Sometimes, some days, some nights, out of nowhere, my throat chokes up. My stomach heaves. The world, a moment ago bound by the walls of the room, balloons outwards; the sky is too wide, the streets are too long, the world is too big, too big, and I—
—I am scared.
I am always scared. Why don’t they ever teach you in school how to deal with the nameless fear that comes with existing in so large a universe, in so cold and faceless a society, where your economic worth determines your destiny? Why don’t they ever teach us how to deal with death, to love, to live? Those things aren’t found in textbooks, and perhaps they shouldn’t. Perhaps they’re the kind of things we’re meant to figure out for ourselves, when we are all alone at night, sick with fright.
I am scared, of a lot of things. Too many to list. I can’t remember the last time I felt secure, safe; perhaps it was back in the womb, when my tiny universe was red and warm, and comforting. I can’t even pinpoint what exactly it is that has me so spooked, and I think it is both everything, and nothing, all at once. It’s everything, but it’s nothing. I am just scared, the way a sun just shines, the way a rat just scurries. Fear is woven into the fabric of my being. It’s been a long time in the weaving. For some, there is no home, no place to rest your head, except in books, and one’s imagination, and perhaps that is better than the false comforts others have, that of friends and family, for words and ideas last longer than flesh and blood.
I am afraid of failure. Everyone with ambition is. Those who end up achieving success make it look so easy, when, in truth, they had moments when the fear rose up in them like bile. The only difference between them and those who did not succeed was that they kept on working, through the fear and the self-doubt. Rain or sunshine, you must tend to your crops, or die. That’s a good way to look it. Sometimes, I don’t want to write. I don’t. I don’t want to sit at my desk, and write bad words which form bad sentences which then make me feel bad about myself. It’s like slapping yourself repeatedly, and willingly, in the face. But if you look at your work, and think of it as crops you must water and look after in order to have food to eat and thus survive, self-discipline, no matter the task, becomes a breeze. Using my imagination, I tell myself, if you don’t write today, if you don’t sit down in your chair, put the pencil in your hand, and put the tip to paper, then you will starve. And eventually, as I begin to slip into the flow of the words, it becomes less difficult, and I feel glad I bullied myself into the chair.
Inspiration is a myth. A complete myth. It’s like a wishing star. You wish on a star, chances are, even if it does come true, it wasn’t the star that brought your wish to fruition in the first place. Chances are, it was just yourself, or random forces. That’s what inspiration is like. Inspiration is when you fool yourself into thinking you need a burst of fervor to rock your gut to get to work. You don’t. Lawyers, teachers, plumbers, policemen—do they wait until they’re “inspired” before they go to work? No. Neither should writers or artists, if they’re serious about it. It’s a job, like any other, and thus has to be treated like one, even if you’re getting paid for it yet. Only then can you sharpen your skills, chip away at your craft, produce work on a steady, consistent basis to meet deadlines, self-imposed or not.
For me, discipline is a good way to fight against the nameless fear. It brings order to the day. It structures your time, allows you to focus on the moment—because, hey, you have to, otherwise you can’t finish the job. Allow me to let you in on a secret: all the highly successful people in the world forced themselves to work to get to where they are now. They gritted their teeth, even when they were sweating, their eyes tired, their feet sore, their brain fried, and kept on playing, writing, singing, dancing, practising for hours and hours, until they collapsed. Then they slept, rested, got back up, and did it all over again, and again, and again, and again. They found the strength to continue, even when they didn’t want to, when they saw no sense in it, when they were certain it was hopeless and they were wasting their time.
And you know what? Even after all that, all those hours of work, all that success, they’re still scared. Eventually, what you figure out, sooner or later, is that the fear will never go away. Like inspiration, security and certainty is a myth. The only thing that is real is how you spend your time, and what you make or create or do during your lifetime. So stop wishing on stars. Make your own light. That way, even though the darkness is still there, you’ll at least have a little brightness to see by.