January 20, 2021

FEAR: Flight, Fight or Fetal

What would you do if FEAR was eliminated from your life? If it weren’t for FEAR I would? — fill in the blank. FEAR is an acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real, i.e., what you’re afraid of is imaginary.

As I sit here in my early 70s, I stare reality in the face: how much longer do I really have on this planet? What is my major life goal that I have or have not accomplished? If I’m going to get it done, I’d probably better get after it.

I was approached out of the clear blue by a man, a total stranger, with the proposition of a lifetime “I have a story that needs to be written,” he told me, choosing his words carefully. “And you’re just the man to write it.” (He knew which of my buttons to push.) “I’ve been reading your writing for a long time, and you’re good. If I can talk you into writing our story, we will pay you.” (He really had my attention now.) “Our National Guard Unit did a tour of duty in Iraq. What we accomplished needs to be written. People need to know what we went through, what we overcame, and the good we did.”

I was riveted to my seat. Who was this man? Was he human or a messenger from God? Something I’ve learned over the years: Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God’s world by accident.

He went on, “I have all the information. I can arrange the people you need to talk to, supply you with names, dates, times. Anything you need.”

Yeah, right. I’ve never been to the Middle East (except the Holy Land), let alone seen combat. I don’t know what burning sand feels like, how it smells, or tastes — all important information for a well-written story. I don’t know what it feels like to have a buddy die in my arms, to write his family, tell them, make something up, about how he died.

But I knew this was FEAR talking — BS. I’ve read some pretty good writers, Philip Roth comes to mind, who can do some gut-gripping, impactful writing about places (like Vietnam) where they’ve never been. Talented writers can do that — put you in a place they’ve never been. Do I have that talent?

And I remembered what I had been praying for: to become a successful writer. All my life, that’s been my prayer. I had even put it in a “God Box.” Now here it was as if God was saying, “Ok, Curt, here’s your chance. Here’s your story to write. Are you going to write it or go belly up?”

The man repeated, “We will pay you for your expenses and whatever you need. We have the resources.”

Money and time are usually the major factors holding an artist back. And writing is an art. However, being semi-retired, with Ginnie’s and my finances sort of set, and having more time, making a living isn’t the big concern it was when there was a family to feed. I found myself saying, “It’s not about money. It’s about art.”

I saw the same look of surprise on the man’s face, and a little gleam in his eye, as was probably in mine when he dropped this proposition of a lifetime, this fried bologna sandwich, right in my lap.

I’m now in the hard part of writing this Holy Grail story. Writing is the easy part. Interviewing soldiers, doing research, transcribing interviews is the grunt work. It takes roughly three hours of transcription for every hour of interviewing. But it’s worth it — I can feel the story unfolding, like a chrysalis spreading its wings. I can feel the burning sands, hear the explosions and cries, smell the blood and acridity of an IED, see the good in brown sepia tones.

My FEAR now is will they like what I write? Damn the FEAR! FEAR is a natural defense reaction or emotion. It’s how you handle FEAR that’s important. Do you run the other direction, or curl up in a fetal position, or stand up and move forward, even though your legs are shaking?

Make 2021 your year of success. On the other side of fear is greatness.

Contact Curt Swarm at curtswarm@yahoo.com