From her feet the ground sloped sharply into the view, and violets ran down in rivulets and streams and cataracts, irrigating the hillside with blue, eddying round the tree stems, collecting into pools in the hollows, covering the grass with spots of azure foam. But never again were they in such profusion; this terrace was the well-head, the primal source whence beauty gushed out to water the earth.
—E.M. Forster, A Room with a View
I am weary. My word-well is empty. I have nothing to say. Writing, which usually brings me such joy, feels like a chore. I’d rather sleep.
My friend Susan says I spent all my words on my book. She might be right. All I want to do is read, read, read—my way, perhaps, of restocking my empty well.
Or perhaps it’s my way of avoiding my fear.
Because let’s face it, I feel weary in part because I am afraid. I am afraid my book, which will be published this fall, will tank. I am also, sometimes, afraid it will sell far better than I expect.
In some ways, I think the former would be easier. I’m used to failure—I have boxes of it sitting in my basement—and I play the victim well, cheerfully and nobly putting a brave face on things. It’s all very self-conscious of course, with an air of martyrdom that would be laughable if I weren’t taking myself so seriously.
I can wallow in these fears—and believe me, I do, far too often—and cower before them, or I can view them as a call to prayer. St. Paul calls this taking every thought captive for Christ. I don’t manage to capture every thought. The way my thoughts swirl like a windswept tumbleweed, or sometimes a tornado, it’s more like one in a hundred, or a thousand, but it’s a start.
The key to turning fear into prayer is attention—as soon as I notice that I’m spinning out a fantasy about my book becoming a runaway bestseller and my getting a big head about it and then cranking out a sequel and accepting every speaking opportunity that’s thrown my way and working way too much and ruining my relationships with my husband and kids and God and my life falling apart around me—or maybe it’s about my book selling fewer copies than I need to recoup our family’s investment and we’re stuck in this tiny house for the rest of our lives and we all go crazy because we’re literally living on top of one another and I end up in a mental institution while my kids have to be medicated to keep them from falling off the deep end—the moment I realize I’m spinning, that’s the time to pray. Yes, right in the middle of the unraveling fantasy, I have to turn my attention away from the scary story I’m telling myself and toward the God who calms all fear, who is the Love that casts out fear, who is the strength I need to face whatever comes.
And after I’ve turned the fear into a prayer, it’s a good idea to pick up whatever novel I’m in the middle of and start reading. Getting swept up into a good story is another wholesome antidote to fear. Speaking of which, E.M. Forster is calling to me from my bedside table: George has just stolen a kiss from Lucy in that wellspring of the world’s beauty, a terrace of violets, and I really must go see what happens next.
And if I’m really lucky, the violets on the terrace will not just distract me from my fear but also restock that dried up word-well of mine. Here’s hoping.
Photo by John Lodder, Creative Commons via Flickr.