The shape of anxiety / by Christina Rosalie

There comes a point when habit pulls me here, to this place where I tell myself stories about the things I cannot do. Invariably after a week of rising early, making coffee, and touching my fingers to the keys, following words about where they will travel at dawn, my mind becomes like a child terrified of the monster under her bed.

This week, more than anything else, I have been watching my thoughts as I wake up and stumble like Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase into the moment of the present, with my mind and body disjointed in a hundred little ways. I’ve realized that without any intention I put a great deal of effort into constructing thoughts that cut me off at the knees. I tell myself: you don’t know anything about fiction writing. And, you don’t have time to really produce anything worth publishing. And, I suck at this, what am I possibly thinking? And six or ten thoughts later I’m in a tailspin writing incoherent mutterings.

But this week I’ve been trying stubbornly to not listen. Trying, being the operative word, of course. Have you ever noticed how damn hard it is not to listen to your negative thoughts, and instead tune to the positive ones? I feel like I’m almost hardwired to tune in to these thoughts, like a freaking hand-made transistor radio that can only pick up a one station. I buy my own bullshit ninety-eight percent of the time, hook, line and sinker. And then I sit down to write, and it’s a wonder I still remember all twenty-six letters, let alone how to construct a few sentences that reflect any small piece of how my heart moves.

But that is the reason I write. The reason you write. The reason we both read. Because writing is an act of turning our inner ear towards the divine breath of creativity that moves across the harp strings of our hearts, and turning that other-worldly song into words; opens our hearts, so that when someone else reads strings of their own heart resonate in recognition. Writing then, becomes something huge. Words have the immense capacity to reach across the divide between individuals, and to inhabit the private spaces in our hearts and minds from whence new ideas spring. The stories we choose to tell shape us.

Maybe this is all very obvious, but the trolly part of me that crouches in the corner of my mind and repeats idiotically a mantra of fear really needs to hear this today. So as I sit down to write this morning, my windowsill cluttered with jars of brushes, I grab a the most recent Sun and find this, by John O’Donohue:

Fear is the greatest source of falsification in life. It makes the real seem unreal, and the unreal to appear real. In The Courage To Be the theologian Paul Tillich draws a distinction between fear and anxiety. Anxiety for him, is this diffuse worry that has no object or point of reference. This is the atmosphere in the U.S., the land of the free and the home of the brave. There is a huge anxiety just down under the surface.

Fear, as distinct from anxiety, has an object and a point of reference. Tillich says that in order to handle anxiety, you have to translate it into a fear that has a definite object. Then you can engage with it. Part of the intention of growth is to overcome one’s fears.

It makes so much sense I almost laugh out loud, my hearstrings thrumming. What if I pushed farther? What if I tried to narrow the huge anxiety I have about writing, especially about writing fiction, into a fear that I can grow past? What if? I’m not there yet, but it’s a good point to launch from.

Do you have wide anxieties or pointed fears? Is there a false story you tell yourself again and again unthinkingly? What is stopping you from accomplishing the things you dream of?