I always encourage my students to write towards vulnerability and explore the things they’re too afraid to say out loud. And always—always—I’m blown away by what emerges when they really do that, when they craft something beautiful from digging deep and confronting the things that scare them most.
I love what one of my former students has said about writing her fears:
Writing my fears helps to “deflate” them; I get them out of me and onto the paper, where they have less dimension. I can read them and reread them, and because I am reading them now with the eyes of a writer instead of a scared mother, they have less power. I can reshape them, edit them, or even delete them. It doesn’t make them really go away, but it helps me feel like I have power over them, even if it’s just metaphorical power.
Writing our fear changes us, and it changes other people too. I’ve written here about facing my own fears, about being honest and real and how important that is not only as a writer, but as a mother. And as a mother to girls, I think about it a lot—in modeling how to speak my mind, own my truth, and walk bravely in the world am I raising Stella and Zoë to do the same? I certainly hope so.
I’m thinking about this today because of Heather Von St. James. In 2005, Heather was diagnosed with mesothelioma and given 15 months to live. A decade later, she’s going strong, and today she’s celebrating Lung Leavin’ Day, the anniversary of the day she had her lung removed. Every year, Heather gathers with family and friends and other survivors and they all write their fears on plates and smash these plates in a huge bonfire.
Lung Leavin’ Day is about sharing your fears, about not letting them control you. In solidarity with Heather, you can write your fears on a plate and smash them into your own bonfire (if you have a safe place to have a bonfire, of course). You can write them on an index card and burn it over your stove. Or like so many of my students, you can get them down on the page, dive into them, and by doing so, deflate them.
What are your fears? How do you face them, make sense of them, let them go? I’d love to hear. And if you have time, check out more about Heather and her journey.