I’m a big fan of discovery-driven essays – a free-form flow of thoughts and ideas, a winding – but driven – stream of thought, trickling at first, then pushing through the rapids, only to find a great body of water at the end. Or sometimes, the river dries up, or pours forth into a bog.
I’m not sure what the bog would represent. I do so love my imagery.
Anyway, this is one of those, and it was spurred on by a simple question: “What are your phobias or?”
This question came to me as I was staffing the Peer Helping office in the learning commons of the library. The asker was an international student who needed to get responses for an English language assignment. And after attempting to explain that fears and annoyances very different ideas, I tried to tackle the main question.
And I came up blank. At first.
I sat there, going, “Well, I… Hmm… Huh…”, making for a very poor language-based conversation. This prompted my interviewer to try to help me out.
“No, not really. It’s more… uh… well…”
I wasn’t making this easy on her. I couldn’t think of the easy answers. I’m not afraid of creepy crawlies or snakes – I used to pick giant millipedes out of cages and put them on children’s arms at the Telus World of Science. I’m not afraid of public speaking (clearly), and I haven’t really grappled enough with death at all to be calm or afraid about it. Heights. Heights? Well, not really. I’m fine with a tall height so long as I’m secure – so long as there’s a guardrail, a pane of glass, some layer of protection. If there isn’t though…
So I tried to explain to a novice English speaker what vertigo meant. This involved a perhaps too lengthy visual elaboration of me finger-walking to the edge of the table, looking down, and having my hand gyrate (as if dizzy), then fall to its untimely demise. She didn’t understand the word dizzy, so I put my hands to my temples and swam my head around like a dancing drunk. The demonstration was perhaps less than effective communication.
I tried again. I thought about feverish nightmares from years and years ago – of blowing the big hockey game and letting everyone down, of a brick locker-room building o
ozing with acrid yellow-orange slime. But they weren’t as immediate as the fear I spoke without even thinking about it:
I’m afraid people will think I’m a bad person.
People are driven by their hopes and their fears, and right when I thought I had confronted and extinguished many of my own phobias, something like that shows up. Though it has always been there; I just haven’t framed it as being a fear before.
It’s not the same as I want to be a good person, because I’m afraid people will think I’m a bad person is all about other people’s impressions – it’s an external appearance. It’s what made me feel so precarious and uneasy after the kissing-the-drunk-girl-at-the-party incident. It’s what often holds me back (more-so in previous years) from complimenting women on how they look on a given day – don’t want to be seen as a sleaze. It contributes to being less of a risk-taker than I’d like, of leaning toward my Woody Allen character and away from Adventure Man.
If people see me as a bad person, as someone less than moral, they’re less likely to talk to me when they need someone to listen to them. They’re less likely to trust me, to want to work with me. And heck, I’m a representative for Christianity in a city that is apparently one of the least religious places in North America.
Fears aren’t meant to be rational. I know I’m a decent individual who still has a long way to grow and improve, but who wants to become better. Who wants to love more deeply and broadly. And I’m happy to have a conscience, that little feeling warning me if what I’m doing feels… like I’m stepping onto the wrong path. And I’m grateful to be involved in theatre, where I can explore those wrong paths and learn about them, in character, in safe and interesting ways, without needing to live them in my own life.
But it’s true, as much as I also worry that I am too bland or timid or plaid or what-have-you, I do worry that people will think I’m a bad person. This isn’t vanity, I don’ t think… it feels more like a desire to communicate myself as accurately as I can. I don’t think I’m a bad person. Most of the time. Do I screw up sometimes? Yes. Have I hurt people? Of course. There are ongoing situations right now that I’m concerned I am being a negative party to.
(‘Being a negative party to.’ Wow. Come, join me in the bushes as we watch the Spotted Andrew resort to legalize in his attempts to avoid his predators.)
Discovery essays are also prone to tangents.
Anyway, I don’t have a great resolving statement for you; it’s something I’m working through. But I can see where this phobia – heck, I’ll call it a peeve as well – can steer me away from where I want to go. So it’s worth keeping an eye on.
After I answered her question, the international student surprised me with beautiful, eloquent English:
“I don’t think you’re a bad person at all.”
I don’t know why I felt so relieved to hear that.