The Other Mother’s Day

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Mother’s Day is a feel-good holiday celebrated with Sunday brunch, breakfast-in-bed, greeting cards, gifts, hugs, and visits.

While the media brings us warm stories of maternal love and devotion, we should remember those who face this day with longing, sadness, or ambivalence.

Mothers who have lost a child.

Women who have suffered multiple miscarriages.

Women unable to get pregnant.

Those who gave up a baby for adoption.

Those who never met their mother.

Those who lost their mother too early.

Those whose mother no longer recognizes them.

Those estranged from their mother.

Those with a mother in prison.

If you know someone in the above categories, reach out on Mother’s Day. Show sensitivity.  I think of my nieces and nephew, young adults, who have missed their mom for the past 4 and a half years.

If your mother is alive, count yourself lucky—no matter the state of your relationship.

You still have the chance to make peace, make amends, practice forgiveness, ask questions, or simply say, “I love you.”

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The way we understand and relate to our mothers will be different at twenty-five than at forty-five and at fifty-five. Becoming a mother made me understand my own better and appreciate her sacrifices, which I’d taken for granted in my youth.

As the eldest of six children, I was the designated babysitter during my teen years. I dreaded Saturday nights when I was on call to make dinner, care for a fussy baby or deal with a sibling who refused to go to bed. I thought it was so unfair that my mother left me in charge of my five siblings when I wanted to go out with friends. In my adolescent self-centeredness, I couldn’t fathom why she needed to go out every week.

Where was she going? On a date with my father—her beloved.

Years later, I’d remember this when trying to find a trustworthy babysitter to care for my own kids so I could enjoy a Saturday night date.

Today I’m grateful for the close relationship with my three children and hope it will continue to flourish into their adulthood.  I cherish the Mother’s Day gifts they’ve given over the years, especially the handmade ones with written expressions.

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I think the greatest gift we can give our mothers (and fathers) is gratitude and appreciation.

Sift through any resentment and look for what your mom gave you, no matter how small.

Then let her know.

          *  *  *

Here’s mine.

Mom, thank you for…

Instilling in me a sense of adventure and romance.

Encouraging my talents.

Nourishing my imagination.

Fantastic childhood birthdays parties.

The gift of a musical home.

The gift of words—the family stories, children’s books, and poetry.

You may have tangible wealth untold;

Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.

Richer than I you can never be –

I had a Mother who read to me.

                 ~Strikland Gillilan

What are you grateful for?

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Lights for Lori: Remember with love

Lori

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Last Saturday night, I checked the New York Times website at 10:30 pm, to see what I’d missed.

I hadn’t been online during the observance of the final day of Passover–also the Jewish Sabbath.

Hearing the news of any senseless attack on innocent lives is horrible enough. My close connection to the Jewish synagogue that was attacked made it all the more “up-close and personal.”

I had no words to write at the time. I still don’t. (My April 27th blog post, Time’s Arrow, had already been scheduled to run.)

Today, Friday afternoon, I returned from a 6-day writing residency to find the needed words in my inbox.

They were from a dear friend and mentor–Nechama Laber– who inspires Jewish women and girls across the globe with her positivity, strength, and faith. With her permission, I’m sharing excerpts of Nechama’s newsletter with you below.

Whatever your religious practice, lack of, or beliefs, I hope Nechama’s words inspire you to find ways to add light to your corner of the world in honor of Lori and all the innocent lives lost through acts of hate and terror.

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_____________________________________________________________________

LIGHT FOR LORI!

Our hearts were torn into a million pieces upon hearing about the shooting at Chabad of Poway on the last day of Passover and the loss of a precious life, Lori Gilbert Kaye.

Lori was a pillar of her synagogue and community for over 30 years. In her last moments, she fought evil to save the lives of others. She is a true Eshet Chayil – a {Woman of Valor}–Warrior in our times. There is so much we can learn from her. “V’hachai Yiten El Libo” – the living shall take to heart.

The following facebook comments from her friends taught me so much about her.

“You are the kindest most generous person I know!



” 
How can I express more kindness and generosity?

“You are always thinking about others! You deserve it!” 
How can I think about another and help someone in need?

“Don’t ever change you are one of a kind!” 

The Lubavitcher Rebbe once sent a letter to a widow whose husband was a fallen soldier:  “A bullet, a shell fragment, or a sickness can damage the body, but it cannot hurt or affect the soul. It can cause death, but death is only the separation between body and soul.”

Lori’s soul will never change. Her legacy lives on. She is truly one of a kind!

Let’s light Shabbat candles for Lori with a prayer for peace and encourage others to do the same. Every mitzvah (good deed) we do is a candle that illuminates the darkness. Let’s increase in acts of goodness and kindness — just as Lori did each day.

Lori reminds us to appreciate our family. She wrote this message to her daughter and one can feel the love through her words. Let’s share our praise and love with our family members too. May God comfort Lori’s family and bring the redemption now!

“21 years ago, Hashem {God}gave me the opportunity for the greatest job ever! Happy Birthday, Hannah Jacqueline. It’s been a whirlwind journey & I cannot be more proud to be your mom. You are smart, kind, beautiful & wise beyond your years. We wish you abundant blessings as you begin this next chapter of your life. Keep reaching for the stars, & always remember to “Enjoy Life, It is Not A Dress Rehearsal”





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Nechama Laber, center, two of her daughters, and their grandmother getting ready to light Shabbat candles.

 

Time’s Arrow– National Poetry Month Finale

“Inelegantly, and without my consent, time passed.”  ~ Miranda July

     As National Poetry Month draws to a close, I bring you five poems about Time.

The final one is my creation.

 

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Time is very slow for those who wait;
very fast for those who are scared;
very long for those who lament;
very short for those who celebrate; but for those who love, time is eternal.

~William Shakespeare

 

Tree

The Trees

The trees are coming into leaf

Like something almost being said;

The recent buds relax and spread,

Their greenness is a kind of grief.
Is it that they are born again

And we grow old? No, they die too.

Their yearly trick of looking new

Is written down in rings of grain.
Yet still the unresting castles thresh

In fullgrown thickness every May.

Last year is dead, they seem to say,

Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

~Phillip Larkin

 

 

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The butterfly counts not months but moments,
and has time enough.

Time is a wealth of change,
but the clock in its parody makes it mere change and no wealth.

Let your life lightly dance on the edges of Time
like dew on the tip of a leaf.

  ~Rabindranath Tagore

 

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Forever

I had not known before
    Forever was so long a word.
The slow stroke of the clock of time
    I had not heard.

‘Tis hard to learn so late;
    It seems no sad heart really learns,
But hopes and trusts and doubts and fears,
    And bleeds and burns.

The night is not all dark,
    Nor is the day all it seems,
But each may bring me this relief—
    My dreams and dreams.

I had not known before
    That Never was so sad a word,
So wrap me in forgetfulness—
     I have not heard.

        ~Paul Laurence Dunbar

today (1)

At The Museum of Time Gift Shop

I wish to buy us

just one more day.

I’ll pay full price,

spare no expense.

I’ll fill our day with

togetherness 

an ocean view

a symphony or two

words that matter

laughter to heal

             hugs to feel,

then wrap the day in sunshine

and a red ribbon of love.

I’ll hold my present

like a precious gem,

through the tumble of time

for however long—

until I find you again.

     ~Evelyn Krieger

6 Great Websites for Writers (Plus new interview)

 

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Whatever kind of writing you aspire to, there’s a website or blog out there to help you get there. Here are 6 of my recommendations.

Pro Blogger

If you’re serious about blogging, want to grow your audience, and monetize, this website offers guidance, podcasts, extensive resources, and classes on every angle of professional blogging.

DIY MFA

Great for serious life-long learners of writing craft. Do It Yourself MFA helps you “write with focus, read with purpose, and build community”–all essentials for growing as a  writer. Offers articles, podcasts, resources, and classes.

Writer Unboxed

Want to get published? A host of contributors, best-selling authors, and industry professionals and a robust comment section all add up to a powerful guide to the business and craft of writing fiction.

The Positive Writer

Feeling stuck or discouraged in your writing? Bryan Hutchinson’s Blog is devoted to “encourage, inspiring, and motivated” writers at all stages of the game.

Funds for Writers

I’ve been a fan of Hope Clark’s website and newsletter for years. Hope is a full-time freelancer and novelist. Her vibrant site includes markets, competitions, awards, grants, publishers, agents, and jobs for your writing abilities at every stage of the game.  Show me the money!

WOW! Women on Writing

“An ezine promoting communication between women writers, authors, editors, agents, and readers” offers articles, contests, a blog, online courses, and industry news. Although aimed at women writers, there is a great deal here for all to learn from. Enjoy their award-winning flash fiction and essays. Their blog, The Muffin, offers daily writing tips and inspiration.

Here’s a short interview I did last month with WOW! after my essay, “The Geometry of Grief,” was a runner-up their recent contest.

What are your favorite online writing resources?

 

 

How Do You Write About Grief?

“Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell.”

~Edna St. Vincent Millay

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We all experience grief and loss. Some of us more than others. There is no escaping its grip.

The longer we live, the more we lose.

The grief of losing a thing, and the fear of losing it,
are equal.”     
        ~Seneca

In trying to comfort others, or share our grief experience, we get stuck in the sphere of emotion and physical sensation. How do we speak about grief?

We turn to metaphor and imagery.

A black hole.  A sinking ship. A shredded heart. Time stands still. Grief eats like acid.

Sometimes, grief can be described in the same way as love.

“Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming.”      

For is there grief without love?

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“All you can do is learn to swim.”

Author Anne Lamott writes, “You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”

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Siesta Keyes Beach, Sarasota, FL. March 2019

Happy Pi Day!

Pi Day

From PiDay.org

Happy Pi Day!

In case you’re scratching your head…Pi Day falls on March 14. It’s as a celebration of the first 3 significant numbers of  the math constant represented by the Greek letter π—3.14

Remember calculating the area of a circle? 

Divide any circle’s circumference by its diameter; the answer (whether for a pie plate or a planet) is always approximately 3.14.

Pi has a rich history beginning in the ancient world.  Some attributed magical meaning to  π.  For a few thousand years, mathematicians have been scratching their heads over its properties.

Pi Day is celebrated around the globe with pie eating, math chats, contests, and related activities.  MIT has been known to send out its admission decisions on March 14. San Francisco’s Exploratorium has an entire exhibit devoted to this mysterious number.

Could you compete in a Pi memorization contest? 

This is a particularly impressive feat as there appears to be no repeating pattern in the constant.   

Kids (and grownups, too) are fascinated by the idea that Pi never ends! In other words, if you write it out as a decimal, you’re going to need a ton paper.

3.1415926535897932384626433…

Maybe your children, or grandchildren, are lucky to have a school celebration today for this irrational number.

When my kids were home, I baked a pie on March 14.  We explored circle art and puzzles. 

Pi Day Cherry and Apple Pies

From 74million.org

As an educator, I’m passionate about helping kids see math as more than arithmetic.  As a private tutor, I’m often dismayed by the dull and relentless worksheets kids get for math homework.

And don’t get me started on the state of math education.

I advise parents not to leave their child’s math learning to school. Supplement and augment. 

Kids need to develop a strong number sense.  Make math a part of your daily life together: cooking, building, measuring, counting, estimating, banking, graphing, calculating, sorting, scoring, and shopping.

Introduce the language of math to little ones. No need to keep negative numbers a secret until sixth grade.  Hey, it’s minus ten degrees in Boston!   

Play with polygons and trapezoids and tessellations.

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Audrey’s Geometric Display.

Read your kids and grandkids fun math-related picture books:

Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi by Cindy Neuschwander

Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi (A Math Adventure)T

The Grapes of Math by Greg Tang

Circle, Square, Moose by Kelly Bingham.

Count the Monkeys by Mack Barnett

Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 by Helaine Becker

My favorite, for older readers–The Number Devil by Hans Magnus Enzensburger

In my middle-grade novel, One Is Not A Lonely Number, Talia, the 13-year-old narrator, is a math whiz who sees numbers in color with distinct personalities. While the story is about friendship, family, and faith, math plays an important role. I wanted to offer young readers a good story while presenting a girl’s love of numbers in a unique way. Kids write to me saying they enjoyed this aspect of the book.

. One Is Not A Lonely Number

How do you feel about math?  What color is your favorite number?

 

The Geometry of Grief

I turn on the local Saturday evening news after 24 hours of being unplugged. Lead story is: “Cambridge woman killed Friday afternoon while biking in Boston.”  A beloved, longtime Brookline librarian. Her photo flashes across the screen.

That’s my old friend!  That’s Paula. No, it can’t be.

I stand there trying to absorb the story. Police. Accident scene. Hit by a cement truck. Friends giving tribute. Boston cyclists mourning, calling for safer intersections…

Now I’m crying.

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Pubic Library of Brookline

I met Paula Sharaga when my kids were young. She was the new children’s librarian our local library.  I liked her quirkiness and warmth.  Paula and I were both early childhood educators, active in the Jewish community, and, of course, book lovers. We had lots to talk about.  Sharing our family Rosh Hashana dinner with Paula just after the tragedy of September 11 is a special memory.  

Later, Paula moved to Cambridge and took a job at the Brookline Public Library. This meant we didn’t see each other much. Our friendship, like many others, shifted to email and Facebook. And then, gradually, our contact lessened.

Strangely, just a few weeks ago, I thought of Paula for some reason. I realized it had been a long time since we chatted. I made a mental note to reach out.

I never did.

Now Paula’s Facebook page is filled with expressions of sympathy, sadness, and memories. I’m awed by the outpouring of love. 

Scrolling through her page, I’m quickly updated with all she had been involved with the past years.  Environmental activism. Politics, protests. Nature hikes. Cycling. 

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I see that she married her long-time boyfriend.  I read his words of shock and disbelief.  Paula’s husband is now in the After.

I know that place well.

You are thrust into that place with a simple phone call. 

Now I  pray that Paula’s husband is surrounded by love in the After. That the intense grief from losing his wife and her abrupt, tragic ending will not shadow the eventual light. 

I hope no one will say to him: “It was G-d’s will,”  or “She’s in a better place,” or “Let me know if I can do anything.”  (Just do something!)  I hope no one will count the months or years of his grieving and tell him “it’s time to move on”.

No one ever knows the right thing to say to someone in mourning. The Jewish custom provides a simple script: “May you be comforted among the mourners of Zion. May her memory be a blessing.”

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I leave you, dear readers, with my newest essay published by Women on Writing, which seems fitting at this momentThe Geometry of Grief.

Listening to Silence

Silence

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our  enemies, but the silence of our friends.”      

                                                                           ~  Martin Luther King Jr.

 

 

Silence hurts. Silence comforts. Silence teaches. Silence breathes. 

City dwellers, parents of young children crave silence like a drug.

The loud silence of a newly empty nest screams through the hallway.

Silent night, holy night. 

Middle of the night silence wraps too tight around your wakeful soul.

The painful sound of a lover’s long ambiguous silence never quiets. 

Silence stretches between two longing hearts, connecting them no matter how far.

Sit in the silent space a loved one once occupied. Let it envelope you.

Silence sometimes speaks louder than words.

Silence stands in when there simply are no words.

Silence feels heavy when it carries the weight of unspoken words.

Silence whispers, I need you.

Silence is golden when you hold a special secret.

The silent treatment feels powerful yet treats no one.

Silence vibrates at a frequency only our bodies perceive.

Debussy said, “Music is the silence between the notes.”

Creation emerges from silence. ~

Finding Time To Write: Reflections On My First Residency

I just spent the last month in a writer’s heaven.

 

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The Vermont Studio Center is the largest artist residency in the United States. Each month, 50 selected writers and visual artists from across the country and globe are offered unrestricted time for creative work.

I got to be one of them!

VSC provides private studios, room and board, conferencing with Visiting Artists, readings, craft talks, and presentation nights—all on its beautiful historic campus.

The first week, I was pinching myself.

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Maverick Writing Studios

Amazing things happen when you get the chance to step out of your everyday life and write in a calm environment designed to limit distractions and obligations.

I learned a lot about myself as a writer.

I tested my mental stamina. I had time to just sit with the mess of words and ideas and try to shape it into something coherent and interesting. I learned how long it can take to write one decent paragraph, only to delete it the next day.  I had the time and space to immerse myself in a fictional world. 

Sometimes it was magical.

Other times, anxiety-provoking…What if it’s no good? Am I wasting my time?

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My studio overlooking the river.

I met with Visiting Writing, Noy Holland, to discuss my short story in the revision stage. I got to spend time with other kindred spirits talking about the artistic process,  rejection, failure, inspiration, and epiphanies.  We shared stories, laughter, and tears.

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NIcholas

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Resident Photos by Howard H. Romera

 

 

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Reading a new essay, “The Geometry of Grief”, at Presentation Night.

 

Create

Image Source: Busy Building Things

Finding time to pursue your passion amidst the demands of your present life is likely your number one challenge…or complaint.

But sometimes it serves as an excuse.

Saying, “My dream is to write a novel, but I simply don’t have the time right now,” is likely untrue, although it may feel that way.

As E.B. White once said:   “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”

While there are definitely periods in our lives when we feel especially stretched, finding time to write is possible if you make it so.

I’ve been writing and publishing since my late teens. That means I’ve written through college, graduate school, teaching career, raising 3 kids, homeschooling, and helping elderly parents.Developing Reading and Writing Through Author Awareness: Grades 4-8

There were times I was insanely busy, stressed out, or depressed. There were dry spells—sometimes long ones.  There were also stretches of times conducive to creativity that resulted in publishable work.

Still…I wish I had accomplished more. (That’s Miss Perfectionist talking, so you can just ignore her.)

We all have the same 24 hours in a day.

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days.”  ~Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

Here are my tips for carving out time for writing:

Be a Time Sleuth

The first step to making time for writing is to scrutinize your daily/weekly schedule. 

Can you wake up earlier before work or getting the kids off to school?

If early morning doesn’t don’t work for you, try writing in the evenings or late night hours.

If you commute by public transportation, consider that time. Keep a notebook with you for ideas and brainstorming.

Can you make time on the weekends?

Look for time suckers you can give up (or cut back on): The biggest one is the Internet Blackhole. Scrolling Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Endless newsfeeds. YouTube pet videos. Binge watching TV. Really.

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Resit

Schedule your writing.

This next step is key. Once you find the times when you can write, mark it on your calendar.  That’s right: you’re making an appointment with your muse. Begin with 15-minute blocks. That’s not long enough, you say? Believe me, the minutes add up. Consistency, more than quantity, matters at this stage.

writing calendar

Think of writing like exercise. You need to show up at the gym or class—whether you feel like it or not— in order to make progress. You can’t show up once a month and build muscle.  Consistency leads to making a habit. The writing habit will help you achieve your goals. Show up, or as Stephen King said, “Butt in the chair.”

Designate a Writing Place

The great thing about writing is that it’s portable. I write in my home office, on the family room couch, in libraries and coffee shops. I’ve written in airports and on long bus rides. The place depends on my mood, what I’m writing, time of day, and schedule. Having a designated place to write, however, can help you build the habit. By associating a specific place for writing, your train your brain to switch into writing mode. Doesn’t matter if your place is a closet, office, or shed. Claim your space. Make it look and feel nice.

                               Sunny corner table of library = novel writing.

 

Library_Writing_Spot

…Virginia Woolf had her room. Proust his shuttered windows. Marguerite Duras her muted house. Dylan Thomas his modest shed. All seeking an emptiness to imbue with words. The words that will penetrate virgin territory, crack unclaimed combinations, articulate the infinite. ~Patti Smith, Devotion

Set Goals & Deadlines

The process of trying to produce a piece of writing can be—no, make that will be—frustrating and discouraging.  To stay on track you need to:

Define goals

Making a plan

Tracking progress

Set deadlines

Reward yourself

Again, the exercise analogy.  If you just say, “I’m going to get in great shape”, you’ll likely to give up before you run the first race. You must make a plan with incremental milestones along the way. 

Same idea for writing a novel. You start with the end goal in mind, then work backward. Name the date you want to finish by (I know, that’s really scary). Then break down the big goal into several small steps. Approximate when you’ll reach each step. Anticipate obstacles. Reward yourself when you arrive. Yes, you’ll likely have to adjust the steps and deadlines. The important thing is having a roadmap. (Thank you Kendra Levin for this advice.)

“Each time we come to the end of a piece of work, we have failed as we have leapt — spectacularly, brazenly — into the unknown.” ~ Danie Shapiro, Still Writing

Plan a Writing Retreat

Once you’ve made time to write, limiting distraction is the key to producing. A writing retreat can be a great way to jumpstart, revive, or finish a project.  Some writers occasionally cloister themselves in a hotel room for a few days to binge write. I know two women who designed their own retreat by renting a cabin in New Hampshire. Poets & Writers Magazine has several classifieds ads for rentals in beautiful settings that cater to writers.

If you think you’re the right point in your life or career to pursue a writing residency, here’s a has a comprehensive listing.

How do you make time for writing or other creative pursuits?

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Nighttime at VSC

Pirouettes and Parachutes: Facing Your Fears From The Ground Up.

parasailing-in-sunny-day

Thrillspire.com

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

I asked this question to friends and readers ages 20-65.  Here are a few of the replies:

  • Write a memoir and not worry about what my family thinks.
  • Quit my job and find a better one.
  • Start online dating. Again.
  • Become a foster parent.
  • Ask him out on a date.
  • Learn ballroom dancing at age 65. 
  • Travel the world–all 4 corners
  • Overcome fear of water and scuba dive the Barrier Reef.
  • Be more adventurous outside my comfort zone.
  • Dial up my appetite for taking risks to say things that might upset others.

Interestingly, one responder wrote:  “My first thought is that I would make foolhardy mistakes that my justified fears keep me safe from making.” 

Good point. But fear and caution are not the same.  

And here’s a response from a middle-aged man that touched me most.

“If I wasn’t afraid, I would become the Me I was born to be.”

Notice the essential verbs in the above answers?  Start, become, go, ask, learn…

Fear can hold us back from achieving our goals, realizing our potential, and trying new things.  We know this in our hearts but have trouble moving past it.  

Fear of risk. 

Fear of discomfort.

Fear of failure. 

Fear of being judged.

Fear of looking like a fool. 

Fear of getting emotionally hurt. 

Fear of the unfamiliar.

Fear of the unknown. 

Fear of the Blank Page

Writers are no strangers to fear.    

Do I really have any talent? Will anyone care what I have to say? What if my writing is crap? What if I lose my creative spark? What if my book never gets published? 

Name your writing fear. Say hello. Shake hands. Then wrestle it to the ground. 

fearofwriting

You’ll probably have to do this on most days.

Know that wherever you are in your creative journey, you have plenty of company. Face the fear and write anyway.  

“Fear is felt by writers at every level. Anxiety accompanies the first word they put on paper and the last.”
― Ralph Keyes, The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear

What would you do if you weren’t afraid

Here’s one of my answers.  Ride on a space shuttle.  

Surprised?

Since childhood, I’ve been fascinated by people who do bold, physically demanding activities. Motorcycle stunt riders, platform divers, tightrope walkers. My mother tells me that while watching the Ringling Bros. circus I was drawn to the woman being shot out of a giant cannon. Astronauts were my heroes.

Lest you think, I was a kid daredevil—not a chance. The scariest thing I did was ride a bicycle down a hill while sitting backward.  Oh, here’s where I should mention my fear of heights. While I loved amusement park rides that spun me around, fear of heights kept me from the Ferris Wheel and giant roller coaster. 

Evelyn_Diving_Florida

Me, age 11, on the high dive in Miami. Never jumped. Just wanted to impress my friends.

Then came claustrophobia. (Perhaps its origins can be traced to my brothers zipping me inside a sleeping bag. Or maybe getting forcibly held underwater in a swimming pool?)

Yet, I still wanted to be that girl who could blast into space.

Along with dreams of becoming a teacher, writer, and dancer, I harbored a secret desire to ride in a rocket ship one day.

Then, in my early twenties, I developed an extreme fear of flying.

So much for going to the moon.

Enter my fearless friend George who thrived on physical risk-taking. George tried to get me to go skydiving with him.

tandem-skydiving-in-MA

Jumptown in Massachusetts

He showed me videos of his fantastic jumps. He broke down the mechanics, safety features, let me examine the parachute. He promised to hold on to me. I enjoyed this vicarious adventure but knew I’d never jump out of an airplane.

Performing a grand jete in ballet class would have to remain my “airborne” thrill.

ballet-black-and-white-dancer-leap-Favim.com-2053016

Learning from the Pros

In June 2017, Alex Hunnold, 31, became the first person to scale El Capitan in Yosemite–a 3,000-ft monstrous granite wall…without using ropes or other safety gear. Only his hands and feet. Alex’s incredible historic event is documented in a new National Geographic Film, Free Solo

Just watching a clip gave me vertigo.

In this crazy sport, there is no room for error. A mistake means death.

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National Geographic, Free Solo.

Most of us will never have what it takes to climb a rocky ledge or become an astronaut. Most of us probably wouldn’t even want to. What draws me to these fantastical feats is the question of how he or she overcame the Fear Factor.

Through years of intense training, Alex developed an astonishingly strong mental ability to control fear. So much so that neuroscientists are studying his brain. In an MRA scan experiment, Dr. Jane Joseph reported zero activation in Alex’s amygdala–the “fear center” of the brain. 

“A lot of people say I don’t feel fear, or that I don’t fear death, but that’s just not true!…I think I just have more of an acceptance that I will die at some point. I understand that, but I don’t want to baby myself along the way. I want to live in a certain way, which requires taking a higher degree of risk, and that’s acceptable to me.”   (National  Geographic)

There are lessons for us normal folks on the ground. 

Challenge your fears.

Set a goal.

Plan and Prepare.

Take baby steps.

Practice

Focus on the rewards

Repeat

This all takes courage.

Courage doesn’t mean fearlessness. Courage is facing your fear and doing it anyway. Courage is a muscle. 

I’m happy to report that I’ve worked through some of my long-time fears. Though I’ll never be a comfortable flyer, I still board the plane, anyway. I practice relaxation techniques.  I focus on where I’m traveling to and who I’ll get to see. The fear is no longer in charge.

I can now drive across major bridges without getting panicky.

But don’t ask me to go caving or enter a submarine!

The kind of risks I’m comfortable taking are mostly in the emotional realm. Relationships. New experiences. Adventures…as long as they take place on the ground.

Writing fiction gives you a chance to live other lives. The main character in my new story is an 11-year-old girl who plans to ride every roller coaster in the world and grow up to be an astronaut.

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CBS News

Sometimes when I feel discouraged by the limitations my fears bring, I remember the prolific writer Ray Bradbury, whose science fiction stories launched his readers into outer space.  

In real life, Mr. Bradbury was terrified to get on a plane. 

What would you do if you weren’t afraid? Have you faced a fear?