Personal Writing,  Writing Retreat Reflections

Here comes the sun

I’m afraid of the dark.

I always have been.

My first fears grew from when we’d visit my grandparents all the way across the state in the southwest corner of North Dakota. Darkness has a new definition in the most remote parts of the world. I’d wake up in the middle of the night and put my hand up in front of my face and not be able to even see the faintest of outlines. There were no nightlights to give off a friendly glow. And forget about going to the bathroom.

I vividly remember fearfully getting out of bed and taking a few terrified steps, praying that I wouldn’t step on a spider or that something wouldn’t grab me from the pitch blackness. I never made it to the bathroom. Instead, I’d scurry back towards my bed, frantically flailing my arms to find it. Once under the sheets, I would tuck my legs into my flannel nightgown and try to make myself as small as I could so that whatever was roaming in the dark would pass over me.

When I was a young teenager, I remember waking in the middle of the night, never as dark because we lived in town but still black enough, and hearing my parents “fighting.” There was never screaming, but rather low pitched voices, sometimes a kind of pleading cry. Never any laughter or joy. They were on the cusp of divorce, and they, like all good adults, waited until the kids had gone to bed to discuss the unraveling of their marriage and our lives.

So I don’t find comfort in the dark. I don’t feel like it’s a warm blanket wrapping me up, holding me close. At best, darkness is a stranger I need to be wary of. At worst, thanks to my incredibly vivid imagination, it’s a faceless, nameless terror waiting to whisk me away to someplace even deeper and darker.

So I’m feeling some real anxiety because I’ve been handed a glorious gift. It’s a gift of the one thing I have absolutely always prized most in my life: time.

I applied for and was awarded a two-week writing residency that runs from September 2-16. For two glorious weeks, I am not going to have to let the dog out (or back in) every six minutes. For two weeks, I don’t have to think about the arts sector in my community. For two weeks, when I wake up, the entire day is mine to do with as I please. For two weeks, I can read and write to my heart’s content.

It sounds like heaven.

Except it’s in September, so it will be getting darker earlier and lighter later. And it’s in the absolute middle of rural North Dakota. On a farmstead. And I’ll be alone in that house, out in the darkest of darks.

When I applied last fall, I didn’t stop to consider the ramifications of being accepted. I forgot to consider how afraid I am of the dark. I thought only of the possibilities. And I didn’t believe I would get accepted, if I am being honest. I mean, why would anyone invest in my writing?

And that hints at what is my even deeper fear, one that has been steadily growing inside my brain as I try to reconcile how I’m going to manage this gift:

I’m actually afraid of what I might discover about myself and the success that could come of this two week period of time.

There. I’ve said it out loud.

I want so desperately to take full advantage of this opportunity. I want to disrupt my day to day rhythm and have the time to feel all the things I need and want to feel. I want to “plumb the depths” of my brain and spirit.

I have things to say. I have a lot of strange and unknown, even scary, territory to walk through in this two-week period—a lot of metaphorical pitch black.

I know it’s not a coincidence that so much of this time is going to be in literal darkness.

But I also have fabulous and sun dappled stories to tell. And I need to remember that we are still in the season of summer: there will still be long stretches of daylight while I am away.

My challenge is to tame my fears and find ways to light the shadowed corners of this farmhouse and my imagination so that I can say all that I want to say (or at least get a good start on it).

I don’t want to flail around, desperately searching for somewhere solid to huddle, terrified, in. I want to breathe in the inky blackness and remember that this time is a gift…and the darkness likely is, too.

And, most importantly, I want to use this time to lean in to the scary unknown of what is next. To acknowledge my current success and look forward to the successes that are coming. To remember that even the darkest night, without question, fear or anxiety, gives way to the morning’s sunrise.

Dayna Del Val is on a mission to help others (re)discover the spark they were born with through her blog and newsletter, her professional talks and the (re)Discover Your Spark retreats she leads. Dayna works with people to help them not just identify and articulate their dreams but to develop a framework to get going on the pursuit of those dreams—today, in the next few months and for the years ahead. She's at the intersection of remarkable and so, so ordinary, but she knows that pretty much everyone else is, too. She's excited to be sharing this extraordinary journey with you.


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