I’ve been thinking a lot about fear lately. And specifically about fearing the wrong things.
In order to be your best self it helps to be fearless, calm, and to see reality as it actually exists, not filtered through an adrenaline-soaked haze. When you are thinking clearly and have access to accurate information it’s easier to make sound decisions.
Easier said than done.
When you are anxious you magnify small fears, respond disproportionately to threats, and get distracted from the things that really matter to you. In its purest form, miscalculating your fears results in paranoia, fearing things that simply don’t exist.
But irrational fear also results in some of the world’s biggest ills. Bigotry, violence, hysteria.
Whether you’re a mega-bestselling author irrationally terrified by transgender people or if you clutch your wallet tightly when you walk down perfectly safe streets because of the type of person on the block (or worse), miscalculated fears can turn otherwise rational people into monsters.
Fear can even creep inexorably into the writing process. Fearing that you aren’t good enough, that people are going to respond negatively, that you’re not a “real writer,” as if such a thing even exists. There’s little that’s helpful about those fears, but as Shakespeare managed to write, “Nothing routs us but the villainy of our fears.”
To get anything done that’s worth doing you have to face fears, calm down, and focus.
But in the day of the internet, social media, and the political media industrial complex, the modern world is engineered to stop you from being calm.
Our fear is extremely profitable to the people who can provoke it. Algorithms have gotten ridiculously good at stoking our anxieties and provoking conflicts. Doomscrolling keeps entire industries afloat.
Are these times really that “unprecedented?” Is 2020 really the worst year ever? (I mean… have you even read a book about the 1800s or earlier?)
Or is everything we’re going through pretty much business as usual, only it’s packaged and injected directly into our amygdala by the politicians and companies who profit from our hijacked attention?
I honestly don’t know. It’s hard to see what’s real through the haze of our collective anxieties. This election and the pandemic could well spell the end of American democracy and we’re headed for an unimaginably bleak future. But probably not. But maybe! Let me read another article about it…
How do you calculate your fears accurately when the ground is constantly shifting under you, when anxiety is a push alert away, when the world is arrayed around you to keep you agitated? How do you even write when you don’t know what world you’re writing for and what your efforts could possibly add up to?
Joy is all around you if you’re not too agitated to see it. There’s still a future to write for.
But calm is hard to find these days. Fear is invasive and corrosive.
I at least want to see it for what it is.
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Art: John Henry Fuseli – The Nightmare