I’ve always been afraid of the dark. For as long as I can remember, I slept with a night-light. As a teenager, after seeing the movie The Exorcist, I crawled into bed with my parents for one week. Many of my fears are of the garden variety sort–bugs, owls, getting lost, the dentist. But others have no basis in logic, like my fear of losing my finger to a circular saw, being abducted, falling off of a cliff at the Grand Canyon and choking on a butterscotch candy (an actual incident from my early childhood).
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” FDR said in his inaugural address. But those words don’t slow a racing heart or stem the drenching sweat.
Fears aren’t exactly rational, but they do have their perks. I will venture that fear can mask itself as courage. Let’s take for example the number one fear in the Fear Hall of Fame–public speaking. In grad school, I once so badly mumbled and jabbered my way through a presentation, my professor told me I had to present again the following day in words he could understand. But my fear of public speaking has prompted me to obsessively listen to others speak and study those who do it well. And I while I have yet to master Obamaesque oratory skills, I can now string together coherent sentences and, on occasion, offer a mildly entertaining presentation.
Fear of failure has made me work hard. Fear of poverty makes me save my money. Fear of germs makes me clean my kitchen. Fear of losing makes me competitive. Fear of my life spiraling out of control has makes me organized. I would love to relax into each moment, but it seems I am afraid of being afraid.
For years I feared I would never be a writer. That despite all of my best efforts and my inner talk telling me my writing was good enough, good even, I was certain that editor after editor would read my manuscripts and laugh out loud while writing cruel rejection letters. I wrote multiple drafts, checked my punctuation, read it aloud, wrote new drafts, each time, terrified of the outcome. When I was finally ready to make my way to the post office, I would send it off secure in the knowledge I put everything I had on those sheets of paper, but still fearful of the envelope that would return from the editor. The boogeyman has nothing on a woman with a deep-seated fears and a vivid imagination.
All of that fear was funneled into a take my time approach to writing. The sheer fear of sending it out made me sit with each piece just a little longer before submitting it. And giving myself the time with my writing has helped to strengthen it.
I no longer need a night-light, but lurking in the darkest corner of my psyche and perched on the steepest cliff of my subconscious sits fear, my harshest critic, my constant companion.