Friday, June 15, 2007

Courage


(If I only had da Nerve...)

I seem to be attracted to books with the word “Courage” in them lately. The Courage to Create, The Courage to Achieve, The Courage to Write. I stare at the word on the spine until it becomes a hieroglyphic—the C leaning urgently, protectively towards the O like an open mouth; the U like arms outreached, and then the rage rushing heedlessly towards the next challenge.

I want to unlock the secret of this word so that I can find it in myself. Instead, all I see are spaces where courage SHOULD live, but does not.

It's embarrassing, almost an eighteenth century problem, this problem of feeling silenced as a woman. Why should I feel silenced in a world that appears to be saying yes, yes, yes? Since childhood, I was groomed—gifted classes, honors track in high school, Seven Sisters' college. Again and again in my world, girls and women were encouraged to reach out and take whatever honors we could reach. This praise started to feel like loans I'd someday have to pay back, with interest. I felt that I could only survive inside the soft, welcoming nest of academia. I longed to go straight into graduate school, but I was afraid of making the wrong choice. Already I was worried about the impracticality of my education—I didn't quite feel like I knew how to do anything, but whatever I did, I should somehow do it exceptionally well. And my ambitions were equally hazy. I wanted to do something GREAT, to cover myself with glory and justify all of my awards. But...what? In the midst of all of this expansive yes, a stronger voice was already uncoiling in my mind, repeating its mantra of no, no, no.

Betty Friedan wrote of the “problem with no name”--the stifling of female ambition by a society that wished them only to stay home and clean house. But these women were trapped by external barriers. Once Friedan identified and dared to name the problem of the “feminine mystique,” the women's movement was effectively born. I know that I have benefited from this movement, and have always considered myself an ardent feminist. And yet, my life feels like a betrayal of those beliefs.

Oh, I don't mean being a stay at home mother—that just fills me with impatience, most days. It's difficult, as aforementioned, to butt heads with my willful Madam, but that's not the whole story. In spite of everything, I am thrilled to be able to watch her unfurling, growing, changing. This is a time I'd truly hate to miss.

No, I am talking about these persistent fears—this fear that I cannot take care of myself, that in some essential way, I cannot survive on my own. My mind is full of locked doors, where I hide my true, outsized ambitions. THIS is the betrayal, that I have such trouble admitting that I want to DO something, BE something that matters in the world. That I want to stop saying things like, “I'd just be happy with...” and “It's OK that...” It's NOT OK.

I want to be a writer. Not just that, I want to be a GREAT WRITER. And even more than that, I do believe that I have the potential to do so. But first I have to be brave enough, and honest enough, not just to admit it but to admit that I am afraid of the distance between me and this dream. I am so afraid of wasting more time, of going down yet another wrong road. I admit this too—I want a guarantee that I'm going in the right direction, that eventually, if I write a great deal and work hard, I'll find my way. I want to skip to the end of the book and read my ending. Because I am afraid (there is that word again) to spend the rest of my life working towards something that might never reach any sort of fruition.

I just don't want to fail—if I don't try, then I'll always be the one full of potential. But if I try, without coolness, being as open and geeky and occasionally pretentious as I KNOW I am, and STILL fail...then what am I? Someone who had every advantage, who was nurtured and aided, and couldn't make her name. Someone who let everyone else down.

So I read my books on courage, and writers' diaries where they confess the same fears I have everyday. But of course, somewhere, these writers found the courage to move forward in spite of the pervasive voices of their fears. In spite of familial disapproval, societal disdain, poverty, obscurity. I suppose this courage finally came from a wordless deep soul-breath, something inside of them that finally opened the door.

I hope that this confession of my ambitions, something I always, ALWAYS avoid, spurs me to move my hand towards the lock.

I am standing in front of it now.

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8 Comments:

Blogger Becca said...

Maybe it's sort of like being a addict, admitting one's ambition, one's dream. "My name is ____, and I'm a writer." Once acknowledged, we have the courage to go forward into fulfillment of it, knowing our tribe of fellow addicts understands and supports us.

You certainly have all my support (for what its worth) as you reach out to unlock that door :)

3:33 PM, June 16, 2007  
Blogger Tori said...

I am going to share one of my all time favorite quotes:
Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes it is the quiet voice at the end of the day that says, "I will try again tomorrow".

4:47 PM, June 16, 2007  
Blogger Amber said...

Oh gosh, lady-love. I SO feel this way. I have been thinking of writing a post about this feelings, but when I try I just get sick of myself, and delete...

"Because I am afraid (there is that word again) to spend the rest of my life working towards something that might never reach any sort of fruition."---

Thank you for saying that. I have not had thesame experiences as you did. I always felt over-looked, not encouraged at all, not given any choices or told anything was possible. I have done battle my whole life to PROVE myself. But now, you and I have some same feelings anyway... I fear not going forward with my goals and dreams. I fear "just" being a mom. I fear that is not good enough-- even though I LOVE it. I mean, I am so happy to have these young years with them, too! But something inside nags at me, that it is not enough. I have more to do. And if I fail, then all those people who failed me were right? I don't know. But I felt my fear in your fears.

Thank you for being brave. I hold you UP. I send you COURAGE. I don't lack courage, but I am lacking some faith in myself...Can you send me that? ;)

OX :)

11:50 PM, June 16, 2007  
Anonymous fern said...

Sometimes the hardest thing is to allow yourself to WANT. There's a point where we just assume we can't get it and so we forget to even acknowledge it anymore.
I truly believe in you, I really do...always. I think you are so incredibly gifted, and that you will do great things. As cliche as it sounds, your biggest obstacle is you.
And this step....this great, gigantic step...is one hell of a start.

9:15 PM, June 17, 2007  
Blogger Alexandra S said...

I think you have far more time than you feel like you do. There are times in our lives when for various reasons we just can't do what brings us most alive in the ways we want, and it sounds like to some extent you are easing up on yourself. I really hope so because you are a great writer and I KNOW that you are going to make the time and space to bring these goals to fruition. Creme always rises to the top M. and in your own time and pace you are going to write and write and write. I just know it.

1:05 AM, June 19, 2007  
Anonymous Frida said...

I say amen to Alexandra. And I remind you that I read you because I love your writing. I read your blog like I would read a collection of fabulous short stories.

Here's my two cents worth, courage doesn't come to us in a big pile ready to be used up as we set out on our journey. We have to muster up a tiny handful, enough to make the first step and no more. Only once we make the first step can we start to gather up the courage for the next step. It's like vitamins and minerals. we can't store it up in advance, we've got to gather it each step of the way, And we have to start with the little wee bit we have. That's my life journey in teeny bits of courage, anyway.

xx

6:40 AM, June 20, 2007  
Anonymous tammy vitale said...

Well, as far as being a great writer, *I* think you're already there. Being there doesn't necessarily bring along rich and famous with it, though. Do you want to be a writer or a rich and famous writer? Because writer you already are....

7:02 AM, June 22, 2007  
Blogger kate said...

If you write a great deal and work hard, you WILL find your way. But sometimes working hard at writing means taking a break from it. Sometimes it means reading what inspires you. And never lose faith that writing is a valuable thing to do. The world needs writers like you! Really!

3:04 PM, June 22, 2007  

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