The two major headlines on yesterday’s front page were about the gulf coast oil spill and the failed Times Square car bomb. As I read both articles, I thought about how much energy and fear we’ve all invested in the war on terror/war against terror/whatever you choose to call it. By we I mean news media, politicians, and to various extents the American people. While I know that increased attention, surveillance, awareness, and military strategies have thwarted many actual threats, I also know that we spend way too much time giving in to fear and useless, free-floating anxieties that have no actual target and no permanent solution. Not just about terrorism, but about a lot of other things, too. As someone who regularly battles a general sense of dread and anxiety about things I have no control over, I speak from experience.
On the other hand, a lot of the news is about things that can be changed or prevented. Anxiety can be channeled and transformed into action. Then it’s not anxiety any more. It may become frustration if actions don’t have the desired effect or immediate effect, but at least it isn’t fear. I hate fear. And I hate how often I let it drive me, and I hate when I see it driving culture and politics and religion.
So, I try to think about the things I do have control over. There are a lot of things NOT on that list, mainly boiling down to Other People and Their Actions. Outside of that, there’s not a whole lot left besides my choices about what I say and don’t say, do and don’t do. I can’t even control what I feel or don’t feel, only how I react. Sometimes not even that. (But I can apologize later.)
To connect it to writing—sometimes I get paralyzed over publishing business stuff, ranging from the daily Books Are Dead news briefs to how much money someone else got or who is on the best seller list and do their books deserve it, to what people think of me and/or my books. These all fall under the category of Things I Cannot Change, clearly. Yet there are days I can be close to an anxiety attack over it all. Usually this means I’m not writing. It means I’m not caring. It means I’ve let fear in and let it make itself at home instead of escorting it out quickly and quietly. I’m lacking the courage to change the things I can.
Let’s face it—fear is easier than courage. Fear offers no resistance. It’s a black hole, a bottomless well, it’s always right there and handily accessible in never-ending supplies. You don’t even have to look for it—it throws itself at you, a needy, uninvited interloper. It’s loud and rude, while courage sits quietly and politely, waiting for you to call it forth. I’ve noticed this seems to be the case with all positive character traits; they’re quiet, they whisper, they wait. The negative ones are ready to party 24/7. I don’t know why this is but it is. For me, the only way to hear the good things is intentionally turn the lesser things down or off, and that takes some discipline. Asking myself: “Is this a thing I can change, or not change?” is a helpful place to start. If it’s the latter, I try to let it go. Sometimes I think the whole work of living is figuring out the difference between those things, and then acting accordingly.
When I started writing this I thought I’d come to some great, inspiring conclusion by the end, but I haven’t. Just that these are things I’m thinking about a lot lately. Every day when I wake up, the battle seems to be: Will I go forward in courage, or be crippled by fear? In life, in writing. Will I write? Will I have the courage to create something in the face of all this destruction? I guess that’s the inspiring conclusion—that no matter what I’ve thought the writing life is and would be for me, it often turns out to be a metaphor, a way for me to frame and understand everything else that matters.