"We make up horrors to deal with real life." -- Stephen King
I love horror films, and ghost stories, but I hate fear.
Fear kills. Fear destroys lives. I'm a sucker for a deliciously creepy, atmospheric ghost story, but fear actually makes me angry. It enrages me, for example, when clients come to my office, doing me the privilege of sharing their fragile dreams... and then, promptly, cruelly, drown their very own dreams in the muck of poisonous fear. I hate it, but I get it: the world is cruel. Repugnant, stupid, pointless things happen every minute of the day. But that should make us value, and fight for the real estate of our dreams more, rather than less. Life only has as much, or as little, meaning, as we give it. And giving in to our fears is a great way to ensure that our lives never matter much.
I write these words as someone who had to master her own fears, in order to master and re-make her own life. In my 30s, when I had to reconstruct my life, I was sick to my stomach with fear -- the fear of wasting my life, the fear that my best years were already far behind me. It was the memory of my careless, fearless teens and twenties that got me through. I hated to believe that I could be so brave at 18... and so terrified of the world at 35.
When I was 18, and had just graduated high school, my BFF and I hitch-hiked through Ireland. We had no plan, no daily itinerary and no fear. In hindsight, I have no idea why we didn't end up in someone's freezer, but we had a glorious summer. We were 18 and absolutely giddy with adventure. Motherly nuns kept giving up rides, yelling at us for hitch-hiking, warning us of all the terrible things that could happen to two young girls, and we'd giggle merrily, thinking, "Oh you old people, stop worrying, we're going to be 18 forever! What could happen to us?"
A few years later, while on study abroad program in Russia, a friend of mine was murdered; my roommate and I discovered his body. I was horrified, but I still didn't connect that tragedy with my life. Now as an adult (more or less), I think about the devastation his parents must have endured, sending a young man off to study abroad, and receiving, in return a casket. Such despicable, meaningless cruelty.
Some people chose to leave the program. I stayed. I remember thinking that if I left, fear would win. I thought about how hard I had worked to learn Russian, and have this opportunity. I remember thinking, "F**k fear." I left Moscow for Petrozavodsk, and had a fantastic experience, mastering Russian, and, crucially, myself. This was all in the '90s, and one grows up, sees more of our beautiful, bruised and lonely world, and one experiences more loss, more death, more wonder.
Halloween seems an excellent time to remind myself, and you, that horror films, and ghost stories are delightful but fear is wrong. Fear destroys lives. Fear wastes potential. Fear is what keeps us from engaging in love affairs, from asking for a raise, from having a baby, or running the NYC Marathon.
Fear is the voice telling us that no one would ever read our novel, so better not to try. Fear tells us not to care so much, since caring is painful. Caring is dangerous. Fear is what keeps us in abusive relationships, fearful that maybe the abuser is right: Maybe no one else will ever love us. Maybe this cruelty is what we deserve. Fear is what makes us believe ourselves unlovable. Fear is what causes us to settle, and to stagnate.
I'm not telling you to skip through the streets at 4 a.m. -- there's fear and then there's being a total moron -- but in my own career(s), from being a produced playwright at 18 to working in TV news to owning my small business today, the best things have occurred, when I confronted my fears, and did the frightening thing(s) I believed beyond me. Almost invariably, on the other side of that fear, was joy.
That's why I love being terrified by a deliciously creepy horror film, as much as I despise being scared when the phone rings and I'm offered another opportunity to step further into my own unknown. Fear eats the soul and you need yours to make sense out of your life.
Monsters under the bed are fine. Monsters in my ambition? Get the f**k out.