Previous posts on The Fear I-IV were culled from an autobiographical work called Wreck of Being. It mawkishly details my budding understanding of existentialism through four moments: watching The Wizard of Oz, attending a Leafs game and two Grateful Dead concerts. The book concludes with trite, rambling reflections on what The Fear means.
Now for my truisms: “Bad layering makes for bad burning”. Like every layer – everything from our friends and family to work and dreams – we learn what we need so that survival can be as straightforward as possible. We cannot operate our intelligence without confining it to contexts; to attempt to grasp all facets of existence outside a framed perspective is impossible, would result in a direct confrontation with The Fear and thus insanity.
Truism #2: “Tightly bundled minds cannot breathe.” A perspective must be maintained, but it must not be too confining. The Fear has to be understood and dealt with from time to time, for The Fear is the lurking reality of our universality, of our very irrelevance. It exists and cannot be ignored. Perspectives are vital to living a sane life, but they cannot be fixed. To live within a box of work, wife, whiskey and whist only makes the inevitable meltdown all the more forceful.
And thus my third and final truism: “Layers and The Fear kept in the right balance makes for productive years.” The time in warm and cool layers – the vast majority of years – will always be remembered as the coziest, though the time with The Fear will be the most vivid and affecting. An equilibrium lies somewhere; each to their own.
We drove sixteen hours to a Grateful Dead show in Columbia, South Carolina. I took the graveyard shift and consumed caffeine pills and coffee to stay awake. I didn’t sleep that night nor the next day, and came crashing down in the middle of the concert.
Awful black clouds wash over me as I desperately tried to think of a sane notion and cling to it. I knew this was just a matter of exhaustion and thought that if I just turned as much of my body off as I could, it would eventually pass. It didn’t work. I knew that I knew nothing, that I really never thought about anyone but myself, that no one existed, nothing existed except my nonsensical perspective.
I tried to think of the most basic things possible. Chair. Table. Lamp. These were words. I understood them. I knew what they were. But then the chair would dissolve into a table and the table would melt into the lamp, the lamp would fade to black. There was no substance, no reality, nothing existed. Chair. Table. Lamp. They didn’t actually exist. They only existed in my mind. The black clouds continued to flow in. If a chair wasn’t a chair, then I wasn’t anything. I didn’t exist. I only thought I did.
Chair. Table. Lamp. I could sit in a chair, write on a table, see light from a lamp. It wasn’t my imagination. I could touch them. I knew I could touch them. Chair. Table. Lamp. I had eyes. I had fingers. I knew they existed…the house lights went out. This was reality. A cheer went up. The band was returning to the stage for the encore. The clouds seemed to be breaking up. I didn’t have to focus my wild stare on anything. I could gaze into the soft colored lights. I was going to live. And stay sane. For now at least.
The second time that The Fear struck was on my birthday. I think my eleventh. My father gave me two tickets to see the Toronto Maple Leafs. A Leaf hockey game for me then was the ultimate experience. I took a friend as my father didn’t really like hockey and thought that I might be happier on my own. The seats were great – center-ice reds – and we were up on the visiting team early. And then it hit me again. It wasn’t as strong as the first time. I seemed almost to have control over it. I could rationalize it.
Why was I sitting here watching this nonsense? Who gave a damn who scored what and when? The whole thing was a farce designed to brainwash and control. Nobody cared about winning. It was the popcorn, furs and dinners, the money, being part of the scenery that people cared about. The blue leaf could just as well be a red wing. I especially hated the silence between play, the organ occasionally filling that with carnival tunes. Eventually, it passed, but the evening had been depressing. We had won, but I didn’t give a damn. I just wanted to go home and get into bed.
The very first time The Fear hit me was when I was six or seven years old. We were having Sunday supper and were watching The Wizard of Oz. Everything seemed to be normal. Nothing of note, to the best of my memory, happened that day. This was probably the fourth or fifth time I had seen the film. And then, right when the witch appeared in a cloud of orange smoke in Munchkin Land I got this horrible feeling. I wasn’t afraid of the witch; it wasn’t anything like that. It was a much more general feeling. Everything just seemed wrong, bad, evil. I couldn’t sit still. I had to stand up and move.
I walked across the room – nobody, not my sister, brother, father or mother, seemed to take any particular notice – and sat in a chair in the corner. I figured that if I didn’t watch the movie the feeling would go away. But it didn’t. I walked out of the room, down the hall and around the quiet, empty house. I paced up and down the stairs, went room to room, floor to floor. It took some time, but it did eventually fade away. I never directly associated the feeling with anything, but the movie certainly did seem to have brought it on. I didn’t watch any more of the film that night, nor did I see it for another fifteen years.
For the next few years I had two consistent nightmares. One where a witch lived in the basement and another where I would be sucked in between the walls and into the pipes by some sort of foreboding evil. I saw The Wizard of Oz again sometime later. It was incredible; no horrible feelings. I laughed all the way through. It is one of the best films ever made.