There is no other four letter word quite like it. It is deceptively small and simple. In this font, the word is quite striking. It is a beautifully dirty smear on this Internet page. A concrete example of imperfection. A jagged old scar from the past that never completely healed. If I could reach into the glowing screen of my computer and wipe it away, it would leave behind an oily trail. It is a murky and twisted demon that haunts the messy crevices and cracks in our lives. Its crooked claws shred through fluffy dreams like cotton candy. It lurks in the shadows of our minds with its favorite hellhounds dread and doubt. It sinks its slimy incisors into our goals, and infects them with apathy. Its breath is a warm whisper withering inspiration into a wilted wicked weed. It is a crooked shape-shifter contorting its mass into a multitude of grotesque shapes. Fear’s definition is the same in countless languages, but its meaning is different for all of us.
Every once and awhile, I get the undeniable urge to create something. It is like an itch that is just slightly beyond your fingertips. It is an itch that grows and spreads until it consumes me whole and forces me to action. In my life, writing has always been one of the best backscratchers. What I love most about writing is the infinite possibilities that hide on the empty page. The pen is my paintbrush, the blank page is my white canvas, and with my words I create gigantic cities and quaint farm towns. I can make the impossible possible, bring characters to life, lay down sweeping train tracks of adventure, and neatly wrap an entire world up into a chapter. For me, the main challenge of storytelling is that it is incredibly personal. Creating creative work is like raising a child. You spend vast swaths of time pouring love into your art, bandaging every wound, and dressing your art in your favorite old clothes. Sharing your story is watching it grow up in one instant and thrusting it into the harsh realities of the outside world.
Slightly more than a year ago, I published my first piece of writing on Medium. It was also one of the most terrifyingly exhilarating experiences of my short lifetime. I had no idea how the public would react to my story. Would people even care? Would it be read or just forgotten? Which of those outcomes was actually better? At the same time, it was incredibly liberating to release something into the world. My story took on a life of its own as people assigned their own meanings to my story. To create something of value that people enjoy in their own unique way is the most fulfilling feeling in the universe. The weeks after publishing the story were filled with bliss. I was receiving endless compliments and encouragement from people I hadn’t met before. Even minor success is fleeting, and as the weeks stretched into months, the feeling faded into fear. The past year has been an endless cycle of writing and eventually casting an uncountable number of unfinished stories into the digital abyss. Where do our ideas go when they are forgotten? What happens to our half-written drafts after we hit delete? These questions are the basis for a screenplay about the quirky misadventures of a misfit crew of abandoned stories and erased ideas. I plan to finish writing it by the year 3016.
It was easy to come up with excuses. What my last story was the best I could do? What if my writing wasn’t worth reading? What if I suffered a fatal hand cramp after typing for 24 hours straight? It was even easier to be busy. I quickly distracted myself with other assignments and responsibilities. Any time I sat down to write, I gave up before starting. I stalled. I quit. I forgot. My writing schedule dissolved into a frequency of once a year. Look out for my next post in November 2017.
One clear blue day in the French Alps last summer, I threw myself off the side of a mountain. Surprisingly, I didn’t plummet to my immediate death. Instead, I began to soar until I climbed above the mountains and into the foamy clouds hanging heavily in the air. One of my closest friends had committed himself to the idea of going hang gliding before concluding our European summer adventure. My old teacher had invited us to stay with her for a few days and experience the truly thrilling sensation of flight. We all packed into a van and ventured up the side of an imposing mountain via narrow winding rocky roads. From the top of the mountain, I saw rolling green hills that stretched out into infinity. Leaves rained down on my head as winds shook colorful trees. It felt like all of the world was waiting in suspense. I watched my friend get secured into the glider and take off. He circled the air above my teacher and I like a hawk. Quiet bursts of hollered excitement filled the air. After my friend landed safely on the soft ground, it hit me. When would I get another opportunity like this? When would I get another chance to fly? Slowly, the fear that weighed heavily on my back melted into a sad black puddle at my feet. We drove back up to the top of the mountain. I carefully approached the edge and glanced down at the sweeping terrain below me. I inhaled deeply and strapped myself into the glider. Then, with a running start, I jumped past the edge of my fear and into the open air of freedom.
A few months earlier, my life changed instantly when I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. Before my diagnosis, I had been a perfectly healthy young adult. Now, I was dealing with pain everyday. Unexpectedly, my illness didn’t worsen my fears, instead it motivated me to overcome them. Needles were the first phobia on the list. After hundreds of injections, I realized I was no longer terrified of them. Today, I think what I was really afraid of wasn’t needles, but in fact change. Change scared me because it forced me to confront the unknown. I was afraid to be sick, to lose my energy, to have to say goodbye to certain parts of myself. While my life had definitely changed, it had not changed for the worst. I fought back against fear and let it motivate me to make the most of every moment. I overcame my needle phobia. I regained the 20 pounds I lost. I found peace. Slowly, when I looked in the mirror, I stopped seeing myself as sick. I stopped taking the days for granted. I forced myself to live in the moment and stop worrying about the future. Now, everyday, life blows me away with its beauty. Even the smallest things like sunsets or smiles from a stranger are incredible to me. I won’t lie, I still have bad days, but I have faced adversity and I have overcome.
Fear has molded me into the person I am today. It inspires my art, and my actions. I challenge myself to push beyond my limits because I no longer fear fear. Bravery isn’t the lack of fear, it’s feeling fear, and doing something despite the feeling. I write freely knowing that I may fail. I know that my stories might suck and people might hate them. I know I might be wrong. I know that people may not care. I know my words will probably be forgotten. I know this may be my best work. I know this writing may not even be worth reading. I know I may come off as unintelligent, uninteresting, and untalented. I know I might be struck down by a fatal hand cramp, but maybe instead I’ll develop the world’s strongest fingers from hours of typing. Maybe I’ll create a beautiful work of art. Maybe I’ll write something that will be remembered even if it’s only by one person.
Today, I seize opportunities that scare me, because if I die at least I’ll leave behind an unforgettable story.
Note: Article originally published in The Coffeelicious on Medium in November 2016.