Monday, October 13, 2014

Fish, Tornadoes, and Failure--my fears, then and now (Stephanie Kuehnert)

Holy wow, this has been a great month so far for YAOTL! This theme has really brought out some incredible stories and truths. I mean, Jen’s list of fears is hilarious and awesome, Sydney’s post about the masks we wear as authors is on point, and Kimberly’s post about wanting to take off the mask (and wishing everyone would) and her fears about not being brave enough rang so true for me. Overall, everyone has been so brilliant that I barely know what to add to the conversation and at first I couldn’t decide—fears or masks! I was going to talk about using my characters as a mask—Emily from I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone was totally the girl I wished I was from her musical talent to her tough girl attitude to her long, straight, black hair (mine is frustratingly wavy)—and what it feels like to take that mask off now that I’m writing a memoir, but I realized that I already sort-of covered that in this post over at my own blog about what I has surprised me so far about memoir-writing. So check that out if you wish—the long and the short of it is while I don’t mind being honest about my experiences, taking that mask off and facing the more embarrassing or shitty sides of myself is pretty damn uncomfortable—and I’ll focus on my fears here.

Over the years, some of my fears have changed and some have stayed the same. For example, compared to my childhood, I’ve definitely become a wimp when it comes to reading and watching horror.  Like a lot of my fellow bloggers, I was a Stephen King addict as a kid. At twelve, I had no problem with scary books or movies, but then in my twenties… this is so silly, I saw The Ring and was freaked out for an entire week! Since then, I mostly stick to humorous Buffy and Supernatural type horror, and I have read genuinely scary things (like Amity by Micol Ostow which I adored and talked about on Rookie here) during my lunch break!

Spiders. Yeah, that never changes. Always have been terrified, always will be. And I’ve noticed a lot more spiders in the Pacific Northwest since I moved here last year. And they are bigger and uglier too! But there are a lot less mosquitoes than there were in Chicago, so I try to deal… As long as they are outside my apartment. When I found one just hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the living room like it had tried to build a big cross-room web, I completely freaked and called my husband to take care of it, then lectured the cats for not doing their job.

Tornados and big storms. This is another one I’ve had since childhood. Growing up in St. Louis and Chicago, that air raid/tornado siren went off A LOT (even though it was often set off by thunder and lightning) and I was always the first one to race down to the basement. In fact, when I was little and started to see the signs of a major storm coming, I’d load up my doll’s carriage with all of my prize possessions—Music Bear, Blankie, my favorite book of the moment, I’d even put my hamster in his ball and put him in there. This fear both deepened and changed during my last couple of years in Chicago. Despite my tornado fear, I’d loved thunderstorms, but suddenly thunderstorms in my area would be accompanied with torrential downpours which would flood my basement. Like one storm was so big and bad, we got FEMA assistance to fix things! So I’d say this fear actually turned into a real adult trauma. So, you might be asking, why the hell did you move to Seattle? Doesn’t it rain all the time there? Yes and no. Our winters are rainy (a big perk over Chicago snow and cold, which was not a fear of mine but definitely another adult trauma), but it’s basically this constant mist. Downpours and thunderstorms are rare—people get really excited about thunderstorms here and hopefully I will, too eventually, but the trauma lingers a bit even though I’m on a second floor apartment that obviously doesn’t flood. Tornadoes are not an issue at all in Seattle, but now I get to have a new major disaster fear: earthquakes! And I am seriously sweating that one. Just the other night I was lying awake worrying about what I’d do if my cats got hurt in an earthquake. Sigh. (They’ll hide, right? They’ll totally hide and be fine. Please reassure me.)

Fish. This was a fear that developed when I was eighteen or nineteen, living in Wisconsin, and made the brilliant decision to swim drunkenly across a lake in the middle of the night with my friend Kevin, who was a total jokester. We got to the middle of the lake and he remarked, “Boy, I bet the fish out here are enormous. They could probably take off a toe or something!” And suddenly I realized I was in the middle of a dark-ass, freakin’ lake and ginormous fish were probably lurking right by my legs, possibly even touching me or preparing to eat my toes like Kevin said. I panicked. It’s a miracle I didn’t drown. Instead I swam my ass back to shore as fast as I was capable with Kevin chuckling after me. Probably a good thing because I was exhausted and if we’d actually gotten to the other side of the lake, I don’t think we could have swam back. I’ve refused to do more than wade in anything that might contain fish ever since… so basically I’ve been relegated to pools. The ocean is extra terrifying because of sharks and stingrays, etc. (I also almost stepped on a jellyfish and then realized I was surrounded by jellyfish in Maine when I was ten, so it’s surprising this fear didn’t happen sooner.) But GUESS WHAT? I faced that fear just this month! My husband and I went to Hawaii and he really wanted to go snorkeling even though he’s not a great swimmer. I decided that I was more afraid of my husband out in the water alone than I was of the fish (even though our first outing was with a group) and I also didn’t want to miss out on whatever he might see so I braved it and…. It turns out snorkeling is SUPER COOL! Also if I can SEE the fish, it means that should they come too close (or should they be a shark or something, OMG I’m still afraid of that!), I can totally swim away! We don’t have our underwater pictures developed yet, but above is a dolphin swimming next to the boat we snorkeled off the side off.

Failure. I was a straight-A student and a perfectionist. Like even when I was a stoner punk rock kid. I’ve always taken failing—my definition of which is “not being as good as I think I should be”—really really hard. It’s led to a lot of misery in childhood and in adulthood. I still beat myself up for things like my eight-year relationship with an alcoholic which of course failed and wasted a lot of time and money. I’ve also beat myself up for my books not selling well enough and the five years that it took me to sell this most recent book—and the manuscripts that didn’t sell during that time—were total hell. Tears. Pain. Ugh. Again, it might be more trauma than fear. But I’m working on it. Being kinder to myself, more forgiving (that relationship was a placeholder for meeting husband, right? And I worked hard to write and promote my books, I did my best). I’m also working at not setting such impossibly high standards that I’m setting myself up to fail. I can fear spiders all my life (and sharks and earthquakes) that’s fine, but I don’t want to fear failing so much that I don’t try. Fortunately, it hasn’t really gotten that bad, but I’d like to make sure it never does.

The Future. This kind of goes hand-in-hand with failure (and also time, which Joy wrote so perfectly about here). For the longest time, I’ve feared not knowing what will come next. Will college work out? (It didn’t the first time around.) Will this book sell? (Some have, some haven’t.) Will I end up losing everything if I move across the country without a job? (I didn’t.) Sometimes I get so freaked that I become obsessed with horoscopes and tarot because I just want something or someone to tell me that it will turn out, it will all be okay. I wish my life was a book and I could just peek ahead (even though I try to avoid ever doing that with books). This is another one that I’ve gotten better at, though. Especially since taking that big leap and moving last year and seeing it pay off so well. Life is for living, not for fears of failure or the future. My friend Marcel, who passed away a few years ago, once wrote a list of his rules for life on a paper towel (that pretty much sums up how amazing Marcel is), and this is number one:


I look at that every time my fears are threatening to hold me back and tell myself, take the risk and love, achieve, live!

12 comments:

  1. You hit a lot of my big fears! Failure being #1, of course, as I'm sure it is for many people. And we work in an industry where you can work really hard and do amazing work and still fail...yay? Also, storms. I never was afraid of them before, but I've lived in central Illinois for eight years, and the big F4 that hit last November was about 15 minutes away from my house and I knew people who lost their homes. I got a GPS tracker for my dog's collar after that. I hear they make them for cats, too.

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    1. Courtney, that is SO true about our industry and is exactly what makes that fear so hard to kick. And oh god, that sounds scary about the F4! Also after I wrote this, I learned that there are occasionally tornadoes in WA, but not near Seattle and I doubt they would ever be as bad as you’ve experienced! I can totally understand why you got that GPS collar!

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  2. I don't fear fish or spiders, but so much of the rest of this resonates. Thanks for always being so honest and insightful here!

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  3. Fear of failure is tough, especially in a creative, self-employed profession. I love the quote from your friend!

    BTW, vacuum cleaners with attachments work wonders on bugs. I always put the vacuum outside afterwards, just in case.

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  4. The Ring. OMG. I watched that entire movie through a tiny slit between my fingers. And I STILL will never ever go near a well. Luckily, I have not come upon a well. Ever.

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    1. Seriously!!! And I forgot to mention that it was filmed in Seattle... I try not to think about that...

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  5. Oh, Steph, Marcel's number one rule is so true.

    We had huge storms that raged all night here in Sydney. I haven't slept a wink. I kept thinking the roof would tear off or that our neighbour's gum tree would crush the house any minute. Neither of those things eventuated, thank goodness!

    Fabulous post!

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  6. Tornado sirens. Not being as good as I think I should be. Man, oh, man.

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  7. I love number one on Marcel's list and the fact that it was written on a paper towel. Great post!

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  8. I have fears of the future and failure too. And the fear of failure creeps up so much. Reading your future fear describes me to a T too. If only I had a book! And I used to visit psychics because I wanted to know that someone had the answer. Not beating ourselves up is a good plan, but I get how hard that is. All we can do is keep trying!!

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