My talented and witchy friend Ru gave me a yearly tarot reading to kick off 2017. It had a balance of good and bad cards, with possibly the worst falling on my birthday month of February: the Devil. She explained to me that the card didn’t necessarily mean I should be looking over my shoulder for something bad creeping up behind me. The Devil doesn’t have to be a bad person or event. Sometimes the card can mean bad patterns of behavior that we need to overcome. Thank goddess, I thought, thinking of my 30th birthday trip to Palm Springs. I didn’t want to be in worry mode when I was supposed to be relaxing in the desert.
The day Ru, my friend Will, and I spent at Joshua Tree National Park, it finally hit me what the Devil card represented for me: fear. Fear is something I tangle with a lot. In that desert environment, as we jumped from boulder to boulder like kids on a natural playground, that cold creeping feeling hit me, that unwanted metallic taste in my mouth. I have a lot of fear around my body, which is why I avoid activities like snowboarding or surfing. I simply underestimate my body and its abilities. This likely stems from the only time I ever broke a bone: just shy of my twenty-first birthday, I tried to overcome my fear of skateboarding downhill and ended up with a broken wrist and a concussion. I haven’t skated since.
As we scattered across the barren landscape, bracing ourselves against the wind that threatened to knock us off from great heights at any moment, I found myself negotiating the perils of climbing a little higher, pushing myself a little farther. Only, I didn’t. I hesitated, I turned around, I found a safer route.
At the same time that I was considering the risk of climbing higher on the Devil’s playground, I was debating whether to take advantage of an offer from a friend of mine to submit a proposal to teach a workshop at a writing conference she’s participating in this fall. At this point in my writing career, I have participated in numerous open mics, group readings, book launch events ranging from readings to conversations with other writers, and panels on being a woman in publishing, being a writer with a day job, and being a short story writer, but I have yet to cross the line into teaching, that last fear frontier of public speaking.
The problem is, I’ve never wanted to be a teacher. I’ve never felt compelled to share my wisdom, or admit that I have enough to fill up an hour of a stranger’s time. But someone else does. Someone else sees it in me, so the only obstacle to overcome was seeing it in myself. Journeying farther down my path as a professional writer, I’ve always known that each step forward can only be made by me. Others can provide opportunities or nudge me in the right direction, but I am the one who has to pick my feet up and walk them one in front of the other.
I may never have the kind of body fearlessness that leads people to scale mountains or dive deep into unknowable waters–and now that I’ve entered my thirties, the likelihood of that seems even slimmer–but I trust that my mind is capable of overcoming fears as big as the Devil himself.
We ended our day at Joshua Tree with a hike that led to an oasis, where we sat under palm trees and looked at the moon asserting its presence in the late afternoon sky. As I sat in a place that begs reflection, I was certain of two things: One, I would submit a proposal to teach the workshop, and two, if I am going to overcome my fear of calling myself a professional writer and claiming the wisdom I have and have to share, it won’t happen in one big leap, but rather through a series of steps. Each yes is a step forward until one day I’ve made it to the top of the rock and the Devil’s voice is nothing but a howling in the wind.