Saturday, March 15, 2008


I have been reading short non-fiction for my creative writing class. One assignment involved going to Brevity, reading a few shorts, and writing a response. My favorite was A. Papatya Bucak's I Cannot Explain My Fear. Bucak is a Turkish-American writer who teaches at Florida Atlantic University. She also has a blog, Reading for Writers, that might interest book loving readers.

Her short interested me because fear is too much of a motivator for many individuals who are relatively privileged and safe and for this country that I live in called the United States. If I didn’t know how I was going to feed my loved ones tonight or there was a Caterpillar bulldozer outside of my door, fear might make more sense. However, fears of not being able to play golf in twenty years or no longer fitting the norm because you spoke out in a letter to the editor are in my opinion unfounded. The latter fears are much like those of the narrator. In fact the more I read through this short, the more preposterous are the fears; which is, of course, the point.

Fear of big feet.
Fear of women in high heels.
Fear of a children’s book,
or your second grade teacher, Mrs. Stein.

The thing is that the more far fetched these fears may sound, the more real they actually are. Truth be known, I tend to judge women in high heels. I wouldn’t say that I fear them, but I sure do get annoyed by them, especially when their owner walks too slow or when they are accompanied by the manipulative behavior many women feel forced to use in order to have any semblance of power and control. And, I used to worry that my elementary and middle school teachers could read my mind when I didn’t want to do my homework. It sounds so stupid in print.

Bucak’s short starts off as a laundry list of silly fears. But then, she takes a reasonable fear such as the fear of freezing and finds the place one would least associate with freezing, the desert, to support her fear. Of course, anyone who has spent any time in the desert knows how cold it can get when the sun goes down. Fear is often subjective and based on information that only a few may have and that others don’t, which is again the point.

Things like that confirm my own good sense and fear.

I often feel that many of us confuse fear with good sense; in other words our fear becomes our code of behavior. Good sense would say that a person should find a 40 hour a week good paying job with health and maybe even dental insurance. It doesn’t even matter if the person likes this job. Good sense would not tell a person to work at a job with little pay and slim benefits helping women and children get out of abusive homes. Or take the leap at 45 years of age to do what you really want to do which is to write, cook, travel, and facilitate workshops. I know people like this and I look up to them. “I need to have faith that it will all work out,” says one friend who works part time in the field of domestic violence prevention, whose husband is diabetic and out of work. And yet, she is going back to school at 54 and recently returned from traveling to Guatemala.

Fear of lightening.
Fear of bears.

Yes, I suppose I could be struck by lightening and could get mauled by a bear if I don’t follow park rules; but the chances are slim. Should a person live their life based on slim chances? My girlfriend’s hairdresser cut my hair the other day. She doesn’t know my hair. I told her to cut my bangs shorter. “Are you sure?” she asked. I leaped into it but knew that my hair would turn out alright even if the bangs were short. They will always grow out. “I make quick calculated decisions,” I said. She asked me if I ever regretted a decision that I have made. I honestly can’t say that I have even when a decision was just plain stupid. I always learned or gained something from the experience

Some of the narrator’s fears seem to have come straight out of my unconscious, such as fear of hitting the accelerator instead of the brake, or hearing sirens and wondering if the authorities are somehow after you. I didn’t think I was speeding? And some are wonderfully humorous twists: is it scarier to spend months alone or with someone else in a tent? Sometimes the narrator shares memories that seem to have just popped into her head such as that of Brian McGreary. I’ve been doing that a bit here myself.

The more I read this short, the more I like it. The narrator worries that she has taught her dog to fear. Isn’t this what we are teaching our children to do? September 11, 2001 is only an excuse. Fear has been used by humans as a justification for violence and conquest for centuries. For the narrator, words are the answer. Words don’t scare her. They give her the power to speak out as thoughtfully and/or as sarcastically as she wants. They give her an alternative to fear.

This short reminded me of a quote that I read in Eve Ensler's Insecure at Last. I made a postcard of it when I was in obsessive postcard making mode last year.

Face your fears, they may not be as scary as you think.

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