Get Rid of Fear Once and For All
Twas the night before Tuesday, when all thro’ the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
WHAM. The front door slams open and jars me awake.
DING DONG. DING DONG. DING DONG. DING DONG. The doorbell sounds an unnecessary number of times. It is official, I am awake.
“WHERE ARE ALL THE PEOPLE WHO LIVE HERE?” shouts an unfamiliar voice.
I spring out of bed and run to my phone. No calls or text messages from roommates. Holy fuck. Someone just broke in to my house. He must have followed someone in.
“WHERE IS THE BATHROOM?” the unfamiliar voice continues.
I frantically search for my glasses and can’t find them anywhere. What an inconvenient time to be legally blind without corrective eyewear.
“YOU WILL RESPECT THE BATHROOM”
Should I go out there? I can’t see and I don’t know what is happening out there. What if they have a gun or a knife? Regardless, I couldn’t tell if they did or not. Do I have a weapon? No, cause you think all people are good. No one would just haphazardly break in to your house. Wrong. Congratulations idiot, your worst nightmare is coming true.
All I could hear was shouting, stomping and slamming as if there was a high school stomp team in my living room.
Ok. I am calling the police.
I give the police my Cartesian coordinates. They remind me that this isn’t Mexico. We use addresses here. I tell them my address and then I am advised to stay on the phone until the police arrive. I sit and wait in my bathroom in fear as the slamming and yelling continues when suddenly the noise stops and is replaced with new voices.
Then a knock at my bedroom door with a voice telling me to come out.
Dressed in my finest boxer briefs, I exit my bedroom out to the living room. There are a half a dozen police officers now standing in my living room. They are not thrilled.
They tell me it looks as though someone had a little too much fun tonight. It is at that moment that I realize…I called the police on my roommate and her coworkers who had brought their party back home. This went from me being a hero to me being the largest walking and talking pussy this side of the Mason Dixon line in record breaking time.
And here I stand. Embarrassed in my boxer briefs. Like a really sad underwear commercial. Look who we got our Hanes on now. But what can you do? I was afraid.
To be honest, I am a bit of a coward when it comes to conflict. When I was created, I just didn’t get a lot of Madden points added to my “Courage” category. Oh you don’t know what I mean? Prepare to take a step in to my mind. Mind the gap. But don’t mind all the playfully offensive thoughts floating around. Don’t worry, I would never say the majority of them outloud.
The Madden Points Theory
Life is a series of tradeoffs (and a highway), and nothing in my mind epitomizes that fact better than the create a player feature in the Madden game series. In Madden, you could create a player from scratch. You would get a big pool of points that you could attribute to stats like strength, speed, agility or catching. The idea was a simple one, what do you value most? Do you want your player to be the fastest in the league? Well good luck having him catch the ball. This plays out in real life football all the time. As an example, Devin Hester was the fastest guy in the league, but he had the hands of a Galapagos tortoise, so catching footballs was not his (Matt) Forte. I honestly haven’t created a player in any of the recent editions of the game, so maybe they fixed this in the new Madden because people complained that they couldn’t be the fastest and strongest player in the league. People complain about everything. “Fucking Obama trying to give everyone access to healthcare” or “There’s no WiFi on my hour long flight? How am I supposed to update my Facebook status about how the transsexual flight attendant named Peaches offered me mixed nuts?” Get over yourself.
So you are over here creating people like some sort of a demi-God. You are responsible for deciding what you value the most. Well kids, this happens in real life too. All that time that you spent mastering the nuances of Halo did not do wonders for your ability to talk to women. Looking at you, me. The popular kids in high school were not usually very intelligent. The intelligent kids were not usually athletic. There are trade offs. So this is the way I see people. Whenever I look at someone I am thinking, where did this person’s Madden points get attributed toward.
Lets use me as a case study:
Where did my Madden points go? Making sexual innuendos. I am the Mia Hamm of making sexual innuendos. A national treasure of sorts.
Where did my Madden points not go? Courage. Call me Courage the Cowardly Dog.
Where your points go can be described as your strengths and where your points don’t go can be described as your weaknesses.
But things can change. You can gain more Madden points to use by working on yourself. You can totes work on the shit you are bad at and get better at it if it’s limiting your progress elsewhere. And what better time to work on it than in 2015? As you know, it is the year of the Goat. And goats are all about addressing their weaknesses. So let’s go down this rabbit goat hole and see if I can set a plan in action to not be such a coward by the end of this decade. We will start with my fears. K? Cool.
Entering the Goat Hole (#SexualInnuendo)
The great philosopher Nickelodeon once asked “Are you afraid of the dark?” No. Not really. Unless there are snakes in the dark. Or home invasion. I guess I am conditionally afraid of the dark.
So what frightens me? A lot of things frighten me.
Let’s cover them and separate them in to two groups: physical and abstract.
Let’s Get Physical
As I covered briefly in my last post and the beginning of this post, home invasion really scares me.
Have you seen these fucking things? They are absolutely horrifying. When they are not eating a hippo in one bite, they are hiding in boots and shit. What even is a snake? Webster’s Dictionary defines a snake as a 10-foot long strip of thick, ropey, lukewarm meat. As a quick aside, lukewarm meat is also the name of my band. We are a Mediterranean jazz fusion ska band. Nobody gets us. Especially our parents. Look for our debut album Secondhand Salmonella. It is going to be legit as balls. Fucking snakes man. Just slithering around. Boarding airplanes with Samuel L. Jackson. Not paying taxes. I have never met a cobra, python or black mamba but I am scared of them. It’s kind of like my relationship with terrorists. Speaking of which…
I have never seen one (or have I?), but they scare me. I grew up in New York. 9/11 happened and we were all drilled to hate anything that looked even remotely Muslim. To this day, when I think terrorist, the first image that comes to mind is someone from the Middle East. That’s not fair, but that’s just how engrained it is in my mind. Looking back on it, I am not proud of some of the things that I used to think or say in the privacy of my own home. But I was a product of my time. I listened to the news. That was my first problem.
The media perpetuated this us versus them rhetoric during this time. You are either for war or you are pro terrorist. Why can’t I be somewhere in the middle? Like yea I agree that we should protect ourselves from people who carry out large scale atrocities (terrorists), but not at the expense of hundreds of thousands of innocent people who also live in that area and are in no way associated with terrorists. Isn’t there a happy medium? I mean those innocent people want nothing to do with terrorists too…
Sorry that got oddly political very quickly. Stay on topic, moron. Back to irrational fears.
I have a confession to make. A little piece of me honestly believes I am going to get attacked by a shark in a swimming pool. I have watched enough Shark Weeks that I have probably experienced a Shark year at this point. So many episodes of I shouldn’t be alive or survival stories that involve sharks attacking humans. I associate water with sharks. Period. Fresh water lake? Definitely a shark in here. Above ground swimming pool? Stay on guard. Sharks scare me.
These things are even breeding with other animals to make even more terrifying versions of themselves. Like Tiger sharks. This is what you get when Justin Verlander makes love with a shark. Or Hammerhead sharks. Who let the shark mate with the hammer? That ones on us humans. We have to exercise responsibility with our tools (#SexualInnuendo). We can’t let our hammers go wondering off to hang out with the cool shark down the street. Even if they are a crime fighting Street Shark. Next thing you know, we will lose track of our lasers and we will have frickin’ sharks with frickin’ laser beams attached to their heads (Evil, 1997) .
These aren’t real. That is until teenage heart throb Joe Thornton of the San Jose Sharks mates with a member of ISIS’s pet snake. Like an actual pet snake. Not to be confused with an actual dick. I am all for interracial relationships, but inter-species? That’s how you get AIDS. That’s just science. I think that’s what happened, right? Like a guy had sex with a monkey and got AIDS. Is that me having no understanding of science or me having a mastery of science? Is that how diseases work? Am I trivializing a really serious disease right now or asking cutting edge questions?
Writing this out makes me realize that fear is not rational. I am terrified of snakes and sharks, but I am not afraid of deer or hippopotami (plural of hippopotamus). Even though statistically speaking, I am much more likely to be killed by a deer or hippo than a shark or snake.
The logical part of me wants to be like “Listen bro, chill out. No sharks are going to eat you in this pool”. Or like “dude you are somewhere between 8 and 55 times more likely to be murdered by a police officer than a terrorist.” But there is always that part of my brain that really does not believe that. That’s not how fear works.
Shit gets even less rational when you start looking at the abstract shit that I am afraid of.
Abstract Shit that I am Afraid Of
I don’t like looking dumb. Does anyone? It irritates me when I am not good at something. That is just the truth. I hate being bad at things. So much so that I just don’t try many new things. I would rather do my subset of things I already know I am good at ad nauseam. That way people will just continually praise me about how good I am at them.
“You are really good at making dick jokes.” I know. That’s why I keep making them. Know your strengths.
Something about failing or the idea of failing at something makes me uneasy. I don’t want to fail at something. I know all the quotes about failure and how I will learn from failure. How Michael Jordan didn’t make every basket, Wayne Gretzky didn’t score when he didn’t shoot or Jerry Sandusky…alright I am not going to go there. That’s out of line. Someone will get offended and write a letter to my mom. Then my mom will ground me and put a parental lock on my computer. Then I won’t be able to blog anymore. Just trust me that the joke was going to be hilariously offensive.
I hate failing. I don’t have many positive stories about me failing. And I know there’s some optimist reading this right now who is saying “You just aren’t looking at it the right way! The glass is half full!” God. I not so secretly hate your positivity. I also know you are right.
Alright, let’s look at a time where I failed and I will come up with a positive take away. One time I lost a volleyball match and after the game even though I was sad, I realized there is more to life than winning the game. At least I was happy and healthy… Who the fuck am I kidding? I was furious. I lost a regular season adult recreational volleyball game and I was visibly distraught. I had to drive to Whole Foods and get a dark chocolate bar to extinguish my flaming hot anger.
I guess there was one moment in this sequence when I was sitting in my car, listening to One Direction outside said Whole Foods systematically destroying said dark chocolate bar with the ferocity of Kevin James at the Sizzler hot bar that I realized maybe I was overreacting. But honestly, that’s just who I am. I hate failure. I strive to avoid it at all costs. But I understand that it’s necessary for growth. I have to get comfortable being uncomfortable.
This fear of failure abstractly connects to my next abstract fear.
This is a complex fear of mine. Why am I afraid of the future?
- I won’t live up to expectations
I played a lot of hockey as a kid. And at a very young age I was introduced to this fear of not living up to expectations. Story incoming.
Its ten minutes before we get out there and compete for the tournament championship and the father of one of my teammates steps in to the locker room and closes the door. Uh oh, a grown man has now locked himself in a room filled with 13-year-olds. This has never ended well in the history of ever. We all look up to him half expecting him to deliver a rabble rousing speech to get us excited and half expecting him to tell us all to do naked jumping jacks to get him excited. This is when he pulls out (sorry for the phrasing) the newspaper that he has behind his back and asks us all “Do you all know what this is?” It is obviously a rhetorical question. It is a fucking newspaper. Everyone knows that it is a newspaper. He is clearly trying to segue in to a larger point. He is not actually looking for someone to answer the question. Suddenly someone proudly states “It’s a newspaper.” The kid who answered looks up excitedly as if the father is going to say “Ten points for Ravenclaw.” He would be in Ravenclaw. Fuck that kid. Knew I hated him. The father continues “That’s right this is a newspaper. And you know who reads newspapers? Losers. You know what winners do? Winners go home and fuck the prom queen. Remember that tonight boys. When you are out there, what are you going to do? Are you going to be the winner who goes home to fuck the prom queen or the loser who goes home to read the newspaper?”
Looking back on it, I realize now that this man should give a TED talk on how not to talk to a 13-year-old. Lets overlook the fact that reading the newspaper and fucking the prom queen are not mutually exclusive events. Like I am a baker’s dozen years old. I don’t even know what fucking means yet. I am about a year and a half away from discovering the subtle art of touching myself. The idea of interacting with girls is borderline horrifying for me. I am over here in my Heelys, discussing the newest Crash Bandicoot game with only guys cause there is a little part of me that believes most girls have cooties (I can proudly say at the age of 24, I have come to the conclusion that all girls have cooties). What I can identify with in his statement is that I do not want to be forced to read the newspaper. That is a suboptimal result for me. If he had said something like “Do you want to be one of those losers who goes home and reads Goosebumps?” I would have went out there and taken shots on my own goalie. RL Stine is my boy. But no, he said the newspaper. And I don’t want to read the newspaper. This isn’t social studies. If losing means reading the newspaper, I am about to go put my life on the line. Failure is not an option.
This was my introduction to fear of not living up to expectations. And I have had this irrational fear ever since. It feels as though there is this arbitrary checklist that I need to get through in order to be considered successful. Go to school. Get a job. Get a wife. Have some kids. Buy a house. Live the dream. These expectations are daunting to the point where sometimes I feel as though I live under the tyranny of expectation. Yet the strangest part about it is no one has ever told me that I need to do these things, you just feel this sort of outside pressure from some unknowable force. I need to do these things or else. But what happens if I cross all those things off the list and then I look up and am like “wait this isn’t that sick…” Its like that awkward feeling we have all experienced where we thought we knew what porn we were clicking in to, but the thumbnail didn’t tell the whole story. Oh there are two guys and one girl. Wow shit just got real. Jesus. Is that legal? Is porn legal? I guess it has to be right? Yikes, I have watched this for too long. I am on some NSA sexual deviant list now for sure. Oh yea I forgot. You never watched porn. Yea you are better than me. Sorry for trying to relate to you. You model citizen you. But like I was saying, you just followed the steps you thought were right. I went through all the steps that I was told to go through and now I ended up at the annual World Gang Bang Championships in Poland (that is an actual event). I didn’t want to be here. But I also don’t want to let anyone down.
- I will regret that I didn’t follow my dreams
While I am afraid that I won’t live up to expectations, I am also afraid that I will regret not following my dreams. I always got confused when teachers would tell us to follow our dreams. Mainly because my dreams are always weird. I don’t have MLK-esque dreams, I have Tim Burton-esque dreams. Follow my dreams? So you want me to get chased around by a ham sandwich? You want me to forage around a post-apocalyptic dystopian wasteland looking for nuts to eat and places to nut? I would get my dreams analyzed by a dream analyzer, but that sounds like a nonsensical waste of money. Why would I consult someone who committed their lives to analyzing dreams? That sounds like someone with a messed up set of priorities to me. Your dream job is to talk about dreams? Ok, John Lennon. Chill out. Get off the acid. And while I understand DeVry University is a juggernaut in the graduate Dream Studies department, I will just stick to living in blissful ignorance of what my dreams actually mean in the larger picture.
What is my dream job? I have been looking in to it. I heard someone say you should go back in time to when you were 16-years-old and reflect on what your dream job was then. What did I want to be when I was 16-years-old? I wanted to be a professional athlete. I wanted to perform on the big stage. Take home Lord Stanley’s Cup. Hoist it above my head. Bring a championship to the New York Rangers. Have some fanatical fans stop me on the street and ask me for my picture. Tell them I didn’t have enough time. Watch the color drain out of their face and see them overcome with disappointment. Then inform them that they have been Punk’d and take a picture with them. That was what I wanted.
Unfortunately, reality slapped me in the face. You are conditioned from a young age to “get realistic”. You can’t be a professional hockey player. You can absolutely be an engineer though. Just go to school. Work hard for 4 years and boom you will have achieved our dream for you. Congratulations! The world is your oyster as long as your oyster is a cubicle and a hierarchical structure that consistently reminds you that you are the subordinate.
You want to be an artist, a writer, an athlete, an actor? Get real. Go hit the books. Learn more American history. You think our forefathers found this country so you can pursue your passions? No they founded this country so they could shift the means of production away from the British and in to the hands of the wealthy elite. I mean, the general public. Oh yea, and they wanted everyone to have a gun cause you know, crime and shit. And everyone should have free speech, except for the group that we are externalizing blame toward at the time. This is why Washington crossed the Delaware and chopped down a cherry tree while refusing to tell a lie, you unpatriotic imbecile.
You want to become a lawyer, consultant, banker, engineer? Now you get it! Yes you are so successful. You are doing it! You are well on your way to a house with a two car garage. That’s the dream. The yard where the kids can grow up. The neighborhood with the low crime rate score on Trulia. The good school district that will surround your kids with all the resources they need to have their dreams compressed in to four things as well.
The world is a pretty screwed up place if you think about it. How many people are forced in to jobs they hate in order to secure his or her safety? How many people have the images of a QWERTY keyboard essentially burned in to their retina from hours of office life? The way that corporate America and jobs in general are set up right now is such that you must spend the vast majority of your waking hours becoming financially secure. Some of these jobs are jobs that actively work against keeping the planet habitable. What an interesting predicament someone in the oil industry is presented with: take this job and you and your family will be financially secure, but you will be actively decreasing the number of years that humans can occupy this planet for. Your personal health becomes a secondary concern. There is something fundamentally wrong when the vast majority of a population has seen more hours of cat videos than spent hours exercising.
Putting all of this on paper really makes you want to get out there and follow your dreams. Why don’t I follow my dreams? Oh yea, cause I am afraid of failure. Right. Back to the cube!
- Will there even be a future?
Putting aside the notion that we do not live forever and we are largely unable to control how long our lives are, there is another lurking terror. Will the planet even be able to support life when my hypothetical kids become adults? There are a lot of policies in place that really make you question whether or not we are on a sustainable track.
Do you understand that we live in a country where the vast majority of people in it agree that we should not frack, we should work on reforms to lessen the environmental blow of climate change, we should do something about our crumbling infrastructure, everyone should have healthcare and our government ACTIVELY WORKS AGAINST ALL OF THOSE GOALS. Take a quick look at all the people who were outraged by Obama vetoing the Keystone Pipeline. You know who they were? People who would directly profit from the Keystone Pipeline. And then they say things like “you know how many jobs this would produce?” Um, you know how many years this would take off of Earths ability to sustain human life? I am not as concerned with adding a few more jobs to the already abysmal economy when it means that we are rapidly deteriorating the conditions of the planet we live on.
A lot of people say save Earth, Earth will be fine. We won’t. That’s not exaggeration either. Climate change is being exacerbated by what we as humans are doing to the planet. That is fact. There really is no arguing it. Climate change kills more people every year than terrorism. We are just conditioned to not care about those people who die because we never see or interact with them. They live in areas of the world that we deem the Third World. So frack it right?
Fracking is bad. You want to know how I know that? Because the planet is telling us there is an issue. Did you know that the state of Oklahoma experienced more earthquakes than the state of California last year? Read that fact again. Oklahoma had THREE TIMES the number of earthquakes as the entire state of California. Oklahoma had a FIVEFOLD increase in earthquakes last year. Jesus Christ. How can anyone argue that this is good for us and the planet? Oh right because the representatives who make the policies have direct financial interest in fracking. These people are supposed to represent and protect us, but in reality they are doing the opposite. Congressmen/women and Senators are supposed to vote in the general interest of the people they serve. They are supposed to be a fair audit of society. Yet they all make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. The median of all Congress members’ average net worth, according to CRP, was slightly more than $1 million as of 2012. That means Congress members’ median net worth is more than 14 times as large as the median household income (in 2012 dollars). I am no statistics major, but how is a collection of wealthy, elite old white men a fair assessment of what the vast majority of people think or want to have happen?
So yea. I am generally worried about whether or not there will be a future. Fortunately, some people see the issue and are coming up with some absurdly creative solutions to the problem. Elon Musk has a dream of moving an entire civilization to Mars. Groups of people are working toward mining asteroids for natural resources. Think about that for a second. There is someone out there right now, working on a solution where we are going to send a rocket to an asteroid and mine that asteroid of all of its natural resources so that we can stop destroying the conditions of this planet that are conducive for human existence. Now that’s fucking cool. But is there honestly enough time?
I wish I was Ms. Cleo. I would know the future. It wouldn’t be a question of what is going to happen. I could sleep easy knowing what the future had in store for me. And I would have a toll free number and a sweet Jamaican accent. Whatever happened to her? Oh she’s not rich? I don’t care anymore. I wanted to find out that she was an angel investor in every Fortune 5 company.
The future terrifies me. But again it is such an abstract thought that I don’t even know if I am allowed to be terrified by it.
Reapportioning Madden Points
I wrote out all of my fears with a pen (a device that was co-invented by actor Sean Penn and MMA fighter BJ Penn) and stared at them in all of their horrifyingly inky glory. Physically looking at all of my fears led me to a simple and profound conclusion: These fears have subconsciously guided my decision making process in all facets of life. These fears have prompted me to seek safety in all of my ventures. The safe job. The safe neighborhood. Safe everything. But what if this safety is an illusion? Maybe safety is a social construct that I stand up to defend myself from the perceived atrocities of the world when in reality it is stopping me from getting the most out of life. I sit in my house and lock the door. The locks are supposed to keep the murderers and people who would receive awful dishes at Schwarma Karma out, but in reality all these locks have effectively done is lock me in to this reality I have formed for myself.
Safety is relative to what you fear. For physical fears, the cause-effect is pretty self-evident. If you fear home invasion, safety is locking the door. If you fear country invasion, safety is increased defense spending. But when you start looking at abstract fears, the cause-effect is a little bit more, well, abstract. If you fear failure or the future, safety is developing a comfortable lifestyle in the here and now where you mitigate all risk. Comfortable job. Comfortable house. Etc… But comfort is subjective. Comfort is an ever changing concept. Comfort today is not comfort tomorrow. So you are forced to make tradeoffs. Is air conditioning today worth the electric bill tomorrow? Is the temporary discomfort of my job worth the lifestyle it affords? Then come the questions. Is there a better way to use my time to optimize comfort? Is there a better way to use my money? Questions. Questions. Questions. These questions lead to me suffering from a paralysis by analysis. Read. Re-read. Am I ready? No not yet. Almost. Just one more article. One more TED talk. One more podcast. I become a slave to the fear that I am not going to make the right choice until I have all of the information.
After further review, the ruling on the field is overturned. I need to shift some Madden points toward courage and let go of these fears. All this fear is doing is breeding inaction. Stop thinking and do it. I need to embrace the fact that there is no way to get everything right. If we want to make progress and do new things and generally become better people we must embrace fear. You may run in to some terrorist snakesharks along the way, but you will just have to deal with them when they come. There is no way to get everything right, but doing nothing at all is a surefire way to get everything wrong. Sometimes you need to leave your bedroom and face your fears even if you aren’t dressed for the occasion. Fuck fear.