“If we can find the courage to face the unknown, we can ‘mind’ our futures more gently. We can examine new ideas, go places we never expected to go…”
– Allison Carmen, Psychology Today
Facing the unknown has never been my thing.
I like having an idea of what’s going to happen next, or knowing what the next step should be. The less surprises the better. Clearly, I’m no thrill seeker. At The Franklin Institute over the weekend we finally made our way into the Brain exhibit. I don’t know why we never ventured in there before. It’s fascinating, and we barely touched the surface.
One thing that struck me was a section about why some people are more thrill seeking than others. Basically, it’s less about choice and preference, and more about the brain and how much of a “reward” we get from risky activities (i.e. dopamine). Looks like my dopamine surges must be minimal, because I’ve always sought the comforts of safety over danger.
The last few months I’ve been struggling over the fate of my novel-in-progress. Maybe struggling isn’t the right word, or I was struggling, and then after Florida I decided to surrender. Since then I’ve been letting my intuition lead, following the faded footsteps in the sand, picking up glittering rocks and shells that catch my eye.
I signed up for a local 4-week memoir class and dove into my own crash course on creative nonfiction, reading craft books and memoirs as I contemplated writing my own.
I let myself consider the “maybe” of trying something new. Of not knowing. Of taking a chance.
Then the other day I was scrolling through the bottomless pit of FB when I came across an article whose title made the back of my neck prickle with recognition. “Why Are We Always Looking for Certainty in Our Lives?”
Whoa. I read it and double whoa. The author honed in on my lifelong tendency to play it safe and assume a sense of control. Then I read this:
“But often we are ignoring new opportunities, stifling creativity and true desires for the sake of certainty.”
Fiction has been my comfort zone for my entire writing life; not just the writing of it, but the reading, too. I remember feeling vaguely annoyed that I had to spend one module on another genre during my MFA. I picked creative nonfiction not out of a genuine interest, but a lesser of evils, too terrified about the vulnerability of poetry to consider it.
Over the course of the module, something shifted within me as I realized that fiction and creative nonfiction weren’t as far apart as I had imagined. The piece I wrote for my (incredibly awesome) professor, Thomas E. Kennedy, was called House on the Hill, all about my childhood home and how our high perch offered protection and isolation. He gently but firmly encouraged me to further explore the bruises of memory, some old, others still fresh.
I’ve been thinking of the phrase, house on the hill, over these past weeks, maybe longer, as I contemplate digging more deeply into my past and present. Reflecting on my mother, and my own mothering. The choices I make about my life and art, the choices my mother’s body made for her. The house I grew up in looms large in my mind like a patient ghost, always lingering, waiting for me to return.
And now, finally, I’m ready to go back and see what it wants to tell me.
What side of the spectrum do you lean, toward adventure and risk, or comfort and safety? Do you shy away from the unknown or leap toward it?
I’m so pleased to be part of Writing Bubble’s wonderful link-up. Come by, take a look, and perhaps join in!