The fear to really be | what scares us most, about art

It had been many months since I went around the corner from our house to the new development. Why would I?—turning left instead of right, I could go down to the lake. Turning right, and right again, they’d taken out a grove of trees and prepped the lots with storm and sewer drains marked with stakes and plastic tape, put down straw and strips of sod, drain rock, sidewalks. It’s where I used to come for story ideas, when it was still woods with vague trails, ferns, moss: signs saying “Sensitive Area” with illustrations of heron and bobcat, an idealized salmon arcing, mid-air—and yet, it was no different than the developments I knew back east growing up, the only difference was I knew this place before, when it was trees.

I had a story idea about an evil character with really long arms. The character had these arms that extended like tendrils and moved the way strands of seaweed might in the ocean, real slow. I kept going back to the woods thinking the story would just present itself to me and I wouldn’t have to write it. I took notes, but when I reread them I got discouraged. The idea didn’t really pan out. I kept combining the horror premise with scenes from my childhood, but like mixing two pieces of music it didn’t fit. I also wasn’t sure I wanted to do horror. I kept coming back to memoir, there was enough horror in that for me.

I think I didn’t write it because there was this barrier of fear between me and the story. The barrier was just around me, I made it. I didn’t know many writers but one I did, Dawn’s friend Patrick: we’d go see him and his new baby, and when it was time for everyone to go he’d brew a pot of coffee and start glowing; he knew he’d be up late writing, before he had to go to work in the morning. He was really excited about that, he was doing it.

And there was a guitar player I knew in Pittsburgh who was really good, I remember watching him play in my apartment and that far-away look he got concentrating, disassociating himself, the fingers and the brain. And we’d often go to bars or people’s houses to hang out but he’d always decline, he said he had to go home so he could play.

It’s much easier to be someone or something in your head. The fear even allows you to rationalize it, to make it seem real. I heard a guitarist do an interview on the radio last week who said he had to become himself, that’s what he really needed to succeed, to just be who he was meant to be.

I’ve said it before, the danger comes with the money, the real need for security we all have and the trade-offs we make, the fear in us that prefers we don’t even try, so we don’t have to fail. To protect us from ourselves and our urges, and deny us the same.

It’s that banging on the desk, on your window, in your in-box that beats the same drum, “I’m an artist,” I’m an artist, I am!

Perhaps keep writing it enough and you won’t have to say it so much.

And when they say “I play music,” or “I’m going to a play,” remember that’s what it’s supposed to be about, so play.

Photo credit, Loren Chasse.

Come play with me on Saturdays on my new, spring guest post series Anthony’s Navel.

Categories: writing

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

26 replies

  1. Your story ideas are intriguing, Bill. Last week we heard about your talking snails, now the long-armed underwater goon. You have “Pan’s Labyrinth” running on a loop in your head? Cool!

    Your bottom line is the truth, though. If you want to play (write), then play (write).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I need constant reminders. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s true. If you think about your blocked-out writing time as when you “have” to write or when you’re “supposed” to write, then something’s not working with your attitude or your approach or maybe the project you’re making yourself do for the wrong reasons. It should feel like when you “get” to write.

    I just read another writer talking about how she got angry that her friends and family weren’t respecting the importance of her writing time, and then realized that she wasn’t respecting it herself, so why should anyone else?

    You gotta fight for your right to party.

    And by party, of course I mean write.


    • I get a lot of good comments here but this is an example of why I like getting comments…(as most do), but this is especially good. And always bonus points whenever you can work in Beastie Boy references, especially late 80s, pre “Ill Communication” era. And driving home “Professor Booty” came on my shuffle, in the car…and I was reminded like wow, holy crap, did they sound good! They was playin’, yo’! Ha ha ha ha ha. Hey, send me a submission for my Saturday guest post series! I only have dudes participating, we need to balance out the boat, yo’.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You do get a lot of good comments, I agree. You must bring it out in folks.

        I haven’t found my guest posting groove yet. What would I write about? My own blog is all fiction. Stories and nothing but. Nice and structured and clear. Once I go off on Other Stuff, well, who the hell knows where that leads.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Aw shucks give it a try. Go into that Blondie record some more, maybe. Or your favorite book or film, if there was some moment that you turned on it, or pivoted. I like those stories, I’m sure you’ve got a few. If not now, then next time. But why not now?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Well, why not now I can sum up in two words: Camp NaNo. Or another two: job crapnado. (Which looks a lot like Camp NaNo, now that I see them next to each other.) Yes, I am caught in a swirling crapnado at work, that just gets stinkier and ickier every day. And to top it off, my assistant just quit. And in three days, NaNo starts. ARRRGGGHH.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ah I’m sorry. It will come around. Hot baths and chocolates, whatever it takes, work through it. Spring is on the cusp, hang tight. Bill

        Liked by 1 person

      • My solution: red wine and a good book. And then chocolate, yes of course.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Alcohol is just another bath, trust me, I’m really an expert on that.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s interesting. I did a lot of fiction writing for a few years. I published a couple of novels and some short stories and as I went through that whole process, towards the end of that period I said that, when people asked me what I did, I would finally say “I’m a writer” instead of “I’m an attorney.” And it was right around then when I began to develop and grow into an utter inability to write much of anything in the fiction realm. Maybe I should have just been happy with “I’m an attorney.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • My god, that’s interesting, that’s its own story right there. I think some comparison too, to bands who lose their ‘pop’ or their edge maybe, as they ‘make it.’ There’s a lot more that goes into that I’m sure, that all fucks with your head, but for me, the bottom line is they sound like they really want it in those first, good albums. And then they sound like they’re trying to sound like they used to. Or something else. They choke; I can’t blame them.
      I was sitting here thinking when you commented about a friend of my stepdad’s who’s a decently known English folk musician living in Germany, but the fact I never heard him play because, he said, he only played for money. How fucked up and sad is that.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yep. It seems that there are an incredible number of artists in the music and writing world who have their first few books or records seem to set the world on fire and then something happens. For me, I think it’s that when I first started my writing adventure, I didn’t know enough to care. I just wanted to see if I could write a novel, and then I had some ideas for short stories, and then ideas for other novels. And at some point, my ideas became more complicated and my self-flagellation became more severe and I just couldn’t figure out how to write without beating myself up over every word. And I certainly can’t say that success went to my head and it’s all about the money because I didn’t have a lot of success or money out of those initial self-publishing efforts.


      • I relate to only the self-flagellation part, it’s some crust we put around ourselves, it’s death! Fuck it in the eye and piss on it!

        Liked by 1 person

      • To add the other wrinkle … the last few years of work and family have added significant layers of stress. I am emotionally drained at the end of the work day. The last thing I need is more self-punishment. Far easier to just surf the internet, read, and retire early.

        One of the things you wrote in this post that struck me was about the friend who glowed when you left because he knew he would sit down to write into the wee hours. That’s something I’ve never really been able to do. I never pulled all-nighters in school. Sleep has always been far too important to me. 😉 Now, more than at any time over the last dozen years or so, I simply don’t have the energy to crank that door open … to fuck it in the eye and piss on it.

        Haven’t given up. It’s just not there right now.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Well ok, thanks so much for sharing and I have hope and faith for you, it’s there still. It must be, I’ve seen it! Bill

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you for your encouragement. It does help. Whether from you, Kevin, other bloggers who have read my stuff, or more local readers and writers, it helps to know that I do have a way to reach people with my words.


      • That story you did in Iraq I think was the one for me. You know the one…the shop owner.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, I know the one. Thanks for remembering. That, as I said when I wrote it, was a rare thing for me. Written from a place of real feeling. Now, if only I could bottle that. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      • I am sorry to go on with the commenting but that right there for me is everything. I read the same in a piece you wrote for my grunge series, the scene with that Phil Collins song I think, that feeling is truth.

        Liked by 1 person

      • No apology needed. It takes two. 😉

        There’s a thing I want to do with some of my fiction work in progress. It basically comes down to recapturing the emotions that were involved that initiated the ideas and the first words. One story in particular I know I need to recapture that emotion because it has a personal nature to it (although fiction). That emotion is hard to find these days, particularly when doing battle with self-flagellation.

        Time to go read. 😉


      • Good luck, who the hell knows how just to find it, but look for those triggers and let the magic fly. Good luck buddy.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I am so glad you heard that guitarist do that interview so you could share that truism with us: we have to become ourselves to be who we’re meant to be, to succeed as the best version of ourselves. For some reason we fear becoming ourselves, like we think we’ll suddenly have long arms or not be recognisable so we fight it. But in the end that only makes us feel less like ourselves. And a bit more miserable. If only life came with a big post it note: stop fighting yourself you idiot.

    Liked by 1 person

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