Monday, August 3, 2009
Get me down from here!
Several friends have commented recently about my Facebook profile picture, which I also posted here. That's me standing on The Ledge at the Skydeck of the Sears Tower a couple of weeks ago when my nieces were visiting.
The Ledge’s glass boxes extend 4.3 feet from the Skydeck on the 103rd floor, according to this. From 1,353 feet up, you can look straight down onto Wacker Drive and due west to Oregon, I believe.
I managed to inch my way onto the Ledge after several attempts and took that picture as proof. Notice how my left foot is well behind my right? That’s because the left is just barely standing on the Ledge. The only way I could get out there was to do it sideways, snap two quick pictures, and hurry back to the safety of the Skydeck’s regular floor.
Later in the day we rode the Ferris wheel at Navy Pier. While they enjoyed the vistas, I sat glued to my corner of the basket, both hands squeezing the metal railings.
That’s the picture of me I had my niece take when we were near the top. Flattering, isn’t it?
Like my aversion to bees, I also suffer from fear of heights. My rational mind knows nothing was going to happen to me standing on the Ledge. I wasn’t going to fall through and plummet to my death. And I wasn’t going to be jettisoned from the basket in the Ferris wheel, either. I know that. Really, I do.
Yet my fear prevented me from enjoying myself. Fear is like that. There are other kinds of fear at work inside me, too, ones related to my writing.
As I was going through my bookcases the other night I came across “Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking” by David Bayles and Ted Orland. I began flipping through the pages and was immediately struck by how many of the topics applied to me.
I have suffered from many of the nine doubts they mention on page 13. I’m not an artist—I’m a phony. I have nothing worth saying. I’m not sure what I’m doing. Other people are better than I am.
Now, I hesitate to call my fiction writing “art.” That sounds so pretentious. But I’m not writing for fun and I’m not expecting to make a living from it. So what else should I name it? I’ve considered calling it a stupid waste of time, but I’m trying to stay positive.
Those doubts – the fear – keep me from finishing a lot of pieces. I probably have five or six stories I’m working on right now. None of them is close to completion. It’s the same scenario each time.
I come upon an idea and, feeling inspired, begin to write until I reach a point where the flow stops. For however long that takes, I feel like I’ve stumbled upon the greatest story I have ever written. It's sort of like this guy when he turns in his essay to Miss Shields.
But when I stop writing and set it aside, that feeling fades. I return to the piece and think it is awful. And then I am hit with the fear that maybe I’m just not good enough to consider myself a fiction writer.
It’s an irrational thought similar to thinking I was going to fall out of the Ferris wheel basket or crash through the Ledge’s floor. But the fear is very real. Enough so that I can put a particular piece aside for weeks without looking at it.
On other days I let my rational mind take over. I tell myself, don't worry what others think of the story. Write it for yourself. Or I remember reading a writer should expect only one out of 10 stories to be good. You have to keep working through the other nine to find the one that matters.
In that way, I talk myself off the Ledge. The fear fades and I can write.