I attended an amazing Ted-X event in Salem, Oregon recently with a theme of Fearless. Or maybe, Fear-Less, depending on how you look at it. Either way, the timing of this topic was spot-on.
I've also been listening to Elizabeth Gilbert's podcasts for her newest book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. In the very first podcast she made a profound statement that pretty much stopped me in my tracks:
Procrastination is another name for fear.
I flashed back to a couple of weeks ago, when I dropped my last child off at college. It was more emotional than I had anticipated. I sat in the car for a long time, unable to pull away from the curb. But rather than go home to sweep my empty nest and process it all through journals and articles, I went straight for the garage, got on my Harley and rode a hundred miles or so. Then I got up the next morning and rode another couple hundred. All of them miles that could have easily been translated into hours spent writing. Or editing. Or any number of other creative pursuits that ignite my passion and light my internal fire.
Since then I've also logged a lot of miles on planes, trains, and automobiles. I've gone to concerts, spent time with my family, taken care of the necessaries. I even saw Elizabeth Gilbert in Santa Cruz as she talked about Big Magic. All good things. Inspiring things. Fodder for writing things.
But no actual writing…
So I've been trying to figure out what I'm afraid of.
The subject of fear goes back a long way with me. Back to dark musty basements and mothball-scented attic cupboards that lined the walls of an old house in great connected tunnels, to the closet where I hid under piles of clothes and the inability to even eat a peanut butter sandwich. From the silver cross I clutched in sleep to the prayers I whispered to Jesus and his sheep, I lived in fear of almost everything.
I have been afraid of all the usual things – ghosts and vampires and scary clowns and cemeteries and death in general. I have been traumatized by spiders and scorpions, and recently added hungry campground bears to my list 🙂
I have been damaged by rejection and abuse, lived in fear of losing control and of being controlled. I have reared up under every rule and torn my skin bloody at the wrists when I felt shackled. I have feared both commitment and change, failure and success. Our fears are probably not so dissimilar.
I have not led a quiet life. Most of what I have lived has been out loud, in one way or another. I don't mind sharing my fears with all of you. It reminds me that we're all human. All foible.
But fear is its own cage. And my ‘policy' is usually to face my fears head-on and thereby destroy their power over me.
Unfortunately, I've also been afraid of myself.
And it's hard to destroy yourself, although believe me, I've tried.
I have questioned every one of my decisions over the last several years…sinking deeper and deeper into a place I didn’t recognize – into a person I didn’t recognize. Second guessing my life, when in reality it's all fairly simple.
I have choices to make. Little, everyday choices that will define a life. Each choice a piece of the road that will pave this path and build this life and has even built these walls. Some of it will be new construction. Some demolition. All of it brick by brick.
Or, bird by bird…
Finally the whole picture came into focus: My tattoo.
While this may come as something of a surprise to many of you, I have over seventy birds tattooed in a delicate pattern that circles my torso and has them flying off the end of my left arm. The piece was done in three phases over two years, the last of which was finished just last week, and as it turns out, just in time.
Each one has been a picture of a different part of my journey. In fact, this tattoo has been an intense metaphor for a transformation story that could very well be its own memoir.
That being said, the first book on writing I ever read was Anne Lamott's Bird By Bird, in which she encourages writers not to let the enormity of the whole task paralyze them. If you're writing a piece on birds, you break it down and just take things one bird at a time. But the book wasn't the reason for the tattoo. It was completely unrelated – except in hindsight, which is how this weird metaphorical life of mine seems to work itself out.
I write my life the way I write my books: Without a set plot or plan, allowing the events and characters to shape themselves into an ever-changing landscape where I never know what to expect next, and often don't find out how things connect until after the fact.
It's much cooler this way.
This way I just walk the path and follow the crumbs.
Piece by piece.
Word by word.
Bird by bird…