(some straightforward language about trauma and violence this morning, just to give you a heads-up, my friends…)
This morning I am thinking about fear, and about what we do with it.
At the end of this month, I will be leaving my part-time day job, in order to open up space in my work life for Writing Ourselves Whole and for the writing that I need to do. I gave notice about a month ago, and spent the first couple of weeks in exhilaration and planning/idea-generation mode. Then ‘reality’ began to set in: What in the hell am I doing? How am I going to make enough to pay my bills? Am I absolutely certain that I need to leave my job? Shouldn’t I have some sort of back-up at the ready, a just-in-case job prospect, a net?
This is a jumping off the cliff without a net. I don’t have another job lined up. I have the workshops and how they are ready to grow, the writing that I believe in and is just about clawing at my arms from the inside, now, trying to get out. It’s time to decide, devote myself to this work, commit.
But when I said that nothing had been done I erred in one important matter. We had definitely committed ourselves and were halfway out of our ruts. We had put down our passage money— booked a sailing to Bombay. This may sound too simple, but is great in consequence.
Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.
A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!
– W. H. Murray, from The Scottish Himalayan Expedition (1951)
You are likely already familiar with this quote; the last couple of weeks, I’ve been reading it every night before I go to sleep. This giving notice is an act of commitment to my dreams — who is surprised that the ego, the protective stuff inside, all my resistance is rising and whirling itself into panic?
We are not meant to follow our dreams. We’re meant to keep our dreams on the sidelines, keep them to the weekends, devote ourselves to hobbies. We honestly invite others to live their dreams while our own wallow in resentment and sorrow. We are not supposed to put what we love the most at the center of our lives. We believe the lie that we are meant to fail, that we will necessarily become one more example of the foolhearty dreamseekers, those wavery artists who didn’t buckle down and get a job and do what everyone knows they have to do if they want to make a living and keep food on the table.
What everyone knows.
Last night, in my dreams, someone I love was coming after me with a gun. After running and running, finally I stood up into her line of vision and said, Ok, Fine. if you want to shoot me, shoot me. I raised my arms out to the sides. Never before in a dream have I stood up to my fear of death this way. The shots that came were aimed at the outside edges of my body, intended to graze — we were in collusion at that moment, confounding the forces that say I will be killed if I live into my full self.
That’s the fear, isn’t it? That deep and old panic of the teenage girl who learned to appear big but lived very small in order to keep herself safe. Her body was a shell and her dreams were disassembled — not even she could tell you what she wanted to do with her life, because it wasn’t her life to live for herself anymore.
The fear of being shot was not a joke; it was an overt threat. My psyche doesn’t have to reach for a metaphor to find what it is we’re afraid of: Maybe if I live fully, he’s going to get out of jail and kill me. It’s magical thinking, it’s wildly illogical, and it lives in my cells nonetheless.
So I spend an hour on craigslist looking for writing or teaching jobs, I give into the panic; then I shut the computer off, I take a walk and talk, self to self, about what it is we’re doing. I reach out to friends and process with them. I pay attention to my dreams. I make big vision plans and am learning to break those down into small, bite-sized task-oriented to-do lists — I do one of those tasks. I take another step on this path of multi-hued creation. I open my hands into the fear and I write it. We have to do this together, me and fear, or we won’t be able to do it at all.
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So, sure, this prompt for this morning: Read through that Murray quote above once more, maybe read it aloud for yourself (or whisper it, or just let your lips move around the words). What arises for your writing self as you let the words through you? What phrases or ideas most catch your writer’s attention? What voices or memories or ideas emerge in response? Can you give your writing self ten minutes (or twenty, even) with this quote today? If you don’t have that kind of time, maybe just copy the quote out onto a piece of paper, tear the paper out of the notebook or off the notepad, fold it up and put it in your pocket, like a talisman, like a promise.
Thank you for your deep breaths today, for how you are still cradling the deep power of your long-held dreams, for your biggest and most beautiful visions. Thank you, today, for all of your creative recovery and all of your magnificent words.