It’s been a while since my last update. Summer always tends to get away from me. I can’t believe it’s already August!
Yes, August, that most blessed of times known to man as Shark Week. From the time I was seven years old, I’ve never missed a single Shark Week. Every August, I sit glued to my television, watching the same shows they’ve played for twenty years, and spending that night terrified to go to the bathroom in case one of those massive Great White Sharks is swimming in my toilet. That’s the great thing about a phobia – its complete lack of logic.
Shark Week combines two of my greatest phobias. Sharks, obviously, and water. If there was a way to work clowns into the mix, it would be the Unholy Trinity of Terror.
I love to swim, but I’m terrified of water if I can’t see the bottom. I have never been swimming in a lake (and never will) because that greenish-brown water could be hiding God only knows what. Alligators, snapping turtles, dead bodies, zombies (they don’t need to breathe, you know). All of that and more might be just below the surface. God help you if you happen to be near me and something brushes my leg while I’m in the water. I’m going to climb you like a cat climbs a tree with the dog hot on its heels.
I have been swimming in the ocean. I love the beach, and someday hope to have a little cabana right on the water. With a cabana boy, but that’s another post. I can deal with the water better there because its blue, it looks cleaner, and you can see deeper into it. Still, every time I go into the water, I see the flailing legs in that great underwater POV scene where Jaws first attacks Amity Beach.
It doesn’t help that I’ve had my own Amity Beach experience. There’s nothing more frightening than looking up and realizing you’re the only person in the water as far as you can see up and down the coast while the lifeguard is frantically gesturing at you.
You might be wondering what all this has to do with writing. Well, I’ll tell you. Phobias can be a writer’s best friend. Take Shark Week for example. I’ve been terrified of sharks since the first time I watched Jaws. That damned shark tormented me for years, haunting every puddle and nightly bath of my childhood. Just hearing the theme song was enough for me to have a week’s worth of nightmares.
I read somewhere that a therapy for dealing with fears involves exposure to said fear. People fear the unknown and what they don’t understand. I certainly didn’t understand sharks, so I began researching them. A naturally curious nature never hurts here. I started out with books, as I often do, and then with the Discovery channel. Sunday nights in our house were always planned around church and the National Geographic program. When I discovered a whole week dedicated to sharks, I knew I’d hit the jackpot. The more I learned about sharks, the more they fascinated me. Truly one of God’s marvels, this creature is evolution at its finest. Pared down to its most necessary parts, it functions on an instinctive level that humans can only admire. It swims, eats, and procreates, and does it in a way to make itself the most feared animal in the ocean. I learned through them about keystone predators, how important a creature can be to its ecosystem, and in turn how that ecosystem affects the rest of the planet. Not to mention that sharks are just freakin’ cool. If sharks were people, they would be Al Pacino, James Dean, and Robert Mitchum all rolled up into one person. They’re that badass.
Am I still afraid of sharks? You bet. But now it’s not so much an irrational fear as it is a healthy respect for a creature that owns its nature the way few other animals do. I’ve also learned they are not soulless killing machines, but merely animals doing what animals do – surviving.
It doesn’t keep me from imagining those flailing legs every time I get near a body of water, but now I know the shark isn’t actively trying hunt me down. It merely thinks I’m a fat seal, which is enough incentive to get my butt on a treadmill. Proving that conquering your fears can be healthy in more ways than you think.
Writing through fear is something most writers, well, fear. Be it sharks, fear of commitment, fear of the unknown, or those daddy/mommy issues you’ve wrestling with since childhood, examining what we don’t understand makes us break out in that cold primal sweat.
That’s a good thing, really. Nothing speaks more clearly to the human soul than fear. It’s what kept our ancestors from becoming dinosaur food. It’s why horror stories and scary movies continue to be a part of our lives, even though deep down we known vampires and zombies are silly.
Writing from the gut takes guts. It means looking hard and honestly at the things that make us scared and uncomfortable. Every square inch of it. It means taking the thing apart, seeing what makes it tick, putting it back together again and watch it scare the bejeezus out of us. Not an easy task even for the bravest of us.
What we learn from that fear, though, far outweighs what it costs to examine it.