Last night I was plagued with nightmares. I don’t know why. I’m blaming it on the chocolate bunny I ate. That way, if I ever come across another chocolate bunny begging for consumption, I’ll remember my night of terror and abstain. In reality the bunny probably had nothing to do with my series of scary dreams, but it seems like an effective dieting ploy and I’m going with it.
The other day I came home after being gone for several hours, let the dog in the house and went upstairs. Grendal, my dog, followed. At this point, things turned strange. Grendal, usually mild mannered, became a lunatic. She was sure there was an intruder/creature/monster in Miranda’s room. Having read more than my fair share of murder mysteries, I armed myself with one of my husband’s crutches (to keep the unseen fiend at bay) and a can of aerosol hairspray (to blind fiend.) Grendal and I entered the room. I slowly circled, hairspray aloft and crutch extended, while Grendal continued her Schnauzer gone crazy yipping. I refused to look under the bed or in the closet or leave the house. I closed the door, tied Grendal up next to the door, so should the intruder/creature/monster be silly enough to leave via the hall the dog would sound an alarm, and I took my computer to the furthest corner of the house and sat down to write. After a few minutes I forgot the intruder/creature/monster.
This is a parable to real life and especially to the life of the artist. When we are afraid, we’re a lot like Grendal—barking for little reason, making ourselves crazy with doubt—and eventually someone, usually ourselves, will tie us up until we can be sane. It's so easy to get tied up in our fears and our doubts. And the justifications of stepping away from our art are legion--I'm not any good, the critics are mean, I'm wasting my time and money, that one star review really hurt, I should become a nurse, trash collector, teacher, janitor and engage in something that makes a contribution to the world.
We read about this in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic, The Secret Garden. (If you aren’t familiar with this story, then you need to stop reading my blog and go and read everything by Frances Hodgson Burnett.)
“So long as Colin shut himself up in his room and thought only of his fears and weakness and his detestation of people who looked at him and reflected hourly on humps and early death, he was a hysterical half-crazy little hypochondriac who knew nothing of the sunshine and the spring and also did not know that he could get well and could stand upon his feet if he tried to do it. When new beautiful thoughts began to push out the old hideous ones, life began to come back to him, his blood ran healthily through his veins and strength poured into him like a flood. … Much more surprising things can happen to anyone who, when a disagreeable or discouraged thought comes into his mind, just has sense to remember in time to push it out by putting in an agreeable determinedly courageous one. Two things cannot be in one place.
‘Where you tend a rose, my lad,
A thistle cannot grow.’”
If we (I) continue to nurture our (my) fears and doubts, books won't be written and we'll become like Colin a hysterical half-crazy little hypochondriac, or maybe just a chocolate eating bunny person prone to nightmares.