Fear, Creativity and a TED Talk



I live in fear

What should I do?

What can I do?

How about – what  I want to do?

Should anything else matter?

I haven’t been writing lately. That’s not entirely true. I have been journaling a LOT. I’ve also been dealing with a lot of fear. You see, it’s May, and during this month three years ago I had my daughter two months early and it was a very difficult recovery for me. Then, two years ago, a tornado hit my house while I was home alone with her. Both were very difficult times when I felt very alone. I’ve written some about the tornado (which you can see here in a flash fiction and here in an essay) but I’ve never really written much of anything about the events surrounding my daughter’s birth. Maybe I need to do that.

Anyway, it’s May. I managed to push aside those feelings of anxiety and dread until the couple days before her birthday then I got through it and felt better. Then we had a storm system come through and I realized my anxiety level was quite high so that instead of just making preparations and getting on with whatever else I needed to do, I went into hyper alert and spent nearly all my time flipping back and forth between the weather and Facebook. It isn’t very productive. It’s just stressful.

So, I’ve been thinking about dealing with that fear. I was sitting down to work on a crocheted necklace last night and decided to turn on a Ted Talk and in looking at the Entertainment selections, I found one by Karen Thompson Walker on What Fear Can Teach Us. One of the first things she talked about made me cry just a little and feel so much better. She said that fear is something we’re expected to grow up and get over, but some of the most creative minds in history, had profound trouble letting go of fear.

“But maybe it’s no coincidence that some of our most creative minds fail to leave these kinds of fears behind as adults. The same incredible imaginations that produced “The Origin of Species,” “Jane Eyre,” and “The Remembrance of Things Past,” also generated intense worries that haunted the adult lives of Charles Darwin, Charlotte Bronte and Marcel Proust.”

I admit, thinking myself in the company of such creative people immediately made me feel a little bit better. The fact is that my storytelling mind, which extrapolates into what could be, is going on an unauthorized journey and taking me along for short spaces of time. Maybe it’s saying that I’m not giving it enough of a workout, or maybe it’s just being obnoxious. Her talk made me think that I’m grateful for that part of my mind, even if it’s giving me more fear than I want at the moment. It’s my storytelling mind.  So, our creative story telling capability can be a double edged sword.

“But what if we looked at fear in a fresh way? What if we thought of fear as an amazing act of the imagination, something that can be as profound and insightful as storytelling itself?” Walker asked.

She goes on to tell the story of a whaling ship that inspired the story of Moby Dick, and how the people could have survived if they hadn’t been so scared of cannibalism that they passed up much nearer places where they could have gone ashore  in favor of a place that was out of reach.  Ironically, many starved to death and some turned to cannibalism to survive.

We all have fear to lesser or greater degrees. I would swear that I didn’t feel so much fear or have so much anxiety a few years ago but I have to work with where I am now. Maybe it could be useful in my storytelling. Certainly, it can help me to relate to characters who might be experiencing it. And if I can just find the fear in my mind that tells me I can’t possibly write the kind of book I want to, I may not be able to root it out and remove it but I can confront it and use those scientific skills Walker talks about to analyze it and refuse to let it keep me from doing what I want to do, from accomplishing what I want to accomplish, from writing a novel.

Fear is about the little stories we tell ourselves, either of the things that have happened or things that may happen. Sometimes the latter is triggered by the memory of the former, as when high winds and storm clouds around my house make me anxious.

Martha Beck recommends, in her book The Joy Diet: 10 Daily Practices for a Happier Life, creating a moment of truth. I figure out what I’m feeling – angry, sad, scared, happy, etc., then ask myself what the story is that I’m telling myself that’s making me feel that way? Then I working on re-writing it.   It has been very helpful in a lot of instances when I’m angry or sad, but I tend to forget to try it when I’m scared, maybe too much adrenaline.  Here’s hoping it helps.

So, for the moment, journaling and blogging, not so much on the fiction writing.  I’m working on it and I’ll get back there.  It’s just going to take a little time.