Allow me to regale you with a tale from my youth.
My name is Kate Post, and I am terrified of cave crickets. They give me the creeps. The willies. The fantods. It all stems from the fact that when I was growing up, these little guys would somehow end up in our basement. They lurked in the shadows, waiting until I was playing Legend of Dragoon on the bulbous TV my mom had designated for video game use.
When I least expected it, a cricket would pop out. They’d jump on my feet, in my lap, into my hair. On one memorable occasion, one made it down the front of my shirt. On another, I accidentally squashed one of the blighters with bare feet. Cricket guts have the consistency of mashed potatoes, just in case you were running short on material for your “Things I Never Needed to Know” folder. Needless to say, I don’t like crickets. Logically, I know that they’re harmless, but anything with legs the diameter of a needle or smaller has no business touching my body.
If I don’t acknowledge them, they don’t exist.
What do I do about crickets? I avoid them. Problem solved. I’m sure that’s a healthy way to manage my fear.
Sometimes, however, we have other fears that we can’t avoid. Oh, no, you’re thinking. Here she goes. I can’t wait to listen to a 21-year-old give me an inspirational message about facing my fears. It’ll be like watching children’s TV again, only she’s not nearly as entertaining as My Little Pony or Arthur.
Bear with me.
A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to participate in a poetry reading. Two of my poems had been selected for Notations, a literary journal sponsored by Murray State University, and the English department wanted to beef up an exit reading being given by the graduating BFA candidates. Ergo, they asked me to read.
At first, the idea of a poetry reading didn’t freak me out. The poems were already going to be published and read–I had already opened the metaphorical judgment door and anyone could walk through it if they wanted to. I also wasn’t nervous about speaking in front of people; as an organizational communication minor, I’m experienced when it comes to giving speeches. I’m good at presenting my personality.
What made my hands tremble and my lungs shrink eight sizes was the knowledge that I was going to present both my personality and my work. I was taking the ultimate ownership of my words. There was no separating the “Kate Post” printed neatly on the pages of my poems from me as a person. That in itself terrified me, even though all I had to do was stand up there and introduce myself and my poems before actually reading the things. Also, I have a slight lisp. You never know how many times you use the s sound in a poem until you try to read it aloud.
Still, as I sat and listened to the others ahead of me read their work, my palms sweated against the leather portfolio holding my poems. It didn’t help that, being the immature person that I am, I couldn’t help but snicker inwardly every time I caught sight of the lovely artwork to the right of the podium.
(Thanks to my friend Marissa, who not only attended the reading, but also snapped pictures of me while I read.)
The works I read were “Cambrian Mother” and “Wolves Snarling on the Tundra,” both nature poems. The first is in appreciation of slate, one of the most underrated rocks there is. The second one has a wildly creative title, considering that the subject matter is wolves…snarling on the tundra.
I got up there, cracked a few jokes, and gave myself over to simply being me. I was shaking the entire time, but there was something magical about watching the faces of the audience members as they experienced my work for the first time. Hearing them laugh at my quips, groan at my puns and otherwise react to the words that I had strung together made my lungs shrink even more, but only because my heart and ego were swelling enough to compress them.
I finished, sat down, and listened to the other wildly talented writers who read that night. After, I was surprised again at how many people came up to me to say that they had enjoyed my work and my reading voice. Professor after professor that I admire came to congratulate me. I’m pretty sure that someone secretly installed Iron-Man-esque repulsor beams in my shoes, because I don’t think my feet touched the ground at all for the rest of the night.
The point is this: stuff is scary. You’ll probably shake all the way through. You will tell yourself that it’s crazy to even be doing whatever it is that freaks you out. If you know it’s something that can help you professionally or personally, though, usually the risk is worth it. All of the ways you imagine things going wrong are probably much worse than even the worst possible outcome. Stop telling yourself why you can’t, and tell yourself why you should. Don’t just face your fears; grab them by shirt collar and kiss them senseless.
Unless it’s crickets. If it’s crickets, just leave them alone.