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Friday, November 5, 2010

fearLESS Friday with Karen Willard

Week 16
Today I have the privilege of introducing you to Karen Willard.  I took a leap a few years back and began facilitating writing groups for women.  Karen happened upon the flyer I had placed around town and showed up for the beginning of what was a very deep and beautifully connecting experience of women writing with women.  The first evening we met, I knew we would become friends.  And we did and we are and I am very grateful for that. She's deep and beautiful, on the inside and on the outside.  And she has a lovely way of noticing the beauty around her and capturing it with words and with photos.

Karen, thank you so much for gracing us with your presence today, it is truly an honor to have you here..  

By Karen Willard

Fear.  I have often joked about having a fear-based life.  Like a foundational compass I would base decisions on what feared me the most and then methodically move in the opposite direction.  It wasn’t about freedom or joy or about being broken open like an egg from its shell.  No.  It was about feeling safe, which of course has nothing to do with wholeness.  This fear avoidance produced a false sense of stability, seemingly without risks.  Did the fear of the unknown rule?  Usually. 

I don’t want to paint a slanted portrait here.  I do take risks, but not without my share of inner angst.  And when I decide to do something that flat out scares me, I most certainly don’t let go and let God as they say.  Simple concrete example (I tend to write in abstracts):  I don’t feel comfortable driving at night because I can’t see well.  If it’s raining and dark, well, let’s just say I’m a road hazard. I made a late hair appointment this week in Corvallis, which is an hour away from home.  I knew it could be dicey if it was raining (and in Oregon in November chances high it will), but vanity won and I drove white knuckled through a downpour with fear as was my driving companion all the way home.  It would have been easy to reschedule an appointment or (God forbid) find a stylist where I live, but I decided to be brave - small as it may seem - because I know fear can be like a holdfast.  We need to shake it loose.

Okay, so where am I going with this.  More abstract. 

Dreaming is sacred territory to me.  I feel the feelings in my dreams more than remember the details, but sometimes both are vivid.  Most of the time I think they are meaningful. So when fear begins to bleed into my dreams I pay more attention.  Last night I had a dream I was being attacked by a man behind a curtain (yes, the proverbial one.)  I ran out of this dilapidated hotel room screaming, “Somebody help me!” over and over.  My spiked, frantic breathing woke me up.  Yikes, where did that come from?  Was it my prompt for this writing?  I know . . . a stretch. 

Speaking of which, when I read Julia’s reason for beginning her FearLESS Friday I thought, this is good.  Who can’t relate to being afraid?  So we take one day and try not to let things scare us so much.  But what about that dream where I’m screaming for help?  Where does that fear fit in? It could have been rooted from The Journey, Mary Oliver’s poem about a wild night, a road full of fallen branches and stones, and finally reaching out to save the only person you can, which of course is you.  It’s my favorite.  I’ve known this poem for a long time, read it and shared it and tried to reach this depth in my own poetry writing.   Earlier that day I heard Mary read it.  I was at home alone with the computer linked to the Women’s Conference held last month in Los Angeles.  I turned it up and went about doing what I normally do when I have an afternoon free, which are about four things at once. When I heard Maria Shriver introduce Mary Oliver, I made a point to sit down and really listen.  Mary likes to walk and watch nature close up (read Grasshopper or Geese.) As she made her way to the podium I imagined her walking along the pond near her home, the pond she often writes about.  When she read The Journey I felt tears fill my eyes.  I was surprised by my reaction until I realized it was because she was reading her poem.  Not me in my head, not me to a friend but Mary, reading this poem she found deep inside, speaking this truth about finding oneself amidst the melancholy and the cries for help.  I sat there with tears for all of us struggling to be true to ourselves.  We are in this together, merging and meeting, with each other and with ourselves, all trying to rise above our own misconceptions, all trying to find our peace and our place in this messed-up, beautiful world.

I work as a volunteer coordinator advocating for children who have become wards of the state due to abuse or neglect.  I sit in a courtroom for part of each day, watching parents, most of who struggle with substance abuse, lose custody of their children.  I see rock bottom every day.   

We all have stuff.  This is what my best friend told me after being diagnosed a couple weeks ago with Hodgkin's lymphoma.  Still reeling from the news, ironically, she picked me up off the floor.  "We all have our stuff.”  She said.  “For some it's family, for others it’s their job, or losing a child.  This is just my stuff."  (See why she’s my best friend?)

Is she afraid?  Sure.  Fear is there.  But she is choosing not to let the fear consume her.  It's present, but it's not omnipresent.  Fear is a constant, like the wind.  It swirls like a dervish picking up leaves of doubt. We watch it dwindle.  Eventually it dies.  Even the strongest tornado ends.  Sometimes the fear creates a dust devil, other times it blows gently against our skin.  It can be still. We make peace with our choices.  We make peace with our fear. 

Hello there, want to dance?  We twirl around and maybe even work up a fast sweat.  We dance slow and close and feel its breath on our neck, the pressure against our chest. And then we let go and head for the punch bowl. Because dancing with fear can work up a thirst.

Karen currently works for Yamhill County CASA as a Volunteer Coordinator.  She has been a photojournalist, writer, poet, and painter and sometimes she still is.  She moved three years ago to McMinnville and has found her place, surrounded by old brick, countless vineyards, rolling hills, and some of the nicest people.  

The Journey
~ Mary Oliver ~

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice --
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do --
determined to save
the only life you could save.


  1. So good to see Karen here contributing to Fearless Friday! Miss you, Karen, and your writing! Thanks for this beautiful, honest, thought-provoking post! Sending love to you. Hope to hear more from you. So good to read the Mary Oliver poem again.

  2. a beautiful read ~ thank you karen & julia.

  3. Julia... Karen...

    Oh, how I LOVE Mary Oliver! I was introduced to her last year at Esalen, in California. Ah... it's like getting into a hot bubble bath when I read her words.

    Karen, I was utterly riveted reading your post. Thank you so much. Just like the ocean, my being regularly generates little rock bottoms, providing acute - yet perhaps to the external observer inconsequential - moments of crystal clear choice: love, or fear. Can I choose love in the midst of fear? (For me this is exactly what you wrote about). It is the tiny moments - the night driving, the intense desire to break eye contact, the compelling urge to withdraw into myself - that determine the path I walk down.

    Today, I read and absorbed your words, and I know that the path I choose leads me all the way Home.


  4. Inspiring and beautiful and true. Thank you for this Julia and Karen.


What are you thinking/feeling? I'd really love to know...

♥ Julia