I have an English bulldog named Belle, whose spirit is personified (dogified? caninified?) by fear. Despite a compact, muscular body, stout legs and jaws that shear through leather like a heated knife through ice cream cake, she is… well… a mite skittish. We first began noticing this trait when she was a pup. (And, yes, we’ve raised her from the time she was first able to leave her mama’s side, so she has definitely not been abused. She has no excuse.) One night, my then eight-year-old daughter decided rather than take the long journey upstairs to her bedroom to get her pajamas, she’d just grab one of her daddy’s t-shirts. When she came into the family room wearing the floppy, shin-length shirt, Belle took one look, transformed herself into a flying squirrel and landed in my lap. From there, she burrowed behind my back and quivered. Despite lots of cooing and reassuring, she remained convinced that something evil had swallowed our child whole and would certainly eat her, too, if given the chance.
Belle also has a thing about hats. Any hat. Apparently hats have the power to so transform the human body as to be utterly unrecognizable. Hats (and their now hideously mutated body) elicit screams high-pitched barking and require lots of darting and dashing in circles around the furniture, so as not to let the hat-beast-man corner and, of course, eat her, if given the chance.
Let’s not discuss thunderstorms. Or semi-trucks. Or the nice Amish couple who drive by the yard in their horse and carriage. Bikes are worrisome. Birds are unpredictable. And sometimes Belle’s daddy smells like gasoline and this is not to be trusted.
Belle simply cannot handle the unknown. She has no faith in her own abilities to deal with anything. Insecurity paralyzes her. Uncertainty sends her in dizzying circles.
For years, I was afraid to sit down and tell the story I had inside me. I was, and still am, a voracious reader, and at some point an idea for a mystery occurred to me. An “I wonder what would happen if…” started a chain reaction of deliciously twisty plotting and character building. All in my head, of course. I was afraid to put it to paper. Afraid that it would be stupid. That I couldn’t really do it. That my writing would suck.
And then, when I was pregnant with my first-born and all swollen with fat baby (and water—you shoulda seen my ankles!) and consumed with wonder at all of the possibilities the world would offer this little one, I realized how badly I was cheating myself. How could I teach my child to face his fears if I didn’t face mine? Was he going to learn the courage to risk failure by watching some inspirational Disney movie? How would he ever know that it was okay to not be certain?
So, in one of those “suck it up, buttercup” moments, I sat down face-to-face with that awful blank page and wrote my first book. And it sucked. Of course, it did. It needed to be re-written. Several times. And edited.
I discovered that facing that first fear—that “who am I to think I can do this?” angst—created a resolve in me to see this thing through all the way. It hasn’t been a smooth journey, but it’s been a richly satisfying one.
Now, if I could only get Belle to accept hats. Oh, the world that would open up for her!