Monday, April 4, 2011

Fear, the demon so big it obscures the sun

Lynda Barry, 100 DEMONS.
There we are, my son and I, a simple plan, almost too simple to speak of, watching a few episodes of The Larry Sanders Show, season five, laughing, getting to sleep early. But Instant Netflix balks, balks further, and we try Hulu where the only thing that speaks to us is segments from TED conferences. We pick Ken Robinson talking about how schools kill creativity. And everything is changed.

What I heard him say was that we need to discover how to stop our self-limiting behavior, how to become courageously childlike, for some of us, a first. He said there was a time when we were not concerned about making a mistake, it hadn't occurred to us that we might get something wrong and suffer the humiliation of it. We were once beings who flung ourselves into whatever we were doing. He said we were once fearless.

I don't believe that I was ever fearless, not completely, though I have mental snapshots of moments. Lately, there seem to be a lot of moments. Fear is insidious, masquerading as caution, prudence, good sense. We don't know how frozen we are. I have carried a pack-load of fear that was not mine all my life and, to my unhappiness, passed it along to my son, not knowing how to do it differently. Last night was an opportunity to apologize.

We watched this Ken Robinson segment, then a more recent one, updates and variation on the theme of education. We then sat and talked at length about how we each might lose our fear and become airborne bodies launched from our own gigantic slingshots toward our dreams.

We talked of the feelings of outsiders, the ones who knew they didn't match the world around them, the ones who knew they would disappoint someone. How freeing it was to hear an intelligent, funny man speak about the isolation and sense of failure that come from not having uniqueness recognized or nurtured. The fact that I and my son had encouragement and opportunity for creativity was just not enough. It was creativity AND the expected academic skills, passion secondary to what, it was hoped, would be the path to grown up independence and success. There is a saying in 12-step programs, "Half measures availed us nothing." Hard to know if a thimbleful of creative encouragement is better than none at all.

But in my "never too late" world, we can backtrack and begin anew any day, any hour. In my world what I will call the universe elbows Instant Netflix out of the way and tells us the stories we need to hear. And, the wonder, we are able to recognize them, not confused that we are being led away from self-induced paralysis.

We are not idle. We both write, read, relentlessly track sources of inspiration, yet we move slowly, secretly wanting something fully realized and beyond criticism, success guaranteed, whatever that means. Now we have, dare I use the word, plans or at least hope, to find our fearless, improvisational younger selves, willing to leap and look foolish, step out and possibly stumble. Ken Robinson summoned the rescue party that is on its way back to find where we left those unrealized children we never quite got to be. We may now think twice before we criticize someone's work for a deus ex machina plot turn, a miraculous rescue, an impossible coincidence. Impossible things happen. Storytellers need to remember that.

Here is the video link. I hope it brings you illumination and the friendship of a resilient, remarkably brave child.
Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity | Video on TED.com

21 comments:

Robert the Skeptic said...

I have been a victim of fear, limiting my potential and preventing me from doing things I wanted to do. Then in my mid 40's I took up skydiving - I have a horrible fear of heights and still do. But I felt I needed to accomplish something in spite of the fear. I was successful, but it was not easy.

I have fallen back on that experience since as other situations have arisen where fear had the potential to prevent me from succeeding. The trick is not to try to be fearless; instead, to recognize the fear for what it is and to take calculated risks.

Pam Morrison said...

I like your never-too-late world. A lot. Pam x

Nicolette Wong said...

Thanks for this post. I was just lying in bed, half frozen in my usual phantom agony.

I grew up in a society and a time (80's in Hong Kong) when being creative was an alien concept. Having practically no parents, I didn't get any nurturing, though I was also freed from the constraints many children would have from their family expectations. My response to the world of frustration was to skip school. I just got good enough grades at public exams (this is how we do it in HK) reading and writing and made my way to uni - where I continued to skip classes.

It's inevitable that parents pass on their own values and attitudes to their children, despite their best intentions and unconditional love. When my friends start to talk about such involuntary compulsion, I tell them parents are also people who are learning to define their roles, at every stage of their own lives, in relation to their children. That they have their struggles and it's also the children's job to learn to truly handle and yes, nurture the relationships.

Most of my fears have stemmed from the lack of parents or the way they left me in a world of hurt. Even now that I'm old enough to be a mum (almost 32) I still can't open up to love. But I should find solace in your 'never-too-late-world' and splash some water over my face for the day.

Kathleen said...

What a wonderful opportunity provided by the Netflix glitch, eh?!--that chance to talk with your son and consider these amazing things and share them. Thank you for the sharing. It was the right thing for me to read this morning, too!!

Marylinn Kelly said...

Robert - Your version of conquering fear leaves me in the dust...but there is always hope. Right now my courage may have me willing to look foolish, attempting poetry or some such.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Pam - We have room and time here in the never-too-late world. Welcome.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Nicolette - Phantom agony, is there any other kind? Real agony likely has a different name.

We thaw, we rebuild ourselves, we emerge at our own rate. At some point, for our happiness and sanity, we do what we can to find a way to make peace with all that we cannot change. Sometimes we discover that what we revere most in ourselves would not exist were it not for adversities.

It really is a never-too-late world. I am 66, my son 31. You and he are decades ahead of me by having these thoughts now. Thank you for defense of struggling parents, of any age. We are students as long as we live - or so I believe - and we can't begin to guess what miraculous lessons await. My best to you.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Kathleen - You are so welcome...I'm glad you found resonance here. I believe, to greater or lesser degrees, we walk very similar paths and have much to offer each other.

RachelVB said...

I'm not sure why this made me think of a moment when I was little - I was at my dad's house, with my older cousin and sort of picking my nose. She said to stop and laughed and said it was gross and my reply was, "I'm not picking my nose, I'm getting crusties."
I think I was reminded of this moment because as we grow older our perceptions of what is 'acceptable' changes. There's no way that if someone caught me picking my nose now I would be able to forgo the embarrassment and come up with a response like I did when I was a kid.
How did we come to be so fearful of such great creative leaps? Fear, humiliation - imagine what we could really do if we felt no one was watching?
xoxo

Erin in Morro Bay said...

Take the leap!! Fear for 50 years, doing well overcoming it for the last 10. No need to ask which I've enjoyed more.
Erin

Jayne said...

This is such a staggeringly uplifting post. Your writing (and attitude!) inspires me, Marylinn, inspires me to keep writing and follow my dreams. That moment you had with your son is like the moment I found your blog. That it-really-is-never-too-late moment! ;)

Antares Cryptos said...

"Fear is the mind-killer" (Frank Herbert.
A healthy dose of risk-assessment and balancing it with not engaging in self-limiting behavior is a goal to strive for.
I have given up on keeping track of my favorite posts of yours, there are too many.:)

Antares Cryptos said...

P.S. My WV is talking to us again: "Abled" :))(Big smile)

Marylinn Kelly said...

Rachel - The veneer of civilization that all but encases some of us...each day's news reminds us that some are not so tentative about their words or actions, requiring law enforcement to step in...I think that is one thing about truly great comedians, they never lose that ability to see to the heart of a thing and speak of it. With humor. Is it that no one would be watching or that we could stop caring if they did? xo

Marylinn Kelly said...

Erin - You, my friend, are indeed a charter member of the younger "never too late" chapter. With your one-woman exhibit opening this week, you remind me of things that focus and fearlessness can achieve. Here's to the next 10, and the next...xo

Marylinn Kelly said...

Jayne - Thank you so much. I know from you blog that you do let your dreams lead you, though none of us can ever have too much encouragement. The strength, the courage, we derive from each other, seeing hearts' desires become real, is the measure of who we have always been. That we may not have known it until now is unimportant.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Antares Cryptos - Would it change me, taking a celestial name, for being a star (actual, not show biz) feels empowering...I had not thought of it until just now. To live in a state of being - exploding, expanding, hurtling through space - never fretting or stepping back from any sort of edge, what would that be like? Thank you. And what a fine WV...abled. Tag: you're abled. :-)

grrl + dog said...

Indeed,

I think the owrld will be a far better place if we all

re captivsted, or at least, re created our childhoods, and then colored them in with wild bright colors.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Denise - With the sense of time as a fluid state and new awareness of what matters, we come pretty close to the "do-overs" we've wished for. Coloring big and bright and putting stickers on it. xo

KleinsteMotte said...

Fear limits so many. But like Roberts says risk is also part of the equation. I still have days when I can let the inner child in me burst forth. I think I have my son to thank for that.

Marylinn Kelly said...

KleinsteMotte - The moments can be enough to keep us going...until the next moment. I am so grateful for my son as a teacher.