So I was playing the rough and tumble game of badminton with my 9-year-old daughter on the Fourth of July. I go to make a fantastic save, like ESPN highlight reel save (yes, I’m trying to crush my daughter…this is not a commentary on my parenting). Anyway, I’m leaping in full gazelle fashion across the backyard and my foot comes down in a mole hole. Foot stops. I do not. I hear three disconcerting snaps and I go down.
Fractured ankle. At least 3 torn ligaments. Vicodin (yay!).
And for the last 4 weeks, I’ve been stuck in this stupid but oh-so-sexy boot.
And I’ve had to endure plenty of commentary. I’m enduring ridicule from my wife, getting clowned by my kids. Even my dog is giving me heavy sighs, waiting at the top of the stairs for me to hobble my slow ass down the steps to let him out. My mother and grandmother have both told me I’m too old for badminton. First, it’s freaking badminton! Second, I was playing against a 9-year-old. Badminton is not a high impact sport, especially not against elementary school kids. But I digress. And it’s not the point.
The point is what happened after that.
So while I’m stuck in the boot, high on painkillers, I have to stop. The pain made me stop. And when you have to stop, while the world is running and you’re not, you have to deal with yourself.
For me, that means dealing with my fears.
I think I have the worst kind of fear: paralyzing fear. See, I’ve wanted to be a writer as long as I can remember. I’ve been thinking of stories since I was 6 years old, sitting terrified on my father’s lap, peeking through my fingers at John Hurt’s chest exploding in Alien. Some of them have been horrible diatribes, poor rehashes of Star Wars or Transformers. Others have been honestly impressive. But incomplete. I’ve been afraid to complete anything for fear that I wouldn’t be able to finish it, or that it wouldn’t be good enough. Or that it wouldn’t be perfect. That it wouldn’t measure up to the image in my head.
So those ideas sat in drawers, in closets, in the corners of my mind, collecting dust and letting age slowly eat it their edges. They were fragments, these ideas, lost souls that never saw their lives lived—for good or bad—completely on the page.
I’ve finished exactly ONE book-length project in my 38 years. While impressive, it’s taken me 7 years of touch and go, half-hearted revisions, spirited drafts and poor effort. This one idea has dominated my creative psyche for far too long because I was afraid to let it go. Afraid it wouldn’t be good enough. Afraid it wouldn’t measure up to what I thought it was in my head.
Here’s the thing about writing: though it is a solitary endeavor, a completely internal process, it’s meant for everyone but the writer. To be a writer, you have to give it away. You have to turn it over to masses or that masterpiece you hold so dear is little more than a pile of paper. Collecting dust. A black-and-white memoir of what might have been.
I hate being hurt. But more than pain, I hate being unable to do stuff. Incapacitated. Fear is as incapacitating as pain. It saps your energy and your impetus. It constrains your capabilities and makes you much less than the person you truly are. Fear is worse than pain: you have every reason to believe you will heal and the pain will go away. Fear has no healing cycle.
3 weeks after I hurt my ankle—about one week ago—I mustered up the courage to mow the lawn. I hadn’t been back in the yard since the Fourth and I was terrified—literally—that I would step back in that damn hole and get hurt again. But my lawn looked like Fern Gully. My dog kept getting lost in the tall grass. I decided to take the plunge, kicked the boot and tried walking in regular shoes for the first time in damn near a month.
And I did step in that mole hole. Four times. And it hurt. A lot. But it got done and my yard is better for it.
I released that book into ether today. Sure, I’m scared and any negative reviews are going to hurt. A lot. But it’s done and I believe I’m a whole lot better for it.