Saturday, May 21, 2011

On Fearlessness...

My blog has been dormant for a few months now. I've been overwhelmed with work and found myself with little time to reflect. But yesterday at Sarah Lawrence graduation Arianna Huffington gave a wonderful speech. It was hilarious, smart, true, and at times very wise. Beyond telling the grads that they looked fabulous and that it was important for them to get more sleep, she also shared some of her wisdom, offering words that were particularly important to me.

That's because lately I've been waking up, trembling. My husband recognizes it right away. He tells me I have fear in my eyes. And he's right. My teaching year is ending and summer is about to begin. So what am I afraid of? The night train to Jabalpur, a tiger in the jungle, these are behind me.

No, this fear is inside. I've been posing that question that must plague most artists. What if I fail? Do I have the strength to keep doing what I do? Can I still write? Can I still tell a story? And, perhaps the most difficult, why is it that I feel as if every day I must begin again.

But Arianna spoke fearlessness. She said that fearlessness isn't about not being afraid because we are all afraid. It's about not letting fear get in the way of doing what you really want to do. I recall many years ago a young Cuban artist gave me this advice: When your ego gets in the way of your art, you are doomed for all eternity. Hum. Those were harsh words, but I did have a Rapture dream last night. I dreamt that an earthquake shook my house; the sun had moved closer to the earth. Clearly something is making me afraid. And it's not the end of the world. But fear...that comes always feeling as if our egos (and not our souls) are on the line.

A metaphor comes to mind. This past week I cooked dinner at home every night. Just for Larry and me. I rarely give that much thought or planning to a meal. I just look in the fridge or pantry and see what I have, what I need. A meal takes shape in my mind. It's not premeditated (See my blog entry from several months ago on writing being a crime of passion; not a premeditated act)

The first night I made an amazing turkey saussage boulagnaise, the next night lemony rock shrimp with orzo and dill. The third night sauteed chicken thighs with roasted broccolini, cauliflower, and potatoes. I must admit that each meal was delicious. Perfectly prepared. As my husband said, "You could serve these to anyone."

But the next night some of my students were coming over and I contemplated making them dinner. I started to think about it. To worry about it. I didn't ask myself what did I have to work with. Instead I began asking those questions: What would they like? How should I make it? And I found myself starting to get anxious. Would they like it? How much work would it take?

And I realized that I wasn't going to make dinner for them because already some judgments had come into play. And when judgment gets in your way, everything becomes over-thought. Considered. And what to me makes for creativity - which is spontaneity - goes down the drain.

Again quoting Arianna - failure isn't the opposite of success. But one step on the way to success. Fear, Arianna told us she once conveyed to Stephen Colbert, was an obnoxious roommate who took over her house if she let it. He asked her if he could crash there.

Everyone feels it. Before I get on a plane, before I give a reading or a talk, before I sit down to write, there it is, my obnoxious roommate. But I can't let him get in the way of what I want to do. I make the journey. I face the audience. I shut the door. I sit down. And I get back to work.

Arianna said that someone should event a GPS for the soul. Finding the way, the thread back into ourselves. Because it is only in making that connection that we can really be free.

Which might just be the opposite of fear.

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