I love horror movies. They weren’t allowed in my house when I was young so I used to sneak down the block to a neighbor’s house to watch The Exorcist, The Shining, Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and Halloween. As my autonomy increased, so too did the number of horror movies I watched: Saw, Hostel, The Ring, The Grudge, Blair Witch Project, Three Extremes, 28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later, Insidious, Sinister, Paranormal Activity 1-19, American Horror Story (thank you Ms. Lange)…too many to count.
It is difficult to explain my affinity for sitting in a dark movie theater while the tension builds until I literally jump out of my seat. I adore the tingling sensation of not knowing what’s lurking around the corner or just beyond the limits of the movie screen. The commentator inside me exclaims No! Don’t go in there! Why don’t you turn on a light, goddammit? Don’t drop the knife and fall into a sobbing heap…He’s not dead! While an even deeper voice purrs Yeah, oh yeah, I love it! Ironically the things that make for the best horror movies – tension, suspense, uncertainty – are some of the most difficult things about real life.
Another thing I willingly engage in that strikes fear in my heart is writing. Literally the first thing that comes to mind when I hear the word WRITE is fear. What if it’s no good? What if I’m no good? What if no one reads it? What if everyone reads it? What if the words don’t come? What if I get it wrong? What if someone somewhere has already said this? What if this is my only good idea?
My fear creates a vicious, but predictable cycle. It drives me away from my writing for weeks at a time until I gradually convince myself to engage with it again. But as I find a groove and start to get excited, the above soundtrack emerges and I am driven away again. I might consider this just one more of life’s struggles to be addressed over time if I didn’t feel some urgency to write a Drinking to Distraction book in the next year.
Which is why I presented my dilemma to my most brilliant and wonderful meditation instructor, Susan Piver, who said the following: The only problem with fear and doubt is that you believe them, but in reality they are only distractions. She also suggested working with fear directly, making it the object of my meditation, my companion. And, she told me to write about it!
In Shambhala Buddhism, we talk about fear a lot, specifically becoming a warrior and being fearless. But this doesn’t necessarily mean eradicating or ignoring fear. Chogyam Trungpa describes true fearlessness as “going beyond fear” to find the sadness beneath. And he says that a willingness to feel the feelings beneath the fear is the first sign of real warriorship.
As part of trying to live a life of warriorship, I am engaging with my writing fears gently. I practice writing like I practice meditation, in short, regular sessions, without too many expectations, and with a general faith in the process. I know that there will be good days and bad and that the best I can do is my best. Perhaps eventually I will learn to regard my writing fear as I regard Freddy, Jason, and Michael Meyers, entertaining characters that just can’t stand up to reality (and basic goodness).