Imagination doesn't just mean making things up. It means thinking things through, solving [problems] or hoping to do so, and being just distant enough to be able to laugh at things that are normally painful. [Some people] would call this escapism, but they would be be entirely wrong. I would call fantasy the most serious, and the most useful branch of writing there is.
--Diana Wynne Jones

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Walk out the door and don't get shot

My kid thinks I'm going to get shot.

Whenever I get in the car to go anywhere, he says, "Bye, Mom, don't get shot!" It's a little disturbing. I don't know where he gets this. It's not like we watch lot of violent TV. Actually, we don't really watch TV at all.

Last week I flew to Los Angeles for a national Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators conference. Saying good-bye was traumatic: "Bye, Mom," my son said mournfully, "Don't get shot in L.A."

I wasn't much worried about getting shot. My room and the conference were in the same Century City hotel, which I hardly had a chance to leave, so a gunman would've had to have been pretty determined to get me if he'd wanted me.

I was more worried about getting lost. Or missing my plane. Given my track record, neither of those things were unlikely at all. I have phobias about going places by myself, probably because the last time I traveled entirely solo I ended up stuck in a huge, empty bus station alone over night in Montreal. I was 18. I'd rather not discuss the details. Let's just say the experience left a few psychological scars.

So, from the time I bought my plane tickets to the SCBWI conference in L.A., Radio station FM USuck played stuff like this in my head: "You are not a capable person, lah-dee-dah! You will fail at whatever you do, dah-dah! You will end up stranded in a ghetto full of people who hate writers! Everyone will discover you are an idiot, la-dee-dah! Whatever made you think you could be a writer and run off to conferences? Lah-dee-dah!"

I hate that station.

"You never know what will happen when you step out the door," Bilbo Baggins says. But he took that first step, in spite of unknowns, and was glad he did.

Well, I survived stepping out the door. I didn't get lost. I made my plane. And I did not get shot, much to my son's relief.

The worst part of the trip was a killer toothache brought on by the change in altitude. If not for pain-killers, I'd have spent the conference in bed, moaning.

The best parts were these:
*Finally meeting and talking to my agent
*Hearing Sherman Alexie, Karen Cushman, and Richard Peck speak, in person. Amazing.
*Meeting new friends
*Seeing old ones
*One day of hanging out with relatives I never see
*Shutting up Radio station USuck on the subject of travel. It's good to know I'm capable of going places alone. It really wasn't that bad.

Facing that fear turned out to be healing.

Turns out, this is becoming the summer of facing my fears. I hiked to the summit of Mount Timpanogos yesterday--a 10-hour round-trip hike. You have to understand I'm a girl with serious height issues, as in, looking over the rail of a third-floor balconey makes me dizzy. This mental picture always pops into my head: me flying over the edge--whee! There I go.

The climb to the Mt. Timp summit takes you to an elevation of 12,200 feet, and that last hour of climbing makes me think of Frodo and Sam's accent up the staircase into Mordor in Lord of the Rings.

I pictured myself flying off. Whee!
I pictured my son flying off, and my daughter who ran up with her cross-country team flying off. Whee, whee, whee!
I pictured my hiking friend and her son plummeting to their deaths. Whee, whee!

When I was a kid, I used to dream of sledding down Mt. Timp. Looking from the top down, I knew a sled-ride down that mountain would be the last ride I ever took.

One girl on the cross-country team had a panic attack on the Mordor-staircase part of the trail.

Girl 1: I'm not ok. I'm really not ok.
Girl 2: It will be all right. It's not as bad as it looks.
Girl 1: You don't understand. This is death! One bad step and you die!

Exactly my feeling.

Both girls eventually got up and down the mountain. My son and daughter and I got up and down. My friend and her son didn't fall to their deaths, either.

The worst part--my killer toothache came back with a vengeance at 12,000 feet up. I thought I would die of toothache at the tip top of a mountain. My hiking friend wasn't bothered by any of the height stuff. She laughed at the rest of us hyperventilating. I think her moment of greatest fear was watching all the advil and tylenol I was popping.

Her: "Hey, should you be taking that much?"
Me: "Do you want to carry me off this mountain?"
Guy nearby: "Can I buy some from you? My legs are killing me."

Still, 12,200 feet up makes for a killer view, even with the pulse throbbing in my tooth. Mountains were a nice change, after five days of city.

I was able to tell USuck to shut up for a second time in a week. Kapow! Get lost! I climbed really high and I survived!

I'm staying home for awhile. My kid needs a break from worrying about mom. And I need some hard-core writing time.

But if I hadn't faced up to USuck this summer, I'd have missed out on a great conference. I'd never have seen that stunning view at the top of a huge mountain.

In spite of anxiety disorders, I'm almost at the verge of thinking safety is overrated.

Yes, Bilbo. Walking out the door can be a good thing.

Even at the risk of getting shot.

1 comment:

  1. I'm really glad you didn't get shot or fall off the mountain! I hear you about the fear of heights anxiety issue. I hyperventilate on the ferris wheel for crying out loud. (I'm such a dork.)
    I'm so glad you had a great time and that you kicked that radio station out the door. You rock, Elena, pure and simple! I love ya!

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