Day 51 - Courage and Telling Your Story
On Saturday I get to give a talk at Oleg Lougheed’s Hear Me Now conference in Austin on finding the courage to tell your story. So I’ve been thinking about the importance of courage.
Earlier in my life I thought staying on pace to run a 5:20 mile or staying beyond my freshman year at Kenyon College or telling my fiancé before we got married that I thought I wasn’t doing the right thing by getting married would kill me, and so I did none of those things.
The first thing I really thought would kill me that I followed through on was giving birth. The irony is, of course, that I didn’t have a choice. That baby was going to come out no matter what I decided when faced with the pain of a bowling ball coming through what felt like a straw.
Writing You Don’t Look Adopted was the second thing. And it was a lot like birth. It wasn’t so much about finding the courage to do it as breathing and staying with the experience because creating it after a certain point didn't feel like a choice. My whole being was focused on getting it out.
Right now I feel incredibly anxious because I decided to write a novel and I really don’t know if I can do it. Part of me thinks trying and failing to write this book will…wait for it…kill me.
A month ago I sincerely believed giving up coffee would kill me, and that’s why I kept drinking it despite migraines and intestinal distress. Who cares if it hurt me? I’ll die if I don’t have it. I don’t even know how long now it’s been since I’ve had it. One week or two. Maybe even three. I don’t really want to know because it doesn’t really make a difference. I’m holding onto this new life where I don’t drink coffee. That’s who I am now. I don’t want to look back.
So maybe the belief that something will kill me, the fear, is not what it appears. Granted, if I look at a pile of cocaine and think, that will kill me, that’s pretty smart. I am a bag of skin with a beating heart and a brain you could sink your finger into if I didn’t have a skull. So, partly it’s true: I could easily die.
There is body/mind death and there is ego death and there is death of beliefs. I believe I cannot write a novel. Or at least part of me does.
What is that about? Well, fear. I’m so afraid I don’t have enough imagination. I’m so afraid I don’t care enough or have the staying power to keep going day after day making castles in the air just because I decided they were important. I’m so afraid that maybe it’s my role in life to write what I know. Other people get to make stuff up. I’m simply a mirror. I don’t get to go to the circus and live scenes of my own making in my head.
If anyone else came to me saying these things I would hear them out and then I would say, So sorry. You have to do it now because you told me you want to. When do you want to be finished by? I’ll be your accountability person. Pick a date to have a first draft completed.
The person would look at me like a pleased, scared animal. Really? they would (they do) say.
I’d pull out my phone, open my calendar and wait.
What I had when I gave birth and when I wrote my book was someone there holding my hand. I had my person. First it was Keats’s dad, and then it was HBL. I had someone there both times who believed 100% I was up to the task, and so when my own courage faltered, I could borrow theirs.
Maybe it’s not about finding courage if you want to write a book. Maybe it’s about finding someone with faith and a calendar, someone willing to say, Okay. When do you want to finish? Someone who believes in you enough to ask day after day after day, What did you write today? Someone you can not disappoint.
I’ve not been addicted to substances enough to go to AA or another support group like that, but I think I could start an AA group for adoptees, and I could go there and say, Hi. My name is Anne and I’m adopted. And really what I would be doing is admitting that I needed a higher power to get through this addiction to trauma, that my life was out of control and that I needed help. That would take courage. But beyond courage what is needed is community. Joseph Campbell said:
We have not even to risk the adventure alone
for the heroes of all time have gone before us.
The labyrinth is thoroughly known ...
we have only to follow the thread of the hero path.
And where we had thought to find an abomination
we shall find a God.
And where we had thought to slay another
we shall slay ourselves.
Where we had thought to travel outwards
we shall come to the center of our own existence.
And where we had thought to be alone
we shall be with all the world
Maybe writing a book is not about finding courage as much as it’s about finding community. Oleg is bringing me to Austin so I can help others do what I did: write a book. He is creating a spiderweb of people helping other people. That’s community. As a people, we love each other. If your brother or sister succeeds, so do you. We are a world of cheerleaders when we are operating at our highest level.
Today when I was out walking (and I was walking all over the place because I was avoiding going home since once I got home I was supposed to start writing), I was listening to a podcast about the power of the mind. The person was talking about the fact that money is simply a form of energy, and how once you embrace that idea and give up the belief there isn't enough, money will come to you because we live in an abundant world.
Two men were walking up the hill towards me as I headed downtown. One reached out his hand to me and I saw he was holding a tiny paper crane. This promises prosperity, he said. It will change your life. The man and his friend clearly had some mental challenges, and I took the bird and even though I knew what was coming next, I felt I was in a sacred moment. You don’t have to give a donation, the man said, but one is appreciated.
I patted myself down to show I was a person out for a walk, no pockets, no bag, no energy. I handed the bird back to him. Keep this for someone with money, I said.
He shook his head. It’s yours. And he walked away.
My mind hit a fork in the road. I could either think about how I was holding a worthless little paper bird that someone had tried to get money from me for, or I could take it as a message that the world had my back, that the universe loved me and was telling me, look, it's true: wealth is everywhere.
What I’m tempted to tell you here is that after this moment of reframe, I went home and wrote the first chapter of my novel, but here’s the truth: I avoided writing for the rest of the day. I went to the movies. I wrote this blog post. I made dinner. I watched The British Baking Show. I talked on the phone. I ate some yogurt. I felt anxiety, hunger, fear, anger. I felt as if I was supposed to spin a spider’s web without any instructions or the butt of a spider.
When a potter makes a vase, she throws a hunk of clay on the wheel first, not a finished pot. I have to get that hunk of clay out there. That Annie Lamott shitty first draft.
I have no idea how I’m going to do this. How does a story even start?
Once upon a time…
You can do it, Anne.
I can do it.
I want a first draft by a year from now.
When do you want yours?
See you tomorrow.