Hello, Fear

Musings

“Hello, fear. Thank you for being here. You’re my indication that I’m doing what I need to do.”
-Cheryl Strayed

A lot of things frighten me: car wrecks, losing people I love, my hair thinning out to the point where I need a comb over, never getting married, being mediocre, not really succeeding as a writer, old houses—while I am very charmed by old houses, I always assume they are haunted with either soldier ghosts or miner ghosts—, being lost in the woods at night, going to prison for a crime I didn’t commit…

Obviously, I included some highly irrational fears in there just to show that I don’t always use my rational brain while in the midst of being fearful. In fact a couple weeks back I spent some time at two of my best friends houses. Both women have perfectly lovely homes in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and there is nothing remotely sinister about either locale.

However, both houses are very old and so I was scared at both places. The first house—my friend Emily’s—I had been to many times before and had gotten used to sleeping in her spare room, though almost every time I had spent the night prior I would wake up in the night and squint my eyes, surveying the room for ghosts. I hadn’t encountered anything to date. But this most recent time, I went to place my things in the spare bedroom, just as she stopped to inform me that was now the new nursery and the spare bedroom had been moved upstairs.

I left my things in the nursery anyway, informing Em that I would be sleeping on her couch. I simply had no interest in sleeping upstairs away from all the adults, should a ghost try to smother me in my sleep or something. No, no, the couch was much safer. My sister even spent the night with me one night and instead of sleeping on the Lazy-Boy, she—who is an even bigger scaredy baby than I am—insisted on sleeping sandwiched next to me on the couch. It was wildly uncomfortable with her pressed against me, but nonetheless I was wildly comforted with her there.

At my other friend’s house, I was to sleep on the pull-out sleeper sofa downstairs as her and her children’s rooms were all upstairs.

“I am sleeping down here by myself?!” I squeaked nervously as she and her husband inched away from me toward the stairs, having gifted me with blankets, a pillow and the remote to the TV.

“Yes,” Ashley laughed.

“But what about ghosts…” I ventured, skittishly looking around at all the objects in her living room that could potentially look like a ghost in the night.

“We don’t have any ghosts!” Ashley exclaimed.

“I may need to come sleep between the two of you in the night…” I warned.

Ashley told me I would have to fight for space with her son Boone, who already crawled into her bed in the middle of the night. “You can sleep in Boone’s bed,” she offered.

“I don’t want to sleep in Boone’s bed,” I grumbled mostly to myself, “I want to sleep with you guys…” Once as a teenager I had slept over at my aunt and uncle’s for the weekend and they had me sleep downstairs on the couch. I, of course became out of my mind with fear and had to crawl into their room in the night, embarrassingly informing them I was uneasy downstairs. They got an air mattress for me, placing it at the foot of their bed.

But naturally I got over it at Ashley’s. I slept with The Office playing on Netflix, a light on, and one eye repeatedly open for paranormal phenomena. By the second night I was convinced—by my diligent ghost watch—that her house was indeed unhaunted.

This is all to say, facing your fears aren’t always comfortable folks. Being nervous that a ghost could get me or that I could be unjustly incarcerated are fairly irrelevant fears, especially the latter. Dealing with the more real fears of making it, pushing myself outside my comfort zone, landing interviews with cowboys, or even landing a cowboy period, are well… heady to say the least and enough to cause me to sleep uneasily. Perhaps even more so than when I am on ghost patrol.

But here is the thing about all this fear: sleeping with lights on and with one eye open, even though you’re scared and nervous instead of crawling into bed with your best friend and her husband, means at least you’re there in the scared nervousness facing it head on—Annie Oakley style, staring down the barrel of a gun—instead of awkwardly ruining any chance at your married friends having sex that night—although from what I understand marrieds have infrequent sex anyway… so…  I kid, I kid! I just have to tease you smug marrieds, because I am single and having no sex—I digress, but that is my favorite thing to do. Go on wild off-roading tangents. Especially about Annie Oakley and sex; why wouldn’t I? Both of those topics are wondrous to no end.

But do you see where I am going here? I hope you do. Because while I mostly write to myself and for myself, because it helps bring clarity to a life that is often rife with wild turns and doubts, I happily offer up my life circumstances that they may help shed any light or hope onto yours. And the hope in this instance is being better than the fear. I can overcome it, regardless of the spooks in the night or the dastardly notion that I am incompetent when I know deep down I am not.

Incompetence would’ve never landed me where I am today, which is in a world of wonder and new opportunity at every turn: like the world is holding its breath with me waiting to see what will come of all this newness.

And I don’t have any logical clues what will come of all this newness, this untethered, mountain filled life. But I know that I cannot lie down with my fear. It is simply nonsensical and not me. Well it is a little bit me, because I am currently fearful over how sweaty I have gotten while writing this post—honestly I don’t know why I sweat so bad—and if the fetching hipsters all around will judge me when I raise my coffee cup, showcasing all the sweat stains under my arms. But alas, these are the consequences of writing ever so feverishly.

Anyhow, the always uplifting and wise Cheryl Strayed said a couple wonderful things about fear. Like so many brave writers before her have done, they’ve bared forth their pain, their strife and their struggle through their words, open in their fear anyway. And with this they’ve made it possible for writers like me to feel emboldened in my struggle, in my fear and in my uncertainty, allowing me to believe there is quite possibly still a way through it all, fearful or not.

“Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. That nothing could vanquish me. Insisting on this story was a form of mind control, but for the most part, it worked. Every time I felt something horrible cohering in my imagination, I pushed it away. I simply did not let myself become afraid. Fear begets fear. Power begets power. I willed myself to beget power. And it wasn’t long before I actually wasn’t afraid.”

So maybe first acknowledge your fears (at least the ones that urge you to be better) in that they do have some power in directing you. And then from there, tell the fear to go fuck itself and go forth being madly in love with your life—including the wild turns, because those offer better scenery anyway—and your life purpose. At least that’s what I am going to do.

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