I'll Try Anything Once: Spy School

My day of espionage, and how learning poker made me feel like a better woman.
Publish date:
July 12, 2011
i'll try anything once, guns, burlesque, espionage, poker

I'm not big on trying new things, especially new things I might not be good at, especially new things where other human beings might witness me not being good at them. It's the reason I signed up to play on my last company's softball team but never showed up to a single game, because I have never played softball before and WHAT IF I FAIL AND EVERYONE LAUGHS AT ME?

And as a major control freak, previously unknown situations freak me out because I have no control over when things stop and start, what kind of people will be there and whether or not there will be Diet Coke. In fact, I might be such a control freak because I am scared of failing/looking stupid in front of other people -- hence I need to know every detail in advance so I don't accidentally say the wrong thing, walk through the wrong door or otherwise embarass myself.

So, while I signed up to try and write about "Stiletto Spy School," in which elite instructors train groups of women in such life skills as hand-to-hand combat, knife-fighting, stunt-driving and precision shooting, I was excited in theory, but dreading it when I woke up the Satuday morning of my planned "mission."

Plus it was a Saturday...and working on a Saturday sucks, even if the kind of working you do would just be considered "fun" to other people. AND and, it was suggested that we show up in black yoga pants, which as we know, is not how I roll. I made peace with some stretchy pedal pushers.

Anyway, first stop was the gun range, where I met Moneypenney, aka Alana Winters, the creator of Spy School who somehow manages to look like Catherine Keener, Andie MacDowell and Minnie Driver at once. It's crazy! I've never seen anything like it. I wish I'd gotten a real close-up, well-lit view of her face so you could like, study it.

Anyway, there were like 7 of us in the class, including me and a bunch of super-hot ladyfriends from Minneapolis, and we started out with a gun safety course from Instructor Raymond, who you can see casually squinting into the barrel of a gun up above.

My father is a hunter, and I grew up with guns in the house, but the extent of my firearm knowledge was basically that your little brother will find it hilarious to point them at you if you express fear whilst he is cleaning his rifle in the living room.

I quickly learned two additional facts: 1) a French manicure is really the manicure of choice for handling guns, it looks just great and 2) guns are heavy ya'll!

Every time I try something I have never done before, a little part of my brain gets really excited, because what if I'm amazing at it? After all, I've never done it before, so I don't really know, right? Like, what if I pick up the violin and find out that I am a freaking virtuouso, brimming with natural talent? But it never actually happens. UNTIL NOW, cause I am freaking good at shooting!

I texted that picture to my boyfriend and he wrote back, "Oh my god, that's amazing. You're a sniper." And then he suggested I send it to my father, who wrote back, "Good shooting, but remember, you can't get a man with a gun." OH CAN'T I? I look freaking awesome!

You can imagine how unimpressed the old gnarly dudes who spend Saturday mornings at the shooting range were. Unimpressed with a slight side of boner, I think.

Anyway, next stop: lunch! I love lunch.

We cleared the table so that professional poker player Gene could give us a lesson in how the pros play. Which was interesting, since I sort of needed a lesson on how like, a chimp would play. I do not get poker. Poker is all about logic and analysis and percentages, and I write stuff about my boobs for a living.

But here's the thing: That's the whole point of spy school: to provide a supportive environment to step out of our comfort zones and break down some of the boundaries that create for ourselves.

And playing poker may not seem like such a scary thing to do, but in my day-to-day life, I pretty much only like to do things that I'm already good at.

And in fact, studies have been done that show girls relate to the world this way. For instance, the smartest girls often perform the worst in math, because they believe that mathematic talent is an innate gift instead of an achievable skill. While girls and boys both get confused in math class, boys press through it, while girls decide they're not good at math and give up.

So even though I didn't understand what Gene was talking about, I made a commitment to hang in there and try to understand. And I didn't come out of it a poker pro, but I realized I was capable of learning. And that made me feel really damn good about myself.

It's easy for me to nervously half-ass new things, to giggle and act disinterested to avoid failing publicly while appearing to try. Once, when my boyfriend asked me to join his Tae Kwon Do class, I told him that I was afraid of not being good at it and looking stupid.

He told me that everybody looks stupid when they are first trying something they've never done before, including him when he first started martial arts. It had literally never occured to me before that EVERYBODY LOOKS STUPID, that most people aren't good at everything the first time they give it a shot.

I'm like the girls in the math class, checking out as soon as things get hard. Mentally, I fold.

We also had a "bump and grind" class with burlesque superstar Gal Friday, which was awesome, but I'm not going to spend a lot of time on it, because while I had never danced burlesque before, it's the kind of thing I would willingly do, and the crux of my thesis about SSS involves the power of getting out of your comfort zone.

Stiletto Spy School suffers from some too-cutesy, feminist-lite branding -- the name, the "Sex and the City"-ish graphics, but the product itself is powerful. The skills are cool, but they're also metaphors for how we handle things in life and I honestly perceived myself a little differently afterward.

Uh, plus I learned to do this thing with my butt cheeks that I'll have to show you in person.