*Jane, channeling her favorite persona to-date: Wonder Woman. Maybe her new favorite hobby now is doing stunts with Fayez where she pushes him to the ground and yells “I’m a tough girl.” Maybe he lets her because he’s thrilled she’s momentarily distracted from all things princess related. Maybe she wants to wear that crown every time we go out of the house. Maybe I let her because it’s AWESOME.
Every now and then, rarely, my bed every-so-slightly rumbles at night. My first knee jerk reaction, every time, is panic and I think, “THIS IS IT. It’s the big one! The New Madrid is going! Look at all the flashing lights from cop cars out the window! Wake up Fayez! Get Jane! Get to a doorway!” And then a second passes and I remember that there is no New Madrid fault line in New York, and they’re probably filming Law and Order out there, and it’s just the nearby train.
But this is essentially a core part of my inner self. I’m an alarmist. I go to the end of the road every time, thinking of the absolute worst case scenario so I can be prepared. It was just a year or so ago that I stopped being that “I’m telling you, something awful is going to happen” person because I realized it takes ZERO intelligence to predict something bad will happen. It’s like saying, “I’m telling you, it’s going to rain.” You’ve completely hedged your bets.
Of course it’s going to rain at some point.
All that to say, fear has been my buddy for as long as I can remember.
Sometimes people from back home ask me, “Aren’t you just scared all the time in New York?”
Believe me, if anyone was going to be scared all the time, I would be the one to figure out how to do that. But I didn’t move from Mayberry to Gotham City.
The New York today is not the crusty New York of the 1980’s. It also bears mentioning that Little Rock, while lovely and wonderful in oh so many ways, is usually always listed as one of the most dangerous cities in America. It also bears mentioning that my last job was at a university where it wasn’t totally unheard of for someone to get robbed at gun point while walking across the middle of campus in the broad daylight.
That university also clothed and fed me and my daughter, and I loved working there with my friends. It gave me access to healthcare, a gym, and free visits to a nurse practitioner. There were many wonderful things about it. Little Rock was my home for ten years and I loved so many things about it as well.
But the fact remains, it could, at times, be a little shooty there.
All that to say, New York honestly hasn’t rattled me too badly in those respects. It’s intense. It’s eccentric. It’s endlessly fascinating when you see a woman dressed up like she’s on her way to a renaissance fair, but she’s not. She’s just wearing a maroon floor length ball gown while casually walking her poodles named Federico, Goliath, and Kaitlyn Jenner.
Frederico turned out to be a real jerk and peed all over Goliath’s leg. I learned this because she was screaming at them in an impressive falsetto voice.
But, I digress.
This morning I stopped off for a coffee. I love this little coffee place. It’s small and not trendy. It sits underneath the train tracks. An Italian couple run it and they yell back and forth at each other in a surprisingly soothing way. Somehow “HEY, move your slow butt we’ve got customers lined up out the door” still manages to sound beautiful in their language.
I like to get a coffee, read for a bit, and then go home and get to work. This morning I did just that. I waved goodbye to them (woohoo, I’m a regular), and walked out the door. It was at this particular juncture I noticed a man staggering toward me on the sidewalk. He was back-lit by the sun. He looked, weird. And of course he zeroed in right on me.
“Hey lady, do you have a quarter.”
Honestly, I did. It was in my backpack-purse (something I never ever thought I would buy, but now adore with all the zenith-level love of Glen Close for Micheal Douglas). But no way was I going drop everything there on the sidewalk and open up my purse for someone wobbling toward me like an extra on The Walking Dead.
So I kept walking straight head and that’s when he jumped right in my face.
Just like, I don’t know, say, A ZOMBIE.
It was a complete invasion of space, and it was aggressive, and he was clearly not mentally well, and all of this on a crowded sidewalk in the bright sunlight. And in a moment that was completely uncharacteristic for me, I wasn’t afraid at all. I looked at him and said in my most calm voice, “Back off.”
He stopped hissing, gazed at me somewhat objectively, nodded, and walked off with a completely normal gait.
And then I went home, unfazed, drinking my coffee and enjoying the fact that my blood pressure was totally low and normal.
But it got me to thinking about the whole concept of fear. The way it can rule us. The way it responds back to us. I suspect if I’d gasped, or cried, that fake-zombie-pan-handler would have loved it. He probably would have harassed me even more and upped the asking price to a dollar. Which would have freaked me out even more, which would have made me cry harder… like a vicious circle.
That is what fear and anxiety is, at their cores. They’re vicious circles. They loop and swoop back on themselves, and you’re standing in the middle of a vortex.
I find fear creeps in on all the good things. Like writing. I love writing. But fear likes to throw me off. I can hear it whispering, “Are you SURE you want to try to write about? It might suck.” And before I know it, a perfectly happy working afternoon that should have been spent creating and enjoying myself turns into a cycle of anxiety. “It might suck” turns into “maybe all my writing sucks” which turns into “maybe I should just go scrub the bathtub instead.”
Fear turns a simple headache into tumor worries. Fear turns money troubles into worst-case-scenario bankruptcy google searches. Fear turns disagreements into overblown dramas. And just like that hissing-zombie-dude, fear feeds off our reactions.
And as I walked home, enjoying the fall breeze and my favorite dark green leather jacket, I decided that I’m going to start treating nagging fears just like the zombie man. I’m going to calmly, literally, out loud, say, “Back off.”
Because worrying about the New Madrid fault line, or Donald Trump remodeling the oval office with a custom shelf designed to house all his wigs, or robbers, or colds that can turn into strep throat, or writing something that lives up to some crazy standard I set in my head… it just breeds fear. And fear breeds on itself.
Because yes, bad things are going to happen. I can’t stop them. I can’t predict them. All I can do is handle them at the time they happen. I’ll worry when it’s time to worry. But I’m too tired to be worried all the time. I’m too old to walk around holding hands with fear. It can just back off.
Life is too good. Morning sunrises are too beautiful. Dinners at a diner with my four year old while she tells me about a mermaid fish named Goldie who lives in our dishwasher are just too darn magical to miss.
And also, crazy zombie panhandlers make for really good writing material.