My girls love to sing. Whether it’s belting out Taylor Swift from the back seat of the car, or acting out musical theater in the living room, it’s one of their favorite things to do. Lily, who is 6, unabashedly prances through life with toes tapping, arms swaying, and curls bouncing in time with the song that plays perpetually in her head. Gracie, who is 8, is constantly asking for me to watch. “Listen, Mommy!” she insists. “Don’t I sound EXACTLY like her?” I nod, and smile, and agree, that YES, she sounds just like that Tony-Award-Winning Broadway Headliner. EXACTLY. Lucy, who is 10, used to be just like her sisters. Pushing her way to the center of the stage. Charming us all with her made-up songs. But these days, she’s reluctant to join in on the performance. I catch snippets of her singing behind the closed door of her bedroom. But when I try to poke my head in to see, her requests have changed.
“Don’t watch, Mommy.”
When did this happen? How did this happen? When did she go from being sure she would be a four-chair-turn on The Voice to hiding in the background? I know you’ll say it’s normal. It’s life, maturity, growth. Maybe you’ll even say it’s realistic, more true. But if we start life in our purest form…confident, sure of ourselves, not afraid of what people will say, or how we will be judged, why wouldn’t we try to get back to that place? What would it take to get us there?
In the picture book, SHEILA RAE, THE BRAVE, by Kevin Henkes, we find a mouse that is all of these things. Sure. Confident. And not afraid of anything. In fact, “At dinner, Sheila Rae made believe that the cherries in her fruit cocktail were the eyes of dead bears, and she ate five of them.” BOOM. Sheila Rae is already my hero. She approaches the world with boldness. She “pretended that the trees were evil creatures,” and didn’t run away, but instead, “She climbed up them and broke their fingers off. Snap, snap, snap.” Sheila Rae walks out the door of her home, knowing she can conquer the world, whatever may come.
We get a bit of a contrast in Sheila Rae’s sister, Louise. Louise is more cautious. She watches Sheila Rae and hangs back behind her. She lets Sheila Rae deal with the monsters in their closet, and the bullies on the playground. But when a real-life scary moment comes, and Sheila Rae gets lost, you can guess who saves the day. Louise is able to dig deep underneath the fearfulness and access that same confidence she sees in her big sister. She is able to get them home.
Most of us, somewhere along the way, lost the belief that we could conquer the world. We started out life like my Gracie, believing that Broadway was a certainty…believing we measured up. We believed, like Sheila Rae, that there were no trees or monsters or bullies that could get in our way. But at some point, we lost it. Like my Lucy, we started hiding. We felt the eyes of the world watching us. And we stopped believing. Was it at 10? 16? 29?
Putting our art into the world is scary. It’s the eyes-of-dead-bears-on-our-dinner-plates kind of scary. We write, or we sketch, and we think that maybe it’s not good. We get scared. We do our work: we write, revise, get feedback, write some more, revise some more, get more feedback…if you’ve been hanging out here at Sub it Club for any length of time, you know the drill. But when it comes time to send it out, suddenly the trees transform into evil creatures and threaten to swallow us up with their nefarious branches, and we scamper down, deciding that hiding behind it is much more appealing than climbing up it to snap off its fingers. We get lost in a forest of what-ifs.
What-if that zooplankton-saves-the-world story you just wrote is terrible? What-if you send it out and they laugh? Or roll their eyes? Or sigh in exasperation, losing all hope in the future of publishing?
Playing the what-if game can stop us from ever moving forward toward our goals. But what-if we took those what-ifs and turned them on their head?
What-if that story, that picture, is the best thing you’ve ever done? What-if there’s an editor out there with an inexplicable love of zooplankton, just waiting for that story to land on their desk? How will we know unless we are willing to send it out? We need to dig out from underneath the fear, and get ourselves back to the place where we were confident, sure of ourselves, not afraid of what others would think of us.
We need to gobble up those dead bear eyes.
We need to snap off those evil creature fingers.
We need to go all Sheila Rae on the publishing industry.
We need to believe.