On fear, frosting and rewriting my story

My fear has grown up with me. At times it is 13-year-old Taylor at the eighth-grade scary-movie sleepover, then the emblem of rebellion, with “The Silence of the Lambs” playing. My bowl of M&M’s is scattered across the shag carpet in my friend Katie’s basement. I sketch invisible lines from candy to candy, weaving my own invisible safety net. It’s funny how fear guides me to chaotic sources of comfort and order.

At times my fear is overdramatic and older than its age. I fret about ‘missed’ milestones and milestones that are years in the future; whether or not I’ll ever get married, funding my dream trip to the Istanbul Open, saving enough for retirement. Meanwhile, I sit here eating graham crackers caked with neon-yellow frosting (OK, so I haven’t mastered the whole wise-beyond-my-years thing yet).

Lately I’ve confronted and engaged fear in a variety of ways, through the goal of doing one thing a month that scares me.

I’m volunteering for the presidential campaign I support. I’m mentoring high school sophomores and juniors with the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s Youth Leadership Initiative. I’m training for my first half-marathon.

All three terrify me in different ways, ways that weave together the complexities of fear, fear that lurks in half-empty tubs of Pillsbury frosting, spilled M&M’s and lingering disbelief.

In writing-major tradition, I debated between “disbelief” and “unbelief” in the above sentence for 10 minutes, followed by my four-mile evening run. Though they’re technically synonyms, I clung to one word in the definition of “disbelief.”

According to my dictionary app, “disbelief” is the “lack of faith in something,” whereas “unbelief” is “an absence of faith.” I like the word “lack.” It suggests not the complete absence of faith but a persistent deficiency, something I can replenish with reflection and writing.

Before I write anything about my life, I read a minimum of one chapter from a memoir or autobiography by a female writer. The other day, this newfound ritual led me to the perfect quote, one I still can’t get out of my head: “Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves.” I am not hiking the Pacific Crest Trail like Cheryl Strayed in Wild; I am, however, a compilation of my own stories, and I’m consciously working to rewrite them.

I have a new invisible safety net, one found not in spilled M&M’s but in sentences, each period, exclamation point and question mark serving as the next destination in an ideological, identity-forming connect-the-dots.

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