What’s the Worst that Could Happen?

“Face The Monster” by Frits Ahlefeldt

I love a writer who makes me laugh at myself. That’s not (quite) as perverse as it sounds. With days full of homeschooling and story crafting, I spend long hours in my head. Sometimes, it’s scary up there. That’s when I rely on talented writers like Yuvi Zalkow to pull me out of my mental mayhem. A good dose of self-mockery, Yuvi-style, can be a clear, fast ticket out of Crazy Ville.

Yuvi is a short story writer, inventor of “I’m a Failed Writer” videos, Writer Unboxed contributor, and the author of a brilliant novel in the works, just released this week. He’s got a string of readings scheduled to promote his book, but there’s a hitch — he’s terrified of public speaking. So when he invited other bloggers to join him in “The (semi-) Great Fear & Failure Experiment of 2012”, how could I refuse?

Fear and failure? That’s where I live, Yuvi. Welcome to the broke-down neighborhood of my brain . . .

My mother had a strategy for dealing with my childhood worries. She used to say, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” If I could envision the worst, I could master it.

It turns out this is not the best coping mechanism for a child with an adroit imagination. My “worst” is always catastrophic. It often involves armed gunmen or tsunamis or freeing myself and the children from a car that has careened into a lake. For all the gifts my imagination brings me in the form of characters and storylines, it is a royal pain when it comes to actually living, here and now. I’m never quite exactly where I’m supposed to be.

I’m still recovering from my January concussion. I’d say, on average, I can do about 50% of what I did before. Sometimes my vision gets blurry, as it has for months. But, last week, I decided that I must be going blind. This is where my imagination brought me, when I played my latest round of “What’s the Worst Thing That Could Happen?”

My eyesight is really blurry . . .that’s a sign of retinal detachment. I looked it up on-line. I’m going blind. I won’t be able to write! Oh wait, I can learn to dictate to a computer. Okay. Ahhhhhhhhh. I won’t be able to read. I can’t homeschool the kids anymore!! I’ll have to send them to school. They’re not ready. They’ll be devasted. On the first day of school, they’ll be sobbing in the classroom doorway. My husband will be there alone, because I’ll be blind. Blind and alone and —

The ugliness progressed from there. Of course, when I confessed to my husband, he said, “You wouldn’t stay home when I drove them. You’d come with us.”

My very good and sensible friend Chelle offered an even better option. She said, “First of all, you’re not going blind. Second, even if you were, you’d still homeschool the girls. You’d learn to read braille. The girls would too. It would be their second language.”

And there it is, the reversal of fortune, the twist that drags possibility out of desolation. This is where I stumble. In a scenario that takes place entirely inside my head, you’d think I’d come up with better outcomes. I do it in my stories, all the time. Just not in my life.

I’ve got to learn to stop playing “What’s the Worst Thing That Could Happen?” After a week of blurry vision, I went to the eye doctor and had a thorough exam. My eyes are ridiculously healthy. A bit dry, maybe. The optomistrist gave me eyedrops. No blindness, then. Right.

Writing is my only healthy outlet for this whacked imagination. I’m sure it saves me from insanity — and divorce — and losing all my friends. I press my madness into fiction, and put my characters through the wringer. In stories, “the worst” makes for interesting reading. In life, it mostly means staying up past midnight wondering what disease could make the dog lose his hair like that. I’ll take fiction any day. So good luck on the book tour, Yuvi, and remember — what’s the worst thing that could happen?

How does your imagination serve — or fail — you? Got any good stories of fear and failure? Any encouraging words for Yuvi? Speak up!

20 thoughts on “What’s the Worst that Could Happen?

  1. I love this, Lisa! My mother used to tell me the EXACT same thing (another favorite adage: “It’s rarely as bad as you think or as good as you hope”), and as someone with an overly-active imagination, I, too, skid into dangerous territory! I am notorious for people not responding to emails and convincing myself that they hate me (on the minor end of the scale) to my husband coming home late from work and convincing myself he died in a car accident (on the more dramatic end of the spectrum). But yes — it is a double edged sword.

    • Yes, I have the email and the car accident fears as well! After every party, I am fairly certain I’ve embarrassed myself in at least 15 different ways. If only there was a switch, something to channel all of this imagination into the stories, and out of my everyday life! I suppose that might be boring, though? At least, we’re in it together. Thanks Elizabeth!

  2. After I left the business world, and before I dedicated the bulk of my time to all things writerly, I was doing carpentry. In the beginning I had a near-debilitating fear of heights. The first few times I had to work on rooftops, I started out with your mother’s technique, asking myself what’s the worst that could happen. After imagining myself laid out with a broken back or neck, unable to dial a cellphone, I decided I needed a new techinque to cope. I started focusing on the task at hand–literally and figuratively.

    Not looking down helped, but placing all of my attention on what needed to be done, moment by moment (literally, as in, “put your foot there, lay on your left hip, get out your hammer, fasten this corner of the sheet of plywood, etc.”), is what got me through those days. Afterward, you can look up from the safety of the ground and marvel at what you’d done. It feels great, and over time, you gain a bit of accummulative confidence (until the next roof).

    I sometimes have to remind myself to stay focused on the step before me, but this is how I’ve been navigating my path toward publication as well. If I look too far ahead, I get overwhelmed by angst. Fear hangs at my shoulder, but I don’t look down. I know I have a firm toe-hold, and I can do the task before me.

    Fun and funny post, Lisa! Glad you’re not going blind, and hope for fewer blurry spells and better days ahead! Congrats to Yuvi!

    • Thanks so much Vaughn. I love your idea of “Forward Focus”, keeping one’s attention on the immediate task at hand. I’ve been putting off and putting off a return to my messy novel and its demands for a complete overhaul. I’m going to take your approach and step back in, one movement at a time.

      I love your new post on this topic as well — “Taking the Long View” http://vaughnroycroftblog.com/2012/08/17/taking-the-longview/
      Everyone should check it out — great inspiration. (And a pack of wolves — can’t beat that!)

  3. Sounds like you’ve had some legitimately scary things to worry about! And I can relate to out of control worrying — I’m the same way. The first time I had a migraine with vision problems I was terrified I was having a stroke. Scary stuff. As my kids have gotten older and the worries get bigger, I really work to control my fears and worries with relaxation exercises. And it really helps to have a very sympathetic and reassuring husband. Hang in there Lisa!

  4. Luckily, you get to *live* the beautiful outcomes of your life in spite of your creative, feisty mind. And how amazing that a few little words can be a reversal of fortune. keep them coming!

    • What a great perspective, Sharon. Yes, I am glad that Chelle was right and I was wrong. And I’ll keep funnelling these crazy fears into the stories instead.

      Can’t wait to read your book on Stein!! It’s almost done — keep the faith. 🙂

  5. I wish I could think of some encouraging words for Yuvi. I could use them, too. My imagination has served (and failed) me in ways similar to ones you mentioned here. But in the past few years, I’ve had a lot less fear about awful diseases I might have according to WebMD, replaced by an all-encompassing fear of simply being able to go on at all. I fight that weariness by using my imagination to write as much fiction as I can.

    The serial on my blog is a response to feeling helpless about dwindling readership. If it’s a bad time to hold onto readers or entice new ones, I can at least exercise my imagination and writing skills and try to fool myself into thinking that’s the main point — self education. When it works, I think that kind of misdirection may be the best use for my imagination, maybe for anyone’s.

    • Re, those are dark and difficult fears, I know. I am glad you are fighting back against them with your writing, your lovely stories.

      I know how easy it is to feel as if we’re writing into a void, no one watching. But then I remember that the words are really (mostly) for me anyway. My dad says that even if I had no readers at all, I’d still have to write. He’s got it. I think you would too. I don’t see that as fooling ourselves. Maybe writing and imagination are just who we are, regardless of all else. Keep writing, Re. And thanks for sharing here. :>

  6. I always love the view you provide through your writings into the workings of your imaginative brain – even when said brain is working against your own peace of mind. I do this too – I think we all do. Since taking early retirement – mine is becoming that proverbial bag lady on the street because I will obviously run out of money before I die. Thank goodness for the rest of us that you turn your “worst things” into superb fiction. And you obviously have a gem of a husband.

    • Brenda, I’m always grateful that you somehow manage to appreciate my crazies!! And you can’t end up a bag lady, since your son will be a millionaire and patron to us all, right? I was counting on that with my kids, too, but (a) yours are older, and therefore closer to the millions, and (b) mine have just told me they plan to be actresses and dancers. I’m sunk.

  7. Pingback: Taking the Longview « Vaughn Roycroft's Blog

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  9. Can’t say I have a lot of wise words to offer…only to commiserate and share in that we can be our own worst enemies…and that I’m often asking myself what’s the worst? And – when I answer that honestly and realize that that ‘worst’ is unlikely..and then – that anything better than that will be a success.

    Love how you think..how you imagine..how you write!!!

    • Thank you! Yes, I have to realize the unlikelyhood of most of my fears. My imagination just runs away too quickly. 🙂

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  11. I’m here via Vaughn, and I’m glad I came.

    I’m prone to worry, too, which is why I know your mother missed a step. After you figure out the worst that could happen, which in my case–and likely yours–would be a mile long and immensely detailed, you’re supposed to figure out the probability of it happening, or how you’d cope or prevent it. Worry doesn’t care for such detailed analysis, and eventually a person develops a more accurate assessment of risks. Or so the thinking goes.

    I’m sure Yuvi’s going to rock at his readings, but if he doesn’t, he’ll have another killer video. 😉

    • Thanks Jan — so glad to see you here. Yes, I think worry gets worn out once logic steps in. But my imagination tends to move more quickly than anything else. Sometimes, the rest of me gets left behind.

  12. I have nothing new to add, really, but I love this discussion. Really honest answers! I come from a long line of worries. I think I’m a bit better able to “control” than my mom is . . . maybe just some old fashioned denial comes into play as tell myself all will be okay. It usually works. Anyway, I LOVE Yuvi’s videos. I’m his biggest fan. I swear. And I can’t wait to read his novel.

    And YUVI–how can you be afraid of speaking when you have the most soothing voice ever?

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