The Fear Factor

The Prompt:

I love how Bonni Goldberg relates writing to medicine when it comes to protecting us against our fears:

“You take small doses of your fears in combination with written words and they create a kind of antibody: a cathartic human experience that authenticates your strength and fragility.”

Page 42 of Room to Write, then, asks us to write a list of our fears and describe one in more specific detail.


Some things I fear:

– geese

– clowns

– confined spaces

– death (mine, but mostly loved ones)

– being in any way “too late” for anything by the time I move back home

– losing my sight or hearing

– the debilitating effects of aging

– having children

– lack of purpose

– never finishing my book

– rejection

– regret

Okay, I think that’ll do.  Now, to pick just one…it’s tempting to go the route of writing-related fears, but I think I devote enough of this blog to that!  How about the “too late” factor, as I feel it’s one needing more explaining:

The fact that my aging parents continue to age in my absence while living abroad positively terrifies me.  I know many will find that irrational and say that I have to live my own life, but I will never, never forgive myself if something happens to either of them while I am an ocean away.  Just writing this right now is bringing me to tears.  It is something I really, truly cannot stand to fathom.  And I don’t want to miss out on my nieces’ and nephews’ milestones, nor do I want the littlest ones to not know their Auntie.  I am not the person who realizes what they have only when it is “too late”; I’m the person who has always known perhaps too clearly, which is why I would have never left in the first place if it were only up to me.  I don’t think of it as something holding me back; being with my family is actually part and parcel of my life’s ambitions, so anyone who thinks I should feel otherwise can suck it 🙂

My own aging has started to frighten me as well.  I don’t consider myself to be old, but my husband and I have agreed to wait until we return home to our support network before starting a family, at which time I will most definitely be at the infamous cut-off age that younger mommies love to throw out there as the danger zone of higher risks and mandatory tests.  Gee, thanks for making me feel geriatric.  Sorry my last decade has been pleasurable and focused on my needs and catering to my own identity before I give it over so fully to a little person of my making.  I genuinely hope I didn’t just offend any mothers reading this—I think parenting is the most noble occupation for one to assume, but it’s not my fault that I didn’t get married until after my friends were already popping out kids and that other life changes have thrown me for a loop such that there’s a lot I need to get sorted before I feel I could do a remotely good job of it myself.  So I’ll put off applying for that particular position a bit longer; yes, I know, at my own risk.  *eyes rolling*

Returning to find that my old job (for which I was only 1 year away from getting tenure) is not remotely available to me anymore is scary.  I moved the very week that the economy tanked, and what I’d considered a recession-proof job has still managed many layoffs since then, and some departments have frozen their hiring.  Barring that, even if I can vie for a position, perhaps I’ll be judged negatively for my time away from teaching; the powers that be may frown upon my rationale, not find value in how I’ve chosen to apply myself since then.  Even worse, what if I fear teaching itself?  After such a long hiatus, I’m no longer riding the momentum of consecutive years ramping up in the profession.  The flexibility (and sleeping in!) of my present days will be lost, and never doubt the intimidation of staring down 125+ teenagers a day and, even worse, their parents who will too quickly point the finger at you for the consequences of their own lack of parenting at home.  Then again, if I end up not having kids of my own, teaching is a great way to play surrogate.

I think what is overall frightening me is the realization that my life at home did not simply freeze once I took off on that plane, preserved in its tableau of near-perfection while I have my fun and then return to reinsert myself seamlessly back into it.  I will not be entirely the same person either, after all; current experiences are carving me from a square to an octagon-shaped peg.  So I fear the transition that will be repatriation, after expatriation was already so difficult.  I fear feeling out of place in my own home and possibly acknowledging a discontent that wouldn’t have otherwise been there.

But, you know, so be it.  Rejoining my family, starting a family, returning to teaching…I cannot think of three things more worth facing that fear.


First of all, allow me to apologize.  Addressing personal fear just automatically lends itself to a whiny rambling of self-pity, so thank you for bearing with me through it if you’ve made it this far 🙂  I don’t think this activity has brought out any special writing, per se…the fears are plain, so embellishment didn’t come naturally—the way I wrote it is not creative or revelatory.  It didn’t make me realize anything new about myself.

Maybe selecting a different fear or writing in another frame of mind would have made all the difference, but the one thing I can take away from this exercise is the fact that Goldberg was right!  When I started writing about this, as I said, it made me cry—it thrust me into my fear and made me tremble in the face of it.  And yet the more I wrote, the easier it was to pull out of this vulnerable state; putting it in writing made it very plain to see that, while my fears may be justified, they really aren’t as big of a deal as I sometimes let them be.  The more I wrote, the more my heart quieted and the more my mind said, “Poor you with the wonderful family and profession and wonderful period of creative flexibility and travel that you have in-between.  To have had it as long as you did is a gift, and you still might get your cake back to eat it too—or even be okay if you don’t.  So in the meantime, buck up.  Deal.”

In short, facing my fears was embracing my blessings.

And you, brave readers of mine?  What are you so afraid of? And how might your fears impact your writing?


About thefallenmonkey

Primate that dapples in writing when not picking others' fleas or flinging its own poop. View all posts by thefallenmonkey

9 responses to “The Fear Factor

  • Lua

    I am so relieved to find out that someone else is also suffering from that fear… Now that I’m leaving home- I am terrified to think that my loved ones; my family and friends won’t suddenly freeze but continue living, having special moments and I’ll miss them, won’t be able to share them and that will put a distance between us…
    I know that fear is irrational. But I also think it’s very human…
    My? I’m afraid (terrified) of attending that MA and hear the words, “sorry- you’re just not talented.” Makes me lose sleep at night…

    • thefallenmonkey

      Well, Lua, I cannot imagine that you’ll ever hear those words (only the exact opposite), but I love that you are so modest about your capabilities 🙂 I think the fear is what keeps us humble and working ever harder towards our goals, to put a positive spin on it. Thank you for sharing the empathy, too, with that fear rooted in leaving home. I will never forget the feeling of those first months…the sensation that, even though my life was moving forward too, the life I wanted back home had come to a screeching halt; no one back home could ever understand how much it meant to me that I stay a part of their everyday life. Everything I was leaving behind took on new significance, and I brought all that baggage with me overseas, yet I then realized that I was only one person plucked from my friends’existence, so the difference wouldn’t be as noticeable to them—life would go on as usual. It made me feel like I hadn’t made an impact, that I’d been forgotten, until time passed and I had opportunities to discover how much people really did miss me and are eager for me to get back. My family especially…it broke their hearts as much as mine.

      I have become very grateful for Facebook and Skype as a result—I don’t know how people did leave their homes for so long without this technology for keeping connected! Your family and friends will be thrilled every time they hear from you and learn of your UK experiences, and they must be gushing with pride over what you’re undertaking – so that’s kinda the cool part, suddenly becoming this ambassador of fascinating things who no one takes for granted because the communication is less frequent. A red carpet is practically rolled out for me every time I visit 🙂

      You know what? I’m really gushing with pride over what you’re undertaking. Because you are so talented, I’m so excited for you to be returning to school to study what was really in your heart in the first place. You will absolutely flourish there.

  • Eva

    Aw, honey, thanks so much for that heart-felt piece. Being away from my parents for more than six years, I guess I know a thing or two about that feeling of guilt and longing, and I fully sympathise.
    And well, well, with all that rejection going on lately when it comes to my creative writing, there is a very real fear of maybe never making it as a writer, failing miserably at the foothills of published author-dom.


    I think facing those fears, not succumbing to them, will push you to that next level of being a better and more complete self.
    In my case, being away from my parents has helped me a big deal to improve our relationship even, because you get more appreciative of their presence. And I think that presence is there, no matter the distance. I always was close to my mum and step-father, but being away from them enabled me to stand up there and be just there for myself, grown-up, able to deal with what life holds in store for me, and then go back to them as a stronger person. Sorry the sermon, but I think that we sometimes tend to only see crisis situation as a bad thing, while they are usually something we look back to and say – they were the most important time of my life. Being aware of their significance and that change is actually a valuable thing, might let fear shrink back a bit. As fears in my opinion d0 nothing than stifle and keep you from enjoying the moment.

    Keep enjoying the moment, monkey – screw those fears, and thanks so much for this touching topic. 🙂

    • thefallenmonkey

      Yay, Eva, it’s so fun to “see” you in cyberspace again! 🙂 Especially when you always give just the right encouragement. I do agree with you that fear elevates us to a stronger place, helps us learn the tough stuff we’re made of, whereas if life kept us padded in bubble-wrap our entire lives, 1) it would be dull, and 2) so would we! Acknowledging the fear keeps us on our toes, but catering to them too much would be crippling. Thank you, darlin’ for this thoughtful response. I hope you’ve been chipping away at that massive summertime to-do list of yours!

  • sharmon

    In general, I’m am rarely plagued w/ fears. Not because I’m so brave, but because I put my trust in The One In Whose Hand My Breath Is and I know the Lord is in control, even when I’m not. That said, I do fear one thing you pointed out which I found interesting: regret. I hate looking back and having regrets. That is one major spur for me in regards to writing. I may not succeed. That would be awful after all the hard work and angst. But much, much worse would be to grow old and look back and say, “If only I’d tried to write, I might have succeeded.” In fact, that is a litmus I use for most all my decisions: will I regret it if I do it? Will I regret it if I don’t?
    Thanks for the reflection!

    • thefallenmonkey

      Thank you as well, sharmon! It is wonderful that you find peace of mind through such meaningful trust; I do believe everything happens for a reason, so I remind myself to have faith in that whenever circumstances operate beyond my control. Yes, the thought of ever having to feel regret is frightening in itself for me…and you refer to a perfect example of that with regard to writing. It is weighing sometimes to think of all the time and heart invested in such a task when the outcome is so uncertain, yet I think we can safely say we’re choosing wisely in pursuing it (your litmus test confirms it :)) If we can create something we ourselves are happy with, there cannot possibly be any regret.

  • Agatha82

    So glad I finally had time to read this great post 🙂
    I can relate so much to what you are saying. My father is in Florida, and I’m in London. For a few years, between 2005-2008, I managed to fly back at least twice a year but I’ve never been keen on flying and it I got to the point, I was PETRIFIED of flying again, then, I started writing my novel and that took precedece over everything. I know how dreadful that sounds but it has been a very powerful intense thing for me, the fact I quit my day job to finish is enough of a clue as to how powerful it was and so, I haven’t seen Dad in two years, and yes, just like you, I worry…
    My own fear is that I will have to go to Miami in a few years, and I HATE Miami with a passion. It’s a hell hole. I love England, it’s my home, my soul is here and so I fear leaving England the most…and I hope I don’t have to any time soon, or that perhaps, by the time I have to, I will be in a financial position where I can afford to live here six months out of the year. Oh dear, so sorry for rambling…anyway, as always, thank you for getting me thinking.

    • thefallenmonkey

      Not rambling at all, I love it! The empathy means so much…I felt like a sap for posting that one and almost didn’t, so it makes me feel better knowing I’m not the only one who worries about such things. There are so many transplants in this city that don’t seem to identify; guess they’re a little less rooted/close with their family. I don’t blame you for not liking Miami. I like to tease my husband about it time to time because I had sabotaged a surprise trip he’d planned there when we were still dating—well, he was going on business, so informed me the day before that I was apparently coming too. I won’t go into the whole story, but he was planning to propose there, and I ruined it…thank goodness. I kept saying, “Miami? Why Miami?” with an obvious look of disdain on my face 🙂 Aw, but your dad is happy there, huh. Would he ever consider moving here? And I know what you mean about the flying. I’ve been flying home quarterly since moving here and think about how every time I fly I’m increasing my odds of something going amiss. *shudder* I shouldn’t think about it…

      • Agatha82

        Yeah, dad is a beach bum, he loves going to the beach so he’s in the right place. I don’t think he’d like London, it’s just too dark and cold for him. Poor dad, he probably wonders how come he ended up with Dracula’s daughter 🙂

        Oh dear…your flying thought, I had it every time I got on a plane but you see, I am seriously petrified of flying, I hate planes with a passion.

        My boy says: There is nothing natural about being trapped in a giant metal bird 30,000 fet above ground.

        I tend to agree 🙂

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