On Writing, and Fear

I think a major part of writing is writing out our fears, insecurities, inadequacies and disappointments. We all do this natural form of therapy: artists pour their torment and their loss into drawings and paintings and sculptures, musicians exorcise their demons in musical notes and complicated melodies, athletes grind up their anxieties in physical challenge and sweat, and writers call forth the agony of insistent, living thoughts, bringing them closer, embracing the guilt and doubt and uncertainty, and locking them onto pages, word by word, imprisoning the words in paper in the hopes that the haunting will cease. The true beauty of art is in the sharing. Writing out my fears, putting words to the terrifyingly abstract void, I confront the quiet dread of my heart and bravely walk through to the other side. In art, the audience shares the fear, and the banishment of that fear, in songs and paintings, and, just maybe, in the words I dare to put to paper.

I woke one morning this summer with the soggy remnants of a blessedly forgotten dream fixed in my mind in the disturbing image of a white cooler full of grayish water and dismembered, floating white dolls’ heads and arms. That’s it: just the heads and arms (and staring eyes). I was filled with the compulsion to write a horror story to go with the image, anything to get it to leave me alone, like an image I saw online of a woman’s dark silhouette behind foggy, shabby glass, hand outstretched against the misty glass pleadingly. I’ll write anything, just leave me alone. Embrace your fears. I had a dream of clinging to the sketchy, spindly bamboo structure, miles above the sea and town, terrified of moving, of staying, and most of all of going down. Trapped. Not courageous, not mighty or noble or anything but fear and goosebumps. Isn’t that the way of it, in the end? We dream and dream of fighting dragons, but when our fears face us at last they are not dragons and we are not knights. But this life is no dark tunnel, no shattered glass. There is always hope where there is love, and one day you turn around and realize you are not alone. You had help fighting your battles all along, and maybe you didn’t need to fight after all. Maybe all you had to do was grasp the offered hand (I will give you strength) and give a small, brave nod in the direction of your fears and keep walking. Keep walking. Because the thing is, we always forget when we read daring adventures and watch heroes dashing across our screens, we are watching the legend, not living the journey. The journey is uncomfortable and scary, with unexpected moments of light and beauty, and the true heroes are just ordinary people who refuse to give up. True heroes aren’t fearless; they have the wisdom to be afraid, the courage to go forward anyway, and the support (my friend, I am here) to see it through.

So when my life overwhelms and my spirit lags, and I am sitting on my own at the bottom of a dull gray well that probably dried up around the time the men lined the muddy, mustard gas-filled trenches, and when I am wondering what more there is for me to do, I pick up the only tools available to me and begin to construct a spiral of stone steps made entirely out of words. You see me typing at the keyboard but do you know I am building to the clouds? When I am done I will mount these steps and reach out my trembling fingers, straining for a touch of the stars. Will they be as cold as they look or will they burn as hot as science tells me? I cannot grasp that the stars are anything more than tiny, glittering dreams, steadfastly refusing to go out. When clouds come out I know the stars are there just beyond my sight, and when the sun is shining I do not think of the stars, but only tilt my face toward the gentle caress of the sun’s warmth. (And when the rain pours out steadily and without an end in sight, I dash across to the nearest dry place like the rest of them, disgruntled by my saturated shoes, but somewhere inside me I know the water is washing out the dusty corners of my soul and making me someone new in the beautiful slow way of a plant growing when watered.)

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