Following Your Fear

Fear Image

Photo Credit: The Scream by Edvard Munch, 1893, Casein/waxed crayon and tempera on paper (cardboard), from the National Gallery in Oslo, Norway: oddsock/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Since this is a new beginning to my blog, it seems only right that I begin with fear.

Fear is something that I believe the artist (writer, musician, actor, painter) knows well. It goes beyond facing our demons to get at our best work or the cliché of rejection (“Your work is meaningless. Don’t quite your day job.”) Fears spoil our peace of mind, our sense of realism (quite different from reality) and our way of seeing through the back eye to an organic composite of our experiences, perceptions, minds, hearts, bodies – and fear.

There is a lot of talk about sincerity in art. I recently read an article on method acting that pointed to America’s uneasy relationship with the word. Fear is perhaps the most sincere emotion there is because it has no boundaries. Its venom strikes quickly like the cobra or slowly like the Gala monster with its poisonous bite. We are all of us familiar with the physicality of fear and it seems as if the media glorifies these because it is human nature to be more at ease with what we can see (Fear Factor, extreme sports).

But most artists know the psychology of fear, the way in which their hearts leap away from their work when they know that fear is driving it forward. I say leap away because the psychology of fear takes us into flight mode until we realize the excitement and palpitations are not taking us back but moving us forward towards life rather than death (which is what escape from fear really is – a dead sense of awakening).

About ten years ago, I wrote the first draft of a novel I titled The Dark-Haired Daughter. It was a novel written in three narratives about the psychic deterioration of a family. I have always lived quite isolated and family relationships were what I knew best. I was exploring a style then, heavily influenced by writer Anais Nin and her philosophies on psychological reality in art. I was interested in seeing what happened to children who never left home and grew up to be adult children under the control of a tyrannical matriarch. I also wanted to tell the story of a woman whose desperate need for freedom ultimately led her to the place in which she had started.

The novel was an experiment in poetic prose, the prose where what is unspoken is more important than what is said, where colors and textures matter, and where people do not always find their happy ending but do get a keener awareness of what was driving them forward.

I finished the novel and set about revising it. But here was where I stumbled. I was convinced I was being pretentious, flowerly, trying to capture an authenticity I had never before exposed. I was trying to wear the black cape that tricked me into thinking I could be big “W” writer.

And yet the novel would not let go. For more than ten years, I would go back to it, changing the characters, changing the story, starting from another point of view, even embedding a collective over a personal past. But it was as if the novel and I were playing a game. My mother once told me that during a session with my father, the therapist gave them a cord and told them to play tug of war. The game revealed that they were viciously at odds but so bound together that the cord would never snap.

It took me a long time to realize why I had become so impotent about the novel. In my attempts to write something new, I had exposed the ways in which my past still sickened and horrified me. I had included all those emotions that no one in my family was allowed to voice (what one of my characters calls “the unmentionables”). The alchemy of fear is a wretched thing, a silent but more gruesome atom bomb that leaves scattered remains. Everything was there – tyranny, manipulation, rage, claustrophobia, desperation for freedom. The novel was not autobiographical but in writing it, I had managed to lay out all my wounds.

A few years ago, I started writing genre fiction. I combined my interest in history, mystery, and women. I wrote the first book of a historical mystery series. I had fun writing it and a few beta readers said it had merit. I thought I had escaped my fears.

I cannot say who or what revealed to me how much I had so gotten away from myself. Maybe it was my father’s cancer diagnosis in June and the way I watched his already anxious mind deteriorate even as his cancer was cured. But at some point I realized that I was in a land of skeletons because I had tried to escape my fears.

Authenticity in an artist requires taking up the threads that we drop like fire rods and weaving them back together like a tapestry, the tapestry of the sincere heart.

 

 

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3 thoughts on “Following Your Fear

  1. I would love to read your poetic prose. I too write poetic prose, and sometimes, I feel I am trying too hard to be a Writer and not just writing the way that comes naturally, but sometimes, the poetic prose feels forced. I am curious as to how you pull off the style though.

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    1. Hi Lucie,
      Thank you for your wonderful comment and the follow! I’m also following your site and signed up for the newsletter and I’m anxious to read your prose too :-). I’m working on getting some short stories up on my website within the next week or so. I’m delighted to find someone else who writes poetic prose. I totally hear you about the feeling that poetic prose sometimes feels forced. I think we’ve been conditioned that way – to think that anything that isn’t totally dumbed down is false. I used to teach college composition writing courses to freshmen and I know that this was what they are taught in college. It’s a huge struggle and I still have a lot of fears, but I mainly just listen to my inner voice and let the words just come on the page for the first draft. Afterwards, when I go back and edit, I weed things out and make things a little clearer but I’m learning to trust my inner voice and my intuition. Another thing that I’ve found really helps me is if I actually handwrite my fiction rather than just write directly on the computer. I feel more connected to the words and also the language that I use. I think there have also been studies done that show that handwriting as opposed to working directly on the computer helps to connect better to the words. I hope that helps! Tam

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      1. Tam,
        I am really eager to read more of your blog. It seemed to fit under the kind of fiction style I too am desiring to write. I didn’t get a notification of your subscribing, but I may have to double-check my subscription lists and see if you’re in there! I’ve included some samples of my prose in a special section on my blog. I’ve also posted the same excerpts on Facebook at facebook DOT com/LucieGuerre22 if you prefer to read it there.

        I know what you mean about “dumbing down” our literature. Too often, I think it is beaten into the heads of aspiring authors that poetic prose is also purple prose. I had an English teacher who warned me against writing too poetically and instead, prescribed me to read some Hemingway to get me out of the habit of writing extended metaphors and lyrical descriptions. Well, I had a phase where my writing emulated Hemingway, but then, I found my true voice was in the lyrical, poetic prose.

        I think it’s important to let your inner voice take forefront. Of course, there will be some characters who refuse to speak poetically, but the fact is you have to listen to your characters. For example, my narrator in The Palmist’s Daughter is not poetic at all, but she has a unique style all her own. I think I need to learn to let myself finish a draft before I go through and begin editing.

        Interesting tip about handwriting your fiction. For me, I find that I can’t write fast enough to keep up with the words that are firing through my brain; however, my typing speed is more on par with my thinking speed. I understand the feeling of connection when you hand-write things, but unfortunately, usually my hand cramps up first!

        I hope you continue reading my blog, and I can’t wait to read more of yours! Thanks for your feedback!

        Lucie

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