Fear of Falling

I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life – and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do. ”
– Georgia O’Keeffe

I’m high in the Beech tree. The highest I’ve let myself climb. I stand on the branch that I imagine myself scampering along if I was a squirrel. I envy the squirrels’ celebration of heights. If they are afraid of falling it never shows.  Do they waste time pondering whether or not they will fall from the tree?  I think not.  They simply leap.  I am witness to this courage.

Imagine a sidewalk running through the center of campus.  Imagine a fine, tall tree on either side.  Imagine that the squirrel will not cross the sidewalk to transport leaves from beneath one tree to the high branches of the other. The squirrel fills her mouth with oak leaves.  The brown bundle blocks her view. She climbs the trunk of the tree and scampers out to the thin branch.  She propels herself across space and catches hold of the slim branch of the nest tree.  The branch bends at her landing.  She darts along the pulsing branch to the trunk.  Up she climbs, mouth full of leaves to deposit them in her nest. She returns to the trunk, reverses her leap, runs down the trunk and onto the ground where she collects another mouthful.  She repeats this feat four times while I stand beneath her jumping point .

She is Georgia O’Keeffe without the terror.

I am not Georgia O’Keeffe. I am not a squirrel.

I am afraid to fall. Not from a tree, but from the expectations of myself as a writer. This fear has kept me upon lower branches. I have settled for the limited view. I do not trust my skill, my commitment, my sense that writing is a pursuit that requires climbing high and taking chances. How easily I climb the Weeping Beech, hoist myself into her branches. Not once do I fear falling as I let go of the branch to snap this photograph. I trust myself to balance.

And if the terror that Georgia O’Keeffe faced and overcame with so much working against her — society’s expectations about women, women artists as emotional outlets for sexuality, critics who defined her and her work by terms of her gender — than I, a woman of the 21st Century, can surely follow her example.

If I can climb a tree every day for a year and sit in its branches. If I can stand high in the tree and not feel fear of falling, I can sit down and trust myself to write a story.

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