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Writing fears and my inner hippo

This weekend, I joined a friend on a one-day getaway to Ololo Safari Lodge and Farmhouse in Nairobi National Park. I committed the same error I make on most trips – I brought far too many things to occupy my time. My work phone. My personal phone. A yoga mat. Hiking boots. The laptop. A journal. A kindle. A paperback book in case the Kindle died. I pack for these mini trips as though I’m preparing for the pastime Olympics, determined to do anything and everything all at once. Stillness be damned!

And guess what? Yoga didn’t happen. Writing didn’t happen. Hiking didn’t happen. Reading a book only happened very late at night. Instead, I spent most of the time looking at animals and chatting with my friend over vino. Enjoying the present moment, if you will.

My challenge isn’t enjoying the moment when it comes – it’s the anticipation leading up to the stopping and chilling out. Keeping myself busy is an easy way to lure my mind away from less comfortable thoughts – namely, what’s going to happen when I share my first book with the world in a matter of weeks?

I don’t think I realized until this weekend that I’m operating in a state of overwhelm. There is a lot of change on the horizon – including moving back to the US for a spell and publishing Deficient. I’m no stranger to change, but the forthcoming ones provoked something within me. I feel like a kid approaching the deep end of a pool with shaking legs, psyching themself up to jump in for the first time. Will it hurt? Will it be cold? Will I be strong enough to swim to the surface? What if people make fun of my technique? What if I belly flop? What if I sink to the bottom and (gasp) implode?

Fear is a normal part of change. Even for someone who has lived in several countries and responded to humanitarian emergencies, I’m not immune to it. Putting a book out there is a scary thing – a larger manifestation of the same fears I experienced each time I sent a query letter to an agent or publisher, hoping for a positive outcome. A lengthy chain of rejections was interrupted every so often with requests for partial or full manuscripts – tiny glimmers of hope. It took years and several books before I clinched an agent and then more years to regroup and rebuild after that agent left the industry to pursue another career.

When I first started writing, I was in a rush to publish something, anything. But I’m glad that didn’t happen. Time has been a frustrating but necessary friend. It taught me patience and perseverance, and it allowed me to mature along with my writing. Courage is one of the personal values I aspire toward, and I’d like to believe time is offering me that as well. I’m not a natural Gryffindor – more of a Hufflepuffy wannabe Ravenclaw. I think that’s why I’m anxious about sharing my work with others. The act has me feeling naked, exposed, and vulnerable in a way I have not yet had to be.

I connected these feelings to a story our safari guide told us about a giraffe that, only yesterday, fell victim to a pride of lions. While standing, adult giraffes have little to fear, and they can kill a lion with a single, well-aimed kick. But when their long legs are folded on the ground and their eyes are closed, the typically towering neck is an easy target for a lion’s merciless canines.

Under normal circumstances, it would be wonderful to be giraffe-like in my behavior. Graceful and with vast perspective, giraffes can grasp what they seek using their evolutionary advantages. If I channeled these characteristics, then my fears around what will happen with my book might feel miniscule and unimportant, as my brain knows they should be.

Lions, on the other hand, are ferocious and mighty, and they instill fear in others – a remarkable trait. Males rule over vast swaths of land and stake claim to a pride of lionesses and cubs, obliterating anything that poses a threat. I didn’t come into the world with that kind of confidence or aggression, so the lion metaphor isn’t one that works for me.

When it comes to my writing, I think I’m more of a hippo. Yesterday, I spotted one swimming in the middle of a lake. The Kenyan safari guides call him Fred. Fred spends his days wandering to and from two lakes. The first is where he goes to socialize with the hippo pod, while the second is a lake that only he swims in. That lake, which no other animal dares to enter when Fred is present, is where our tank-sized introvert goes for his me time. He swims and splashes and opens a pair of jaws that look like a massive number eight filled with impossibly large teeth. Nothing bothers him in that lake – even the crocodiles prefer to sunbathe on land instead of sharing the waters. Fred is in his zone, and the existence of anything else does not matter. The Egyptian geese, the malachite king fishers, the Cape buffalo, the occasional lions seeking to quench their thirst. Nothing phases him. Fred can be who he is, and the other animals respect that. “You do you, Fred,” they all seem to agree.

As I draw closer to my forthcoming changes, it only feels right for me to channel my inner Fred. Instead of feeling like I’m venturing into something strange and uncomfortable, maybe I’m getting into my zone. The same happy place I’ve been swimming in for years, except now other people get to see it too.

Yes, Fred – I choose you! My inner hippo badass. It’s time to splash around the lake, diving in crown first.

But not your lake, dear Fred. Only a fool would do that.

Fred chilling in his lake.
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  1. Leah Solis Leah Solis

    Love this Michael! And now I get to see you “swim”! It has been a long time missing you…

  2. Heather Heather

    I’m inspired by your inner hippo and I think I need to start channeling an inner platypus!

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