In spite of the fear, you have to just keep moving forward.
In April 2008, I had remembered an ugly incident from my childhood. It was actually the third part of a week-long series of events that took place the first time I visited Fort Worth when I was eight years old. My grandmother had asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told her I wanted to be a famous author. She said I didn’t want to do that, and when I asked why, she said, “If you do that, they’ll call you crazy and lock you up.” Later, she told me she had talked to the doctor she worked for and he had assured her that if I went crazy he could have me committed to an asylum.
The third event happened when she showed me what it would be like to be locked up in an asylum. She reinforced the message by shutting me up in a closet with all the lights off and leaving me there for several hours. When I remembered this part of her abuse, it was so terrifying it took my breath away.
It seems dumb to take the very actions that bring up the fearful and terrified feelings. But I knew that was what I had to do. I had to confront those false fears by moving forward toward publication. Doing so would not only get them to the surface, but help me release those fears, and ultimately be free of them.
I had found a Print On Demand publisher that looked like a good fit for me. That publisher had indicated they preferred to have an author with a website. I began setting up a website. Immediately moving toward publication felt like the true direction for me. My original plan to wait until January 2009 to publish my book had felt like postponing and hesitating – like avoiding the fear.
I also realized that I needed to go to the Agents and Editors Conference in Austin again. I signed up to attend, to check traditional publishing before pursuing the option of self-publication. When I went to that conference in 2007 it signaled to me that I was getting serious about publication, and the fears instilled by grandmother started to come to the surface. I signed up for a ten minute pitch session with a literary agent. I sensed I had a stronger presentation to convince an agent to represent my book. Gulp – which would only force the fears to purge more quickly.
I also began getting acupuncture once a week to help release old fears from the things my grandmother had done to me. It worked well, and I continued to release massive amounts of fear very quickly. I was still awake until around three a.m., and had seen a pattern: if I had acupuncture on Friday, usually the feeling released by Sunday night or so, and I would purge a lot of old fears. I also realized that the last incident with Grandma must have happened on Saturday night, and was the reason for the Saturday night hypervigilance which had plagued me for years.
I knew that I had taken the steps to bring up and release the old feelings buried in my soul by my grandmother – but that was of little comfort late at night. Since the early ‘80s when I had first become serious about writing, and set the goal to publish a book, 11 p.m. signaled the onset of the nightly terrors. I would exercise after work, be suitably tired and ready to go to sleep. But when I laid down, around 11 o’clock, suddenly my eyes would snap wide open. I would be alert to noises around me, my breathing turning short and shallow and my pulse racing.
It was like that tonight. Footsteps on the stairwell outside my apartment, innocent in daytime, suddenly took on an ominous tone. Who was it and were they dangerous? Were they coming to get me? Suddenly I was that eight-year-old child, listening to Grandma tell me that they could have me committed, locked up in an asylum for a couple of days, just to show me what it would be like. Was this the night? My rational adult mind knew that not to be the case, but the terrified child mind ruled the night, and lived with these fears. I listened until the footsteps faded, a door opened and closed, and the threat passed – for the moment. But I still couldn’t relax, my pulse pounding and my breathing rapid.
As time passed, my fears grew larger, more menacing. A bird trilled outside my apartment and suddenly I was back inside the bedroom at my grandmother’s house, windows wide open to the night, with the lights out, sensing the dangerous closet, fearing the monsters that might still be inside. My legs shook uncontrollably. I knew that was the fear releasing, but it felt horrible at the time. I was powerless to stop anyone who might come to get me.
On one of those nights I remembered channel flipping late at night in the ’70s and running across a scene from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. It was obviously set inside of an asylum, and I quickly changed the channel. I had never been able to go see that movie. Now the dismal hospital scene with patients moving slowly about haunted my overly active imagination. I knew I’d be up for a couple of more hours just from that visual image. My stomach grew queasy and I felt my muscles tense – ready to run if necessary. Finally daylight came, and the fears subsided for the moment.
On May 27th, the designer finished the final steps and went live with the website. That morning I submitted my manuscript to the publisher I had chosen. The next day, that publisher passed on publishing the manuscript. They answered so quickly I concluded they hadn’t even looked at the manuscript or my website. But they gave me a suggestion for another publisher – Virtual Bookworm, in College Station, Texas. This publisher actually felt like a stronger contact, so to get back on the horse, I submitted the manuscript to them. The next several days the fear came up and purged a lot. During my Friday acupuncture session, I was actually shaking and releasing fear while I was on the table – the first time that had ever happened.
The whole writing project continued to build in momentum, and in very amazing ways. Virtual Bookworm replied in five days and accepted my manuscript for publication. I reformatted the manuscript, went through it several more times, and submitted it to them. Very quickly they came back to me with cover design ideas, and we developed a really nice cover. I had to tweak my biography on the back cover to allow for a picture, and in refining it, I consolidated it, and cleaned it up nicely.
I was moving forward toward publication – confronting the fear that Grandma had instilled in me – in order to overcome and release that fear. Now I wanted to check out traditional publishing — to see if I could interest a literary agent in representing my memoir. It was time to revisit the writer’s conference which had started the healing process in motion.
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Jason McIntyre says
Wow, Dan. I had no idea. Keep moving forward, my friend. YOU are doing it every day!
Dan L Hays says
Thanks Jason – great to see you over here! Yes, this is a big issue – I’m actually writing my next memoir about this whole writing block issue. I’ve been publishing chapters as articles for this magazine, and it’s been a huge part of my healing process. Thanks for coming by to support me! 🙂
I read this article some time ago and now have to come back to leave a comment. I wonder if somewhat of a historical perspective might help both alleviate your pain and simultaneously develop a bit of empathy for the woman who instilled such fears in you. I would simply ask you to consider that for women your grandmother’s age, following their wild and wonderful selves often meant being incarcerated into psychiatric institutions or heavy psychiatric diagnoses. Do you know how many women writers were so treated up to the 1970’s? Your grandmother may herself had such longing, but was terrified into defying her longings in order to survive in family or in community. That she wanted to instill such fear into you was a very twisted way of offering you protection, perverted as that is. Know that when you are fighting your fears, it is not necessarily your grandmother you are fighting, but a whole history of instilling obedience into women. Know that your struggle is historical as well as deeply personal. You are not alone. Generations of creatives have been where you are. Your struggle serves and strengthens us … and helps create a more wonderful world….for all of us. Thank you.
Dan L Hays says
Thanks for stopping by to leave a comment. Interesting perspective, but my grandmother wasn’t a free spirit or a writer. She was a nurse, and I don’t think her actions were a way of protecting me, as much as they were her own twisted dysfunction. I’ve come to acknowledge that the woman was actually crazy and this was her way of acting it out. When I realized that the word “evil” applied to her actions, I got I think the proper perspective on what she did to me – she took malicious pleasure in twisting the emotional knife into my soul.
As far as the struggle that it gave me as a creative, I think you’re right on – I think of Paul Coelho, who endured horrible damage from attempts to squash his creativity. I’m sure there are many other examples, and I take heart from your insight into my struggle. You give me courage to continue to unburden the pain. You may find this of interest – I’ve been coming to the awareness over the past several months that I have broken the back of the damaging messages my grandmother instilled in me – after several years of intense work. I’m now adjusting to living with a new free access to my writing talent that I haven’t felt since I was 8 years old.
Patricia - Spiritual Journey Of A Lightworker says
The work that you do is so courageous in facing the fears that your grandmother purposefully put into your child’s mind.
Dan L Hays says
Thank you so much Patricia, for saying that! Interesting phrasing “the fears that your grandmother purposefully put into your child’s mind.” Yes, I’m coming to appreciate the intention in her actions – very calculated and very dysfunctional!