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:
– 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
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?