Friday, February 19, 2010

Fearsome

So we've had lots of snow.  And cold.  And horrible horrible kind of bleak midwinter that makes you contemplate a call to the doctor, absolutely sure that you have mono, only to realize, no, you're just tired and depressed and looking for an excuse besides February.  And I don't even live in Iowa.

But I still fear global warming.  Ecological meltdown.  Human-caused destruction of the earth.  These things scare me.  A lot.  I won't watch Al Gore's documentary not because I don't believe it's true but because I do.  And also the thought of little polar bears on melting chunks of ice just shreds my heart.

So I fear climate change more than I fear car accidents or serial killers or getting struck by lightening.  Those things are scary, yes, but they seem avoidable.  I'm scared of things that you can't run away from.

David and I were talking the other day about how when he was little, his grandparents lived near an airport.  He liked to watch the planes go by, but he was also very, very scared that a plane would wreck into their house.

So then I was trying to remember what I was scared of when I was a kid.  I remember I was terrified of the Thingamajigs in this horrible, horrible illustrated children's book about good manners.  Thingamajigs were these disgusting trolls with disgusting table manners and the moral of the story, as I recall, is that if you chewed with your mouth open, the Thingamajigs would come steal you from your bed while you were sleeping and make you come live with them.  Horrifying.  (This fear expanded to include all trolls--even the dolls my mom thought were "cute.")

I was also scared of clowns.  Obviously, because they are fecking scary.  My brother shared this fear with me.  My mom once bought him a cute hand-made clown at a craft fair that came with a personalized tag, "Brandon."  Well, Brandon could only sleep when "Brandon" was safely stowed at the bottom of the toy chest.  Because a painted face grinning maniacally?  This is not the stuff that childhood magic is made of.

Some people I know were afraid of robbers or kidnappers or murderers, those kind of worries that will keep a kid up at night, listening to the house creak and moan.  I was not afraid of crime.  I always felt very safe with my parents downstairs.  And  I had a possibly misplaced confidence in my ability to run away and evade bad guys.

In elementary school, I was most afraid of things from outer space.  I think this was the result of a science lesson gone wrong.  When I was quite little (age six or so), it was a vague fear of aliens sucking up my brother and me into their UFO.  Sometimes I would have Brandon come sleep in my bed, figuring that if they started in his room and found it empty, they'd go to another house.  Or if they started in my room, at least we'd be together.

Later, I discovered something even scarier than aliens:  black holes.  In fourth grade, one of my classes was allowed to work on independent projects.  I wrote a short paper on kids working in factories in Victorian England (thanks to a Cricket magazine article that fascinated me what with a story about a girl getting her scalp ripped off when her hair caught in a machine--I will never forget that article).  One boy in my class wrote his project about black holes.

Black holes are vacuums in space. 

Black holes occur when stars burn out.

The sun is a star.

You see my logic here?  Maybe this boy wanted to scare me, but it seemed like a pretty logical leap.  When the sun burns out, it will become a black hole.  It will suck up the earth and there will be no light and no air and we will all die.

That was the kind of shit that kept me up at night.

Oh, Wasteful and Misdirected Anxiety, you've been such a longtime companion to me.

In sixth grade, the environment replaced outer space as my Go-To Source of Major Worry and Stress (had not started dating yet, obviously).  I'll never forget this woman from the Conservation office coming to our science class and slicing up an apple and telling us that this tiny little slice was all of the usable topsoil on the earth.  It was like a panic welling up in my chest.  What could I do about crop rotation and horizontal instead of vertical crop rows?  And yet she made me feel like it was my responsibility!  Save the topsoil! 

Clearly there were people in my class who did not take that environmental message to heart, but I really think that my ecological concerns started with that sliced up apple. Obviously I felt powerless against the sun burning out just like I feel mostly powerless against the ozone layer falling apart, the icecaps melting, the oceans rising, and pollution in general. 

How do you conquer a fear that you can't control?  I mean, you can't take a self defense class or get back on the horse that threw you and feel better about the world falling apart. 

First of all, I try not to think about.  Hello, Distraction, your name is Television and also Vampire Novels.

And also I do small things.  Drive a Honda.  Use cloth napkins.  Throw stuff in a compost pile.  Take the Metro.  Bring my Sigg.  Many of my friends do not do these things.  They drive big cars, they put in the landfill what could go in the compost.  One woman recently told me her sister-in-law wasn't speaking to her because she doesn't recycle.  I stared at her with my jaw dropping--not because her sister-in-law isn't speaking to her but because I wanted to take her by the shoulders and shake her and say "What are you thinking!  Do you not realize the world is falling apart?"  But I try pretty hard not to put my anxiety out on other people. 

And, truth be told, of all these little things I do, I am not sure in the larger scheme of things how much of a difference they make.  I mean, the sun could like totally burn out anyway.

But at least it helps me sleep a little better at night.

OK, readers, if you're out there.  Name your fears.  What else could I be worried about?

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