Thursday, January 6, 2011

Fear

Fear is not a guest you'd invite over for iced tea and cucumber sandwiches of a leisurely afternoon.  Fear never waits for invitations; it barges in like an unwanted guest, often catching you while you are in the midst of something else, perhaps sleeping or taking a shower or writing or not writing.  

Perhaps you're waiting for someone or fighting the mechanics of a deadline, which seems to be getting away from your control.  Fear, you realize, loves catching you off guard, rendering you without defense mechanisms, which is not the worst thing, the worst thing is when fear catches you before you reach the state of confidence you usually have in effect as you operate your way through the labyrinths and alleyways of your life.  Fear takes so much of your energy and attention, triggers such severe forms of survival mechanisms and despair that you feel close to if not entirely naked in the most existential sense.

Grief is a tough enough emotion to cope with, but at least it will sit down to a cup of coffee with you or some music, even to the point of suggesting particular compositions to help you.  With grief you are in a kind of partnership.  With fear you are on the run as the Nazis go from house to house, demanding to know if any Jews or other non-Aryans are living therein; your goal is to be away from the source, but you do not always recognize the source.  

You have tried on occasion to get fear to come out for a drink or coffee or even some conversation, but fear is not having any of that; it is the classic schoolyard bully; it wants to humiliate you, prove once and for all its dominance over you, even wanting to make you pay in kind for the last two or three times you stood up to it, laughed it down.

For much of your life, you have been attracted to individuals who seem to radiate confidence, who prepare for their performances, who are able to quote men and women from history who have been paradigms of self-confidence and self-reliance.  Some men have a taste for blondes and while you have found many blondes attractive, you have similarly found yourself attracted to brunettes and redheads.  There used to be a particular type who, even on a non-sexual wave length, would draw your attention. Many of the men you admired seemed to have a built-in arsenal of confidence and know how; fear to them seemed as alien as penguins in Hawaii.

Thanks to what you've begun to think of as the immediate present, you've admired two women who seemed comfortable in their confident assurance, whose public moments seemed to you to radiate purpose, direction, and drive,  One wishes to be a writer but has not written much, the other has an advanced degree in the facets of psychology related to motivation.

Both seemed to you to achieve a melt down at about the same time as you followed their arc across Facebook like fireworks displays on the Fourth of July.  You are sincere in your doubt that either would consider herself to have had a melt down.  What you saw was a blizzard of quotations from diverse sources, tails pinned on the donkeys of purpose, exhortations to all who would listen to be a part of the solution, to take a hand in destiny, to do something for the species.  

What you saw was sincerity writ large, but what you also saw was a crack in the armor of confidence and purposefulness.
What you saw is not by any means a gender issue because you began to recognize the same thing in men and women:  what you saw was loneliness and the fear of ongoing, continuing loneliness.

One of your major beliefs is that from loneliness we writers write to provide the dramatic effect of light from lighthouses.  We write to find our way and to share the journey of discovery with others.  Sometimes we need to show disturbing images and situations because they are our own fears and our own fears are by definition disturbing, distracting.  

You and many you know fear such generalities as death, disappointment, rejection, failure.  Our knowledge of these elements may temporarily elude the viscera and become more abstracted thinking or strained logic, but eventually we begin to see through persistent attempt how even in death, disappointment, rejection, and failure, there is some apparatus for dignity, and if not dignity, if that is lost to us as well, then a presence of grace in the death, disappointment, rejection, and failure.

You have solved nothing; you will experience numbing fear when you least expect it or, were you to expect it, in ways well beyond your anticipation.  But you are also onto the awareness of a basic strategy in martial arts, wherein the experienced participant uses his own energy as well as that of his opponent.  Fear is a necessary source in story, it is a vital presence in your own eventual understanding of why individuals behave as they do.  

When you are perfect in your confidence, you are apt to overlook small, remarkable details such as those noted with such regularity by the photographer William Eggleston or by writers such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and John Steinbeck and Annie Proulx.  When these worthies come to expose their feelings, there is an entire relationship they have negotiated with fear, a relationship that allows them to proceed with a willingness to risk failure, to lose everything.

Fear may not stay for tea and cucumber sandwiches, but you, once you sense its presence, can turn on the flame under the kettle.

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