Posts Tagged #fear

jump into the well of fear

graffiti saying 'jump in do it i did' pointing to water
Prompt: Close your eyes. Breathe. 
Name a fear you have. Breathe again.
Now, write about where it lives in your body. 10 minutes, go: 

My fear is not being understood by the people I love.

This fear lives in the dungeon of my throat. It is the murky water at the bottom of a bottomless well. There is no light here, and so I have to imagine how it looks: like a midnight mirror on a starless forever after. Nothing shines back at me, there are no glimmers of recognition, no waves of love, only swells of anger, churning the black water.

There are military ships crisscrossing the water, painted with lead-based gunmetal gray, their decks studded with heavy guns and heat-seeking missiles in evil-looking launchers.

My fear holds me hostage below decks on the largest of the battleships. I’m in a metal-caged brig in the deepest hold. The light is yellow and blurry and the air tastes stale.

A row of judges sit, dark-robed, heavy browed, convicting me of the crime of being myself. The primary judge is a white-wigged woman with a sharp nose. She addresses me, in a bored tone. “How could you expect to be understood,” she asks rhetorically. “You are not understandable, not acceptable.” She looks at me as if I’m a used tissue someone has dropped. She shakes her head in disgust. “Not understandable,” she repeats.

Like the queen in Alice in Wonderland, she only wants me to lose: my head, my heart, my voice, my confidence. But most especially, my heart.

My heart lies beneath this dark sea, at the bottom of the bottomlessness of this well in the dungeon of my throat. In my panic at being alone and not understood, I’d forgotten where I was. Here, in my body. I remember suddenly to breathe in, and when I do, I turn my gaze away from the judges. I listen to my steady inhale instead of their scornful murmurs. And I hear it. My heart. It is beating, far, far below the prison ship.

Steady dear heart. The dark water glows green. I know this even with my eyes closed, even in the prison of my fears, even as the judges cough and scritchy-scratch their pens across banishment decrees.

My heart swells, filling me with hope. A rising tide lifts all boats, even heart-sinking gunmetal battleships. The fleet of war ships circling my throat dissolves like sugar candy in the warmth welling up.

I think I’m ready to go deeper.

_____

I think about fear a lot. I read about it, too. Fear can literally get stuck in your body. Fear tends to incubate rather than dissipate over time, according to Joseph Le Doux, researcher/expert on the amygdala. Naming your fears and feeling them in your body can help you move past fear.

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my phone case is an asshole

phonecase

My phone case is shiny plastic, scarred now from use. It is the color of a cartoon character’s eyes, the mischievous female sidekick with a heart of gold’s eyes, eyes that sparkle and pop out from the screen a bright teal-y blue not found in nature.

The edges surrounding the black glass face of the phone are a matte-rubbery black, shaped like the buffering edges of the old Carrom pool table in the basement growing up. It’s a sturdy enough case, chosen entirely because it was on sale at Meijers and I did not want to wait for one to come via Amazon. I just bought what was on sale, in an okay color I didn’t hate, so I could stop worrying about dropping it.

I didn’t notice that on the back, in raised black emboss, the phone case sports a logo composed of a black asterisk set within the hug of two parenthesis.

I think of Kurt Vonnegut, in his novel Galapagos, where he told readers up front he was going to kill off a lot of people in the story, and to lessen the shock, he would add an asterisk before the character’s name in the chapter preceding their untimely demise.

Vonnegut had a thing about asterisks. In Breakfast of Champions, he includes an illustration of an asterisk and explains it is a drawing of his asshole. Or an asshole, anyway. I don’t quite remember the specifics, just that, ever after, I cannot look at an asterisk without thinking of a puckered anus.

I think of this every damn time I drive past a Walmart.

I imagine a group of designers coming up with the 205th round of logos.
One of the designer is maybe was a big reader.
Maybe she threw in the asterisk, as a joke.

This is how things go. You’re joking, and they take you seriously.
You are serious and they think you are joking.

I think of the little towns, in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, all across the country, hollowing out in their pretty centers, ringed with ugly box stores that you cannot walk to without risking your life.

I wonder if anyone’s ever watched me talking on my phone and thought, “Oh hey! Asshole!”

I wonder if I will ever be able to think of asterisks as I did as a girl, when I read in a book I can no longer summon to memory that aster means star, and that makes me think of skies and night air and falling in love and not finding the book you were looking for, but finding something else entirely.

Of driving as the sun sets and the stars come out, but you are driving too fast to see them until you stop like you did last night, and open the back door for the cat. The house is pitch dark and the sky is covered with stars and the nearer glows of the fireflies.

 

Note: this was a fast write from a prompt in Pat Schneider’s “Writing Alone and With Others,” in which she suggests that if you find yourself blocked, to stop trying to write that novel or poem or whatever it is that won’t come, and instead, choose an object and begin describing it. You can jump from one object to another. What is important is that you choose something concrete, and just go! See what comes up. I picked my phone case and was surprised at where it went and what it brought up. It was fun. I forgot to worry about my novel which isn’t going anywhere!

 

 

 

 

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On sitting down with fear

door with many locks“Fear is the cheapest room in the house. I would like to see you living in better conditions.”
–Hafiz
Fear is ever-present, a room in every house. I think it must be acknowledged to be lived with. Denying fear’s existence, its slithery form under the bed, under the pillow, in your head, in your darkest dreams—is to deny part of what makes us human. Unexamined, it drives us. Unacknowledged, it diminishes us. We want to chase it away, but without it, we are not quite all there. We are fragmented. Brash and bold or handwringing, but not whole.

We are whole when we can look in fear’s hissing-badger face, see it clearly, yet remain calm. It doesn’t mean we are not scared shitless of those needle-sharp badger teeth tearing into us. Tearing into everyone and everything we hold dear. Oh, no. We are terrified of the tearing and even more terrified of the silence that precedes it. Our hearts are beating too fast. We scan the news and cannot breathe, cannot think what to do.

I am saying “we” but when I say that, I am talking of my many selves. Maybe you know what I mean? The selves that scatter as I try to ward off fear.

I’m not afraid of dying, I won’t die tonight—I told myself that, told you that, but lying in the hospital alone, I met fear. It came in the night to shake me awake. It shook every part of me, parts I forgot were there—the frozen teenager, trembling in terror. The happy little girl, lying on her back looking at seagulls and cumulus clouds, breathing sea air, fully in the moment, the one I lost so long ago. It shook the anxious, lost traveler feeling around in the dark for a warm hand, the one learning to hold herself when no one is there.

It awakened the bright-eyed lover who is peaceful as storm clouds threaten, because the sun lives inside her, as it lives inside all of us when we feel whole. It is her I search for now, and I think she’s deep inside, in the fear room, hanging out.

Fear lives in a room deep inside me. A stuffy room I must visit, opening windows, letting in air, relaxing into, though it makes me edgy. It is a room I go to ponder things I cannot understand, go to find the best parts of me. A room where all my many selves find each other, the default meetup place. In the darkest corner is the cradle of courage, dear little courage, weak as an infant, sobbing, wobbly from being so neglected.

I hold this tiny part of me—she is crying for love—and picking her up, I feel again like a strong, sure mother, courageous enough to look at the fear. All the fears. There are so many right now. It seems important to be strong, be together. Strong enough to smile into the invisible beams of hope that shine behind all fears, casting great shadows.

Hold hands, everyone. No matter what, everyone.
Look at fear honestly, and you will find courage.
Yes. There it is, fear. It travels with us, but we don’t need to feed that snarling beast, it always finds something to feed on.
Say, I see you fear. Then turn away. Let it grow dull from inattention.
It’s courage we need to nurture now.

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Pining

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November 14, 2015

Pining.
Wondering: where is home? What is home?

Home is where you are safe. Home is the warm place.
Home is where you do not feel afraid.
(Maybe home can be anywhere?)

Maybe home is the feeling of your baby falling asleep heavy in your arms,
or the feeling implanted into your consciousness
when you hiccuped in your mother’s womb, and she laughed
and then started talking to you, words a rumble of unintelligible love filtered through amniotic fluid.

The world is an overwhelming place. Bad things happen. Evil things.
(Maybe home is nowhere? There are many without a home. Maybe there is no home?)

No. Home exists. I’ve felt it.
Home is where love happens, any place you can unclench your jaw, relax, be unguarded.
Home is a friend cooking beans, home is a cup of lemon tea, a hug.
A place to seek hope, a place to dream, a place to find courage, a place to build strength.

Home is the rustle of wind in the drying, dying leaves during a silent walk.
Home is in the wide-open smile of the guy at the car wash
and the have-a-good-one from the tired cashier at Kroger.
Home is the smell of sweet potatoes roasting in a hot oven.
Home is having an oven, and a sweet potato, and a knife.
(Maybe home is a story we tell ourselves, so we don’t give up?)

Because the world is an overwhelming place, and bad things happen.
Every single day, somewhere. Bad.
Every single minute. Evil.
Things beyond fixing.
Things you cannot fix.
Things you have to try to help fix, anyway. Somehow.
(In the right sort of home, courage is born, change is born, hope is born?)

I want to find a home like that. Make one. Somehow.

Maybe home comes and goes, waxes and wanes
like the sliver of moon shining over the parking lot
brighter than anything else in the vast sky above?

Loading groceries into my car, I suddenly remember how it felt to be pregnant.
I was a home, then, walking.

We all begin in such a home.

Maybe home is where hope hiccups, somewhere deep within,
waiting for us to laugh again?

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After the goldrush

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Early November on the roof.

I’ve been drunk-binging on nature lately, pulled from my grind-screen work and what I ‘should’ be doing to spend hours just gazing at the wonders of the fall. I end up working way too late to compensate, but you can only see the foliage in the daylight.

Such transformation is amazing. It gives me hope. As in, “I am living in a miracle world, pure, uncut amazing! Anything might happen!”

Well. It’s not all Indian summer breezes, after all. Nope. It’s a world awash in constant pain. Turn on the news or read the stream or listen to the couple behind you in line for a burrito sniping at each other–pain, pain, pain; see the face of the worn-looking woman waiting for the bus, see how a knotted thread of anxiety is pulling her features toward the center of her face, into a pinch of ache. She’s in pain, emotional, physical, spiritual–it doesn’t matter what kind of pain, does it? She’s a human, and she’s hurting.

This week I read a story in the New York Times about an Italian marathon-runner, and not an experienced or well-trained one, who came to New York to run. He was with a loosely-organized group of Italians. He spoke no English. Somewhere along the route of the marathon, he dropped his small amount of cash, along with his hotel key-card and his subway map.

He went missing for around 48 hours, wandering New York in his running clothes, disheveled, hungry, alone. Unable to communicate. After running a whole marathon, so he must’ve been flat-out depleted.  He made his way, somehow, to the airport, knowing his group would be flying out the next day. Security kicked him out, because they thought he was homeless.

A policeman noticed him on the subway the next day, and realized he was the missing foreigner.

According to Office Yam, “He kept turning and looking to the map. He seemed like he was under duress, like he happened to be lost or not knowing where he was going.” Thanks to the officer’s alertness, the hapless marathoner was saved. Happiness! Truly, it was a joyful ending to what must have been a terrifying experience for him.

Still, no mention in the news article of all the actual homeless people who are disheveled, hungry, alone and unable to communicate, who also do not know where they are going, and who are moved along and cursed at and rarely rescued. They have no group to join, it seems. Imagine the marathoner, wandering weak and scared for two whole days. Now imagine wandering—indefinitely. In the cold, in the rain. In the days that come after this golden time ends.

Sometimes I just want to not want to help, to care, to crave, to feel at all. Because I don’t know how to fix it. I can barely  manage myself.

But then: the trees.

The trees are divine spirits. They won’t let me fade into numb oblivion. They remind me that no matter what else is going on, no matter what hurts or what is messed up—that beauty is there, not caring if I eat it up or ignore it, but there all the same. Doesn’t that mean something? I take a picture. I feel pleased, and then sort of shallow at the rush of pleasure all this beauty brings. My inner scold chides me.  A picture of an amazing blazing autumn afternoon won’t heal the world.

A little voice says it might heal some tiny corner of it.

It might remind someone— someone who gets lost fighting things she cannot change—to remember to appreciate the gift of being in this world, on this day. To breathe this autumn air, and feel gratitude.

And maybe that is a tiny little start?

Maybe.

It’s not nearly enough, but you have to begin where you are, and work up from there.

 


 

“Hope without power is no match for fear with power.” –Caroline Myss

Maybe if we empower our hopes, there will be a little less fear in the world?

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My shadow lives on vine-covered walls.

shadow

My shadow lives on vine-covered walls.

It stretches before me on the sidewalks I travel, everywhere I go.

It’s much like every other shadow, I think: at once ordinary, commonplace, beneath notice—and also completely unique to me and the slant of each passing hour’s sunlight.

My shadow disappears at night, except when the moon shines.
There are artificial shadows, weirdly colored, cast by streetlamps and shop lights. False shadows.

At night, my real shadow sometimes curls up in a bottle of cabernet sauvignon that I might, unsuspecting, uncork and drink.

I sip my shadow in with the earthy dark red wine and sometimes— when the moon is in a certain phase, when certain molecules of my brain are swelling like an answering tide—my swallowed shadow slips free like a ghost and wanders the winding path of my bloodstream, staining my thoughts like a fat drop of wine splattered on a sweater, a drop that spreads out and changes the color of everything.

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Leaving the tower

photograph of computerWorking one day, alone in my tower—er, office—I listened to Loreena McKennett singing “The Lady of Shallot” (lyrics from Tennyson’s poem)  and it struck me how the good Lady and I have more than a few things in common. We even share a first name— she’s based on the Arthurian legend of Elaine.

Modern technology is often blamed as the cause of our loss of connection with life and each other, but maybe it’s not just computers and phones that distance people from life. The Lady of Shallot had the same problem, really, and ages before Apple Stores appeared on the scene. She stared into a mirror, not a computer, but the mirror was not to blame for her isolation. It was just a symptom.

I think fear was—and is—the problem.

Fear of engaging the unknown. Fear of being vulnerable. Fear of the messy realities of life. Fear of feeling scared, or lonely, or even bored. Lady Elaine had a curse that scared her. Modern Elaine has the 6 o’clock news and endless posts and messages screaming that life “out there” is frightening. Thus she, and I, kept busy, kept our noses firmly to grindstones (or keyboards or looms, depending on the century).

Gazing at life from a safe remove seems less scary. But that safety is an illusion, a lie—isn’t it?

There is always some danger in living fully. Touching and tasting and experiencing can and often do lead to pain or anger. Yet they also lead to great joy. I used to be so careful to stay safe, like that other Elaine— and my fear snared me. It still does, sometimes. (Often. Old habits die hard!)

In the poem, the Lady cannot gaze out her window directly because of the curse; she looks instead at life reflected in a mirror, and so:

She lives with little joy or fear.
Over the water, running near,
The sheepbell tinkles in her ear.
Before her hangs a mirror clear,
Reflecting tower’d Camelot.
And as the mazy web she whirls,
She sees the surly village churls,
And the red cloaks of market girls
Pass onward from Shalott.

This is about living in fear. About watching life but not being all in. About not taking risks.

Like many women, I was raised from infancy to be cautious, to not risk too much, to avoid showing myself. To not walk alone, or in the dark, to not wear certain clothes. To not call attention to myself. To not venture opinions without testing the waters to be sure the opinion is acceptable. To not laugh too loud or say anything stupid—or too smart, either. In other words, to fade.

Think about the word “ladylike.” Merriam-webster says it means to be “polite and quiet in a way that has traditionally been considered suited to a woman.” Another listed definition is even more telling: “lacking in strength, force, or virility.”

The most impregnable towers are those you build yourself, one ladylike brick at a time.

The Lady of Shallot is the ultimate fear-tale. When the Lady is finally stirred by lust and dares to leave the tower and venture into life, she’s struck stone-cold dead! She floats downstream where her pale, dead beauty is admired but her life is not much mourned. Maybe because her life was so pale and weak and confined, as she’d been taught it should be.

It’s better to weave by night and day and catch silvery glimpses of life, to keep safe in your tower, to avoid risking strong feelings of any kind. Life represents danger— strong emotions, good or bad, are to be feared.

“She lives with little joy or fear.”

Sad, the quelling message of this.

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