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On Fear

Last week, when I couldn’t stop crying, I texted with a close friend. I had gone round the bend and knew even as I was typing that I was being irrational. Which only makes things worse. She was doing a phenomenal job of cheering me up by making me laugh, as she always does, when out of the blue she typed, “Maybe you’re crying bc you’re scared.” I stopped breathing. She was totally right, and I hadn’t even realized it.

Then, this week, a writer friend wrote a lovely blog post about fear. I read it, and I related. Because right now, my friends, I’m scared of a lot of stuff.

I’m scared that M is traveling to places like Tel Aviv. And Dubai. And London. And San Jose.*

I’m scared that my ancient cats will die some day. I mean, I know they will eventually die, but I’m dreading it. Because even though they are old and disgusting and they barf and sneeze and drag kitty litter all over the house, they are still sweet and loving and they keep me company when M is traveling to All The Dangerous Places.

I’m scared that the sweet, disgusting cats will die when M is gone and I will have to deal with it by myself. Because I am sure that I will fall apart and I must not fall apart because someone will have to make sure our child is okay.

I’m scared that the BBC will only make Doctor Who available on their own paid streaming service, not one of the two we already have. Jerks.**

I’m scared that I will never be able to adequately express to the people in my life how much I love them and how much they mean to me. It’s a lot. More than mere words can say.

I’m scared that I will get early onset Alzheimer’s like my mother.

I’m scared that something will happen to my child, because I know that I would not be able to go on.

I’m scared I will never lose the weight that crept on when I couldn’t move because of crappy feet and then back-to-back foot surgeries.

I’m scared that I will never finish any of the books I have started.

Fear is a powerful thing. It can stick you in neutral and leave you on the side of the road. Fear doesn’t care. Fear laughs at your insecurities as it tosses your meager belongings out the window and drives on. I don’t want to be stuck in neutral, so I try, by and large, to power through.

However, sometimes the fear wins and I shut down. I stop writing. I stop photographing. I stop putting myself out into the universe. And then I’m even more miserable than I was when I was trucking along with fear as a constant, unwanted companion. Because without momentum, without forward motion, the fear stagnates. It swirls and binds. Fear begets misery and claustrophobia and anxiety. More than anything, fear begets sorrow. Sorrow for what was lost, what was missed, what could have been.

My fear du jour is this: rejection. I have started on a new book that I’m really fired up about, because it’s something no one else has written. There are lots of articles, but none are complete. None tell the whole story. And, most importantly, none tell the story of the very people at the heart of it.

Everyone has a story to tell. It’s amazing, really. I learned this over the course of the past three years at work, when I started interviewing faculty and staff as part of a regular feature in our weekly newsletter. It began as a way to introduce new employees, but when I ran out of them I started interviewing the veterans. I learned some pretty incredible things about people I work with, and every interview inevitably leads to at least one surprise. Sometimes it’s something we didn’t know we have in common, sometimes it’s something I’d never have guessed. Every interview has been great. Every. Single. One.

The most gratifying response is when my subjects review their bio before publication and tell me, “You made me sound so interesting! I never knew!” I love that. Because people are interesting. They’re fascinating. All of them. So many stories, so little time.

I’ve been trying to figure out a way to get in touch with the people at the heart of the new book I’m working on. I found names online, and a few stray snail mail addresses. I busied myself with creating a list, telling myself that the grunt work was worthy and keeping me going. And it was, for awhile. But when I thought about reaching out to these people, I froze. So I just kept researching.

Someone (thanks, Judy!) suggested that I look into a group some of the people formed on Facebook. I searched, and I found the group. They are right there. Right within reach. All I have to do is ask.

So, naturally, I froze. I stopped all work. For days. I thought about it a lot. I thought about it as I drove to work, and in between projects at work, and on the drive home from work. I thought about it while I made dinner. I composed hundreds of messages in my head, asking them to give me a tremendous gift, the gift of their stories.

And then I’d sit my butt on the couch and watch Mad Men. When Mad Men ended I switched to The Newsroom. I finished that last night. Or almost. The third season on Prime is not free. Of course. Because they hook you on the first two and then dangle the third behind a pay wall. It’s only like ten bucks, but it’s the principle of the matter. Stop behaving like the BBC, Amazon. Clearly I am carrying quite a bit of angst about streaming television. Anyway, I’ve maxed out my free Newsroom and I’m sick of reading Writers Digest articles that all tell me I should be writing instead of watching Mad Men and The Newsroom.

I read my writer friend’s blog post about fear a couple days ago, and left a comment. What if I get rejected? What if they tell me no? What if they don’t want to talk to me? What happens to my book if the people at the heart of it decline to be interviewed?

My friend responded with very wise words. I’ve heard this before, but tend to forget it. She wrote, “Failure is not the worst thing that can happen, not trying is, because one day the question will come back and haunt you…what if I had tried?”

Her words started to haunt me worse than the fear of failure. What if I never got out of neutral and then my whole life went by and all I had at the end was regret for not trying?

Then I thought again about approaching the people whose story I so desperately want to tell. What if they reject me? I guess the book doesn’t get written. Which is exactly where I am right now. Only now I would know that at least I tried. And then I would find a new book to write.

So my writing assignment tonight at my writing group was to compose a message to one of the group admins. I had a writer friend review it for me, basically to ensure that I didn’t sound pushy or disrespectful. I want the group admin to know that I think her story, and all the other stories, are worth telling. They deserve to be heard.

And then, I sent it. Before I could chicken out. Before I could go home and cave and pay Amazon ten bucks to watch the last season of The Newsroom and fall asleep having made no progress at all for yet another day.

So it’s out there, now. Floating around with some dreams and hopes attached. Fear be damned. It feels good that it’s out there, even though the fear is still lingering. Onward.

*I never said my fear was rational. I mean, San Jose? Really?

**Okay, so this isn’t so much a fear as just a general feeling of being mad. They yanked the Doctor off Amazon, so I subscribed to Netflix. Now they’ve yanked it off Netflix. Grrrr.

UPDATE: The administrator of the group responded! She is going to take it to the members and they will let me know. It breaks my heart that others have asked to interview and they had some negative experiences, so they are naturally wary. These people went through so much, and the fact that someone would cause them more grief is unfathomable. They, like me, are scared. Wow.

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4 Comments

  1. Amy, I want to give you a big hug and let you know you’re not alone. You’ve touched on some feelings and thoughts here that elicited a visceral response from me because I am there. It’s so hard to do this thing–writing, and what’s hard about it is when we are honest and true to ourselves then we will feel fear…of being found out, of loss, rejection, failure, for being an imposter because really, who are we really? Why would anyone want to read what we write? Shouldn’t we stick to less evocative activities? Fear is my main enemy and my closest hated friend. It’s easier to wallow in it than to go above and beyond my own expectations. I’d rather watch Seinfeld reruns, Game Of Thrones, Fried Green Tomatoes (for the umpteenth time), read, rearrange my office–anything but supercede the limitations I have so lovingly nurtured. And write about something painful like Alzheimer’s or abuse or heartbreak…it’s almost unbearable. Your tears are cleansing you, making a new and fertile place for your creativity to take root and grow. Give yourself some love. You’re not alone.

    • Amy Amy

      Kim, yes yes yes to everything you wrote! That’s exactly how I feel. And things I’ve done. I’m an expert at avoidance through office cleaning. I love what you wrote about my tears being cleansing, and making a new, fertile place for creativity. Man, that’s powerful stuff. Pow. That might have to get printed out and hung in my (very clean) office! Thank you, friend, for your wonderful comment. I’m giving you a hug right back.

  2. Amy, thank you for pouring your fears out onto the page, that in itself is bravery. I am so proud of you for sticking it out there when it came to requesting interviews. So what if they say no, you do your best, then let it go. If it’s a no go, it’s not the right project for you. You just pick yourself up and getting move on to the next one. Sometimes you have to fail your way to success.

    • Amy Amy

      Thanks, S.K.! I like that idea: fail your way to success. Makes everything sound so much more noble!

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