I just read a book on writing and anxiety, I forget the title just now. The author argues that most writers feel scared a lot and that while fear can both mess up creativity via writers block it can also enable creativity by creating excitement. He used rock climbing as a frequent example, which I liked because I like rock climbing and am afraid of heights. I mentioned this once to a really experienced climber, who said “everyone who gets seriously into rock climbing is afraid of heights, that’s what makes it fun.” That’s definitely a big part of the fun for me, the adrenaline rush and also the satisfaction of doing something hard, pushing myself to act against my inclination. If I’m being really honest, my gut reaction to my fear of heights is that the fear is weakness. I don’t want to think that – I don’t think my kid’s fear of heights is weakness – but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think that about myself. That’s more macho than I want to be, for sure.
I thought about this tonight while listening to music and washing dishes. In my last post I wrote about music like this, angry dude music where to me the singers sound like they’re 8 foot tall tough guys. I wrote about how there’s something in this stuff that’s about masculinity, mine for sure and I think in the music/genre itself. The band I listened to tonight had several songs with gang vocals, big groups of guys singing together in a crowd. Very satisfying, and again I think that’s super dudely. As I wrote in that other post I tend to like music where men are shouting angrily while being emotionally vulnerable. It struck me tonight though that one quality I like in music like this is that it sounds like overcoming fear. In the book I read the author talked about people who give up in the face of fear and people who don’t, and said that often the second sorts of people will say things like “I’ll show THEM…” I don’t have much of that I think, though I’m not totally sure. What I do have is that I really enjoy overcoming fear.
In emotional rock-paper-scissors anger beats fear and despair and like I said what I like in some of my favorite music is that it expresses to me that feeling of getting mad and overcoming fear. It sounds like bravery. The other thing that beats fear is laughter. I heard an interview with Steven Colbert once where he said “if you’re laughing, you’re not afraid” as an explanation for why he likes his job so much. The interviewer asked a follow up question and Colbert said something like “I don’t mean that as a philosophical statement, I think it’s a physiological fact, if you’re laughing you’re not feeling fear.” That’s true I think at least to an extent and it speaks to me because I like to joke a lot and I think I like that for similar reasons I like the music I do, because laughter trumps fear. Of course it’s possible to laugh nervously, but I think maybe we do so because laughter is a coping mechanism.
I make jokes a lot because I’m afraid a lot and I guess that’s part of why I got so into music so seriously as a young person, because I was really afraid very often in my life. I still am afraid a lot of the time though I’m happy to say less often and less intensely than I used to be and I navigate that a lot better than I used to. Anyway I think I like the sorts of humor and music I like in part because it’s connected to enjoying overcoming fear. I think this is also connected to writing. Writing scares me and that shapes my writing negatively – writing less, writing less ambitiously and seriously, etc – and it shapes my writing positively to the extent that I get nervous energy that propels me when I do writing sometimes, and writing is likewise part of facing up to – to some extent, deliberately seeking out – various aspects of fear and working to be brave in the face of it.