Karen Rivers

How to be brave: a primer for kids (and grown-ups who have forgotten).

Karen Rivers

Step One:   Do not for a minute believe that no one can see you if you close your eyes.   The same holds true for breath-holding.  You are still seen.   People will stare if you are all curled up in a ball, pretending to be invisible.   You just look silly.   Stand up and be counted.   What I mean by that is that you matter, whether or not your eyes are closed.   Regardless of your tantrums and moods that flicker like lightning bugs against the rich blue night sky of June (somewhere in the South, where June is different than February), everyone can see you.  It's just that, most of the time, no one is really looking.   


Step Two:   Sing.   It doesn't matter how terrible you sound or if you are alone or if other people accuse you of being tone-deaf.   What matters is how it feels, when the notes rise up from your diaphragm (if you're doing it right) or your adenoids (if you're doing it wrong).  It may not sound good in either case, but inside you there is music.   Don't forget.  


Step Three:   Make art.   Throw colour against paper with a brush or a pen.  It can be from a distance or even through a straw:  Blow paint on canvas.   Try that.   Or put it in a balloon and throw it.   Take some idea that is in your head and sketch it on a piece of paper.   It can be a stick man.  It can be a rough shape of a circle.  You can say, "This is you, Mummy."  And I might say, "Wow, I look huge in that picture."  And you can say, "It is because you are huge, Mummy."   And you can mean it.  I am huge.   Remind your parents that they are huge.   Remind them that they are Easter Island statues rising above you and you are a blade of grass and they are blocking the sun.   Think about things like that, then draw more.   Take all that is in you and put it on a piece of paper or the wall.  Don't tell your parents that I said, "The wall."   It comes off with a Magic Eraser.  You might need to tell them that.  But it is more important to remind them how big they are.   To you.


Step Four:   Dance.   You will be dancing for your whole life.  It doesn't matter which shoes you are wearing, but the tap shoes are the most fun due to the deliberate nature with which they knock on the floor and say, "Yes, hello, we are here."   All the shoes are the most fun.  And so is dancing barefoot.   One day you will be dancing with someone you love at a crowded party.  Something will happen.  Maybe you will be mad or sad.   And you will stop dancing.  Both of you will stop dancing.  You will be on the dance floor and music will be playing and you will be still, angry or hurt, staring at this someone, daring them to make a move.  Somewhere, in the distance, a waiter will drop a tray of glasses.   After the shattering, you will be faced with a decision.   Trust me when I say that you will not regret simply taking a breath and beginning to dance again.   You won't know what I mean now but that doesn't matter.   Keep dancing.   Dance around the glass.   Your feet will make sounds on the floor, regardless of your footwear, and you will feel the music and find your way back to yourself.


Step Five:   Try to remember that although people die -- and they do, sometimes randomly, eating soup at lunch or crossing the road -- they mostly don't do it terribly unexpectedly.  You will likely not die if you choose to make a speech in public, for example.   Or if you ask for something you are not sure you will receive.  You are unlikely to expire from fear on the edge of the high diving board.   It is very rare to actually be killed on a rope swing.   So dive.  And swing high.  Ask. Try to jump from things that are deemed safe by those who know.    Don't be stupid, that's not what I mean, but do allow yourself to feel what it is like to fall.   You will be OK, more likely than not.   Or better.  


Step Six:   Live.   Turn off the TV.   Stop staring at Facebook.  Nothing is going to happen on Facebook or on TV that you remember, unless maybe you happen to see the final episode of M*A*S*H, and then you will definitely remember it although it may still not really matter at all when you contrast it to the time when your dog died or when your brother walked out the front door and didn't return.   Everything else will be forgotten, except maybe who you were leaning against when you watched a certain episode of Bugs Bunny or The Bachelor.   Even then, probably almost anything else would be more memorable.     

It is easier to be alone, I know it, and to look at things on a screen and interact with people on an iPhone and experience only the emotions that someone on TV is experiencing, under the direction of someone you have never heard of on a show you won't remember in a year.  It is harder to love people and need them, and harder still to tell them that you want them to be there.  Physically.  But you should, even when it is scary to you because remind yourself:  It won't kill you.  (Probably.)  Even when you feel like you are alone out there, hand outstretched like that woman at the beginning of Cliffhanger, waiting for someone to grab on so you don't fall over the precipice, don't forget to reach.   Reaching will enrich your life.

But actually, stay away from precipices.   Those ARE dangerous.   

Here is my point:  Be brave.   Live your life bravely.   This is the best advice I can give.   It has nothing to do with writing, at least not really, but we can come back to that another day.   And I will.   I promise.   For now, this is what seemed important to say.