Write what you’re afraid of

09Apr11

“Write what you know.”

Everyone who has ever aspired to write has heard this advice. And it’s good advice.

But for my money, Donald Barthelme’s version is even better: “Write what you’re afraid of.”

Fear is a funny thing. Of all the human emotions, I think fear may be the most insidious. That’s because it’s not just a feeling; it can also become a state of mind.

Fear can paralyze us. Color our decisions. Shape our lives. The fear of rejection can make us hide our true selves. The fear of failure can keep us from even trying. And sometimes, the fear of death can keep us from actually living.

It’s apt that I should have heard Barthelme’s quote last night: This morning I was telling Esteban (somewhat tearfully) that I wish we could move to Paris. “So why don’t we?” he asked.

I had a hundred objections, which he dashed with a single question: “What are you so afraid of?”

I couldn’t articulate it then, but now it’s clear: I’m afraid of change. I’m afraid of making a mistake, and of disappointing my parents. I’m afraid of having a health crisis. I’m afraid of failing … of ending up broke.

But I’m also afraid of not at least trying. I’m afraid of hindsight, and of regret.

As I helped my friends Jim and John pack their belongings for a move across the hall this afternoon, I thought about my friends Chris and Silke, who are preparing to move halfway across the world. Surely they must have some fears! But they’re going anyway.

Esteban and I have lived in the same house for almost half of our lives. I’m thinking that it may be time for a new home of our own, and a new adventure.

More to come …



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