Miedo not Mierda

By Brendan Scott

This past year while teaching in Guatemala, I had my creative writing class read through a chapter from Anne Lamott’s book called Bird by Bird.  The chapter, Shitty First Drafts, details the importance of just writing, even if it is bad at first.  My goal was to help my students understand that it is okay to mess up with their writing, and with their lives, because you can always go back and edit.  And while you cannot change your past, Christ’s forgiveness acts as the editor’s pen for our lives.

Anne Lamott believes that writers need not try for perfection because it only leads to failure.  First drafts are meant to be bad.  The first time we do something it might not be that great, and in her words even a little “shitty;” it’s okay, because at least we are getting words down on the page.  And when we type those words onto the page, it shows we are trying and when we try we grow as writers.

I believe that this principle is true in life as well.  Our attempts at life can sometimes be considered grand failures.  When I was young I loved to draw, but no one would consider my drawings art, well maybe Picasso fans.  I expected too much.  I didn’t allow for correction.  When I was a little older, I stopped drawing because I was afraid of the results.

But if we live in fear we cease to live.  If we are too afraid to dream grand dreams, then we live empty lives.  And an empty life is meaningless.  Donald Miller, another one of my favorite authors, believes that a meaningful life is like a good story.  He says, “A character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it is the basic structure of a good story.”  So, I set out a new goal.  I am not going to live my life with fear.  Conflict and strife will happen and when I overcome that antagonism, I will have lived an element of a good story.  But first I cannot be afraid to struggle.

I was telling this to my Spanish teacher during one of my lessons last year at the same time I was teaching this concept to my students.  The rain was pounding on the roof of the little coffee shop we’d met at and she was telling me how she is scared of walking in the rain.  And how she always is afraid for me when I walk at night.  (Now a quick side note here, this was all in Spanish.)  The Spanish word for fear is miedo.  Not to be confused with the Spanish word for shit, which is mierda.  So as she was saying how she was afraid of walking in the rain, I decided to say I don’t live my life with fear.  But I said, “Yo no vivo con mierda.”

Shocked, my Spanish teacher told me to be quiet.  Clueless, I repeated mierda a couple of times thinking I was correctly saying the word for fear.  But the look on her face told me this was not so.  Instantly I realized what I had said, and busted up laughing.  I’d said, I don’t live my life with shit.  Which, might be true, because most of the time I am too scared to mess up.  Yet, I mess up with my Spanish all of the time.  And when I do, I learn.  I now know the difference between miedo and mierda.

What am I getting at here?  I believe I need to start living my life con mierda.  I need to be more willing to mess up.  Like Anne Lamott says, just get the words on paper.  Just say the wrong thing.  ‘Cause with the grace of God, I can set out each new day with a blank page.  I must go out and capture my dreams.  It may be messy at first, but as I go along, my shitty first drafts of a life will turn into pretty damn good stories.  And a meaningful life is filled with good stories.  And good stories have mess ups along the way.

Brendan Scott has spent the last three years teaching in a missionary school in Guatemala where he tried to become fluent in Spanish, but instead bonded with his students in a way that God is hopefully still using him in their lives.  He is now living in Denver and looking for jobs.  He hopes to return to school so that he can pursue his masters of fine arts in creative writing. Read more by Brendan Scott at guatspot.wordpress.com.


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7 responses to “Miedo not Mierda

  1. Thanks Brendan,
    I mentor a soon to be 13 year old, kid from Chihuahua. I purposed to learn his native language so I can converse with his parents. Now in my fourth year I am passed the miedo, able to speak in intelligible phrases, keeping it simple. I’m 70, and the hippocampus (memory bank between my ears) is running out of room. Learning to decline verbs, those with stem changes and in varying tenses is tough. I swear somebody gets up inside my head with “white out” and erases some of my progress, then I feel like mierda. Thanks for putting this into perspective, messy at first and often along the way, BUT Sergio’s parents so much appreciate my efforts, both his mom and dad. It’s a trust thing I believe.
    Of course the kids fluency in English has skyrocketed since I started mentoring him. I am sad that he will not be able to read and write in Spanish
    someday, but says he texts occasionally in his native tongue! Oh well, I don’t know how to text at all. Hope to meet you someday. JPM

  2. Linda

    Thank you for a funny, thoughtful and utterly true way to start my week…You had me at Anne Lamott and it only got better as it went along. What kind of job are you seeking?

  3. Georgie-ann

    One of the greatest opportunities to “get out of one’s own box” (i.e., “comfort zone”), is to mix in with a group of people who speak a different language. Most of their social forms have characteristics that we will also need to learn to understand as well. It certainly is not an “instamatic” process, and jumping in with both feet is pretty intimidating. The friendlier everyone involved is, the easier it will be to “get along.”

    I decided to do this to myself about 14 years ago, and began attending the Spanish Mass at my local Catholic Church. In my heart, I was willing to “change places” with these newbies to our culture, and to experience being the “stranger in their midst.” It has been a great adventure and vacation and change of pace — (as inexpensive as it gets!) — right here in my own (adopted) hometown!

    Fortunately for all of us, we’re all friendly types of people and fairly respectful of each other, and the first “baby steps” have grown into quite an interactive situation involving fun, hospitality, church responsibilities, music, problem solving, mutual encouragement and so on.

    I think the miracle is that I haven’t learned to actually speak Spanish better than I do, with all the interaction that goes on! I understand a lot, but still speak English usually. Many of them are very accomplished bi-lingually, and we all work together.

    At this point, taking a course in Spanish, would probably be very profitable for me, to help sort out a lot of confusing details, and make me focus on one thing at a time. But,…the easiest way is still too tempting!

    The Universal Language: A Smile!

  4. John, that’s pretty cool that you have been mentoring a kid, but I agree it’s sad that he’s losing some of his Spanish. But maybe he can do like Georgie-ann and just smile.

    Linda, I am glad that you enjoyed my use of Anne Lamott. My students liked reading that chapter, mostly because of the cuss word. I hope they also got the point of grace and God’s redeeming power. I am looking for any type of job at this point. After I get my masters I would like to teach on some level.

    Georgie-ann, that’s pretty cool that you’ve been going to Spanish church. As much as a smile is universal God’s love is even more so.

  5. Brendan-
    Welcome to the neighborhood cafe! While I enjoyed taking the week off from writing as seminary kicks into gear, I enjoyed even more your blog. Anne Lamont’s Bird by Bird was one of the crucial influences in my battle against perfectionism. Her admonishment to just sit down and do your work regards of the results has made my work all the better.

    In addition, I’m not sure I’ve encountered as many expletives in one post before. I hope my baptist friends will forgive me for associating with such a potty-mouth. Of course, I’m only kidding (slightly), thanks for the refreshingly honest and challenging post.

  6. Georgie-ann

    Amen, everybody!

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