A few months ago, I posted the above picture of Stephen King’s book “On Writing” resting on my new West Elm comforter. The caption implied that I was taking my lunch break to “brush up on the basics” by crawling back in bed and reading. Now. I did crawl back in bed that day and read. But I was actually reading a book that I wasn’t sure I liked yet and that had a dumb cover that I knew I didn’t like. So I popped in my library and grabbed a book I hadn’t even read yet that I thought people would see and think, “gosh she’s cool. And that West Elm comforter rules too. She’s the best.” and I posted something that was kinda true, but kinda not.
I did this because of, what I like to believe is, a semi-healthy blend of millennial-status and an all-too-near history of pathological lying. To put it plainly—sometimes I just can’t convince myself that the truth is as important as how people perceive me.
Let’s put a pin in this for a second, ‘cause we’re getting uncomfortably close to honesty and I’m getting a little jittery. We’ll come back to here. I promise, and with all I can muster, I mean that promise.
I want to talk about overcoming fears. And while I would usually cringe at such 3rd-grade level introductory writing— “Today I will tell you about a boy who throws apples at the elderly” (feel free to ask for a copy of my short story “Johnny Finkle”)—I wanted to make sure I got it out of the way early. Because as someone who knows her fears considerably better than she’s ever felt acquainted with the back of her hands, I know how annoying and frustrating it can be when someone talks about the power of overcoming them. I usually find myself down a sarcastic stream of thought and resentment for the person that found the golden ticket.
‘Cause you see, I’ve never consciously chosen fear. I don’t wake up everyday and flip a coin with two options: utterly crippled by fear or hey, here’s a new one, why don’t you take a whack at overcoming it? I want to be all types of brave. I want to read verses about worry and trusting God and put checkmarks by them. Got it. But usually, it’s really, really hard.
I have spent so much time putting fear in charge of my decision-making process. I have been late plenty of times because I’ve turned back home to make sure my flat iron, oven, and stove are off. Again. I have turned down plenty of plans because I can’t bring myself to drive in the rain, hydroplane, and be in a grassy, muddy median again, or I just don’t want to be in an unfamiliar place that doesn’t list “multiple exit strategies available in the case of an emergency” on their website. Or I have been wildly self-destructive in some of those unfamiliar places because that feels safer than admitting I’m on edge.
You are not reading the words of someone who conquers fears often, well, or gracefully.
It rained stupid hard the other day. This is usually my cue for “cough, cough, I’m sick” but I had already committed to driving one of my high school girls (wanna talk about fears?! How’d they get in high school?) to Summit and I didn’t want to bail. Sometimes my fear of people knowing I’m scared trumps my original fear in what is likely not too sweet of a victory.
So I did it. I was behind the wheel in a torrential downpour for a total of 27 minutes. I wasn’t shaking, sitting perfectly upright, or in silence. I cranked some tunes, bopped around a little, drove like I knew what I was doing. ‘Cause I think maybe I do. I would say it almost felt like no big deal once I had my rain jacket on and started the car. Don’t get me wrong, it took some convincing, but I was bound and determined to do it. So I did.
That night, they played “How He Loves” at Edge. I’ve obviously always loved this song and the best memory/story/day of my life involves it. But it’s years later and what I love most about every time this song plays with my girls is their reaction. They smirk knowingly at me as it starts, say “Katie, listen!” and grab my hand as they prepare to just belt it. After this past week, that moment was just so good. A much-needed reminder of the first time I surrendered, and the impact sharing that with others has been.
I’m glad I went out into the world in the rain. I would’ve missed so much if I hadn’t.
A couple weeks ago, I went to the Orlando Museum of Art (unfamiliar place, aren’t I brave?). I walked around for a while; thoroughly enjoying myself, and then I turned a corner into a new room and actually (I have no way of proving this, but it is what happened) audibly gasped. Because there they were. Dylan and Eric and the image of them captured by the surveillance camera in the Columbine cafeteria and some artist had decided to weave it together and someone had decided to make it all big and put it on display and I’m just standing there gaping at it because honestly all I can think about is how much I hate them and why are they here and how did they end up a part of my day.
I realized I’d been standing there long enough for another group of Snap-chatting preteens to come and go and that I’d given myself a headache by keeping my eyebrows furrowed for as long as I have been staring at this thing and then I also realize that taking up the entire wall behind me are some of Eric’s journal entries. Reproduced on these pretty white handkerchiefs in all of their ugly, violent repulsiveness. Why.
I did not knowingly opt in to facing fears that day, and yet one of my deepest ones was right in my face. I keep going back and forth now if I should just delete the last two paragraphs, because I still don’t know if I feel settled on seeing Dylan and Eric there that day. I don’t know where to categorize this memory. It’s not like the driving-in-the-rain one. Wasn’t that one sweet? And the payoff at the end, with the singing teenagers and the reminder of Jesus? But I just stared at Eric and Dylan, shaky and begging for meaning that still hasn’t come.
Here’s why I’m keeping those paragraphs. Remember earlier when I put a pin in? When I said that “sometimes I just can’t convince myself that the truth is as important as how people perceive me?” and then I had to switch gears and you could tell I did because I put a line in.
I’d bet no one—including myself—gains anything when I put a prettier face on my ugly fears, when I fake a lesson out of something I’m still confused about, when I act like one drive to Baldwin Park in the rain is the turning point of my life. Am I gonna beat myself up about posting that Stephen King book before I actually read it? Maybe a little. But just because now that I have read it, I feel dumb telling people how excited I am that I just finished it and I loved it because—ohp! There it is again—then they know I was silly enough to pretend I read it months ago. My reality and the reality I tried to create is all distorted now and I don’t want anyone to see that I still slip into this way of thinking every now and again. ‘Cause I’m afraid of what they’ll think when they know.
This world is full of things that are scary to me. Owning that is scary to me. But the other day one of my ninth graders was telling me how, for her, the scariest part of growing up is learning about all the hard things that had been hidden from her when she was younger. She’s being exposed to brokenness in new ways every day and it’s making her nervous about what all is still looming out there for her to learn about and suddenly realize the world is messier than anyone ever got around to telling her.
I’m over ten years older than her and I still identify with this feeling. That everyone is telling me their highlight reels and their stories with happy endings so often that I forget to make sure we’re talking about the hard stuff too.
For me, conquering fears is talking about both. It’s talking about the drive in the rain and the day in the museum. It’s embracing that both happened. It’s fighting the urge to make sure I wrap up on a bright note so no one worries about me, while also making sure I don’t try to downplay how hard some of this junk is and how real and challenging anxiety can be when it’s whispering in your ear. I don’t know what good it’ll do longterm, but I do know I’ve seen too much destruction and wiped away too many tears of people I love because brokenness came crashing down with no warning whatsoever and they were left holding the pieces of a picture that had looked perfectly fine until it was smashed into oblivion.
Sure, I want to get to a place where the sound of fireworks doesn’t scare me. Where I don’t pull off the road in a light drizzle or say no to paintball because I’m worried I’ll forget it’s paint. But more than that, I want to be the kind of person that isn’t afraid of what you’ll think when you read this. Who is more concerned with what’s true—when it’s hard and when it’s beautiful and when it’s somewhere in between— than with her own personal PR campaign to seem somewhat put together on the days that she’s not.
Who is really excited to tell you that she finished Stephen King’s “On Writing” just the other day. And she really liked it.