When I was four years old, we had chickens and I collected the eggs. One morning when I got to the coop, wet up to the knee from dew on the tall grass, I met the Most Terrifying Beast. There was no way the eggs would make it into my pretty Easter basket with that sparkly web and its horrifying inhabitant hanging around.
I ran back to the house, where my dad told me the spider was more afraid of me than I was of it.
“Now get back out there and knock it out of the way so we can have breakfast.”
An obedient child, I armed myself with a plastic bowling pin and returned to face my opponent. I would hear that line about spiders being afraid of me for years to come, and it would take decades for it to ring true.
This is not the story of a girl who conquers her fears at an early age and goes on to tackle life’s challenges with pluck and moxie, and the occasional toy sporting good. This is a story of a girl who grew up to be a woman who is still very much afraid of spiders.
And blank pages.
Still, when I hear or read about writers’ fear of a Blank Page, I’m like, DUDE, have you seen a spider?
Much as I’d like to deny it, I’m afraid of blank pages too. This kind of fear doesn’t play out in a shriek and a jump. It looks like cleaning the vacuum filters and combing Pinterest for recipes with parsnips. We can hide from blank pages, tuck them away in a drawer, avoid the digital documents that whisper their pleas to finish me already.
A spider will crawl right up to you, oblivious to this notion that it’s more scared of you than you are of it. If it’s so scared, why doesn’t it hide from me? Like I hide from all those blank pages. Just this morning I’ve done laundry, cleaned out my purse, Swiffered the dog hair off the floor, and colored my hair–all to avoid writing.
The summer between fourth and fifth grade, a spider built a web in my room.
Above my bed.
Where I slept.
The first night I didn’t want to deal with it, so I took my best pillow and slept in the extra bedroom. The next day I set out to face my fears. This time, with a can of hairspray. I doused the spider. It had to be dead, but there it hung, all stiff and spidery. I was still afraid of it. I didn’t ask for help because I thought I should be able to solve this myself.
The dead spider stayed for a month. Just before school started I finally asked for the help I needed to get it down. Because sleeping in the other room wasn’t going to be an option once the alarm started ringing and the school bus started rolling by. Turns out a broom works pretty well. Why hadn’t I thought of that?
Abject terror messes with your MIND.
During the work week, I like to get up early and fold into a few yoga poses before the day begins. Over the summer I got into the habit of practicing outside. One morning I rolled out my mat and cued up my favorite class to stream. It was still pretty dark, but something caught my eye near the top of my mat. I shone the light of my phone where I’d seen something move.
There would be no nature yoga today.
Who can do corpse pose when there’s a vicious arachnid plotting to turn you into an actual corpse?
One might think I overcame my fear of spiders the time I killed a tarantula outside my front door. Drawing on my broom-wielding skills, and finishing the job with gallons of water, I emerged victorious that day.
One would be mistaken.
My fear stuck around. And complicating matters is the fact that as I’ve aged, I’ve developed compassion for the little shits. I now accept that these most fearsome of God’s creatures may, possibly, in some instances be afraid of me. Or they should be, considering the number of their kind I’ve callously murdered in my irrational fear. If I weren’t so cowardly, I’d scoop them up with a piece of paper and set them free outside. That’s what good people do.
Blank pages are just as scary as any spider, but unlike spiders, they don’t have eight hairy legs with which to stalk us. Blank pages are not afraid of us, either. They don’t care. They can take us or leave us. We have to seek them out and face our fears.
I’m better at asking for help with spiders now. My husband is especially handy, kindly offering the paper passport to spiders who catch me off guard. He ushers the spiders back to nature while I cower in the corner. It’s nice to have someone step in and rescue me.
Writing is different. No one can rescue you.
That doesn’t mean you have to solve everything yourself.
So what does help look like?
To me it’s the support of a plan. Of deadlines. Of people who will stare me down and call bullshit on my excuses, no matter how pristine the inside of my vacuum cleaner. It’s consistency, and learning craft from writers I admire. To me, help looks like a community of writers who get it.
That’s why I created Second Story Writer’s Workshop.
Most days I have no idea what the purpose of all this scribbling is, but I know there is one. It’s up to me to figure it out. The blank pages are always there. Always waiting.
Like that spider on my yoga mat.