Introduction to "Dangling Woman"
A traveler's tale: I was an eco-tourist in Costa Rica. I bought a
ticket to slide on a cable between treetops in the rainforest. Everyone
else did it fine, but I got stuck in the middle. This might have been a
one-chuckle anecdote if I hadn't been a social reformer who had just run
away from a jungle of politics at home.
Licensed for webcast or BROADCAST by:
Available for licensing through PRX.
Writer, narrator, recordist, editor: Susan B. Price
Equipment: Marantz minidisc recorder; Sony ECM-MS907 condenser mic
Software: Sony Media SoundForge for editing; Sony Media Acid Pro for composing and mixing musical highlights, using royalty-free loops.
Length: 5 min, 15 sec
Favorite reactions from the Transom forum:
from Nanette: Dangling Woman - The Superhero
from Andy Knight: Oh! This was good! When I saw the story heading off into metaphor land, I cringed. Not because of your story, but I've seen and heard metaphors stretched and abused so badly before. ... but your usage was really, really good. Perfect, even.
I like this piece. It invites us into the writer/thinker's world, musing on internalities without becoming narcissistic. A writerly piece. The voice is nicely braided with sounds that place the musings in a very real physical place, where the singular problem to be solved happens to mirror the labyrinth that the writer brought to the jungle. The degree of complexity in the voice/sound mix is just right. The grown up, though muddled attitude is perversely refreshing. I think this producer should quit her job and figure out a way to live on mangos and make interesting sound. Oh if it were as simple as pulling oneself along a cable. Hmmm. Life is complicated, no?
Dangling Woman Transcript
I dangle in mid-air. Am I 50 feet high? A hundred? No matter – I’m still helpless in the Costa Rican jungle.
Five minutes ago, I was climbing up the hollow insides of a strangler fig tree – buckled into a harness, attached to a safety line and wearing thick leather gloves to protect my hands. A tricky little twist gets me out on the platform, high in the rainforest canopy. I watch the man in front of me latch a gizmo to the overhead cable, sit back into his harness, push himself off the platform and – swoosh – in three seconds his feet touch down on Platform 2 about a hundred feet away. Nothing to it.
My turn. The platform guy detaches me from the safety rope and shows me how to attach my gizmo to the cable. “Keep one hand on it for balance,” he says, “and the other hand lightly on the cable to brake yourself.”
“¿Listo?” the Platform 2 guy calls. Ready?
“Listo,” my guy responds and tells me to sit back into the harness and step off the platform.
In a split second, here I am, halfway between the two platforms, dangling a fatal height above the jungle floor. Stuck.
It is August, rainy season in the Monte Verde Cloud Forest and I’ve run away from home.
At home, I’m a social reformer, on a project to reinvent a fractured system for families with troubled kids. My team once had a map, more or less, but we are now chugging our frail steamer into uncharted waters – the jungle of politics, economics, and polarizing belief systems about why kids go wrong. This jungle is implacable, immense. Darkness oozes from between the trees. In the grand fashion of classic colonialists, our intention is not only to track these waters but to build a dam or two, blast some new channels, change the course of the river, and just maybe stamp out a disease or two along the way. Passionate work.
By day, the job requires that all my senses be tuned to the lurking dangers. By night, I fill the void with television and all-night talk-radio to blot out the possibility that the real point of the work is to feed the ravenous egos of the empire-builders who pay my salary.
Exhausted, I have run off to Costa Rica – somehow the physical jungle would illuminate my psychic jungle.
As someone whose only impression of the jungle was from “Heart of Darkness” and Hollywood movies, I expected it to assault my senses. I expected to be dazzled by riotous vegetation, menaced by vines growing before my eyes, thrilled by the sounds of unseen creatures slithering, crackling, and snapping their way toward me.
But the rainforest does not assault. To the outsider, it is silent and still and indifferent.
I wanted it to grab me, embrace me, and completely absorb me into its web of interdependence and biodiversity, but instead it has only unleashed the nightmares.
Days of cathedral silence in the forest and evenings of Chilean wine reveal that the crises continue on that leaky steamer lost in the jungle backwaters of my mind. The dreams – surging snagging flood waters – in self-managed teams – circumventing sunken information systems – untangling families from negative feedback loops pulling the tinpot reformers into the twisted roots of half-drowned trees…
My eyes snap open.
Every morning in the cloud forest I wake up to the drumming of rain on the roof and every morning I wake up annoyed at the chaos in my exploration-weary mind.
Today, when the rain stops I head for a Canopy Tour. It’s a commercial thing, taking you a hundred feet up, where the marvels of the ecosystem can be closely observed. I latch on, climb, unlatch, re-latch, step off. I expect the jungle to embrace me now as one of its own as I fly the route of the secretive quetzal to her nest, but no — halfway across, I lose momentum and come to a dead halt. I dangle, a wretched anomaly, a miserable human fly caught in the web of life.
My arms start to ache from my death-grip on the cable. I look at the Platform 2 guy, expecting him to flip a switch somewhere and put me back in motion.
But all he does is yell: “Turn… around.”
I pivot so that my back is toward him.
“Put… your right hand… behind the hook.”
“Put your left hand… behind your right hand… and pull yourself across.”
So this was it – no flying, no swooshing. For me, amid this fluid celebration of diversity and interdependence, for me, it’s hand-over-hand combat with pulleys and cables. Like the system reformer at work, like the vexed colonialist in the jungle of my dreams, I do battle with the way things are.
(A print version was also published in Rochester Shorts Magazine, May 2001)