September 17, 2010

The Tool of Fear

What I’m Reading Today: You know, stuff.

I was going to write today about how I wrote the story that is my second On-again Off-again Audio podcast ~ Check it out! Warning: it’s very dark. It’s called "Revelations." However, I read an interesting post this morning, and I wanted to talk about it instead.

The poet and writer Kelly Davio has a great post on her blog about fear. She begins it talking about her childhood run-in with a praying mantis ~ I almost wrote preying mantis ~ and then talks about fear. She ends with a great rumination on art and fear:

Fear, we are told, is a good thing: it keeps us from petting the salivating lion or sticking our arms in the fire. Fear is supposed to keep us safe. But safe, I think, is exactly the opposite of where the creative person wants to be.

I think she’s absolutely right. We have to be emotionally and intellectually brave to be a writer. We have to fight our inner demons, just as they are towering above us and crashing down on us with their slavering jaws. If you’re like me, there’s always a part of us that’s saying to ourselves, “You know what? You suck. How can you possibly think what you say is in any way interesting and worthwhile?” We have to get used to uncertainty and shunt our inner editor off to his closet in the corner. In a word, we have to live with fear.

But, as Kelly said, it’s the fear that keeps us going too. Our determination kicks in and we think, “No, I’m going to best this thing.” Sometimes the fear associated with competition ~ our writer friends are doing well ~ also spurs us on. This isn’t a bad thing, I think.

As I tell my two four-year-olds, being brave doesn’t mean you aren’t afraid; it just means you do what you have to do even though you are afraid.

One distinction I wanted to make, though, was dealing with the inner fear associated with creativity vs. real-world fear. We definitely have to fight the inner demon that stunts our creativity, but when a person has something they fear in the real-world, it’s often different. By that I mean, if you’re below the poverty level and working three jobs to pay the mortgage and support your kids. Or if you’re a battered spouse and you never know when your husband is going to beat you until you die or going to take a gun and shoot you ~ and I mean you know that it’s going to happen. Or if you live in a war-ravaged country and you may get killed ~ or worse ~ any day.  Or if you are phobic.

If you are living in this world, you probably don’t give a good goddamn about art, and you might possibly think that artists don’t know how good they have it and they should just shut up and help the rest of the world. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Maslow’s hierarchy, but it basically sets up a hierarchy of needs, and if your basic needs are not met, you won’t be able to achieve ~ or even want ~ the higher needs. Later, after someone is out of these situations, then I think art helps us to heal. But when we’re in them, we could care less.

So fear, like so many things, is a double-edged sword. It is a tool to be used to help us get stuff on the page and to elicit our best work. However, it can also irrevocably cripple us.

Questions of the Day: Is fear a help to you? Or does it cripple you? Or does it depend on the day?

PS Totally unrelated: A great way to keep up with what’s going on in cyberspace, in addition to following certain blogs, is to set a Google alert for a word or phrase. For example, I have an alert set for “literary fiction” that includes the double quotes. Once a day I get an email that points me all kinds of interesting places. And if you’re a writer and you don’t have an alert set for yourself, you should.

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