Tag Archives: bravery

Grappling With Fear… the Making of Courage.

What is your greatest fear?

Today, we move onto the second question in the Proust Questionnaire, a tool many writers use to develop their character’s back story. Since I am the main character of the Book Project, I am going through the Proust Questionnaire myself and loving it.

While there are times most of us might struggle with even the concept of happiness (question 1), I’m sure most of us know fear. Indeed, if you’re anything like me, you could be well have your very own A-Z of fears, which you could could rattle off in a jiffy.

“Either you decide to stay in the shallow end of the pool or you go out in the ocean.”

Christopher Reeve

When I first started thinking about fear, I started revisiting those dreadful moments where I was completely paralyzed and clearly an emotional wreck. However, the more I worked through fear, I came to appreciate that fear is an inherent ingredient in its flip side…courage.

After all, without fear we can not be brave.

Consequently, instead of denigrating fear as an emotion and seeing it as purely negative, we can also re-brand it as a positive, uplifting emotion. That through embracing fear, challenge and overcoming hurdles, we find our inner strength and experience personal growth.

Getting back to answering the question at hand, of course, I could easily give you a simple one or two word response but where’s the fun in that? As much as I don’t really feel like exploring fear in all it’s goosepimpled glory, looking fear in the face and really feeling those emotions, that is the essence of writing.Immersing yourself into the character, the experience until you live and breathe through it’s heart, lungs and soul.

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”

Dale Carnegie

After all, writing, good writing, is not about skating over the top of the iceberg. No, it’s about diving deep and dealing with the unexpressed, the hard to comprehend, those feelings which are so incredibly painful that any sane sole would stay well and truly away. Yet, we plow on. We can’t leave those pages unturned…despite the personal cost!

“Either you decide to stay in the shallow end of the pool or you go out in the ocean.”

Christopher Reeve

While I posted a wide range of photos to show my happiest moments, my most fearful moments haven’t really been photographed and even if they were, they wouldn’t necessarily show the inner mechanics of fear which are perhaps concealed behind a seemingly calm veneer, a nervous smile or talking a thousand miles an hour to somehow calm my nerves.

However, when I truly think of fear, utter panic and all those alarm bells going off at once, there’s no greater representation of that enormous fear than Munch’s: The Scream. I actually have it near my desk, waiting to be framed and stuck on the wall. You see, I know that scream, the freak out very, very well.

Yet, although fear is portrayed as a bad thing and something to be avoided, fear is also part of any new experience, especially one which really stretches and challenges us, taking us out of our comfort zones creating growth.

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Nelson Mandela

Skiing down the mountain at Perisher in August 2013.

Skiing down the mountain at Perisher in August 2013.

One of my greatest personal triumphs was skiing down Perisher’s Front Valley with my ski instructor despite having a life-threatening, disabling auto-immune disease which attacks my muscles and lungs. I still remember standing at the top of the mountain gripping onto the edge by the skin of my toes, totally overwhelmed by a tsunami of fear. At the same time, I’d joined up with the Disabled Winter Sports’ Association and my instructor was well-trained and experienced at enabling people like me to ski as independently as possible but with support. Probably the very worst part of it was looking over the edge and seeing how small the village was down below and how the car park was full of “ants” and I felt like I was about to fly off the edge of a cliff into abyss.

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”

TS. Eliot

“What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?”

Vincent Van Gogh

Eventually, after a few falls and needing to stop to catch my breath, we arrived at the bottom. It didn’t feel like the exuberant triumph I’d expected but I’d pulled off my dream. Fulfilled a goal. Moreover, as much as I was afraid, I didn’t let that fear stop me from truly living. From seizing the day with both hands and swinging from the chandelier, even if my joy was, at best, subdued.

At the same time, I must confess that I haven’t skied down Front Valley a second time. That view from the top and the steepness of the slope was too much but I’ve subsequently skied through Happy Valley a few times and this time decided not to look down. Plus, my instructors carried my skis and boots back while I could the chairlift. (So you don’t have to go through fearful situations alone!)

“Courage is being scared to death… and saddling up anyway.”

John Wayne

I was also terrified when I was having my first session of chemo. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but it’s pretty scary having toxic stuff pumped into your veins…even if it is in a hospital. I half expected my veins to blow up, which naturally didn’t happen and I didn’t throw up or lose my hair either. I was suddenly somehow “lucky”.

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

However, another important aspect of going through fear and surviving those nasty experiences is that we develop resilience and we start developing the skills and attitudes which enable us to overcomes adversity not just now and then but every day. After all, life is all about tackling ups and downs and standing only makes you stagnant.

“By adversity are wrought the greatest works of admiration, and all the fair examples of renown, out of distress and misery are grown.”

Samuel Daniel

So, even when fear is completely and utterly justifiable in a situation, the monstrous picture your imagination paints is often far worse than reality and you somehow manage not only to survive but feel a bit victorious…a real sense of achievement.

“To him who is in fear everything rustles.”

Sophocles

Phobias are a different story. A phobia is defined as an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something. Phobias come in all shapes and sizes but spiders, snakes, mice, heights are a few classics. While it is good to have a healthy respect for deadly critters(trust me Australia has more than its share of these!!), being terrified of these things and letting them get in the way of living is a different story.

“There are very few monsters who warrant the fear we have of them”.

Andre Gide

Jaws...even the theme music inspired dread.

Jaws…even the theme music inspired dread.

At the same time, fear can also be protective and what might be a phobia can also be a real and very life-threatening. It’s not something to simply shrug off and ignore. I’ve never been scared of sharks but lately there’s been a string of shark attacks on Australia’s East Coast. Indeed, there’s been 13 shark attacks in New South Wales in 2015*. We’ll be off to Byron Bay again soon, which is right near a few of these attacks and it really is questionable whether we should swim in these shark infested waters. Do we love swimming that much? I don’t think so but I will seek local advice when we get there. To me, this is just being sensible…the same way I would go swimming with croco9diles in the Northern Territory.

“Let us not pray to be sheltered from dangers but to be fearless when facing them.”

Rabindranath Tagore

The more I considered fear, the more I came to realise that fear was also coupled with courage, especially when we face our fears, instead of fleeing to the hills. Being prepared, having some training, tools etc obviously increases the likelihood of victory and a good outcome.

“I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.”

Louisa May Alcott

What are your thoughts about fear and the interplay between fear and courage?

xx Rowena

Sources:

https://taronga.org.au/conservation/conservation-science-research/australian-shark-attack-file/2015

Going Home

While some might enjoy a spirit of adventure and exploration, for others, there is “no place like home” and they will do whatever it takes to get back…just think of Lassie!

No doubt, we all know someone who has attempted a sea or tree change. What starts out as some kind of glorious utopian vision, soon falls back down to earth…not unlike a pair of clapped out underpants with bung elastic.  For some, it doesn’t take long and they’ve soon sold up and moved back home finding happiness on those familiar, well-worn paths. After all, the grass isn’t always greener and in the case of Australian immigrants, the grass could well be brown.

ET Phone Home

ET Phone Home

If you traveled overseas in the days before email and Skype, then you’ll also know what it means to be homesick. Phoning was prohibitively expensive and you were pretty much dependent on the letter.

Due to the high costs of traveling to Europe, it has been a right of passage for many young Australians to do a stint in Europe, rather than a quick, fleeting visit. In 1992, after finishing uni, I also set off but rather than following the road well traveled to the UK, I lived in Germany instead.  Even though I’d traveled solo before, it was quite a different thing going for the long haul and being on the other side of the world. Humph, I admit to shedding more than a few tears in Heidelberg railways station and desperately feeding coins into a very greedy payphone just to say: “hello”. I was a wreck and if I hadn’t had such a big farewell party only a week before, I too could have found myself on a plane home.

So, I guess I could understand that being so far away from home isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. That home is where the heart is and sometimes that pull can be way too strong to stay away.

Rewinding the clock back to 1964, aspiring Australian athlete, Reg Spiers, was living and training in London. For me, I can’t think of much more exciting than being in London during the 1960s.  Being a huge John Lennon fan, The Beatles would have to top the list but the whole scene would have been incredible and I’ve provided a link through to this photo montage of 60s London to get you in the mood: http://www.bbcamerica.com/anglophenia/2013/08/snapshot-25-photos-of-1960s-london/

However, as the saying goes, home is where the heart is and for Reg Spiers, who desperately wanted to get back to Australia for his daughter’s birthday, London had become more of a prison. With no money to buy a plane ticket, he applied a bit of lateral thinking and decided to post himself home in a wooden crate. You can read about his incredible story here: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-31700049?post_id=770163024_10152981388113025#_=_

Inspired by Spiers’ story, Welshman Brian Robson who was living in Sydney at the time, attempted a copycat manoeuvre and decided to post himself back to Wales. Although The Beatles came to Australia in 1964, it wasn’t exactly Europe. Here’s a link to a movie showing life in Sydney two years later in 1966: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vR1CU8NjGW0

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”-Steve Jobs

Robson had emigrated to Australia as part of the “10 pound Pom” assisted immigration scheme. However, almost as soon as he arrived, he’d had something of an allergic reaction to the place and had to get out.

Leaving, on the other hand, wasn’t going to be easy. While Robson had enjoyed subsidized travel costs to get here, the catch was that he was obligated to stay in Australia for 2 years.  Only then, would he be issued with a passport, which would allow him to leave legally. Two years felt like a death sentence at the time and so inspired by Spier’s story, he decided to do the reverse journey. However, his trip was fraught with struggle and complications, including an extensive detour to America where he was discovered barely alive. Naturally, his story attracted media attention and rather than being charged, he was flown back to the UK First Class.

So you could say all’s well that ends well.

“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”

Muhammad Ali

As a serious Australian history affectionado, I am quite surprised that I’ve never come across these stories before and am not impressed that I found out about it via the BBC. We live in such a fabulous country and yet there is still that element of cultural cringe. So many Australians know so little about our own history and culture.

While these stories are funny and entertaining, it resonates that although life might be a thrilling adventure, there’s no place like home.

Well, actually, to be honest, I’m currently on holidays and couldn’t wait to get away from home but that’s another story…

There’s no place like home: www.youtube.com/watch?v=zJ6VT7ciR1o

"There's no place like home!"

“There’s no place like home!”

This is my contribution to the Blogging from A-Z Challenge.

xx Rowena

Click Go the Shears, Dog!

“Click goes his shears; click, click, click.

Wide are the blows, and his hand is moving quick,

The ringer looks round, for he lost it by a blow,

And he curses that old shearer with the bare belled ewe.”

Click Go the Shears:  The tune is an adaptation of the American Civil War song “Ring the Bell, Watchman” by Henry Clay Work and the first verse follows closely, in parody, Work’s lyrics as well.

Tom Roberts: "Shearing the Rams" 1890.

Tom Roberts: “Shearing the Rams” 1890. Bilbo is almost as woolly as a sheep.

Bilbo, our very woolly, mature-aged Border Collie,  is about to get shorn like a sheep and it’s going to be a real test of endurance not just for the dog groomer but also for Geoff who will be standing in the dog float with him. Bilbo became quite disturbed when I unceremoniously bathed him a few weeks ago with the garden hose out in the back. We’re Australian and both humans and dogs are tough and it’s not often that they receive the royal salon treatment. However, when it comes to the hose and the vacuum cleaner, Bilbo is a pussy cat. Actually, he’s more of a chicken!

Instead of going to the dog salon, the salon is coming to us.

Instead of going to the dog salon, the salon is coming to us.

That’s right. All his glamorous fur is coming off. Not so long ago, Bilbo’s beautiful black & white fluffy coat would have been the envy of many a Hollywood starlet. That was until he stood out in the rain once too often while his winter coat was shedding and it fused into a wadded clump. Brushing, brushing and more brushing and even strategic snips, did little to improve the situation…especially as he was staging a stubbornly  determined campaign of full-scale avoidance, fleeing whenever  we approached his rump with the brush. It reminded me of the classic children’s book: Harry the Dirty Dog written by Gene Zion and illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham. Harry dug a hole and buried his scrubbing brush and ran away. Bilbo has come very close to doing just that.

Bilbo out on the kayak with Geoff.

Bilbo out on the kayak with Geoff.

I know I’ve shared about Bilbo’s intrepid adventures in previous posts. He’s gone sailing, kayaked and looking at the publicity shots, you’d have to say he is quite the intrepid adventurer.

However, contrary to popular belief, the camera lies. Indeed, it can tell the biggest, most seemingly believable, porky pies because, as we’ve been told, the camera never lies!! It sees what it sees. However, it makes the moment seem eternal and can give a fleeting moment a sense of eternity when it was perhaps a moment in time…and an exceptional moment at that!

Despite his bold, audacious and almost ferocious warnings to the postman, Bilbo is bark and all fright. Unlike Lady who greets anybody and everybody at the front door with enthusiastic tail wagging and thump thump thump at accelerating speeds, Bilbo avoids strangers. He generally doesn’t like being patted until he’s really warmed up to people, even those he sees regularly…except for my mother AKA “Ham-Ma”  who has been feeding him ham scraps even since he was a pup.He doesn’t even bark when her car pulls up. Like most dogs, even Bilbo’s love and trust is easily bought.

Perhaps, if I’d offered him food treats every time I tried to brush his rump, his fur might not have ended up in the knotted mess it’s in. Bilbo is the ultimate avoider and doesn’t understand anything about a stitch in time.

Hence, the clip.

I did try to attend to Bilbo’s woes myself and apart from nightly brushing and judicious use of the scissors, I also  gave the mutt a bath. Bilbo has only had a bath once before and to be quite   honest, he hasn’t needed a bath before either. He usually maintains his coat well himself with minimal intervention and never smells.

The beast looks relatively calm here but the hose is off.

The bath. Here the beast looks relatively calm  but the hose is off. He was wild…absolutely wild!!

That’s all changed and he currently stinks…I mean really sticks and his fur is greasy, matting and he seems to have a flea allergy. We’re getting the coat off and then expect to take him to the vet. Get him sorted.

Any moment now, the dog groomer is going to pull up and I am feeling quite nervous. I really don’t know how this is going to pan out. He went ballistic at the hose last week biting the water and lunging at me with his claws out. He gave mister quite a fright and left scratches in my legs. He can get quite skittish in some situations.

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.
– Nelson Mandela

Yet, Bilbo is not afraid. He’s asleep on the floor, oblivious to his impending ordeal. Instead, it’s me feeling the fear and trying to be brave.

Oh dear…they’ve just pulled up. Wish us luck. We’re going to need it!!

How do you have any tales to tell about your dog and baths and trips to the salon?

Meanwhile, have a Happy Valentine’s Day!