. It was almost time for my first Salsa lesson.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get any video of me dancing Salsa, but Orla did record some of the warm up…

We danced for almost an hour after that. I learned how to forward step, side step, drop step, turn and switch. The extremely hot instructor (who you see in the video above) had sexy latin names for all the moves, but fecked if I can remember what they were.

One piece of advice for anyone tempted to try Salsa: don’t go commando.

After class I walked home alone, again without my hat, enjoying the chilly Cork breeze, and smiling a big stupid smile.

What a week I just had.

Will we be brilliant or what?

I’ll leave you with a poem I spotted within the mural today on Mutton Lane. I believe it asks some important questions.