“You have my permission,” he said, “to write about the thing that scares you most. Seven hundred fifty words. Go.”
Yeah, right. As if I need permission. Ha. I can write about anything. Don’t need anyone to tell me what or when to write. Anything I want. Yup. Even scary stuff. Even the stuff that knots my stomach and makes my fingertips tingle. The stuff that I would prefer to avoid — or at least lock up tight in a tiny box buried waaaay deep back in some cobwebbed and little used corner of my head. I could write about that. If I wanted.
And please – pay no attention to that whisper you might hear, skittering and wild between my ears, the one asking why I’m not writing about that scary stuff, why I’m wasting precious time and space typing all this introductory nonsense, instead of the important, vulnerable stuff that I am so cleverly avoiding.
And I would continue to avoid it, because, really — who wants to dredge up that mess, who wants to go slogging through that swamp, lifting up all those slimy rocks to find the things that go bump in my personal night? Well, at least they go bump in my head, and maybe squeeze my heart in a slightly alarming way. But the cost of avoidance, I’ve learned (the hard way, of course) is a helluva lot more painful, more breathtaking (and I don’t mean that in a good way), more constricting than the fear itself.
Trust me on this one.
I know all this — know it, and yet my first instinct, every time I come face to face with my personal demons, every time that fear begins to slither around my head and my heart — I want to run and hide and ignore it long enough until it just goes away, disappearing into the neverwhen where all my fears have migrated. Trust me on this; I know the drill.
Except they don’t. They don’t migrate. They do not dissipate or fade or diminish, no matter how much I wish it to be so. Far from scattering into the mist, my fears morph and shift and grow and grow and grow. The more I run, the more they drive me. In whatever boxes I’ve buried them, however deeply I’ve hidden them, they begin to fester and ooze and leak — never forthrightly, but sideways and slanted, and suddenly, my world becomes a funhouse mirror, distorted, disjointed, twisted.
For all that I know that the easier, softer way to exorcize my personal demons is to talk, to write, to claim them as my own, I cannot shake the conviction that were I to name them, were I to bring them into the light of day, far from banishing them to the neverwhen, I would, instead, be giving them power and making them real. There is always the possibility (slight, I’m sure, but more than real nonetheless) that they are not, that the scary stuff is just a figment of my imagination. Why give those fears form and substance? Because if they’re real, if that scary stuff is as powerful as I imagine it, it will devour me, swallow me whole, and I will disappear forever into that black hole of neverwhen.
So sometimes, I need permission. I need to be reminded that I am tilting at windmills, solitary and resolute and fighting the good fight (even if I have imagined my foe so much more powerful than it really is) (even if my foe is me). I need to know that I am not lying, broken and bested, at the feet of the Knight of Mirrors, that the scary stuff is just that — scary stuff that only has the power over me that I give it.
And so, remembering, I will write the scary stuff. I will delve into those hidden places. And my fears, once magnified and threatening and insatiably hungry, will shrink and shrivel and be powerless before me. For today, I have been given permission, have given myself permission, to brave the scary stuff and come out the other side, unscathed (mostly) and free.