It’s not fun cleaning up a mess you’ve made. From the hushed reprimands of our parents to the giggles of our classmates to the chiding laughter of friends, we are taught to clean up after ourselves, and implicitly avoid making messes altogether. And for the structural integrity of a healthy society, this is how it should be. So it takes a special kind of crazy to make a mess with the sole purpose being to clean it up, over and over, every single day of your life, until the time when you either quit for lack of passion or obsession or can’t physically lift up your hands to clean anymore. I’m the latter. I count myself among the obsessed messers and compulsive cleaners, the passionate puzzlemakers and code crackers, and the hopeful heroes of this literary dream-making machine.
I am a writer. I love making my messes and I love cleaning them up.
But, sometimes, I’m scared to death. But it’s only now that I’ve realized how vital this fear is to my art.
Fear bites us softly like spiders. Two weeks ago, I was anxious. I knew I had to begin the rereads of the draft of my mess, I mean, novel. As I always do, and in sync with fear, I’d forgotten everything good I’d written and only remembered two or three exaggerated things that were horrible, making a quick label for the whole thing and dreading its inevitable approach on the calendar. One week ago, I was frustrated and angry. I snapped at a co-worker about something stupid and made various silent asides to various passersby on buses and trains. I was tense and wound up and I didn’t know why. Three days ago, I planned my escape, announcing to my day-planner that it was “too soon”, to “give it more time to breathe”, and that “I had a blog to think about now”. I’d give it another week, maybe too. I had to clean up some stuff I’d written ten years ago. I had to do my taxes, I had to get my hair cut. And good Lord, there was that dinner three days from now to worry about. Two days ago, I begin the pre-reading ritual. I gather Evernotes and audio notes, I pull out dusty spiral notebooks and notepads and a blank sheet of paper. To counter the rising fear in me, I first tell myself that I’m not afraid, knowing that my monkey brain could be tricked into being confident as long as I believe I can be (though this happens only half the time). For the rest of my time, I stall. I clean my room, wash the dishes, watch TV with Andy, my brother. In a last ditch effort, I make more excuses—too soon to go back, more time to let it cool, other projects need to be finished. Oh yes, fear spiderbites us.
And just today, only minutes before I have to begin, only then does the fear subside as I read the first line of my work-in-progress. And it always does, subside. Experience has taught me that if I press on, eventually my work’s worth will show through, in all its rust and sparkles, and that I’ll have enough vision and clarity to finish it.
And this is how it always is. I go through this range of emotions, when I know, deep down, everything will be all right. But as I was writing this, a revelation came to me: Live with fear, don’t ignore it any longer. Where this revelation came from stemmed from another fear of mine.
Four summers ago, I killed spiders every Wednesday. Sometimes there were two a day, sometimes four. Apparently, there’d been a nest of them right outside my window, and as much as I tried to spray them out of existence, they kept finding ways in. They didn’t do anything immediately dangerous to my health or well-being, and they were easy to trap and to flush down the toilet or throw out the back door. But I was obsessed with their utter annihilation. I even convinced myself that I had arachnophobia to justify the tiny murders I’d committed every week.
But now I live with them. They disrupt my peace of mind only if I let them, and really, they can only hurt me if I let them. Sure, they could bite me (only one has in the these four years), but that’s what spiders do. They are soldiers of nature, unaware of the nefarious intentions we equip them with.
Just like fear. In these past few days of writing this post, I’ve learned not to ignore the fear but ignore the intentions we equip them with. Fear will always be there. Let it be.
All our minds do, all of our lives, is remember and forget. Hidden and stored in the deep wells of subconscious activity, we know everything we’ve ever experienced, ever. When we learn something new, we forget it over and over until we remember it; and once it’s remembered, we must utilize it or it’ll become the sludge of nostalgia and the repressed. By searching for a particular sense memory, we can remember it and keep it. Other times, they come without ourselves to trigger it. Bad feelings explode against our eyes when we hear a certain love song, good feelings waft into view as we take a bite of our favorite meal. And as overwhelmingly powerful as this machine inside of us seems, we can control it.
So return I must to the mess I’ve made. And though I’ll never ever stop being afraid, I can teach myself to remember and keep remembering that it’s I who make these fears dangerous. Otherwise, if I leave them alone, they’ll crawl right over me. They may bite. But that’s what fears do. That’s what they can only do.
Live with spiders.
Unless it’s a black widow, dude. If it’s a black widow, you must kill that shit.
P.S. Before I return to my mess, I must psyche myself up.