I wrote my first book when I was 10, a fact I had forgotten until recently. Something in my current life, I’m not sure what, triggered a memory of a favorite childhood book, Mr. Mysterious and Company by Sid Fleischman. The memory then took me down the path to the “knock-off” story I wrote, illustrated and bound in a little handmade cover as a project for one of my teachers. Fleischman’s original story is one of a traveling family of magicians and their adventures. My story was about me joining that happy band of nomadic performers and leaving my current life behind. In my story, I was free and happy and no longer bound by the life I was really leading. It was a fantasy I translated to paper.
It’s a good memory, and one that always reminds me of my earliest passions for writing. But the memory is also laced with terror, and the minute I go deeper, troubling, fearful emotions of my early childhood begin to arise. That crude little book was my first attempt to deal with those stories, real and imagined, that pop up when we least expect them.
Memory and the stories we tell ourselves about them are like that. They are not just snapshots in time of what really happened to us, but a complex patchwork of multiple, sometimes unrelated experiences that can shape what we remember, and more importantly, change our present reality. Sometimes the stories are buried, unreachable, running in the background of our lives without our conscious awareness, but affecting us immensely anyway. The can keep us mired in fear, anxiety and unable to move forward.
The good news is that scientists and healers know a lot more about memory and the impact of the stories we unconsciously tell ourselves. We can change how memory and fearful stories about what might happen rule our lives. It’s a process of excavation and revision, but with care and awareness we can rewrite the stories that keep us tethered to fear. And that’s real magic.
How do you own your fearful memories?
“Memories are constructed like a patchwork from multiple sources, and while in spite of its complexity memory is usually very reliable, it can sometimes deceive us badly…even though memory can be elusive at times and dead wrong at others, it still forms the most strongly held beliefs about ourselves. Our fallible memories shape our reality. (Schacter pg. 206)”
Excerpt, What My Heart Saw: Untangling Memory & How the Brain Heals”
“The anguish at my mother still having pictures of a man that hurt us so profoundly dissolves as quickly as it welled up, the bitter bile of wishing my life had gone differently ebbing out on each breath. I now know the suffering we endure and inflict on others, the precious resources we strip away as we claw and scratch through life, aren’t meant to be held tightly or remembered accurately. Everything changes, and to believe we can know the beginning or the end of the story is the only true madness.”
Excerpt, What My Heart Saw: Untangling Memory and How the Brain Heals
Available on amazon.com
I have a chihuahua who simply doesn’t hold back, especially when she’s scared. She’s not a biter or an aggressive dog, but no matter what kind of big mean-looking dog or person comes her way, she lets them know exactly what she thinks. I dare say her in-your-face approach to facing down the stuff that scares her most could teach all of us a big lesson.
A recent blog post from Think Traffic is right on for any creative type struggling to write, paint or compose that defining piece of work that they know is in there but they just can’t seem to get out. It talks about externalizing fear.
Corbett Barr calls the stuff we’re all scared of, the stuff we struggle to keep at bay for one reason or another “Epic Shit” and says the way to get to it is simple:
“Whatever you’re afraid to write right now, whatever you think you need to say but haven’t for fear of being judged, go write that scary thing right now.”
Doesn’t mean what you create from that starting point is the end product. But it’s real and honest and might set YOU free to write or paint or compose that piece you’ve been trying to get out.
Little dogs have got the right idea. Let it rip. The results could be epic.
I am not afraid – I was born to do this. – Joan of Arc