Tag Archives: writing fear

Fear (or was that anxiety)

by Cynthia Wands

The artist is Christian Schloe

Here ‘s a wonderful interview with James Grissom with  the late Marian Seldes. She was a force of nature, and someone who was a fearless artist. Here she talks about some of the facets of fear. And it’s amazing to see that it’s so connected to the process of sharing our work, as artists.

Mandala, original artwork Cynthia Wands

I asked Marian Seldes what she most wanted to teach her students, and she stopped me and said there was something she most wanted to teach everyone. This is what she told me in July of 2008. Always make sure that fear is fast on its feet around you. That’s something Garson [Kanin] told me. You can be afraid, but you can’t stay afraid. Deal with the fear, and I always dealt with it by recognizing immediately how I could vanquish it. Someone somewhere–nearby–is ready to help you with what frightens you, if only because they recognize the fear you currently have. They’ll remember feeling it, and they’ll remember how they got rid of it. Sometimes the fear disappears simply by reaching out to someone else for relief. We are not alone. We are all connected. In an acting situation, I always wanted students–and those with whom I was working as an actress–to firmly believe that I knew they belonged where they were: They had talent and worth and placement. If you make a mistake–even if you fail completely, as we all have–you still have merit and talent and are able to move on. Never be afraid of the work: You can be respectful of the task; you can want very much to live up to the expectations of the writer and the director and your peers, but fear is not a part of this. Fear is poisonous. I can always lose my sense of fear by looking at my partners and remembering that they have talent and resources, and they are my shore, my sturdy foundation on which I can stand. I need them, and they need me. In this sense of trust, great work can be made, and lovely friendships can be built. I heard someone say the other day that greatness lies beyond your greatest fear, and I think that’s true, but that greatness is what you find when you conquer the fear, throw it to the side. Fear tells us to protect a child, ourselves, a neighbor, an idea, but the greatness–or what I call our basic humanity–comes through when we help the child, the neighbor, repeat the idea, get back to work. Maybe fear is our conscience. Just a tap on the shoulder or a still voice reminding us what we should do, but our job is to still the voice, do the task. If we allow the fear to remain and grow, we become mean and suspicious, and we kill everything. Fear destroys us. Fear destroys everything. I think we were put here to restore and protect others, so I always remind people how quickly we have to dispatch fear and help each other and get on with the work. © 2018 James Grissom

Mandala, Original artwork, Cynthia Wands

Fear seems like such deep and overwhelming emotion to me; I think of characters on stage as experiencing fear as a mortal vulnerability. Some of the characters I’ve written seem to experience anxiety, more than fear, and it seems to lower the stakes for the outcome. I’m still thinking about fear. And feeling it too.

Gearing up for a new play

I always thought it was actors who were children, needing to be coddled and mollified. Now, I think writers are the the most infantile of all.

At least I am.

It’s been a lousy writing year for me. Two public readings of a pair of new plays, a crash and burn failure of a rewrite of a full length that’s been haunting me for a decade, and just no guts to tackle anything new. Perhaps, I told myself, I could write a second act to a lovely play that’s been begging for a companion piece this summer. Didn’t happen. I was tempted to just write off the year entirely.

But it’s fall. And the horrible summers of Washington, DC are finally gone. Leaves are glorious, humidity is a thing of the past, the sunshine is heartbreakingly gorgeous. Feels like southern California.

Fall has always been my favorite time of year anyway. It’s the promise of a new beginning – new friends, a new teacher, new notebooks. So why not a new play?

The theory sounds great, but I admit it: I’m scared.

So I’m going to trick myself.

First, I’m buying myself new writing presents: a new notebook, note cards in various colors, new pens, a designated tote bag.

And If I’m not brave enough to write more than a few lines, I can make lists – character traits, themes, bits of dialogue, words of encouragement from other writers. I can fill pages with words. It’s something, right?

I need theme music. So a search of Pandora is appropriate, yes?

What about visual stimulation? I’ve searched my stash of magazines for pictures of the locales I’m writing about. And pictures of people I’d cast as my characters. Just looking at them is a kick in the seat of the pants. It’s as if they’re saying: “so what do you want me to say? And will you hurry up and write it?”

What about the perfect writing place? I’ve written in our highrise stairwell, in my car, even in the Library of Congress. I’ve taken hikes near a lake, camped out in a library, taken over a table at Starbucks. Anywhere to shake up my brain. Anywhere that I won’t be disturbed for at least 90 minutes a day. 90 minutes where email can’t find me, Twitter doesn’t need me, the phone won’t ring, the cat doesn’t need feeding, the husband doesn’t need to talk about logistics. A place where I can feel brave enough to write something.

I am trying as many tricks as I can to tempt me into being brave enough to once again put my heart and soul into a play that may once again be shredded or dismissed or worse, ignored.

It’s a bit like starting to date again – new clothes, new hairstyle, little aphorisms, and asking yourself: what’s the worst that can happen?

I’ll report my progress as the week progresses.