I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.  Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear

Last week, I went on a short vacation with my husband.  We went to Santa Fe and Albuquerque, and had a lot of fun.  In the middle of the vacation, though, was the regional Arts and Sciences competition for the Kingdom of the Outlands in the Society for Creative Anachronism.

I had decided at the last minute to enter.  Literally at the last minute.  The registration cutoff was 11:59pm Sunday March 29th and my registration was emailed off at 11:15pm that night.  And because of a confusion (the Kingdom Minister of Arts and Sciences email not catching it until the next day) I almost didn’t get to compete.  We got that straightened out, and for two weeks I worried about my entry, about how it wasn’t good enough.

I almost backed out a million times (only a slight exaggeration).   Conall, who is a wonderful man and who has the patience of a saint (no exaggeration) kept advising me to wait before sending in the “I changed my mind” letter.  I waited, and waited, and waited.  And eventually didn’t back out of the competition.

I had some good reasons for backing out, I thought.   I only had one item, and it was small, not at all like the really spiffy things other people were going to enter.  Taking the time away was going to inconvenience family members who would then have to take care of the MiLwhile we were away.  The competition was Easter weekend, and usually the family does something together Easter weekend.  The best reason was that all of my research, all of my documentation, was on the laptop.  You know, the computer that croaked.  The computer that sat as a nice, expensive, doorstop in it’s nice leather computer bag, waiting for me to decide what to do with it (either fix it or save up the money to get a new one).  Yeah, that computer.  All of my research, all of the documentation I’d already done, hours upon hours of it, gone.  How could I redo all of that in such a short time?

My heart sister came to the rescue.  She is a pack rat, and doesn’t get rid of anything.  A few years back, I sent her a copy of documentation to proof-read for me.  She had it still, and sent it back.  That at least gave me a starting point.  I installed MSWorks on Conall’s computer (which he didn’t have before) and set about making new documentation.  In the process of trying to find the source of some quote I’d written but not attributed, I found a new to me website that has more scanned books on lace that I can use in the future, but I digress into lace geekery.

While I had good excuses reasons for wanting to back out, the real reason was fear.

I was afraid of being told I was a pretender.   That I had no knowledge and no skill and why was I even thinking about entering our version of the Olympics?  I was afraid I’d be laughed out of the competition and the Kingdom as a know nothing.

Now, I had some basis for my fear.  Every time, when I was living with the parents, I tried something new, I was told how terrible I was.  Not just how terrible my first attempts at something new was, but how terrible I was that I wasn’t perfect the first time, and every time after that.  I still won’t crochet to this day.  Oh, I can do it, I made sure I learned when I was in high school, just to prove to myself that I could.  But trying to learn from my mother was such a painful experience that I still, 30+ years later, have no desire to ever pick up a crochet hook.  At one point, I remember my mother accusing me of pretending to not “get it” just to spite her. 

This happened with everything I ever tried.  I have a small aptitude for drawing, but have to practice to become good at it.  Because I couldn’t “get it” right away, I was told it was crap.  Writing, my favorite of all subjects, was thoroughly reviled.  Not only was I not good, but since I wanted to be a journalist, I was going to lie to all and sundrey about what was going on in the world.

Every time I tried to do anything creative, I was denounced for it.

And while all that stopped a long time ago, the programming still exists.

At some point in that two weeks between sending the letter (and getting the ethernet confusion straightened out) and last Saturday, I realized that my reasons were just excuses, and that my excuses were covering up my fears. 

I met my fear head on, and stayed in the competition.  I even went so far as to bring the piece of lace where I didn’t get it, where it was obviously not what it was supposed to be.  I had it on my table as a comparison for people to see what isn’t right and what is right in this form of lace making.  I also had the piece I’m working on now, which is so much more complex than the piece I entered, to show where I am going.

I must have talked to at least 50 people (not including the two people judging me).  Many people only got the 5 minute version, then their eyes would glaze over.  Hey, just because we are all recreating some aspect of the middle ages, that doesn’t mean everybody shares my passion for early needle lace.  But there were also a bunch of people who were really interested, and I had lively discussions with at least 20 people.

It was fun, it was good, and I’m glad I faced my fear.  Because of facing my fear, I had the opportunityto talk with a lot of people about something that I love.  I had the opportunity to show the type of lace making people were doing in the late 1500’s, and introduce some people to an art they’d never heard of before.

If for no other reason, facing my fear was worth it.  The fact that a couple of spiffy things happened as well (I was given a book of lace pictures, totally unexpected on my part, and I won the lace making division — but there was only one entrant so that doesn’t really count) is bonus.

Fear is a very hard thing to overcome.  There’s been so much in my life I’ve dealt with, that I’m still dealing with.  So much to face and overcome.  Fear is one of those things that keeps coming up.  Every time I try something new.  Every time I put myself out to be noticed.  Every time I face success (not failure, I know how to fail). 

Each time I successfully face it and come through the other side, I find I’m stronger for having done so.  Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.  For all that it is a fictional litany against fear, it is true.  The fear left me sometime Saturday morning as I was talking with people and sharing my knowledge and passion.  I found I enjoyed myself, and I had fun.


3 Responses

  1. It’s not true that winning the lace making division doesn’t count if you were the only entry. The judges could well have decided to not award you anything, or whatever the SCA equivalent of a certificate of participation thanks-but-no-thanks award is. 🙂 I’ve seen it happen at other arts and crafts competitions. Obviously they thought your work was of a good enough standard to be awarded the prize!

  2. Fear of Success.


    ‘The Litany Against Fear’ is one of the many piercing points that makes the genius of Herbert’s ‘Dune’ blaze. Fictional or not, the words and the humanist philosophy they’re based on, are powerful. They carry the weight of logic, of a rationality so powerful that often, in times of darkness, I’ve caught myself reciting them under my breath. Because they just make sense.

    In the struggle against fear, what else do you need?

  3. Ha! I just came here to say the same thing as La Di Da. My in-laws have been 4-H instructors, so I tend to pay attention to the judging at the county fair. It’s not so much the kids’ projects, which tend to get some kind of recognition or ribbon regardless of how they come out (though I think they will give constructive critical feedback if it seems clear a kid didn’t put any effort into the project), but in the adult open-class stuff they will not give an entry a blue ribbon just because it’s the only one. I sort of like that, because the entrants are all grown-ups and are given the judging standard ahead of time, so why insult people’s intelligence by telling them something is super-awesome when everyone knows perfectly well it’s slapped together or didn’t meet the criteria? I would think this makes it cooler to get the blue ribbon or Best in Show because you know you earned it.

    I also think that the fact that there are very few entries in categories like lace simply means that not a lot of people are equipped with the technical skills and/or research stamina to really become expert in a relatively obscure and challenging area. My grandmother taught me to knit and crochet… but even though she was a very good tatter (I have a tatting hook that she won in a competition that is labeled 1917–very cool) it’s not exactly something she would have tried to teach to a young granddaughter. 🙂 In any case, just because you aren’t going up against lots of other entrants doesn’t have to mean that you didn’t “really” win. I know you know this, but I just thought I would reinforce it. 🙂

    Anyway, I enjoyed this entry and you are so right that not giving in to fear can be so instructive. More often than not, you are terrified going in and it’s SO much better than you had feared it would be. And even if one does goof up (which is also a learning experience… I’m saying that to remind myself as much as anything, ha ha), it can’t be as bad as the disaster your brain was envisioning, so it is usually quite productive to face the fear and go through with a scary or unknown thing.

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