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.

Help Me I’m Poor!

Musings

After a splendid weekend home a couple weeks back, full of overly sugared donuts and ghost adventures, I came back to the Yoop feeling refreshed and content. Until work the next day when my boss walked into my classroom to tell me they were cutting my hours. Indefinitely. As I blinked rapidly trying to process the fact that I was being let go, (even though it wasn’t me personally, it was mass budget cuts all around) which has never happened to me, I felt a sinking dread over how I would survive.

I wasn’t so much worried about the finding a new job thing, I can always manage that, I mean, have you met me? My personality is delightful. No, it wasn’t that. It was that of all the jobs I do that aren’t full-time writing gigs, this had been one of my favorites as it involved working with kids. Sure some of them are less than darling, like this one particularly sassy girl pointing out the other day, rather snottily I might add, that I had a hole in my leggings. (Reference the title of my blog if you’re confused why I had a hole in my leggings. Also I forgot they were the holey pair when I put them on. And the hole was small and in no way revealing anything indecent). When I said I forgot there was a hole and not much I could do now, she rolled her eyes and asked why I hadn’t gone home to change. As my face began to get hot with annoyance, I told her to go back to playing tag and not worry about the state of my clothing as it was none of her concern.

So yeah, all kids can’t be Shirley Temples, but the way I feel about kids is the way I feel about life, and that is that they are remarkable and if there happens to be one or two sour ones in the mix, well isn’t that just how life goes?  After only about half a day of grave concern over the state of my life and already very grim finances with losing the best paying of my three jobs, I concluded that this had to be my a-ha moment. It had to be. God never just takes things away from me without it leading me to where I rightfully belong. So I thought it’d be rather un-trusting of me to start assuming now that God didn’t have a plan, even if I was at a loss as to what that plan entailed.

Of course, just because I had my a-ha moment of that’s it, this is my sign! Stop working jobs that aren’t your art and really go after it! Within a matter of days, the high of my a-ha moment had worn off. And on the heels of the now plummeting high came my dreaded nemesis, Anxiety. I was in the throes of an anxiety attack eating 100 Grand after 100 Grand (the candy bar, obviously. If I had real 100 Grands I would not be in this conundrum now would I?) leftover from our 1920’s party as a futile attempt at therapy while staring hopelessly at my Idea Notebook.

The candy bar therapy wasn’t really working. Shocker. Food just doesn’t soothe me like it used to. I considered day-drinking. Hemingway, my hero, would totally give his nod of approval to that. But all that was leftover from the party was gin, champagne and beer… Okay, so that actually is a really fine selection. Call me a snob but if I am going to day drink I really feel like it ought to be wine. I mean the hard stuff just scares me a little and drinking beer mid-day, well it seems a smidge more on the alcoholic side than the classy angsty artist side.

So day-drinking was out. I tried soul-therapy then. I went to the library and checked out A Moveable Feast and sat rapt and moved by Hemingway’s prose while it drizzled outside. But still, the anxiety would not leave me, the dirty rotten bastard. I stared out at the vastness of Superior and tried to pinpoint the furthest reaches of the lake. I wanted to be at that place. I suddenly had latched onto my other self-soothing technique which is complete and utter crazed denial accompanied by the urge to flee.

Whenever this happens in my life, (the urge to flee) which truly is often, I always seem to be at a crossroads financially. Okay, fine, I am always at a crossroads financially! (Like today when I cashed in my coin jar for gas money. I thought there was only about $8 in there, hoped for $12 but was blown away when my grand total back was $20.71. Make it rain!) But it is not because I am irresponsible. Au contraire. All my bills are paid on or ahead of time and in hefty sums. It’s just that I really love Dave Ramsey and want to be debt free, so I put everything I make toward my debt and nothing ever goes into savings. Ever. If it does, it is immediately taken out to be put toward said debt, because being debt-free to me equates my being able to finally run away and join the circus. And honestly if I had a dime for every time I threatened to run away and join the circus, well my debt would be paid off and I would be unencumbered to ride the rails and maybe elephants too.

Alas I knew what I had in my checking, savings and on my credit cards and all of it combined wouldn’t even give me a full tank of gas to find the edge of the Lake, much less a free pass to join the circus. I morosely packed up Hemingway, feeling worse somehow and went home. At this point, my sister Kirst who had been feeling much the same as I had—riddled with anxiety that is—and I began to chat. I told her how I needed, no really needed to run away. I felt manic and crazed and like I was losing my a-ha moment. I told her I read about someone else’s a-ha moment on Oprah and how the woman had gotten laid off, was in debt and overweight and how she figured it all out. And wasn’t I in the same boat? Laid off? Check. In debt? Double check. Overweight? Yeah, okay that too.

What’s my a-ha supposed to be? I proclaimed. Now is the time! These are what a-ha’s are for! And I am especially primed because I have all these extra forces and obstacles against me which make the a-ha even better! Bankers are always getting laid off and then admitting their true calling of opening a donut shop and then they wax on and on about how it was the best thing that ever happened to them.

This was supposed to by my grand a-ha and I was already fucking it up because I didn’t know what the fuck to do with my a-ha. My mind was all over the place. And amidst this ranting and raving where Kirst was ranting and raving back at me with her own need for her own a-ha because she was still working at Beef-A-Roo, what I refer to as La Beef, her fast food burger joint job, while having her own dreams of fashion grandeur, we realized we were screaming our dreams at each other at the top of our lungs and asking each other if we were crazy, admitting, truly, yes we were and then saying we would run away, we would run away, dammit and go find our fucking a-ha’s!

And then we were laughing while we were screaming. Laughing so hard and yelling so hard that we were crying and writhing around on our chairs, because we couldn’t sit still with our dreams or our want for them or our pure idiocy in wrangling them to us. And the crying was not out of sadness, but crying out of unbridled hysteria that we truly were insane and we got each other’s needs for more. Something more that we couldn’t even yet name or find but knew deep in our souls we needed, enough to cry and scream over.

And then we calmed down. And our anxiety, at least for the moment, had run off with our laughter and tears. We didn’t yet have a complete plan, or a concrete idea of what to do with our newfound a-ha’s, but we knew something was looming and that if we didn’t at least acknowledge it, Kirst would continue unfulfilled work at La Beef while dreaming of the fashion forward of the East and West, while I continued to use running off with the circus to escape the bonds of the normal as my easy out for not going after my dreams with gusto.

So with very little money at hand and not much in the way of prospects, Kirst and I both are holding fast to our hope in the a-ha moment, in its beautiful certainty that change could be lurking right around the corner. If we accept that a-ha, yes, life could be different if we are just a little bit unafraid. Unafraid of being broke, being laid off, leaving town, getting uncomfortable, failure, success, dreaming too big, dreaming too small, or not recognizing an a-ha when it’s slapping you right across the face.

 

High Time to Get to Sea

Adventures in Nature

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“Call me Ishmael. Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.”
-Moby Dick

I always knew I loved the first few sentences of Moby Dick, but I had never gotten much past that for some reason or other. With my love of the sea tis shocking  that I have not yet read this book. I found it at a thrift shop the other day and paused to read past, “Call me Ishmael.” The paragraph as quoted above not only grounded me with its stunning poetic verse, but it felt quite similar to a situation I find myself in as of late, feeling a bit grim about the mouth, wanting to knock people’s hats off and most definitely jonesing the sea. Or in my case open waters. Superior.

Here I am.

Sometimes, words fail me. Hence why I borrowed Herman Melville’s for this post, because he said it better than I ever could. And also, I thought I would let some photos I have snapped since re-locating back to the great North do the talking for me. So I feel ya, Ishmael, sometimes the only thing to do is get to the water.

 

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