Every day we have minor victories, right? We get to the bus stop just as the bus is pulling up, we hit Starbucks when the line isn’t out the door, the sun comes out on our day off just so we can enjoy some warmth.
For me, this week was filled with many small, fear-based victories—and three major ones.
Major Victory #1: Sharing My Writing With a “Real” Writer
For all writers, the bane of our existence is the comparisons we make between ourselves and those we consider “real” writers. Our definition of “real” usually reflects the type of writing we want to do or think we should be doing.
For me, the definition of “real” starts with major published authors who have books and novels celebrated by the literary community and ends with journalists who write well-researched and documented stories about politics and science and corruption. In my head, all “real” writers are very serious and judgmental people.
So what does that have to do with me and this challenge? Well, for whatever reason, I do not consider myself a “real” writer. At least not yet. And I am very shy about sharing my writing with those who I consider real writers because I am deeply afraid they will read my words and say, “This is crap.” In fact, the thought of showing one of these very serious, judgmental, and wildly successful writers my work makes my stomach gurgle and turn.
But last weekend, I wasn’t given a choice. I met my friend’s husband for the first time and from the moment he opened his mouth, I was enthralled. He’s a journalist in New York City and told stories of controversy and cover-ups, getting arrested in the name of a story, and it sounded so glamorous, I almost cried. No joke, if you stumbled upon our conversation, you would have thought I wanted to have this guy’s babies.
For the record, I don’t, but I do want his career. So when he asked where he could find my writing, my website URL got caught in my throat.
“Oh well, you can find my stuff on The Daily Muse… and on my website… ”
“What about The Atlantic stuff?” my boyfriend interjected.
“Oh, that was like a year ago, so I’m sure you don’t want to read that,” I practically apologized.
“What are you talking about, it was really interesting,” my boyfriend continued, clearly confused by my shyness.
“Oh, I… I… sure, so you can find The Atlantic stuff on my website, too. But don’t feel like you have to read any of it.”
I was stammering and blubbering, sounding like the biggest fool, all the while hoping he would forget all about it. The next day, it was all I could think about.
“What if he hates my writing?” I asked anyone who wasn’t already sick of hearing me talk about it. “What if he thinks I’m an idiot? What if he thinks I can’t write?”
“Why do you care?” was the universal response.
“Because he’s a real writer and his opinion matters.”
“So are you, and so does yours.”
To that, all I could do was smile and say, “Thank you.”
Major Victory #2: Meeting The Ex
Meeting The Ex is never a fun experience. In fact, I would rather stand naked in front of a room full of dudes trying to draw my figure than meet any boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend. But if it has to happen, I want it to be just after I’ve had my hair done or when I’m wearing my favorite outfit so that at least I stand a little taller while she’s sizing me up.
Unfortunately, luck did not smile upon me this week.
On Tuesday night, in greasy hair and an oversized sweatshirt, I met The Ex against my will. Not because we ran into her at a restaurant or at a mutual friend’s wedding, but because my boyfriend was dog-sitting for her.
We were making dinner when he got a text message. “Oh yeah, Sara’s dropping off the dog tonight,” he said, very casually.
“When?” I asked, wondering how I could make myself scarce.
Then the doorbell rang.
“Uh, now?” The sheepish look on his face made my insides scream, and as he headed for the front door, I started walking to his bedroom. I figured if I could just hide out until the drop-off was done, I could avoid the awkwardness until I felt better prepared to face it. But then, I turned around.
This is never going to be easy. I told myself. You might as well get it over with now.
So I walked back to the kitchen just as the dog came bounding into the apartment, the voice of her owner not far behind. Not sure what to do, I picked up a chopping knife (because that’s normal) and began to cut onions with force and precision.
“Hi!” I looked up to see a petite perky brunette in yoga pants and a hoodie.
“Hi,” I offered, with the most authentic smile I could muster.
“Sara, this is my girlfriend, Lauren,” my boyfriend said, his voice slightly shaky.
Again, I forced a smile, put down the chopping knife and shook her hand. I even pretended to listen as she rattled on and on about her dog and her upcoming trip and, “Oh, what are you guys making? That sounds good!”
It was painful and I wanted to punch her in the face, but I got through it. And the past few days, I’ve even walked her dog.
Major Victory #3: Climbing to the Top of a Rock Climbing Wall
Have you ever been high up in a skyscraper, put your forehead to the window and looked down on the ant-like creatures below you? You know that tingling of excitement and fear you get? That flipping in the pit of your stomach?
Well, I get that when I’m on the third story.
Heights are not my thing. I don’t just fear them; I hate them. In fact, if I could throw rocks at them, I would.
So what did I do this week? I joined a rock-climbing gym.
After the hour it took for me to take my belay test, I stood below what seemed like a mini skyscraper and stared at the brightly colored holds, the pulleys, the ropes, and the people dangling like spiders from mid-air.
I swallowed a little bit of vomit.
“Are you ready? Which one do you want to do first?” My friend was enthusiastic and encouraging.
“Um, how about this one?” Too panicked to think, I pointed to the route directly in front of me.
“This looks like a fun one!” I resisted the urge to spew bile all over his shoes.
With my friend’s help, I tied the rope to my harness, dipped my hands in the chalk bag around my waist and approached the wall with weak and shaking limbs. I turned to give him a final look that said, “If I die, you can have my shoe collection,” but all he gave me was another enthusiastic thumbs up.
I smiled grotesquely and turned to put my hands and feet on the wall.
Hold by hold, I slowly climbed higher and after what felt like an eternity, I looked down to check my progress. Bad idea. I was only about halfway, but I felt like I was grasping the ledge of a 25th-story window. My hands started to sweat.
And then they started to slip.
I’m going to die.
If you’re thinking, “But aren’t you strapped in?” The answer is, yes, I was, and I was perfectly safe. But the irrational part of my brain took over, convincing every rational cell in my body that I was about to tumble to my death below.
I secured my right hand on a large handhold while I reached for the chalk bag with my left. Then my legs started to shake.
I threw my left hand around another large hold and groped for chalk with my right.
I have to get up this wall before I become slippery beyond repair.
With shaking legs and hands messy with sweat-soaked chalk, I began to run up the wall. At least that’s what it felt like to me.
By the time I reached the top, I was so sweaty and scared that I couldn’t speak—a problem because I had to tell my friend to lower me, lest I be stuck up there all day. I turned, gave him a thumbs up, and as I leaned back and watched as the earth rose to meet my feet, I felt the tension in my body start to loosen.
My hands still looked like I had Parkinson’s, and when I touched ground, my friend had to untie my rope. But when I looked up at my accomplishment, I felt a sense of pride that I hadn’t felt in a long time.