Rewrites and Scary Closets
by Jennifer Paros
“When people stop scaring themselves and start calming themselves, they become far more productive and successful in every aspect of their lives.”
Recently I received a letter from my editor that the book I’ve been working on needs to be revamped . . . again. And although I am grateful to be in a working relationship with an editor I so respect and who is supportive, I started to think that I simply can’t do it. I looked at my book and saw it, not just as a draft, but as a mess. My heart became heavy and suddenly running and hiding seemed an attractive option. All from my attention to one little thought.
When I go in to read with my son before his bedtime, he is often concerned about the doors of his closet. His closet, which is more like a cupboard really, has two narrow doors that open into a space, the bottom half of which is filled with shelves of toys and games, and the top half of which has room for his clothing. He does not like these doors left open and has told me many times they must be closed.
I would show him everything in that closet (he’s already seen it) - I would reveal the walls, shelves, and back with a flashlight if I thought it would relieve him of his fear, but I understand it would not. No amount of what we consider “evidence” will take away my son’s fear, for the closet and its ominous open doors are only serving as a catalyst for thoughts that are frightening him. And those thoughts are coming from him regardless of what the closet is up to.
But if my son and I stay stuck on thinking the fear is truly a product of an open closet or a rewrite, we doom ourselves to trying to control outside situations while ultimately ignoring the power we do have. There is nothing inherently frightening in rewriting and nothing inherently frightening in a closet, but whatis frightening is the belief that something outside of us can take away our power and make us unhappy.
In Snow White, the “Evil” Queen is really only a very insecure and fearful person. (Don’t worry - I’m not siding with her). Why else ask a magic mirror repeatedly what it thinks of her? She fears she’s not good enough and so turns to something outside of her for what it thinks – over and over. “Am I okay now? Am I okay now? Now, am I okay?” And low and behold, it just reflects back her own fears.
The Queen goes on to act from that fear and attempts to wipe out Snow White, but none of it works. Trying to manipulate or control outside conditions never brings true security and almost always delivers a greater more disturbing despair.
Just as making sure the closet doors are closed never truly releases my son from his fears. But the thoughts that got us into this mess in the first place say, “But, let’s just try one more time. Maybe this would work. If I could just . . .then I’d be happy.”
“If you’re doing things to be happy, you’re doing them in the wrong order.”
In fairytales the ones who flourish are the ones that summon the best of themselves for the giving. They are marked by kindness and acceptance. Unlike those who try to secure their happiness via control (sometimes maniacal and always desperate), our heroes and heroines find their way from the goodness within.
As long as my peace of mind seems to depend upon the state of my book, I’ll be haunted by the same sort of desperation and insecurity that drove the Queen, which will overshadow my love of the creative process, obscuring what I have to offer. And as long as my son thinks that his sense of safety depends upon those doors being shut, he too will feel insecure. For there is only one way to be calm and that is by calming ourselves, and only one way to be happy and that is in focusing on what feels good within us. And when we summon that forth, just like in the fairytales, a sense of hope fills our efforts and life reflects that kindness and joy right back to us.
Jennifer Paros is a writer, illustrator, and author of Violet Bing and the Grand House (Viking, 2007). She lives in Seattle.