Wednesday, September 12, 2012



CBC radio recently produced a series of programs on the topic of fear. I didn’t hear all of them but I did hear one about dying. One of the speakers was a palliative care physician who had attended more than 1,000 dying patients. He said that almost everyone who spoke to him said that their first and most overwhelming fear was that they would suffer pain. Once they believed pain would be controlled the second most common fear was that after they died they would be forgotten.

Of course, in time, unless we are famous and even that is no guarantee, we all will be forgotten.

But the things we make may still be here and celebrated.

It occurred to me that subconsciously people create books, paintings or music in the hope that these works will survive and remind future generations that their creators existed even if their names are no longer known. Think of prehistoric wall paintings, of biblical texts and of treasured books and works of art. I have a crazy quilt with someone’s initials and the date, Feb. 1908, a record that the creator lived and was proud of her work.

Of course fear of being forgotten is not the primary reason for creativity but I suspect that, whether or not we acknowledge it, somewhere in our subconscious we feel that way.

This wish to have our creations remain may inhibit our efforts if we fear not being able to meet our own standards, having our work survive and not be as good as it could have been.This can stop the creative process as effectively as a roadblock stops a truck. What if it isn’t good enough? What if I can’t get the effect I want? The questions bubble up to challenge us.

The answer of course is as Franklin Roosevelt said in his inaugural speech, ‘all we have to fear is fear itself.’ Once we cope with that bugaboo we can get on with the job. Writing the story, the chapter, the book - the work that will outlast us.

A member of the Ladies Killing Circle, Joan Boswell co-edited four of their short story anthologies: Fit to Die, Bone Dance, Boomers Go Bad and Going Out With a Bang. Her three mysteries, Cut Off His Tale, Cut to the Quick and, Cut and Run were published in 2005, 2007 and 2007. The latest in the series, Cut to the Bone, will be published by Dundurn in November. In 2000 she won the $10,000 Toronto Star’s short story contest. Joan lives in Toronto with three flat-coated retrievers.

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