Saturday, October 23, 2021

The Assignment: Write Something Scary by Navi Vernon

I love assignments. My daily to-do lists serve a useful purpose, but there’s nothing like an official assignment to set me on point. Blank screen and GO.

Hmmmm… on second thought, “write something scary” is somewhat ambiguous. The upside is that it allows a broad creative license. The downside is that it didn’t come with the neat parameters most often associated with an assignment. How should one run with this? 

Obviously, there are options. Write a scary story, write about something universally scary, or write about your personal “something scary.” Sometimes even those lines blur. 

Good people struggle daily with “something scary” in the form of mental illness, addiction, abuse, adultery, housing insecurity, terminal diagnoses – I’ll stop there but you know there are others. 

Uncertainty alone can be a “scary” trigger. A well-placed “what if” can set some into a tailspin of terror. 

Stephen King routinely writes something scary. His greatest gift is his ability to tap into some universal fear that we all had as kids. Whether the “something” lived under the bed or in a storm drain surrounded by balloons was irrelevant. The fear of the lurking unknown evil creeped us all out. Still does. I was 50’ish before I dared to dangle any body part over the edge of the bed after lights off. 

Seems like the more wrinkles I get the less scary life is. Either that or I’ve simply grown accustom to my fears and they no longer have the power they once did. 

My fears as a child were much different than when I was a young mother – hoping to keep my babies safe and healthy. The first night I set the bar pretty low for each of my three daughters. I just didn’t want them to stop breathing on my watch. Of course, parents are destined to live in perpetual worry if not downright fear about their kids—whatever their ages. Experiencing this kind of “something scary” is uncomfortable, but it’s worth it.  Guess that’s the price of love. 

Something scary has the power to wake you up in the middle of the night, but you don’t see many horror movies about unpaid bills. I suspect we’ve all been there at one time or another. 

And, all that, my dear listeners is what my friend, Nancy, would call revving up—the wandering free writing we do until we arrive at some central truth. 

I think I’ve arrived. What scares me now is that life windows are beginning to close. From the “you can do anything you set your mind to” of my youth to something less certain now. Almost 20 years ago, I went through a period where I needed a reason to get up in the morning—a reason to imagine a future. Long before making a “bucket list” became trendy, I put three things on a “long-term” to do list. 1. Graduate from college – check – better late than never. 2. Get buff – ha! It took me years to realize that “buff” is relative; something one achieves at (always) the next level, never the current one. I’ll settle for healthy – check. 3. Hike the Grand Canyon. No checkmark. One day, I realized I may have waited too long. Some windows close before we step through. We wait for more money or more time. We wait until… fill in the blank. And, then, one day that particular option has been grayed out. You couldn’t choose it now, even if you wanted to. It’s gone. 

A few years ago, I asked my mom to illustrate three children’s stories I’d written as an undergrad. Before I turned the series in for a grade, I’d added ridiculously rough sketches to the first story with wordy picture descriptions for the other two. I’d always treasured the quilts that had been collaborations of my mom and grandma. My stories paired with her drawings would give us a chance to do something similar for the next generation. I was pumped when I pitched my idea to Mom. 

Yet, even as I handed her the first book, she said she wasn’t sure if she could it. For an instant, I saw something unfamiliar in her eyes—self-doubt. Somehow, I managed to say, nonchalantly, “oh, well, give it a try. It’ll be fun.”

Inside I was thinking: What? She’d tackled projects like this before. Mom was a practical artist, more of “a figure it out as you go” vs. the artsy/visionary type. Like me, she worked best with an assignment. She loved a challenge. Mobility issues may have sent her to assisted living, but she was still quick-witted, smart, and creative. 

We didn’t mention it again for a week or two. One day, she handed the book back to me and said simply, “I can’t do this.” She didn’t make a big deal about it, so I didn’t either. It wasn’t until after her death when I found her sketching attempts in a small notebook that I realized she was right. Her practical, on-demand drawing skill that had served her well for a lifetime was no longer available. That window had closed. 

Suddenly the future seemed less certain. If it happened to Mom, it will happen to us all. 

As windows close, our worlds shrink, sometimes so gradually we don’t even notice. Until. Use it or lose it went from old adage to a warning for me. Logically, I’d always known that. But, this made it real—transformed it into my something scary.

Today, our planner leans heavily toward active vacations. “While we can,” I say. Joe gets it. There’s plenty of time to see things through a tour bus window when we’re old. A meme on Facebook sums it up for me. “One day I won't be able to do this, but today is not that day.” Stay tuned on that Grand Canyon hike.


Navi Vernon and her remarkable voice are part of Black Dog Writes, the writers' group at Black Dog Coffee in Logansport, Indiana. We meet the third Tuesday of each month at 6:30, weather permitting, and would love to have any local or regional writers or just curious people join us. 

Find and follow Navi at Living Commentary. You'll be glad you did!


  1. Thanks for coming today, Navi. I love your stuff!

  2. Navi, what a wonderful and inspiring article! I need to hold on to "Today is not that day." Thank you!