I never realized I was such a big ol’ scaredy cat until the day I sat down and wrote about my fears.
It was a frighteningly long list, dating back to childhood with a fear of my own shadow. Fear of ghosts. Fear of vampires. Fear of needles. Fear of rollercoasters. Fear of snakes in toilets. Fear of bed bugs that bite. Fear of Grinches stealing my Christmas presents. Fear of being too skinny. Fear of always being flat-chested. Fear of losing my virginity. Fear of black jelly beans. Fear of stepping on sidewalk cracks and breaking my mother’s back.
As I grew older, my list grew longer: Fear of failing. Fear of success. Fear of bridges. Fear of mountain cliffs. Fear of driving. Fear of being judged. Fear of war. Fear of terrorists. Fear of being trapped. Fear of poverty. Fear of being late. Fear of being too early. Fear of computer crashes. Fear of never writing another word again.
And that last line — fear of never writing another word again — is just one of the fears I’ve experienced with writing.
But the scariest thing about being a writer is coming out of hiding and showing the world who is really behind those pages.
Sometimes people lie or recreate themselves for protection. That was the case during my teens and twenties. In fact, I rarely shared my personal history and feelings with anybody. Shame and anger had much to do with it, but I also cared deeply — maybe too deeply — about what people thought of me. I had yet to develop the “sloping shoulders” technique my father had encouraged. “Just let that shit slide off your back,” he’d say.
In school, I often hid behind an invisible mask of being this confident, carefree spirit. No one knew about my family problems, my fears or the fact that I never, ever felt comfortable in my 100-pound body. The mask I had created was super strong and impenetrable, but when I got home the fantasy popped like one colossal rainbow bubble.
The power of the mask is its pure illusion. We believe its fabric wall protects us from being vulnerable, that it stops a person from knowing too much about our true identity.
The advertising industry claims we are not perfect so they can sell us their products. Our hair is too gray. Our teeth are too yellow. We’re not wearing the right clothes. We don’t have the right car, the right home. The subliminal message is we’re just not good enough, so it’s no wonder that many of us turn to an invisible mask or disguise.
I can give you another example of this. When I launched my first radio channel — Color Healing Radio — I was very concerned about my on-air persona. I was upset with myself for all the “ums” and “uhs” and “you knows” that continually spilled out of my mouth because professional broadcasters would never do that. So I tried very hard to sound smart and serious and controlled at all times.
In real life, I think I am fairly laid back. I’m playful and I laugh all the time. (Ask anyone.) So I was suppressing my authentic self in an effort to present what I thought my radio audience expected. Eventually, I got tired of the charade and the person you hear on the radio these days is all me. I don’t judge myself anymore.
As Popeye used to say, “I yam what I yam and that’s all I yam.”
I will never forget the look on my friend’s face the night we left a writers’ potluck supper in Rhode Island.
A decided non-writer, Kay had been very nervous about being introduced to what she thought would be “a snobby group of intellectual literary types.” What if they wouldn’t talk to her? What would she say if they did talk to her?
“Wow,” she said, as we were driving back to Newport. “It wasn’t anything at all like I expected.”
“So what were you expecting?” I asked.
“Oh, I don’t know. I just didn’t think they were going to be — you know — real people.”
Even now, I laugh at these perceptions about writers. We’re accused of being everything from snooty to eccentric to introverted. But not real?
I felt painfully real when I wrote my Mad About Hue memoir. I wrote about being stabbed in a dark alley by an unknown assailant, dealing with the deaths of loved ones, and the time I was arrested for shoplifting. I had to relive those episodes when I was editing and when I was reading them aloud on my podcast. Believe me, that was a challenge. For real.
Luckily, writers have many “weapons” in our literary arsenal. Courage and authenticity are just two of them.
Remember this: no one writes like you. No one thinks like you. No one has experiences exactly like you.
You are already authentic. Trust in yourself!