Not exactly fearless



Someone who knows me very well knocked me sideways with a comment the other day. Remarking on this blog, they described what I write as ‘fearless’. This was followed, crucially, with ‘(?)’, that self-interrupting tick we use to show the reader we are not showing off, fearful of coming across as too definitive. As hedged bets go, I chose to find it encouraging, this glimpse into the mirror of what others supposedly see.

But still, I thought: hardly.

Nothing I have ever done has been fearless. From learning understudy lines at school, to memorising large chunks of OthelloTo feeling a failure for most of my time at university. To busking it, literally, around Europe with my brother. To sending off poems to magazines without knowing the rules. To finding myself in large rooms of people, listening to myself saying things and wondering where that came from…

One of my uncles once told me there is a phrase in French which means ‘to conquer yourself’. I have no idea if this is true. We were in my mother’s home town in Switzerland, where he still lived, the night before my grandmother’s funeral. In between ordering the pizza and the second bottle of wine he took me to one side, this man who I saw once every two or three years or so, and said: ‘Tonight you have conquered yourself.’

I think about that often, especially as he, too, is no longer here. I want to know if I have remembered it right (and if he was), but am afraid I misheard him. Perhaps it was my tiredness, or the drink.

I am not fearless, you see. But I do know about its absence. And failure, its taste, habits and disciplines.

The lights are about to go up and I have forgotten my lines. Again.

From somewhere I remember the imperative to be clear (and hard) about what hurts. Well, I know about that. Armfuls of it, like ice, no, actual ice, in my veins, every two weeks, for six months. I know about that. And I can reveal that I am literally not about to run off with a poetry prize, not having been shortlisted for one (not having entered). It is not going to happen.

I feel the fear. I really do (all the while smiling and being charming). I feel it, and fear it. But I do it anyway.


  1. Thank you for this. It resonated hugely with me. I too am fearful and have discovered that ‘doing it anyway’ is the only way to become less fearful and actually in time, without lessening fear, makes life rich and valuable. People sometimes say to me now ‘but it’s easy for you, you’re so confident’. Nothing could be further from the truth.


  2. Feeling the fear and doing it anyway – that is COURAGE. The stuff of heroes. The recipients of medals. Or those who receive no reward but the admiration of those few friends who KNOW.

    Sent from my iPhone



    1. Thank you Norah. That is hugely encouraging. There are no medals, not that we do it for those, just the quiet satisfaction that we showed up when it was necessary, and which no one can take away.
      Good wishes


  3. Thank you, Anthony, for this and for all the thought and work you put into your blog posts. I appreciate their (your) honesty – which I guess might be what you mean by “showing up when it’s necessary”. That may not be fearless, but it does take courage. Which reminded me of that famous Amelia Earhart quote: “Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace, the soul that knows it not, knows no release from little things.” Thanks again 🙂



    1. Thank you Helen for your kind words and amazing quote -now safely in a notebook.
      The showing up phrase is borrowed/stolen from Anne Lamott, who I think stole it from Woody Allen (‘80% of success is showing up’) -probably one of my all time favourite quotes. It’s great to know this post spoke to you. I am grateful.

      With best wishes and thanks


  4. Perhaps the writing clear and hard and the hurt is one of the reasons why we write poetry – is it having the courage to believe that the way in which we say what we need/want to say is authentic and honest that creates the meaning?


    1. Thank you so much for this. The way in which it (whatever ‘it’ is) gets said really is the thing that makes the meaning, isn’t it?
      Though speaking personally I am usually not aware of meaning anything at all until afterwards, sometimes years afterwards.
      As ever with best wishes


  5. The verb your uncle may have been translating from is se vaincre although there are other ways of expressing similar sentiments. I love the French language for its reflexivity. You can conquer yourself, surmount yourself, cure yourself etc etc just be puting se in front of the verb. I wish we could do that as economically in English.


  6. Honesty, as a virtue, does not seem to be highly-prized de nos jours, does it?. Perhaps it never really was. I think back to those first deceitful Elizabethans, whose public poetry is so often quite consciously ‘ambivalent’. And I think of those contemporary ‘apologies’ by caught-in-the-act politicians and ‘celebs’, which are so well-crafted, they leave you missing just the tinsiest tinge of regret for the harm their actions may have caused others. This is blatant dis-honesty, and it is neither admirable nor courageous (and certainly not ‘fearless’!) I like in your blogs, AW, that you do not shrink from being honest in the best sense. Writers have no business reconstructing themselves so as to present a falsely ‘heroic’ image of their persona. Your honesty shows your vulnerability and your humanity. I wish I dared to be as fearless, both privately and publicly!


    1. Thanks so much for saying this.
      I do think honesty is the only way.
      To push into the humiliation and the failure rather than pretend it is all glorious -the writing business I mean.
      ‘Clear and hard about what hurts’, as Hemmingway said. and: ‘Be strong in the broken places’.
      As ever with grateful good wishes


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