January 2012


It is a temptation.  It is a submission.  For me, fear is even an addiction.  It is a place I know how to inhabit, where I believe I gain control of what happens to me.  If I fear it before it happens, I can see it coming and prevent it.  I’ve experienced it before with other failures of my mind.  Like judgment.  Like pride.

It once took me several months to decide to forgive someone that I love.  And another two years to really get it done.  Book after book, talk after talk, wall after wall, learning how to forgive a fully repentant person.

It wasn’t just about deciding to forgive, it was about breaking the cycle of unforgiveness.  A cycle in which my mind longed to recall the ways that I had been wronged, a cycle that made me feel less vulnerable by keeping me in the place of victim at all times.  Never would I be surprised again.  A cycle that poisoned my heart and mind and relationships.

Any time we want to eschew a habit, we have to say “no” to it once.  And then we have to say “no” again the next hour, the next day, and every day after.  For me, one of the most helpful things is to replace my previous thought pattern with a new mantra.  One that is easy to remember and available to repeat at the first sign of danger.  My mentor wrote one for me once and since then I have found my own.

My forgiveness mantra is pretty simple now that so much time has passed.  Every few months now I may find a flash of paranoia, and I can say in response – I have forgiven that person and I am loved by that person.

My fear mantra will probably change over time, too, but here’s what I’m starting with:

It is an act of obedience and worship to create.  I will seek and indulge creative promptings, and I will present my work to my loving Creator with open hands.

I may crochet it on a pillow.  Except that I am afraid of needles

When I started writing and making music recreationally, fear was hardly a factor.  Little risk, I suppose.  But with each post, each attempt, each listener, my fears grew.  Small successes actually made them stronger.  Farther to fall, and other fallacies.  I’ve pushed them down, tried to ignore them, but all it’s done is made me avoid my pursuits in order to avoid the voices.

So, my first step is to expose the fear, and I invite you to do the same.  Tell someone you trust to listen, journal a prayer, write them here in the comments.  Whatever you do, be specific.  Don’t just say you’re afraid of failure, describe what it looks like under the full light of your inspection.  Here are some of mine.

There is only so much success to go around – another person meeting their goal precludes me achieving my own.

I will make my work too honest, or not honest enough.  Too honest and people will shy away or feel they have to boost me up, or not honest enough and there will be no personality or truth on the page. 

I will include too much moral, which will make someone feel I’ve preached at them, or not enough, which will deny my belief that our surroundings are full of teachings that we should attend.

As I identify previous mistakes I’ve made, whether in writing, music, relationships, or the day-to-day, I become afraid that sometime in the future I will look back on this very moment as a mistake.  It is common to say that one regrets more the things they didn’t do or say than the ones they did, but my regrets fall at least equal, if not more toward the latter.

I did not hone my craft enough in my younger years.  I would stay in bed all morning on a Saturday reading, like many who are interested in writing, but it was typically The Baby-Sitter’s Club, not Anne of Green Gables or The Hobbit.  This means I will never understand good writing.

If I receive praise, I’m being patronized.  If I receive critique, I’m being told to quit.

The list could go on, and probably will, elsewhere.  It feels good to ask myself what exactly I’m afraid of, to answer honestly and without a filter.  With some, hearing myself out loud is enough to break the spell of fear, and with others, it is good to know what I’ve been listening to internally.  No wonder it’s hard to get work done with all that noise. 🙂

Fears found.  Tomorrow, a post on replacing them.

January is for plans, for resolutions, for new motivation.  I love this time of year.  Love the possibilities and goals.  Love it.

Well, no, that isn’t entirely true, but it’s true enough.  Well, okay, it’s just a little true.  It’s truthy.  I also begrudge January.  Because while I watch other folks with plans, resolutions, and motivation, I am jealous.  I want to participate in the talk, which is easy.  But most of all I want to succeed, which is daunting.  I set my sights on the desires of my heart, but pounding in my ears is, “Best laid plans…”, “You know you don’t stick with resolutions”, and “Have you seen your gut lately?  Motivation?”

I know, my internal dialogue is riveting.  But truly, I do love the marker that is January.  I love that we give ourselves the freedom to re-evaluate and try again.  Immediately behind each goal, though, for me, comes fear.  Fear that I am an imposter trying to sneak into the world of art and music and it is only a matter of moments until I am discovered and expelled forever.  And the surest way of being discovered would be to make something that is bad.  Something that will let everyone know I have no business here.  Worst of all, something that I had thought was good.  And I will be made the fool for believing.

In December I sprained a ligament in my lower back.  Not doing anything glorious, just stepping off a ladder.  Apparently I am tall.  And have been doing too many things in a slightly bent position for my lower back to keep up with, and now it has retaliated.  This means a new position at work and for the past several weeks, fewer positions at home.  Namely lying down, walking, some standing, and minimal sitting.  I would’ve imagined that all that time would get me through my stack of reading and a lot of writing, but my mind has been a scatter and the few times it has come to rest it has done so on discontent with my lack of productivity.  My doting dog breaks me out of the cycle when he can, eager as I am for purpose and movement.

Last night the best of my friends quietly sat and probed.  Quietly waited while I searched for a way to convince him that I am done trying.  I will cook and garden and pursue the things that I can fail at without anyone being the wiser.  And then he got angry, which was the most surprising and helpful thing he could have done.

These next few posts I will be exploring this dynamic of art and fear.  An old and common journey, but one I clearly need to fully travel.  Because I have a great desire to give in to one more than to the other.  And because I have a  husband who calls me an artist, even when it makes me cry.

If you like, come with me.  We’ll wear fear-colored ribbons and stop ignoring the problem.

Garden planning.  Because we need to see things grow this year.  Because we need the Lord to be caretaker of us and our work.  Because we want miracles to sprout in our backyard.  Goodness.

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“There seem to be but three ways for a nation to acquire wealth.  The first is by war… this is robbery.  The second by commerce, which is generally cheating.  The third by agriculture, the only honest way, wherein a man receives a real increase of the seed thrown into the ground, in a kind of continual miracle, wrought by the hand of God…” – Benjamin Franklin

You’ve seen them.  Instagram, hipstamatic, coolerthanyoutronic.  Photography apps that do the art for us.  We use them to broadcast the shiny parts of our best moments.  I can show you my dinner in a cool, cropped shot that is far too narrow to show just how dirty the kitchen behind it is.  My first inclination is to be annoyed by this trend.  Isn’t that what trends are for?  To annoy us until we buy in or move on?

This morning, though, I’m grateful for these cropped shots of life.  A childhood friend of mine is at the hospital with her eighteen month-old.  Two nights ago he tripped in the bathroom and ended up in the hospital with bleeding in his brain and emergency surgery.  They are spending their new year in worry, prayer, and cafeterias, surrounded by machinery that shouldn’t be attached to their child.

This morning this mother posted an instagram of a coffee mug. Not what I expected to see from her today; I’d gone to her page for an update on her boy, maybe another picture of his wound or hospital room.  But there was her coffee mug.  She put a caption that she’d brought it from home to fill up on the newly routine trips to the Ronald McDonald House, something normal to keep her grounded.

I was struck then with the up-side of this micro-view trend.  On the ever-shrinking, increasingly connected globe we inhabit, it can be hard to find focus.  Hard to sift through the headlines and friendlines, to distinguish between filler and pertinent information.  But an artfully cropped take on the situation gives new direction to this task we have of weaving order from chaos.   I’ll take whatever help I can get to highlight the small, important things, no matter how trendy.

The big picture is important, but in many ways it has little to do with us.  If we pay attention to what is before us, the tasks and blessings and talents of the day, we keep going.  We show ourselves worthy of the small jobs, whether it’s writing a chapter, or wiping a table, or holding our son’s hand in a prayer for intervention.   And we trust the outcome to someone greater.