Wednesday, March 25, 2015
SPITE: OUR FRIEND, FEAR'S MALICE by SHAYNA MATTHEWS
"Life on the Edge" - photograph by Shayna Matthews
Moccasins are slicker than a buttered sled perched on the lee side of a snowbank. Pair this fact with a grassy hill just after a rainstorm, and you have the makings of a irrationally lifelong fear. It was 1983, I was about four years old. Our camp sat atop a ridge overlooking nearly a mile of white canvas tents stretched out below. And as dusk settled across the fields, campfire smoke laid heavy in the air. Lanterns and flickering fires punched holes in the night. Have you ever seen the designs of a punched-tin lantern? Candlelight shines through various designs in the tin, illuminating your path with swinging fireflies of light. This is nightfall in camp. Long after I was tucked into my bed, I lay awake, merely pretending slumber, so I might listen to the harmony of the dulcimers, mandolins and banjos...and the raucous laughter of my reenactment family. These are my earliest of memories, and my sweetest.
That night, in 1983, it rained. I don't recall the rain storm, for camping in objectionable weather is nothing new to me. But I remember, quite clearly, the aftermath of that particular rainfall.
Eager to start the day, I bounded up and out of my snuggly cot, donned my prairie dress and wiggled my toes into a pair of moccasins. My mom most likely braided my hair in two long braids, and I set off at a clip to find my friends below. The only trouble was the argument with the steep hill and my feet, now soaked from wet leather. The hill won the argument, and I tumbled in a ball, literally head over heels, the whole way to the bottom. I don't know how far I fell, but it seemed the drop, at the time, was equivalant to Mount Everest, instead of a ridge somewhere in West Virginia.
The first person to reach me as I hit the bottom was a man who was, perhaps, in his early twenties at the time. He pulled me into his lap and held me until I quit shaking. He looked down at me, a quivering little girl with tear-stained cheeks and long strands of disheveled hair, and asked if I wanted a story. I did, very much. He began to speak, telling tales of wonder and soon I was lost to my fright, hanging on every word as I sat on his knee. Looking back, I thought of that man as my guardian angel, whoever he was. It seems I gained two imprints that morning…two imprints which follow me throughout my life. Fear, and Stories.
My debilitating fear of "edges" has left me standing yards back, far behind many a scenic overlook. I grow nauseated at the thought of flying, and I always travel to the inside of a bridge or overpass. To this day, I cannot bring myself to walk up to the edge of anything and look down. No, not me. If I get too close, my mind grows fuzzy and I can feel the sensation of the fall. Which is absurd, because I love a good adventure. My passion, as you may have guessed by now, is The West...the epitome of grand mountains, cliffs, and well, edges. When my husband and I were planning our trip west a few years ago, I told him I wanted to ride in a hot air balloon. "You know balloons go up, right? And you're in a basket? With fire over your head?" This of course, was after his laughter subsided. But I was determined to do all the things I feared most on that trip. I was researching for my WIP novel...researching the land, the history and the people who made it.
AT THE EDGE OF THE BASKET LOOKING OVER
Sometimes, what drives a person to face their fear is not so much bravado, as it is spite. This is what fuels me. I'm tired of being afraid. Tired of missing out on adventures because I cannot face my fears. After all, how can I as a writer sit on the sidelines and weave tales of adventures I cannot face myself?
In last month's blog, I spoke of climbing a 50 foot wooden ladder to reach the top of ancient ruins. What I did not mention, was the almost paralyzing fear I faced when I saw it. Wooden rungs, 50 feet in the air, and a deep chasm at my back. My husband kept after me, and I faced that ladder with far more trepidation than a virgin bride. My knees were shaking, and if I had any saliva left to spit, I fear my heart might have tumbled right out of my mouth. The Ranger giving the tour then declared she was afraid of heights, and while she climbed the ladder, no one was to talk to her. She gives those tours daily, and she's terrified of that ladder.
Well hell, if she can do it…
Spite, to me, is nothing more than malice to fear...determination feeds upon spite, and that's what we use to scrape through a situation. At that moment, nothing frightened me more than climbing that ladder, so the only thing that made sense was to start climbing. As I clung to that first rung, I closed my eyes for the breath of a moment. As I did, several of my WIP novel characters came to me. One, a young cowboy named Ryder, seemed to urge me forward. If you can summon the courage to write a story like ours, darlin', what's one little ladder? Between my husband, who encouraged me as he followed me up, rung after rung, Ryder and my own grit, I made it up in one piece.
I didn't know at the time my husband was on the ground, taking photographs of my rump-roast as I climbed. (Discovering that little gem is another story all-together!) Reaching the top, I nearly fell into the wall of the cliff. My knees were beyond working order, but I was standing in the remote Southwestern corner of Colorado...in the home of the ancients. The view was particularly beautiful that day, my friends. At least, until I realized we had to get to the TOP of the cliff, and back to the parking lot. That little venture entailed crawling through a narrow tunnel cut through the cliff face on our hands and bellies, (my husband got a bit loose with his artistic photography here, as well) and traveling up a set of rock steps cut into the cliff itself. I won't repeat the garbled words I uttered when I finally collapsed to the flat ground far above.
What we faced AFTER the 50' ladder to reach the top...putting my "spite" to the test.
That same trip found us floating 2,000 feet over Arches National Park in a hot air balloon, horseback riding to the top of South Mountain in Arizona, off-roading in Moab, Utah and traipsing up and down over countless canyons and cliffs. Maybe I'll never be able to stand on the edge, but now I know I can summon my old friend, Spite, and sharpen my teeth on the bones of an old enemy.
You don't want to miss this...hot air balloon sunrise over Arches National Park. No Fear!
Fear is a frigid witch. It’s real tough sometimes, but if you saddle up, cinch those girths a little tighter and dig in your spurs, you just might enjoy the ride. Had I turned down mine just because I was scared? Man; to think of the sights, the experience and the exhilaration I would have missed out on! Thanks guys, thanks for the ride. I look forward to the next one.
Fears, everything from spiders to those first story submissions, force us to lean on our inner strengths, our spite-driven determination-to conquer.
Triumph! - and standing a little closer to the edge than I used to.
Tell me, what are you afraid of? Have you lassoed your own spite to quell those fears? I would love to hear your own stories of dealing with fear. One random commenter will win their choice of either a signed copy of Cowboys, Creatures & Calico, Vol. 1, or a pair of handwoven bookmarks, made by yours truly. Thank you for reading!