Within days of the charter meeting of the Mandala Writers Circle, I was jetting off to visit a friend in the mountains of North Carolina, sneaking in some much needed girl time. I tossed out something to the effect of “I won’t be able to write while I’m gone. Too busy, no chair time” to Carolyn. She didn’t let me off the hook. “In case you have time to read,” she said, as she pressed Art & Fear into my hesitant hands. “It’s a wonderful way to start on this journey. You’ll see, you’ll love it. Wait until you read about all the ways we’re afraid.”
I did read this slim volume on the plane, despite being a little afraid of reading about being afraid. I read about fear of pretending, fear of perfection, fear of annihilation, fear of expectations. No bells rang. Then I read about fear of being misunderstood, fear of disapproval, fear of non-acceptance. Nope, nothing. I wanted to relate, but it was if I was so far from writing – 30,000 feet up you might say – that I could not see these specific fears. Perhaps I’m exempt, I thought, and it’s not fear that’s holding me back.
It was the final paragraph that did me in: “In the end it all comes down to this: you have a choice…between giving your work your best shot and risking that it will not make you happy, or not giving it your best shot – and thereby guaranteeing that it will not make you happy.” Bells, bright lights, a minor epiphany. I had to start writing because if I didn’t I would let myself down.
We had a revelatory chat about Art & Fear at our next MWC meeting. In fact, it accelerated our discussions about what was holding us back in general, and about fear in particular. For each of us, the ability to shut down the nagging voice of creativity was finely honed and not easily silenced. A new understanding emerged: being afraid is not harmful. Avoiding it might seem wise, even safe, but the loss incurred is costly. Sitting with our fears – all of the ones the book dissects – will be uncomfortable, but it is in that space that the real expansion begins.
Art & Fear: Observations On The Perils and Rewards of Artmaking is written simply but powerfully. It is a handbook full of common sense advice and insight, built on a foundation of the struggle with uncertainty and doubt. The authors name it in the title and they pound away at it bit by bit. Each reading of the book reveals more of its wisdom, because with each reading you are more of a writer.
Leah and Carolyn