A Chill Up the Spine

By Cerridwen Aker

I’ve been sitting with fear a lot lately. Not in a crippling sense, but casually--like we arrange to meet a couple times a week for coffee. But still, it’s there. So I've started to explore it to better understand how fear can both control and liberate us as writers.

Adrienne Rich writes, “Lying is done with words and also with silence.” As I work on my senior thesis, I'm attempting to slice those barriers of silence within my family, and to expose narratives of trauma and redemption in my maternal line. But I have come to realize that with the nature of this work, it is easy to keep myself at a distance. There is safety in looking at it from afar, and that’s a problem.

A dear friend and Goddard College BFA graduate, Seema Reza, posted an exercise to her blog a few months ago (you really should check it out here). Her assignment was to propose twelve specific unanswerable questions to yourself, and then try to answer them.

And I did.

I bartend, usually late. Afterward I ride the train home through a quiet city with the slick sound of rain against the windows. During such a train ride I began to scratch out my twelve, and you know what came up? A boatload of fear. Sitting with those twelve questions was so uncomfortable. All my questions represent uncertainty, loss, discontent, shame, and the ways I run from actualizing myself as a writer and an individual.

Then I started thinking about our journal, which “seeks authenticity & soulfulness, earthiness & expressiveness, a chill up the spine.” How powerful that ‘authenticity’ and 'a chill up the spine’ are in the same sentence, representing our ideals at Duende. While these qualities are an accumulation of things, sure, I believe fear is at the core. 

Personally, I tend to evade conflict. I’m highly skilled in avoidance tactics. But lately I’m seeing fear as something else—not polarizing, but inspiring. Something that chases us forward. And that’s just it—a chase. I run while it follows, but that’s the point; to drive me toward something raw. It is visceral: a spasm in the stomach, curling toes, a chill up the spine.

Whatever you are currently working on or thinking of submitting, I encourage you to sit with this doubt, at least for a little while. Write your twelve questions. You won’t be disappointed. There are only a few days left to submit to Duende. Share your fear with us.