In my previous post, I mentioned a writing project I’ve been attempting to show up to every day for the past many months. Most days I am successful–in showing up, I mean. Maybe some people are gifted with follow-through bravery, but seeing a long-term solo project to completion without losing steam has always been difficult for me. It’s been so difficult, in fact, that some low-lying fears have had the chance to take root in my idle moments; sometimes I can feel them rustling in the slightest breeze, “Maybe you just can’t!” (But more on that voice in a minute.)
I have several tactics that have helped me keep showing up to my creative work these days:
- I’m clear that my primary goal is just to show up. Just open the play and write a little.
- Use the notebook. Opening my computer to write seems impossible. Writing longhand…slightly more possible. So, okay, let’s do that.
- No word or page count pressure, which helps with…
- No lofty expectations of quality. My editor brain is currently unemployed. This means no turning back and reading for now.
- Get out of the house.
- If I can’t get out of the house, show up anyway.
- Allow a fast and loose warm-up in the ol’ journal.
So far it’s working. I’m moving slow, but I’m moving. And this play feels like the best thing I’ve ever written.
Even so, when I read back through my journal pages a week or two ago, I noticed quite the pattern in my warm-ups; it goes a little something like this: “Oh god I need to write on my play…It’s time now…I really need to do it…I’m so scared nothing will happen…I’m scared to write today…Oh god.” Inspiring, no?
I think it’s really important to listen to fear.
I don’t mean to always take its advice, and I don’t mean to feel afraid and always just do the thing anyway. I mean to really listen to it and understand who’s talking and what they’re saying.
Back when my creative dreams focused on acting, I heard a lot of my auditioning comrades quoting the old “Do one thing every day that scares you” adage. Something about it bothered me, but I bought into it at the time because I kind of had to. Auditioning is scary, right? I had tricks to keep myself showing up then, too…namely promising myself ice cream and hamburgers when the auditions were over. But I didn’t know how to listen to my fear then. I didn’t know how to distinguish between the nervousness that can come before doing something you love and the abject dread of doing something that’s just not right for you.
Not knowing when to trust my fear and when to move past it has gotten me into some sticky situations–rooms I should not have entered, jobs I never should have taken, relationships I should have let die, faith I should have had in my talents, activities I should have quit, creeps I should have verbally eviscerated. But can you blame me?
Our culture has a messed up relationship with fear.
I get so sick of people poking at my fear. Politicians with their pumping up of fears of “other” people, poverty, and scarcity and their downplaying fears of corruption and climate change. I can’t turn around without some advertisement sending me a coded message that maybe I should worry about my car being too old, my face getting wrinkly, or my heart feeling sad. Did you get the extra insurance? What about the extended warranty? What’s the market doing today? Did you read the list of ingredients? Have you thought about a home security system? Have you considered the kingdom of heaven?
As a woman I’ve been taught to lock my doors, watch my back, don’t trust strange men, carry mace in cities, watch my drink at parties, don’t drink too much, and find someone to walk me home after dark. Cover up. Hang onto your bag. Don’t talk too much. Don’t overshare. Don’t let them see you sweat. Keep smiling. And if I was not a white, cis, straight person, there would be whole other lists to add to this one. Unfortunately, a lot of fear is founded and necessary to keep us safe.
Meanwhile we watch terrifying things on TV, and then we turn it off and go to bed. We are encouraged to be logical. Toughen up. Don’t get too sensitive. Cite our sources, respect authority, push through the pain, meet the deadline, ignore the hunger, be polite, and hold our pee until the break.
Is it any wonder a person might not know how to listen to or what to do with a feeling?
As someone with anxiety, learning the process of discernment has been a journey. Sometimes I feel really afraid over nothing. Remembering an awkward conversation I had earlier in the day has been known to unravel me into feeling like my entire existence might be an affront to humanity that I’ve just been oblivious to until now. With that kind of exaggeration possible, how can I trust my feelings to give me useful information?
I have a lot to say about that, but for now here’s one pro tip: ignoring, judging, or dismissing feelings isn’t the productive answer.
My journal warm-ups don’t make for great reading, but they do bring me face to face with a feeling that otherwise might stay hidden and sabotage my progress and satisfaction. It takes bravery to sit there and listen to what fear has to say. I don’t usually like what it has to say. But the more I listen, the more I’m able to distinguish between fear’s different voices, textures, sources, resonances, and levels of urgency. Making space for fear in my daily routine helps me conceptualize it as a force I’m working with rather than something I’m conquering or being conquered by. And then I can keep showing up.
What are you working with this week, dear reader? Where are you hoping to show up?