Word Up!

You won't find much hip-hop slang in my vocabulary (though I did take a class in college called "Structure of the New York Mambo." More on that later.) But the title of today's post—which you will shortly see has a second meaning—is right "up" my wordplay alley, a delightful little stretch of road (that often elicits groans from my children) with Pun Place at one end and Double Entendre Drive at the other. All right, enough nonsense.

Among the plethora of promotions in this morning's email, one missive hit its mark: the Word of the Day from Word Genius. I don't recall opting in to their daily dose of definitions, but since I enjoy waking up to a word in my inbox other than "sale," "clearance," or the stress-inducing phrase "last chance," I will not engage in the interdiction of opting out, as that would constitute both a contradiction of the way I feel and a literal act of contra-diction. But to the point.

Today's word served up by Word Genius was "bugaboo." I recalled it as referring to something small we get stuck on, a sort of major obsession with a minor concern. The definition offered was more specific: an imaginary object that inspires needless fright, with a secondary meaning of a problem that persists. I immediately thought, how many of us, not only in our creative work but also in our everyday lives, suffer from the paralysis caused by persistent, unnecessary fear. I've written previously about fear being a choice, but that post prodded readers to find the courage to do big things; it did not directly address how the little things—the bugaboos that beleaguer us—stop us in our tracks.

If we want to beat our bugaboos, we have to start by deconstructing the definition. Beginning with "imaginary," we can conclude that bugaboos are not real. And if they are not real, they cannot have any real impact. Their power to plague us exists in our imagination, which means we can disempower them at will. What makes bugaboos difficult to deal with it is that they flow from the same source as our creative power. Imagination, and our ability to envision everything from future outcomes to fictive worlds, is our greatest gift. But like any potentiality, imagination has its dark side; it can cause both joy and torment. We can, like Captain Ahab in Moby Dick, feel our topmost greatness lying in our topmost grief. So if bugaboos thrive in the dark corners of our imagination, shining light on them is the way to send them packing.

One of my bugaboos was that I couldn't write these posts without the forced compression of an hour-plus-long train ride. Another was that I had run out of things to say. Another that still holds some power is needing to have a clean house before I start writing. And another is the thought-spiral we've all experienced that can sink any attempt at self-improvement: the anger, frustration, and self-loathing we feel for abandoning a discipline—one that made us happy—and the resulting self-flagellation that knocks us down even as we're trying to summon the strength to start again. But (and this happens to be the title of my upcoming memoir), You Have to Start Somewhere.

When I focus intently on the work I'm meant to do, when I shine my light on the goals glowing the distance, the bugaboos disappear, like shadows in the sun.

You don't have to be a genius to get rid of your bugaboos. Just do your work, and they'll run away all by themselves.

Word Up!