Soaring into the Unknown

“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.”

Oh, crap.

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.


All those exposed roots.

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!




25 thoughts on “Soaring into the Unknown

  1. I have always been a safety person, which is why I think, opposite of you, I have been going with nonfiction for the past few years. But now I’m thinking about fiction more and more. Maybe ready for a little uncertainty too?


    • Isn’t it funny, Nina, that you went to nonfiction for safety and I hid over in fiction?! For me, writing about myself is more vulnerable than making stuff up (and cribbing from my real life). I definitely still have an interest in both, but sometimes we need to veer to the other side.


  2. You craft such beautiful personal essays in these posts, Dana. I know I want to read anything you write.

    This year I changed the focus of my blog a bit. I added more specific weekly features and a weekly post on animals. I was very nervous about it. I decided to take the plunge and do it anyway. Now, I’m contemplating branching out to more science writing. I worry… is this too different? Does it make sense? But we have to try or we’ll never know. 🙂


    • Jackie, thank you! This comment made my day 🙂 I love your blog’s focus and the weekly features. I agree, we have to follow our interests even if we wonder what others will think/approve. I love that you’re thinking of taking a turn into science writing! I’m eager to see what happens for both of us next.


  3. I cannot wait to hear what the house on the hill has to tell you! Your post left me smiling, I love how you weave a story – I am looking forward to reading your discoveries!


  4. Go for it Dana! My problem is I have too many BIG ideas and start them but never finish. So Im struggling to push through with one idea at a time at the moment. So hard to stay on target but I will not stop because I know when a new idea comes its just me sabotaging because the challenge is getting harder. Looking forward to seeing where your heart and mind take you.


  5. Great piece Dana! I have to agree with you. I’ve always preferred the comfort of certainty. Sometimes I muster up enough courage, pull up my big girl panties, and take a more daring leap into the uncharted…, and I almost never have regrets. Best of luck to you in exploring the option of the memoir. I hope you’ll let me read it. I live for your posts. 😊


  6. I lean towards comfort but push myself to take risks – I need time to recover from these pushes but they are almost always worth it (or at least I don’t lose anything from pushing myself)… I would love to read your memoir – your writing is so beautifully poetic.

    “The house I grew up in looms large in my mind like a patient ghost, always lingering, waiting for me to return.” – and I can’t wait to visit. x


  7. Ah Dana, you always make me think! I’m definitely a safety over risk person but I also think that one person’s risk is another’s safety. I feel really passionately that educational policy in the UK is wrong and I currently feel like I’m sticking my neck out by blogging about it (I’m not normally at all political on my blog) and running a campaign and joining in a strike when no one else in my kids school is! It feels like a risk to me and I feel quite stressed by it, but to some people, that would feel totally trivial and not stressful at all! So apart from ‘life and limb’ risks I think the whole area of risk is quite person-specific, as is how we respond to it. A little bit of risk does us good I think but what ‘a little bit of risk’ is, will vary. Thanks for linking to #WhatImWriting with another beautifully written post. xx


  8. For all the time wasting side effects of social media I do love it when it throws up an article that feels like it was written especially for me! I have to say I err on the side of adventure and new experiences. I came across Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote ‘Do one thing every day that scares you’ in my early twenties, and it’s kind of been my mantra ever since! It does mean I spend an awful lot of time biting my nails and feeling like I have no idea what I’m doing, but plunging into the dark does have its pay offs too 🙂 xx


    • Oh, I’m a little envious of your riskiness, Sophie! And I love that Eleanor Roosevelt quote. I agree that plunging into the dark often does pay off. On the occasion when I manage it, I never regret it 🙂


  9. I think I love the *idea* of risk, but end up tiptoeing more (and staying safer) than I would like, especially now that I have kids. But really it comes back to a fear of failure rooted in childhood experiences. It’s something I haven’t managed to break yet.


    • That sounds SO much like me Dakota, the idea of risk makes total sense to me, but every fiber of my (naturally cautious) being steels against it. And like you, my fear is deeply rooted in a fear of failure that stemmed from childhood, and striving (foolishly, no doubt) to be perfect. Thank you for reminding me that perhaps my nature is also embedded in some nurture/culture. Perhaps I can push myself harder for change and risk.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. What an interesting post. I am very heavily at the comfort and safety end of the spectrum. I can see it in every single area of my life. Relationships, work, leisure, studies. I need to have a little more control in order to feel comfortable and so risks and adventures aren’t my thing.

    I think for me thats been one of the great effects of having kids on my own self. Its pushed me out of my comfort zone. Anything can happen with them at any time and I just need to roll with it. I have to talk to other parents and be involved in social situations I also might not. I can recognise that I’m now more comfortable in situations I might not have otherwise found myslef in and im grateful for those opportunities to stretch myself putative of my comfort zone.

    But im still happy to stay in the comfortable and safe. I don’t feel like I should be adventurous or risky. I was recently given a diagnoses of a rare syndrome that means it’s likely I’ll develop a certain cancer at some stage of my life. At the moment I feel like thats made me more aware of where I do feel comfortable and safe. Surrounded by my children and my husband, working a comfortable job I enjoy and living an ordinary life. Thats what makew me happy.


    • Thank you so much for this thoughtful response. I like reading about other people’s journeys on the risk versus comfort scale. I’m so sorry about your diagnosis, that sounds terribly stressful. I have a friend who is in a similar situation and she is monitored quite often. It makes sense that comfort and safety are what you surround yourself with. Thank you for reading and I hope to read something on your blog soon!


  11. Have you come up for air yet?? Dying to know how this is going and where writing is for you today. I love the challenge to take risks, but also know that it is incredibly hard to do. There is a balance. And we are always tipping the scales one way or another, aren’t we?


    • Allison! So nice to hear from you 🙂 Though quiet in this space, I’ve been rather busy in my brain thinking, stewing, meditating, weighing, and I’ve finally come to a conclusion after what feels like ages hovering in limbo. I’m going to start a memoir. I’ve started it in some ways, though more of a dipping in and out as I continue to research the form and brainstorm. It feels CRAZY to move away from fiction, my comfort zone, but maybe that’s a good thing… I hope you’re doing well and looking forward to hearing your update soon! xo


  12. Pingback: Making Sense of the Mess – writing at the table

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