Wednesday, October 29, 2014

In Which I Wax Philosophical

If you’ve watched Batman Begins, you’ll know young Bruce Wayne suffers a justifiable phobia. Rather than simply conquering that fear, though, he uses it as a weapon against his enemies. (I wonder how well that would combat my aversion to escalators.) In Star Trek:  Voyager season 2, episode 23 (The Thaw), a personification of fear threatens to kill B’Elanna and Harry. Obviously those characters’ struggles are just the tip of the iceberg, because let’s face it, there’s plenty in this world to dread. Ebola for instance. (Bet you didn’t see that coming.)

As a child, I read and reread Z for Zachariah. Fahrenheit 451 always brightened my day. Stories like After Earth, City of Ember, The Hunger Games, and Divergent are right up my alley. With tastes like mine, you’d think I’d be Dauntless. (See what I just did there?) Yet when I was younger, I feared getting eaten by a tiger (because we all know large cat attacks are very common in Maine). A shark patrolled the undergirdings of my bed, and it was necessary for me to sleep curled in the fetal position because a giant lobster shared my sailboat sheets with me. So how could a girl who fears answering the phone possibly enjoy living vicariously in a shattered world?

Some people chase fear—they love the adrenaline that reminds them they’re alive. They love the defiance of speed and the pushing of boundaries and the straining of limits. I admire them—I really do. I applaud them from my perch on the couch with my feet tucked up so the spiders can’t get me. And while I’m busy chewing my nails at the thought of public speaking, some poor bloke in Australia is getting eaten by a crocodile.

Right now there’s nothing more dangerous in my life than crossing the street (although there’s the occasional tuna salad left over from last week and the questionable lunch meat, but you get my drift.) And I’m not complaining. I’m perfectly content watching the ceiling to make sure no workers crash through their re-shingling job and smush me.

On that note, here’s where I let you in on a little secret. Unlike some brave, brilliant souls, I have to write my blog posts at least two days in advance, and I usually spend around three hours editing. Maybe I could be better and faster if I tried, if I pushed myself and took a few more risks. But you know what really holds me back?


It’s not that I’m afraid my readers will judge me. But I do fear failure. I dislike the idea of putting my worst foot forward, giving a bad impression, writing something dumb. More than that, I dread the time when I will have nothing left to say, the time when I will have to quit. And I hate looking like a quitter. Which is silly, if you think about it, because I don’t even know half of you. I wouldn’t know if you were judging me any more than I would know what you ate for breakfast or how many times you change your socks on a given day.

Maybe I fear myself, not you. Maybe I fear the heavy-handed editor looming over my inner shoulder, the monster at the fringes of my mind growling that I’m not good enough and never will be. Maybe I’m so focused on pleasing this tyrant, I hardly notice when I’m strangling myself.

Remember that short story collection I told you I was writing? I started it just to pass the time until I can resume my actual work-in-progress in November. And I began this experimental project with one simple rule. I can write anything I want, fill the pages with anything I dream, no reservations—but I must not limit my imagination. Mental restrictions are strictly forbidden (except, you know, where common sense applies.)

And do you know what’s happened? Has the universe exploded? Have I failed miserably? Have I written charming and beautiful prose?

I don’t know, because I never reread until I’m done. But I do know that I’m having more fun than I’ve had in a long time, and I’m remembering once more, why I started writing in the first place. Even if the work I produce is rubbish, at least I’m defying my fears. At least I’m living.

So, now that I’ve amused myself with that little tangent turned pep talk, let me resume my original trail. Reading is escapism. I need something to keep my mind from stagnating. When I’m bored, I choose something scary or interesting or cheery. When I’m depressed I indulge in something tragic, to distract myself with another’s problems.

But then the real world comes along and crashes my party. Sure, I could spend hours crowing about sunrises and sunsets and leaves and snowflakes. I could extol the virtues of pumpkins and rodents (though I figured I’d spare you that…for now.) But those are just the wrappings, the pretty bow and the pretty paper masking the not-so-pretty truth of existence.

Life bleeds mercilessly into prose and poetry. Ever read a sad story and wonder if you can hear the author crying? Art is the translation of pain. And writing is a symptom of reality, not the cure. Horrors like Ebola ravage us, and we get scared—so we write something. In our fragile minds, we create worlds we can control, where we set the rules of physics, and no one gets hurt who isn’t supposed to. Hope is easily manufactured—we could sell it in bottles if we liked. And fear becomes fun. Isn’t that how we cope?

Sometimes I entertain another fear—that the job I’ve chosen isn’t worthwhile. I love to write—but what if that isn’t enough? What if I never do anything to benefit the world? Worse than quitting is the notion of wasting my days as an eternal kidult, growing fat off the labors of others, making money off their pain. What’s the point if that’s all this is, just another case of, “I get to live my dream while life robs you blind.”

Often it feels like chasing after the wind.

But then I imagine a world without movies or music or books. I imagine an age where everyone works and nobody plays. I imagine a society so riddled with the holes of propaganda and brainwashing that all the love has spilled out into chasms of nothingness. I imagine a starry sky, devoid of music; a crimson sunset with no one to notice; the last few strains of poetry rattling around forgotten in the cranky recesses of a decaying brain.

And that scares me more than anything else.


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