Fear. It sucks. There’s no more accurate way to say it. I don’t think we’re born to fear most of the things we do. I really believe in my heart that many, if not most, fears are acquired rather than innate. For example, I grew up on a farm, and as a child, I was never afraid of spiders. We weren’t ever going to be BFFs or anything, but they didn’t terrify me—yet.
Fast forward to Girl Scout Summer Camp, circa 1978 or so. I bounced up the steps into my platform-and-canvas tent to find I was the last of the four girls to arrive. My tentmates had thoughtfully saved my very special cot just for me—the one with the live wasp and spider nests tucked in the corner above my head.
I turned to the junior counselor, Woodstock (names have not been changed to protect the innocent; these were their actual camp nicknames), and asked if we couldn’t knock the nests down. The spider nest didn’t faze me, it looked sort of like a big, fluffy cotton ball, but I was worried about all those wasps buzzing threateningly at their new, delicious neighbor.
“Sure, let me go ask if K-2 [the head counselor] has some bug spray,” she said, smiling reassuringly.
I started to unpack, keeping one eye on those nests the whole time. After a few minutes, Woodstock returned, an unhappy frown marring her very young face.
“I’m sorry, but K-2 said we can’t kill them. They’re part of nature, she said, so you’ll just have to try not to disturb them.”
I’m sure I didn’t actually say that—I don’t think I even knew the F-bomb back then—but I’m also sure my face expressed that thought pretty clearly.
“It’ll be okay,” Woodstock cooed soothingly. “You’re not going to spend much time in here anyway, and they won’t bother you while you’re sleeping. They get pretty quiet at night.”
I took her, skeptically, at her word, and the day did pass quickly, full of fun, sun, games, and activities. Before I knew it, it was time for bed. I stood for a long time beside the metal-framed cot, my flashlight shining directly at the two nests. I thought Woodstock might just have been right; there was not a wasp in sight, and the cotton ball nest was still just a cotton ball. I crawled into my sleeping bag on top of the lumpy cot mattress and drifted off into an uneasy sleep.
As I tossed and turned, my dreams turned darker, and I soon began to see shadowy figures scrabbling all around me. One parted from the rest, growing bigger and darker as it began to chase me, faster and faster. My heart pounded as I raced through the darkened campground trying to outrun it, even as it grew ever bigger, ever swifter.
I glanced over my shoulder—big mistake—and froze at what I saw: an enormous, greasy-furred, blacker-than-hell’s-deepest-pit spider. Terror, futile and unreasoning, cut my legs out from beneath me as the monster reared up over me, fangs bared and dripping down onto me with the vilest of poisons.
I screamed. I screamed and I screamed and I screamed and I screamed and I screamed.
Hands, young and strong, grabbed my shoulders and shook me awake.
“It’s okay! It’s okay! It’s just a nightmare!” I finally stopped screaming and, shaking and sobbing, slowly became aware of Woodstock, my tentmates, and virtually every other girl in camp, crowded into our tiny tent. “It was just a dream, honey. It’s okay,” Woodstock was murmuring, full-out hugging and rocking my shaking body back and forth. “What a bad one. What was it? Do you want to talk about it?”
Haltingly, I explained what I had seen. When I had finished, Woodstock stood up straight, her face grim in the circle of flashlights surrounding her.
“That’s it. This is ridiculous. You shouldn’t have to put up with this.” Without another word, she marched out of the tent. Moments later, she returned, bearing a can of Off bug spray and a long, red broom.
“I don’t care what K-2 says, we’re getting rid of these. Now.” Woodstock hopped onto my cot and, brandishing the broom over her head, she took aim with the Off at the harmless-looking nests above my bed.
Now—up until this next moment, my fears weren’t real. They were dreams, things my subconscious had cooked up to freak me out. They simply weren’t real. But the moment that the bug spray hit, not the wasp nest, but the cotton ball spider nest—the nest became transparent.
Suddenly, what had looked so harmless, so innocent, so fluffy and so clean, turned into a wriggling, writhing, skittering mass of EWWWWWW. There were thousands of them, twisting and squirming. As their squirming became more aggressive, the nest tore open, and the spiders began dropping from the ceiling, a creepy-crawly shower straight from hell. I began screaming again (all the girls did, frankly) and ran from the tent. From the safety of the far side of the fire pit, we watched as Woodstock, Off in one hand and broom in the other, valiantly knocked both of those nests to the wooden floor and stomped on them, over and over and over again, until there was nothing left but a dark stain. In retrospect, I don’t think Woodstock was afraid of anything.
That, my friends, is how I acquired my fear of spiders.
I wish I could say that they’re the only things I have come to fear in my lifetime, but they’re not. Flying, meeting new people, being home alone at night, getting lost—I’m afraid of so many things, it’s a wonder I even get out of bed in the morning. (But I’m also afraid of muscle atrophy, so I do.)
That’s what I really want to say to you about fear, in the end. It’s that we’re all afraid of something, acquired or innate, but fear or not, we still have to DO—or we die.
When I first started writing, I was terrified to show it anyone. Once I did, I found it wasn’t so bad—most of the time. Fear conquered.
When I decided to try to enter grad school, I was scared they wouldn’t accept me. Guess what? It happened—I didn’t make it. But I didn’t die. I tried again. This year, I finally made it. Fear conquered.
When we first talked about relocating again after six years in Minnesota, I couldn’t sleep for fear of what the future would bring. But we did it, and while it has been tough at times, I would do it again in a heartbeat. Fear conquered.
Today, as I write this, I’m taking another leap that scares me to death. For over a year now, I’ve been complaining about my crummy website, but I lack the budget to hire a professional and the technical expertise to do it myself. So for the last three months, I’ve been teaching myself, step by step, and just this afternoon, I finally made the call to “point the name servers for my domain” (thank you, Technical Support Dudes, for the proper jargon and patiently answering my 122 support calls) to my new website.
Having said that, I confess: I’m in an agony of fear at the moment. They said it could take anywhere from 5 minutes to 48 hours before it will be live. I’ve already checked 22 times in the last 30 minutes—it’s not up yet.
Will it suck? Will it even work? Will it be completely screwed up? Will people know where to find me? And how do I do this whole redirect thing anyway? What if it accidentally redirects to a porn site? Well, some folks might actually like that better, but Argh! Hyperventilating! Fear not conquered, not at all. But at least I’m engaging it.
The thing about fear is that, if you let it, it can stop you from living the life you want to live. But if you face it head-on, with a can of Off and a broom, you can kick its ass. Afraid of something? Ask yourself: what’s the best outcome if I try? What’s the worst outcome if I try and I fail? Then, and this is the most important step, remember this: IF YOU DON’T AT LEAST TRY, YOU ARE GUARANTEED TO FAIL. I know, I went all shouty caps there, but this is important–I didn’t want you to miss it.
That not-even trying thing? That, right there, that’s the worst thing that can happen.
So—hopefully, as you’re reading this, you’re reading it on the New-and-Improved Justscribbling.com and it looks great! And you love it! (And you’ll tell me, so I know.) But, if you’re reading this on my normal WordPress blog site—well, then you know it didn’t go as planned. Or that it’s taking a lot longer than I hoped to find out. But at least I tried, and I will try again.
What fears are stopping you from doing the same?