Just this past Tuesday morning, my brain and I decided to reconsider my dreams of being a published writer.
Instead, I told myself, I would apply for a job with the USPS. Or see if Nancy Pearl needed a Reading Assistant. Or I’d hold babies at the hospital, because while I didn’t especially love holding babies when I had my own, I think that was because I was depressed and sleep deprived and leaking milk and pee from various places. I’ve since learned that holding babies is funner when you’re not crying and leaking.
Of course, on this Tuesday morning, I knew that fear was making me want to pretend I am not a writer who is trying to get her book published, and while I’m not a Fear-ologist, I do believe fear is at both root and core of everything bad in our world. Fear leads to genocides; fear is the cause of bullying; fear can make religious people act judgey and intolerant; fear makes NRA supporters say silly things; fear makes gun control advocates say equally silly things.
Fear makes me want to don a blue polyester outfit and deliver mail instead of write books.
But after I shared my USPS aspirations with Husbandio (who patiently nodded), I went to my Bible Study, and without even asking for encouragement, without even sharing a word about my professional change of plans, I was bombarded by very specific-to-me wisdom and reminders of the importance of hope. I remembered there’s a good plan, writing-wise, for me, and it probably doesn’t require a blue polyester outfit and dog repellent or the holding of babies. Plus, there’s this fact: I love writing. Without writing, I’d turn into this lady.
I also remembered that we humans live better when we focus on Living rather than Fearing.
Which is all fine and well until you start thinking about all the scary things in life. Getting married. Having and raising children. Being real, even when being real means showing others you’re a bit of a mess. Learning about a second round of cancer. Having a husband die from a brain tumor. Sending our children off to elementary school on a normal Friday two weeks before Christmas. Watching our children fail their classes. Sending our children off to college. Sharing one’s faith with people who think Christians are utter whack-jobs.
(When I look at that big scary list, well, sending out one’s novel to New York editors seems like small potatoes. Or maybe like fingerling potatoes that look like fingers but taste like buttery potato heaven.)
What’s even more fascinating to me: that big scary list doesn’t deter us from doing all of those scary things, which tells me we humans are hardwired to be courageous, to take risks in spite of all the scary things that might happen. We still do crazy things like get married and have children and choose to believe in things we can’t see, because (this is my best guess) we have Hope that’s much bigger than Fear. Or at least we should. Plus, we know the rush of joy that comes when we risk and dare and tremble and somehow manage to survive.
Therefore, I try to say “yes” when someone asks me to do something that gets me a little trembly. Why? Because I think and hope that saying yes to small scary things will better prepare me when I have to say yes to living with cancer. Or living through a family member’s death. Or living through a child’s bad choices. Or on some particularly bad days, just plain living.
I also try to surround myself with others who don’t mind putting themselves in situations where their legs get a little trembly. One of those people is the lovely and talented (and brave) Lydia Netzer, author of the weird and wonderful debut, Shine Shine Shine, my favorite book of 2012 and one of my most favorite books of Ever.
I haven’t met Lydia in person, and I doubt she knows this, but because of Lydia, I know what to do when writer-me encounters a bit of rejection, a snarky review, unhelpful feedback from the wrong audience: Laugh.
Preferably like a hyena or a loon.
You know why? Because laughter disarms fear. That is a proven, unscientific fact.
I had the opportunity to interview Lydia for Writer Unboxed, so today, I want to share some of the witty and wise responses I couldn’t squeeze into the interview . . . ones specifically about Fear and Living. Reading her writing makes me a braver person. Take it away, Lydia!
Lydia, what’s the scariest thing about being a writer?
I honestly don’t think there’s anything at all that’s scary about being a writer. There are things that make me nervous about it — talking to strangers, meeting with groups, waiting to hear back from my agent — but fear? No. This job is ultimately about entertaining people with ideas. Books are lists of words, wrapped in pretty paper, and each one is someone’s attempt to pin the zeitgeist or illuminate a thought. Bookstores are awesome. Libraries are wonderlands. Being part of that is a dream. Whether or not someone likes my book, or whether I do or do not reveal some dark fact of my self, or whether or not my book gets on this or that list or sells in this or that market — these things are not frightening. I do believe that literature is critical and valuable to humanity, and I can certainly paint myself a dramatic picture of books defining a metaphysical wall against some existential abyss. But it’s not the actual wall around the village, you know?
Scary is letting your kid stay home alone for the first time. Scary is getting pregnant in the first place. Scary is a sinister medical diagnosis or a tornado or a fire. So I think the brave writers are just the ones that are keeping things in perspective, and not letting these collections of words throw a shadow over their lives.
My husband (who read and loved your book) wonders whether you experienced a “wig flying off the head” moment, a time where you realized, “Oh crumb. The jig is up.” If so, what was the result?
When I was a brand new mother, living in a brand new town, I had a number of arresting moments. There was the time I invited the other mommies on the block over for lunch, and proudly set the table with every piece of china and silverware I had, including many serving dishes, and napkin rings, and cloth napkins. The unsuspecting neighbors arrived clearly wondering who was supposed to be coming, the Prime Minister?
There was the time I caught my husband attempting to give the frozen casseroles which I had so earnestly and carefully prepared from scratch away to the guy who had come to cut the grass.
There was the Easter Sunday I once stood on the sidewalk outside church in a handmade skirt, clogs, a fringe jacket, and a black plastic bag over my shoulder. Inside the bag was the most enormous frozen turkey ever, hopelessly thawed and dripping. I mean, I could give you context, but some helpful onlooker did take a picture which I have seen, and really, yeah, it was a “Oh crumb” type of moment.
Sometimes the biggest bumps or failures in our writing life turn out to be the greatest gifts. Will you share one such bump and explain how, in the end, it had a silver lining?
My kids were bumps, are bumps, will always be bumps. They keep me from writing novels, from answering interview questions for a month, even from thinking. But without them, I would still be cleverly fadoodling around with hypotheticals and braintricks, stories that didn’t really hurt about ideas that didn’t really bleed. Parenthood plunged me into the deep end of a cold pool, but without it I’d still be fluttering around on the surface, dry and unaffected. They inspire my best work and then prevent me from doing it because they have handwriting practice and nightmares, but they are all silver, lining and otherwise, and I’m lucky to be their mom.
And just so you know, I’m not the only one who loved her book. Nancy Pearl, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, People magazine, and Amazon all shouted, “Hooray!” after reading Shine Shine Shine. And you might, too. Find Lydia at her website. Find Shine Shine Shine at Indiebound or Amazon.
Now get out there and do something that makes you trembly. Jump off something with or without a parachute. Climb something really tall. Swim in the deepest of oceans. Make art and then share it with someone.
And if it doesn’t go well, if it doesn’t turn out as you expected, then just laugh.
Preferably like a hyena or a loon.
Crazy Lady Photo courtesy of Flickr’s Orin Zebest.