Saturday, September 15, 2007


Fear when it leads to action, such as the flight or fight response, serves a purpose. Fear that is based in a kind of apathy that exists only to feed on worry and inaction does not. It can drain the life and spirit out of you.

There have been times in my life that I have allowed fear to take over my thoughts. The "what if" fear in which I have created scenarios of illness, death or loss and let my imagination whisk me away into a paralyzing state of obsession. All I could think about was how I would no longer be able to enjoy this life I love so dearly. No more interactions with children, no more teaching, no more fun, no more happiness, no more anything pleasurable ever again!

Intertwined with all of this of course is a grand flair for the dramatic. Even when my neurosis was at its best I never failed to provide a proper soundtrack or wordy commentary. It was almost as tho I wanted to wallow in my own misery. What feeds that kind of unhealthy behavior?

I think I have spent too much time in the past sitting with the fear that the things I love most will be taken away from me. Thankfully something has evolved and changed in me as I have gotten older.

This might be because time and again every illness or scenario that I can imagine for myself has proven to reside only in my imagination. And I do not discount that fact. But I think perhaps the main reason I have conquered my fears (for the time being anyway) is that I have faith in that inner core or strength that lies within each of us. This allows us to deal with troublesome circumstances when/if the need arises. The realities of life, as terrible as they may sometimes be, never seem to measure up to the decimating level I can create in my mind.

I find that this 'lazy' worry about what might happen is a luxury, because when things are really, truly bad we do not have the time to ponder "what if". We cope. We get on with it. We accept.

By the way, nothing bad has happened to prompt this post. Rather, I have faced a fear and come out on the happy side of it.

I think that fear also intrigues and interests us even as we protest. Joy and I went to see an Off Broadway production a few years back of Shockheaded Peter. It is based on a series of German cautionary tales for children titled Struwwelpeter.

The show had a fantastic poster displayed throughout New York City and Joy was able to procure inexpensive tickets. I was eager to go. Our seats were in the very front row and as soon as the curtain went up I wanted to leave...and I wanted to stay. I was scared. I mean really scared. I had visions of the vampire theater from Interview with a Vampire in which the audience becomes a trapped feast.

The main character, the narrator, freaked me out in a way I have not felt since I was a young boy watching the child catcher lure little children in Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang. The guy on stage was SO creepy and since we were in the front row he kept looking at me, taunting me, getting ready to jump down off the stage and get me. I knew it. I curled up close to Joy who simply stared this freak down with a defiant attitude and a "just try it" expression.

The show incorporated large disturbing puppets who told the macabre, Edward Goreyesque tales. One vignette told The Story of Little Suck-A-Thumb who was warned by his mother that if he continued to suck his thumb the "great tall tailor" would come and cut it off with his "great sharp scissors". You guessed it, little suck-a-thumb sticks his thumb back in his mouth and gets it snipped off by the frightful tailor with the long shears.

On stage the dismembered thumbs are flung out into the audience and yours truly was not above screaming like a little girl.

But perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this show was that it was a musical! Not a happy, la la la, we-love-life musical but a truly horrible we-are-gonna-get-you-musical. I found a clip of the Tiger Lillies singing a song from the show and you can see for yourself how unsettling it is.

I was freaked by this show but at the same time I couldn't stop talking about it. I even bought the children's book which I enjoy. But maybe this is what we all need to do. Face our fear, stare it down and move on.


Reya Mellicker said...

OMG! The vid is fantastic! And WAAAAY scary. I would have been underneath my seat out in the audience, in the foetal position, shivering.

My teacher told me that anxiety is excitement without breath. She believed those of us who thrive on intensity will go first for "happy" intensity, but if none of that is available we head straightaway towards "unhappy" intensity, i.e. fear.

These days I think of fear and anxiety as energetic states. I have a "talent" for calling a lot of energy into my body and being (so do you!) When I get too much accumulated energy, my mind begins to spin out stories, usually of doom and disaster.

Coping mechanisms? Oh yeah, I have many. I receive massage every week or every other week. I refuse to indulge in these stories at night when I'm in bed alone, not sleeping (because, as my therapist explained, when you're in bed, you are in a passive posture). During the day when I fall into a cycle of fear, I DO something - take a walk, make a pie, wash the dog, return a phone call. Action always helps settle the anxiety.

And I breathe, long steady breaths. Thank God for my teacher Cybelle. She was SO smart!

Thinking about you with so much love!

Reya Mellicker said...

Whoa! Long comment! Sorry!!

Gary said...

Reya thanks for such a wonderful, insightful comment. Thinking of fear as intensity of the 'unhappy' kind is so interesting and I think that can describe me pretty well. I tend to want a bit of drama in my life even though I can tell you that I don't. When things are all going smoothly I seem to make some waves for myself which is really self destructive and silly.

I hope I have gotten away from that. Last night after I posted this I went to bed and had such horrible, distrubing dreams. So, I am happy to wake up and read your words. All is fine again.

Dumdad said...

I still have my book of nursery rhymes from when I was 4 or 5 and I still remember the fear I had after reading the story of Little Suck-a-Thumb. What a horror story for young impressionable minds. I had nightmares about the man with the scissors - and I didn't even suck my thumb!

Ladrón de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Very Freudian, very Weimar. The music reminds me of Nick Cave's "Murder Ballads" from a decade or so ago. The comment at the end is spot on about the songs being confusing because beneath the darkness is a sense of longing. I'm not sure how I missed this show. The poser is great too and certainly evokes German Expressionist films.

lettuce said...

this is the 2nd post i've read today about fear - lots to think about.

i know what you mean about that lazy luxury of indulging in imaginative fear....
and also theres a luxury about enjoying the macabre i think. Its sometimes a kind of acting-out which is okay when we do it from a safe place, but if we don't feel safe - it becmes something entirely other.

which is ironic, considering that some of the roots of "macabre" are in the horrors of the middle ages.

ooops - another long comment.
Not as long as Reya's though, haha.

Glad to hear that you are through to the happy side tho Gary. Hiding from the fear just doesn't work, does it - a bit like pain, sometimes you have to go through it, even with it, to know you are safe and stronger.

blah blah blah, sorry!


Gary said...

Dumdad - You actually remember this story? Wow. Even though I grew up with a bunch of Germans they spared me this tale (although they had lots of others. My Oma's version of Rumplestilskin had me quaking in my slippers.) Although Hansel and Gretel is rather dark as well. Wonderful how they'd finish the bedtime stories, turn off the light and leave me alone with these images. Ah, youth.

JT - Yes that is what they do. They lull you in and just when you let down your guard they snap you up! If you have a chance to see this show I'd say give it a shot...but I'd also say avoid it. Nuts.

Lettuce - I love long comments, no worries. They give me lots to think about. I am happy that you 'got' what I meant with this post about the 'luxury' of fear. I was hoping that would come across. You are a sweetheart for the last bit (above blah, blah, blah).

What was the other post? I'd like to read it.

Reya Mellicker said...

I used to go straight for drama every time. Since I turned 50, the bumps and trouble of a dramatic life are not as enticing as they once were.

Lettuce, where is the other post about fear?? Please?

mouse (aka kimy) said...

great post gary....I don't think that it's surprising that fear is a topic on many of our minds this past week given that it was the anniversary of 9-11 and a main by product of that event has been the selling and fostering of fear...ah my childhood totally missed those stories - which given my 'sensitive nature' was probably a good thing ....but now that I'm tougher I will have to search them out!

Joy Keaton said...

Oh Gary, you know my defiant attitude towards that narrator was more like "bring my onstage you cool thing you!" :)

May I also take this opportunity to say THANK YOU to JT for mentioning one of my favorite bands! I love the Murder Ballads! Gary: Nick Cave - Black Hair, that's all I have to say! ;)

marxsny said...

What a nightmare. If the wicked witch of the west did a solo record, this is what I would expect it to sound like.

Joy, I was waiting for you to address that Nick Cave thing. ;-)

J. David Zacko-Smith said...

What a great post! You do such a nice job of exploring a subject. YES - FEAR is a biggie for all people everywhere. In general it is our friend, but it can also serve to paralyze us and keep us "stuck", which is never good. We are conditioned to fear so many things (change, emotions, loss, etc) that we should, instead, embrace. This is a message I strive to spread. Sometimes I think we even find ourselves fearing fear, or fearing our fearing of fear...and that is so silly and destructive.

Pod said...

i remember being petrified by that skinny man with the big scissors. what an awful character!
it is great that you have faith in your inner self. that remains solid whatever happens around you.
and if you ever get scared, pod will squeeze you until you feel better

la bellina mammina said...

Don't like scary anything, so I stopped the vid halfway...I know, I know. I need to overcome my fear of scary movie and such, but why should I frighten myself...
Great post, by the way.

Gary said...

Kimy - I didn't even think of the 9/11 connection but you may have a point there. It is sometimes hard to know how things operate just below the surface. If your new 'tough' self discovers any horrifically delicious tales please pass them on.

Joy - I can understand your attraction to men in eye liner but this is taking things a tad far don't you think? Still, I am glad that you were there to protect me. I am sure he would have taken you first and given me time to run to the door (tee-hee). Just kidding - I would have acted as your shield as I did in the haunted house in Salem. ;)

Mark - Doesn't the Wicked Witch of the West already have a solo record? Or is that the Wicked Witch of the East? Or is that just Britney? (Thought I'd throw in a topical reference.)

JDZS - "fearing fear, or fearing our fearing of fear" it gets out of hand does it not? Good luck spreading your message, I think it's working!

Pod - You always leave the most enticing comments. I always look forward to the language play you put forth. So, you knew about this character? Luckily I was spared until I was an adult. I'll let you know if I need a squeeze in the near future.

Bellina - Thanks. I agree about the video. If I didn't want to make my point I would not have included it at all. It's a tad freaky to have him on the blog so I understand. MEOW!

WAT said...

Well well. What a post. Tailor-made for me indeed. I have anxiety disorder and boy it's so true. I spend sometimes wondering "what if" fearing what never really comes true. Why is that? WHY THA HELL DO I WASTE MY TIME?! It's a horrible vicious cycle which I try daily to rip myself away from.

Alas, this is why I am working on myself through therapy.

Mona said...

This is a very good post Gary.

We all have our fears but I know that they are really blown out of proportions in our minds.

But sometimes life is really scary too....

Gary said...

Wat - Funny you should use the phrase "Tailor-made" considering the man with the scissors. I wonder if you were so clever as to make that connection (I am sure you were but am giving myself credit for catching it!). I hate that you are going through anything unpleasant and am sending you good vibrations my friend. In the past I have allowed myself to get caught up in cycles of craziness but they seem to have passed as I made positive changes in my life. You are but a wee lad, not as ancient as I. Perhaps time will help?

Mona, Sweetie, thanks! Yes, real or imagined life can pack quite a punch sometimes can't it?

Ladrón de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Totally off topic, Gary, but I just did a "shout out" to you and book recommendation in my latest "tricycle post".

Pod said...

just say the word gaz

Ladrón de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Gary, regarding the book Exactly, 826 does have a store/center in Brooklyn, in case you want to make sure all the proceeds go directly to them.

Steve Reed said...

What a great post. Fear is such a huge topic. But I think you're right -- the secret is being with it, facing it down, and realizing that the fear itself is worse than what you're afraid of. (To loosely paraphrase FDR!)

I do that same thing with fear of illness -- it's a control thing!

And I LOVED "Shockheaded Peter," though it was creepy as heck.

Gary said...

Pod - Word.

Steve - So, you saw this show huh? It seems that we share similiar feelings about it.

The illness/control connection is so screwed up. It feels so real when it is happening and it becomes very difficult to step back and see the reasons behind it. I guess realizing that in the first place is a plus.


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