Tag Archives: fears

Bert and Ernie and the Weeping Angels

Warning: This post contains mild Doctor Who spoilers. Just a few out-of-context names and photos of monsters; nothing that would ruin the experience for a newbie. Also, you’ll find some classic Sesame Street spoilers. So if you don’t want to know what comes after the letter B, stop reading now.

Geek peer pressure has led me to some great things.

For example: I am now in love with Doctor Who. It is a wonderful, wonderful show. I should have started watching it years ago, and now I’m catching up with the recent seasons via Netflix streaming. I’m devouring it: I sometimes go through three or four episodes in a day. I waited so long to get started because I was warned that there were monsters and deeply unsettling episodes, and that gave me pause. I’m not good with scary movies at all, and I avoid them altogether. With that in mind, I stepped gingerly, almost reluctantly, into the Doctor Who world. I was unsure what to expect from it, and from myself.

After three seasons, I can safely tell you: I’m not afraid of the monsters. And I think I’ve figured out why. Monsters aren’t real. That means they can’t be a real threat to me. Creatures with teeth and tentacles, wings and claws – they’re completely imaginary and therefore not taken too seriously by my brain. Sure, maybe I’ll flinch a little as they fill the screen, and I’ll fear for our dashing hero and his companion, but monster-filled nightmares don’t keep me up at night.

A monster with wings and screeching and nasty pointy teeth. Image from Tardis Data Core (Doctor Who Wiki)

The things that truly scare me, and leave lingering feelings of anxiety and dread, are people (or things) that have been transformed from something familiar into something terrible. And Doctor Who is full of monsters that are normal people whose bodies have been taken over by demons or telepathic aliens or angry energy-based life forms. Those are the ones that keep me from falling back asleep at night after I wake with a start. Because if the devil can take over someone’s body, how can I know that the shape sleeping beside me is really my husband? (I’ve already warned him that pulling out a raspy “devil voice” in the dark is grounds for divorce, no matter how much it seems like a good joke at the time.)

I realize that it’s a completely irrational fear. And it’s not like I spend every day sneaking glances at everyone for evidence of demonic possession. But those episodes leave me jumpy and agitated for hours, so I’ve had to ask my husband to warn me when one’s coming up. That way, we can wait until a weekend where I can recover properly if I don’t get a good night’s sleep after the credits roll.

This week, I met the Weeping Angels. They’re otherworldly assassins who take the form of angel statues, and who turn to stone if someone is looking at them. Look away, though, and they get you. You can’t even blink.

Weeping angels coming to get you. Image from Tardis Data Core.

It doesn’t help that vicious fangs and claws come out when they’re sneaking up on you, but even without those, the Weeping Angels are statues that move, and that freaks me right out. Inanimate things are not supposed to be animate and are especially not supposed to sneak over and get you while you’re not looking. It’s like possession, but of things instead of people. Just as scary.

My terror didn’t begin with the angels, though. My worry that inanimate objects may come to life started long, long ago, and this episode of Doctor Who woke up some very old and very strong memories. As I watched the angels move with each blink of their victims’ eyes, all I could see was Ernie.

When I was very young, maybe six years old, Bert and Ernie visited the Egyptian pyramids. Such intrepid explorers, wearing their explorer hats and explorer trench coats! Deep in the gloom of the pyramid’s inner chambers, they found statues that looked exactly like them. Ernie, sensibly, tried to turn back and leave these unsettling doppelgangers behind in their tomb, but Bert mocked him. Mocked him and left him alone with the statues.

Of course, what happens next is that the Ernie statue wakes up and bonks Ernie on his head. It happens twice, and both times he calls for help, only to receive sarcasm and ridicule in return. It’s his imagination, Bert tells him, running out of control and creating monsters where there are none. Well, he’s wrong, and it’s all true, and Bert sure as hell isn’t blaming his own imagination when the statue finally speaks to him, terrifying him and sending him running.

Even as a kid, I saw through the superficial message of the episode – control your imagination, and it will take you to wonderful places instead of scaring you – and internalized the darker subtext. There are times when people you trust will tell you something you fear, something you’ve heard or seen in the shadows, is “just your imagination.” And they will be wrong.

I was afraid of my stuffed animals for months.

And now I’m not so sure about statues.

 




I don’t even HAVE an Auntie Em.

My coworkers were gathered around the windows, watching the sky. My boss pulled off his lab coat and moved towards the door.

“I’m outta here,” he said. He looked at me. “It would be wise for you to do the same.”

I nodded.

“Yeah, I don’t want to get caught in that.”

At 3:30, half an hour before I normally leave work, I got into my car, pulled out of the parking lot, and headed for home. It was still light out.

When I turned onto the main road, my rearview mirror was crowded with thick black clouds. I switched off my podcast and tuned into a local station, just in case. It was classic rock, one of the few stations I still get in my car after I broke the antenna years ago.

At 3:45, it started to rain. I switched on my wipers and my lights. A radio ad for a local bank ended, and the announcer put on something from The Who. The sky was layers on layers of heavy dark clouds. The storm was spreading out, dividing into cells, moving fast. I wasn’t outrunning it.

Image of June 13, 2013 Derecho storm. Credit: Martin MacPhee via EarthSky.org

At 4:00, the sun went out. Traffic stopped. I inched forward, holding the steering wheel tight and focusing on brake lights ahead of me. I couldn’t see further. The Emergency Broadcast Signal chirped on my phone, muted by the rain on the roof. I grabbed it and fumbled to see the screen.

CRITICAL WARNING. TORNADO WARNING IN YOUR IMMEDIATE AREA. SEEK SHELTER IMMEDIATELY.

Suddenly, I was in a car wash. A wall of water and wind came at me from the right. I shrieked and stabbed at the radio, screaming at Supertramp to shut up and tell me if I needed to abandon my car and huddle in a ditch. But all the stations were playing music or static. I called home with one hand. It took three tries, because I couldn’t watch the screen and the road, and I couldn’t keep my hand steady enough to find the numbers.

twister

Auntie Em, Uncle Henry, Toto! It’s a twister! It’s a twister!

“You need to help me! I can’t see!” My voice and my hands were shaking. “God, I’m so scared, I can’t see! Where is it? There’s a tornado but I don’t know where – what do I do?” My husband told me the warning was for Howard and Montgomery counties. He told me I should pull over, but there was no shoulder, nowhere to go.

“Go check the TV, please, PLEASE! Tell me where it is, where it’s going, tell me what to do!” I fought back tears.

“Colesville,” he told me. “Moving towards Laurel. They’re saying you should get off the road.”

“That’s here!” I panicked. “Oh my God, that’s like right here!”

Screenshot-1

A line between Colesville and Laurel, and my approximate position at the time. Eek!

I should have pulled off, found a house, and asked them to let me in. But it was 4:05pm. People were at work. I couldn’t risk being trapped outside. I kept moving, at 10 miles an hour, looking for shelter. The road broke into two lanes as it passed the commercial strip, but the right lane was flooded, and there was too much traffic coming the other way for me to turn left.

At 4:10, I sat in a left-turn lane outside a strip mall, hitting my steering wheel and screaming at the SUV ahead of me to go go GO. The wind was throwing branches the thickness of my wrist across the road as though they were leaves.

I drove through a river six inches deep to get into the parking lot. I put my car in an empty space, grabbed my purse, and ran. I’m glad I don’t wear heels to work.

I wasn’t outside for more than twenty seconds, but I was soaked through to my bra. I stood, dripping, in the center aisle of the pharmacy with a dozen other people who were shaking as hard as I was. We watched out the store windows as trees bent in the gale.

I called my husband back to tell him I was inside, I was safe, and I loved him.

Then I bought a bag of pretzels and put my chattering teeth to good use while I waited for the all-clear.

 

Mediocrity

A friend sent me a link to a contest. To enter, people write blog posts about their greatest fears and submit them to a published author, who will choose the best story and give the winning writer a trip to anywhere. How could I ever enter such a thing? My piece would be compared to hundreds of others. It would likely come up short.

I am afraid that my writing isn’t good enough. That I’m not good enough. That when I think I’m going to be a great writer someday, I’m wrong.

I am afraid that the voice inside my head that says I’m silly to want to be a writer, the voice that says I should give up and just keep a little journal for myself, might be right.

I am terrified of my own mediocrity.

I grew up nerdy, awkward, and quiet. I never had many friends, and my family didn’t have money for music lessons or sports teams. Instead of popularity, I comforted myself with my brain. I could read at three, write sentences at four, and I was so bored by the A-B-C of kindergarten that I was skipped through to second grade the next year. My parents praised my grades, so I kept bringing them quizzes adorned with gold stars and smiley faces. My teachers told me I was smart, told me I was talented, told me I should be a writer. Daily, I was praised for my brain. I was a very smart kid.

Then I got older, and I met more people. Smart people. People who were better than me at so many things, and so much more confident. People who inspired and intimidated me. I attended medical conferences and heard scientists speak excitedly about their work. After every conference, I wished I had gone on to grad school so that I could stand up there with those amazing people. But I doubt I’m smart enough to get through it. I went on a special cruise with hundreds of other geeks and was blown away by their guts and creativity. Singers, comics, writers and artists – I want so badly to be like them and to share myself with the world, but I don’t know how. Deep inside, I feel that my efforts would never compare to theirs, so I am afraid to try.

I am afraid that my brain has failed me. I used to feel so smart, and now I feel so… stupid. Is my pond bigger and more crowded now than it was when I was young, or has insecurity shrunk me into a smaller fish? I have grown into a woman who surrounds herself with intelligent and engaging people – why does this intimidate more than it inspires? In comparing myself to these people, my sense of self has begun to crack. If I’m not as smart as everyone’s been telling me I am, then what is left of me?

Here, on my blog, I feel safe. I write more for myself than for anyone else, and nobody is judging me. If readers don’t enjoy what they see, they don’t come back, and without a statistics counter embedded in my code, I’ll never know. It’s comfortable and isolated, and I can pretend here that I’m a wonderful writer who just hasn’t been discovered yet. Because, truth be told, I might not be all that good, and that’s a reality that I don’t want to face.

I am afraid to expose myself to criticism. I know it’s the only way to grow, but doing so may force me to admit I’m mediocre, and not the writer I wish I were. I fear that rejection will break me. It will reinforce the negative voices that whisper to me at night and prompt my retreat.

By entering this contest, I am choosing to face that fear. I’m handing in my assignment for some very talented and intimidating people to read and criticize. The little girl in me hopes desperately for a gold star. The insecure adult in me worries that putting my post in a pile with those of better writers than me is a mistake, and I shouldn’t try. They’re both wrong. What I need is not empty praise to puff my ego. I need to improve, both in skill and in guts, and the only way to do that is to take a deep breath and ask for criticism from people who are qualified to hand it out.

 

 


Love with a Chance of Drowning – A Memoir by Torre DeRocheThis post is part of the My Fearful Adventure series, which is celebrating the launch of Torre DeRoche’s debut book Love with a Chance of Drowning, a true adventure story about one girl’s leap into the deep end of her fears.

“Wow, what a book. Exciting. Dramatic. Honest. Torre DeRoche is an author to follow.” Australian Associated Press

“… a story about conquering the fears that keep you from living your dreams.” Nomadicmatt.com

“In her debut, DeRoche has penned such a beautiful, thrilling story you’ll have to remind yourself it’s not fiction.” Courier Mail

Find out more…