Cycle 3.2 How to Use Fear—Or, The Road Runner vs. the Coyote

Roadrunner icon courtsey:
Column by Janet Grace Riehl with Stephanie Farrow

Our May post (3.1) ended with our heroine (you,
dear reader) dangling from the cliff of fear. Your precarious dilemma? Do you confront your fears, or do you stay far away from the cliff and stuck in your comfortable, although dissatisfying, patterns?

In 1948, animation director Chuck Jones created the best chase scenes of all time with the Road Runner cartoons.
When Wile E. Coyote chases Road Runner to the cliff, Road Runner scurries off to the side of the ledge with a cheery “Beep, beep!” On his website, Kevin McCorry points out that “Nothing happens to Wile E. Coyote that Wile E. does not initiate. Road Runner can only harm him
after the chase has already begun by suddenly beep-beeping and startling Wile E. into various dangers, such as falling off a cliff or a jump upward which hits his head.”

It makes more sense creatively to be Road Runner rather than Wile E. Coyote. Be prepared, savvy, clever, and brave. Don’t let fear propel you over the cliff; put your fear
to work.

Let’s look at a case study. “Helen” is a sister member of Story Circle Network. She struggles with balancing
roles of family and work, a classic situation in modern life for many women.

Helen is a lover of words and an avid reader. To the question “What brings you to life?” her answer is,
quite simply—writing. She loves attempting to craft feeling and meaning with carefully chosen words. She reads books slowly, because she frequently runs to her notebook to write down new ideas.

Helen is also the mother of five children, ages 7 to 18. She has spent most of her life at home with her children but returned to the work force as a substitute teacher 3 years ago.

She now finds herself at home again after education cuts. Now she is trying to figure out how to organize her time to devote more of her day to her writing.

Helen’s fear is that if she pursues her love of writing, she won’t fulfill her obligations as wife, mother, and homemaker. She sees herself teetering on a balance beam with her domestic role on one side and her role as a writer on the other. There are days when Helen wonders why she bothers. What makes her think she has anything to say? Why would she want to take away from her family
for something so selfish?

Helen’s dialogue with fear went something like this:

Helen: Fear, what do you need?

Fear: I need to know that we are not letting down our family. I’m afraid that our family is suffering because of the writing.

Helen: Fear, what do you want?

Fear: I want to figure out a way to do both without feeling guilty.

Helen: What are you offering, Fear?

Fear: I’m pointing out that this is our chance to figure it out.

Helen continued her dialogue with her fear. She put forth ideas, listened when Fear brought up potential pitfalls,
and explored alternatives to find a better balance between family and writing acceptable to both her and her fear.

As a first step Helen is experimenting with setting intentions as Noelle Oxenhandler suggests in The Wishing Year. Her intention is to make the time and space to sit, writing her way back home. She is also using our Creative Catalyst post on creating a writing practice (See our archives at As her experiment progresses and the situation changes, Helen will need to go back to her dialogue to resolve new issues.

We are our own best experts on our desires and fears. There is no one more capable of resolving the tension between the two. Like a diplomat in an international skirmish, offer to shake hands with your fear and work out a compromise. Don’t set yourself up to be the hapless Wile E. Coyote, plunging headfirst over the cliff. Better to be the problem-solving Road Runner. Beep-beep!


Pose questions about practical creativity; give ideas for future cycle themes; and join in the dialog in the comment section below. If you’d like to see previous articles in this series, go to

Go to to sign up for a free download of a 10-minute
audio from “Sightlines: A Family Love Story in Poetry and Music.”



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