Writing is an art, and I do occasionally like to play around with its styles, forms, devices, and different genres. My intention is to communicate serious matters in a playful, effective manner. Here, with some risk of pedantic overstepping, I lump together fiction, satire, and magic realism. Feel free to laugh at the result.
I awaken one winter morning from a nightmare feeling groggy yet strangely feisty. A masked maniac wielding a sharp pencil had been chasing me down the street. What the heck was I afraid of? I was holding a bigger pencil in my hand, a yellow Dixon 2HB. I could have turned on my pursuer and written him off as an illusion.
Tottering to the bathroom, I decide to look deeper into my apparent cowardice. I resolve to journey into my psyche to visit an old archetype, Fear Itself, that mysterious hobgoblin of my psyche, for a face-to-face showdown. I had to act fast, though, before fear squelched the whole idea.
Downstairs, gulping a second cup of coffee to fuel lift-off, I plop myself in front of my computer, enter a classified code, and zoom off into inner space in my pixelated spaceship. Off I go, dodging black holes of idle speculation, comet storms of negativity, and warning signs about crashing into emptiness. Soon my GPS locates Fear Itself, holed up in a run-down estate perched on a bluff in the badlands of my psyche.
My laptop in hand, I strut right into its parlor. In shifting shadows, this masked fiend, Fear Itself, slithers to the back of the room, then suddenly arises full height in a menacing warrior pose. Sure enough, the creature, shimmering amorphously, resembles the creep who chased me in my nightmare. Its mask smirks contemptuously at me, yet I see no sign of life behind its eye holes. Tufts of red hair flare up frightfully from the creature’s temples, though its baggy cargo shorts lessen the overall menacing effect.
I walk up to Fear Itself and rip the mask from its face. Not surprisingly, the face of Fear Itself is fear itself. This terrified, pale creature gasps for air, choking on congested garble. A void of nothingness lurks behind its empty eye sockets. It recoils from me, and then scuttles backward crablike through a doorway into the darkness of irrationality.
Aghast, I set up my laptop to make some notes. On the keyboard my fingers, rushin’ like a Russian hacker’s, compose insightfully: “Fear is a negative emotion that’s indeed foreboding, yet it’s not as dangerous as we think. It creates more mischief and grief when it moves unseen within us. We can cause fear to flee by bringing its bare-faced fraudulence into focus.”
I type on swiftly: “Behind our mask of common sense,” I write, “we cavort with fear to the music of the night. Fear has perverse emotional acoustics and rollicks to its own displeasure. It’s often libidinized, which means that, despite its painful jitters, it pulses with bewitching allure, eager to be felt. Under its spell, people experience a familiar, emotional resonance, an infantile and primitive old way of soaking up the beat.”
I read over the words, doubtful they make much sense. Quickly I turn my attention to the festooned parlor from where Fear Itself has fled. Showcased against one wall is a collection of masks and veils. I move closer to examine them. What mischief is Fear Itself up to with all these deceptions? One gruesome mask, I see from the information text beside it, denotes the fear of being loved. Another represents the dread of being unlovable. There’s also a hideous mask for the fear to love.
I hold up this third mask and reflect upon it: Why is it so ugly? Why does it smell so bad? Could it be that, for the frail of mind and spirit, loving in full measure feels like dissolving in self-annihilation? Love, as I recall, obliterates the frail ego, that self-centered me, myself, and I. This mask, I suddenly realize in disgust, reeks of love repellant: underarm mephitis.
My mind reels with speculations. With love, does self-centeredness die—and who is left behind? Is that the big fear, being transfixed by love? What happens to the old Me? Love surely dislodges our identification with our little wounded self. But what—me?—a loving person! The idea is way too scary.
Emotional speculations spill from my mind—as freaked-out emojis—and flitter around my head. My typing fingers can’t keep up with rushing rumination. I pull out my iPhone, set it on record, and babble away in, of all things, the voice of irony: “Why bother trying to be a better person? Let fear of life prevail. It’s safer to hold on to all the familiar feelings of separation from others and of disconnect from self. It’s safer to know oneself through personalized pain, rather than as a kindred spirit with all who breathe and bleed. Better when bereft of love to be ignorant of one’s inner dynamics, despite the horror of then having only one’s insignificance to embrace.”
Plato, for some reason, comes to my mind. He once mused: “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark. The real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” How come I’m quoting Plato? Of course, a serene bust of the old guy, as I now see, sits on a pedestal in the middle of the parlor. That clod, Fear Itself, must like Plato. But why? Perhaps Fear Itself loves to scare the dead out of their wits.
My hand trembles, shaking the mask of the fear to love. I probably made my coffee way too strong. Another great fear, I realize, involves transcending one’s ego. Sure enough, talk about synchronicity, right there in the case in front of me is the mask for this exact fear. At the base of the mask, an information box contains this text:
Much fear is associated with letting go of our conscious ego. When people are inwardly fearful, the mental operating system known as the conscious ego is prone to react unwisely, even stupidly, like a deluded coffee addict. The neurotic ego is compelled much of the time to offer up for company and guidance only a misunderstood, victimized, frightened self.
I move along, admiring a stunning collection of colorful masks arrayed in the long display case covering a whole wall. Among them are fear-masks associated with loss, rejection, betrayal, criticism, shame, abandonment, old age, ill health, poverty, death, helplessness, isolation, and anonymity. There’s a mask for the fear to be unique and, in close resemblance, one for the fear to be yourself. The mask for the fear of being seen as a lesser person blushes red in shame, though it’s less crimson than the one for the fear of failure. They rest alongside somber masks for the fear of humiliation and the fear of being seen as a bad person.
Printed on a long banner stretched across the top and full length of another wall are the words, “What we fear is what we’re attached to.” I assume this refers to the fact that our fears are often used as psychological defenses to cover up our unconscious willingness to recycle and replay unresolved negative emotions. The defense goes like this, as Fear Itself could probably tell you: “I don’t want to keep recycling old unresolved negative emotions of mine, such as being rejected. Look at how fearful I am that I might be rejected (or refused, criticized, unloved).”
Generalized anxiety disorder, I now see, has a glassed-in display case all to itself. The display depicts a masked full-size figure, like a Hollywood wax museum attraction, who’s just locked himself out of his house. This fear, according to the text box, “can be attributed to neurosis, and is associated with irritability, restlessness, tension, worry, and stress.” The disorder, the text box says, is particularly common among people who, in a disconnect from their better self, are unable to establish a home in the goodness of their heart.
A stormy mask, with eyebrows twisted like a cyclone, depicts a person realizing that climate change is for real and that humans are responsible. According to the text box, this particular fear is sometimes denied and suppressed. The text, breaking with protocol for whatever reason, casts a curse upon the reader: “May you stay scared and paralyzed, a disgrace to humanity, never to awaken to your personal responsibility for the health of Planet Earth!”
There are many more masks (for fears of dogs, snakes, bugs, and blood, for instance), and I resolve to return to catalog them all at some future date. One whole section deals with baby fears that linger in the adult psyche. Especially pathetic are the masks denoting fear of being flushed down the toilet and fear of standing on one’s two feet.
Two other masks, identified as a Liberal and a Conservative, are positioned facing one another. They strike hideous, recoiling expressions, each deathly afraid of meeting the other halfway.
Another mask depicts the slack-jawed fear of being responsible for our own happiness. I notice further along that the mask depicting fear of the inner critic is especially hideous. The inner critic, represented as a full-sized figure garbed in a dictator’s uniform, stands proudly on a pedestal wearing medals for instigating irrational accusations, cruel insinuations, and alternative facts.
One of the biggest fears, I suspect (upon marveling at its huge mask), arises as self-doubt. The mask is a psychedelic apparition, signed by Salvador Daemonian himself. I blurt into my iPhone: “Fearful self-doubt, as I know from my years of study, is sparked by the conflict between an inner critic that belittles and mocks us and by inner passivity that allows our inner critic to undermine our essential goodness and value.”
I come back to the spot where I first encountered Fear Itself. I pick its mask off the floor where it tumbled and place it on a table. Struggling not to gag, I take a few minutes with pen and pad to draw an image of it. It’s a mask of crying shame and hideous lament, a stiff, wooden cover-up for lack of faith in oneself. If I publish this drawing, I know right away, too many people would faint at its sight.
I’m done, for now, all masked-out. I hurry away from the abode of Fear Itself and return (magically, of course) to my computer desk. I feel good about the visit, and especially about tearing the mask from the face of Fear Itself. I know my adventure was all real because my left hand still clutches the other mask, the one that depicts the fear to love. I spray it with deodorant and slip it over a nearby hook, from where its gaze and smirk allude to my catalog of imperfections.
I also brought back my drawing. Its leer locks onto me like a loaded Luger. I lock it away in a desk drawer before it triggers me. Fear Itself will want, no doubt, to shoot its way back into my emotional life. But now I know how to find and disarm it. Next time, I might slap its obnoxious aggression with a weapons violation.
Later I type up a note to add, as a text box, to the bottom of this story:
People do best when they identify and face their fears. These fears are nothing to be ashamed of. Don’t judge your fears, and don’t judge yourself for having these fears. Just recognize them and understand their irrationality. Once you visit your psyche and learn what you’ve been afraid of, Fear Itself can be laughed away.