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On Fear (Considering Halloween)

Updated: Dec 6, 2022

Jane Eyre illustration

Happy Halloween dear ghouls and fiends. While this blog isn't meant to frighten you, I would like to know: what are you afraid of?

I'll tell you my fears, both rational and irrational. I won't list anxieties (which are natural, like fear of loss or fear of heights), but I will tell you what really keeps me up at night.

I am scared of the ocean, the dark murky unknown. It's not the depth that scares me, it's the darkness. If I can't see what lurks beneath the surface, my imagination runs wild. But it's kind of... a fun little fear. I was on a ship some 12 years ago, and experienced true darkness below the decks, which was thrilling. I even ventured on deck one night to look over the horizon-- and saw endless black water. Water is beautiful, powerful. I used to have nightmares of being on a sinking ship, staring at a wall of water as a tsunami threatened me, a hurricane of water whipping around me, impending doom from a dark liquid that hosts creatures unknown. I read once that water in dreams is a sign of anxiety-- which I think makes sense. When you experience true panic, it feels like you're washed in fear. But I digress. The point is, I loved being on a ship. I'm still scared shitless of the ocean, but that fear was an exhilarating experience.

A couple of years later, I got in a car accident with my family. We all made it out okay, save for some scrapes and bruises-- which I am grateful for. But I'm also kind of glad it happened.

Here's how it went: I was in the very backseat (third row), laying down and listening to some Tom Waits in my headphones (I still remember the song: "Kiss Me" from the Bad as Me album, which had just come out). My eyes were closed, and I had the music loud... so the only clue that something went wrong was when gravity shifted and I began to float. Time stretched out, but I didn't know why. I kept my eyes closed, the music was loud, and the car was flying for what felt like--- well, I would say a long time, but frankly time is no longer a comprehensive point of reference. It was genuinely like experiencing something in slow motion, that time almost stopped when I was suspended in air. Time only resumed when I felt the cold tickle of snow on my toes. I was confused, why was there snow inside the car? And I opened my eyes and took off my headphones to find that I was in fact in an upside down car, and the snow was coming through a shattered window. I zoned back into the present and heard the rest of my family in the car. When we all got to safety, I was able to sigh relief and admit to myself... that was exciting.

I guess that's why people are thrill seekers, that sort of adrenaline rush and rapid flow of blood and sweat is good for us, from time to time. We, as humans, need to occasionally be reminded of our mortality. I wonder if this is why mental illness becomes more prevalent, and why depression becomes more common and normalized in the U.S.-- we don't have to worry about a bad harvest or a bloody war in our front yard. For the record, I'm not trying to dismiss anyone's claims of depression-- I genuinely believe that most people are suffering a form of depression, especially after the year we've had.

So inevitably we have to talk about the past year. It's still so fresh and present in everyone's minds-- 2020. Covid-era. The "roaring" '20s started with a bang that was really a fizzle-- a global pandemic took the knees out of our economy, the wind out of our sails, the very life out of many. Fucking frightening, right?

And look, this really isn't a think-piece. If I've learned anything over the last year, it's that I think too fucking much and it's not that important for me to singlehandedly solve crises. I'm not trying to ferret out someone to blame, or tell you what we should have done differently. I have to no right to claim that I know at all what I'm talking about. I need to mind my own business, I need to "get my house in order" as the gangsters like to say. And so I did. A lot of changes happened to me throughout the pandemic-- I moved back to California, I quit smoking, started drinking. I got a dog, set up a studio, learned some German, made a couple comics, and learned a lot about myself in the process.

I learned long ago that I cannot be afraid of vulnerability-- but I think I recently learned that I've lost the energy to expect vulnerability in return. So, I'm accustomed to a sort of "one-sided" friendship-- and to be fair it's usually on my part. Sometimes I give more than I take, and I do so expecting the consequences. And through these evolving, often painful, friendships, I've learned to listen to my instinct a little more, okay actually a lot more.

I wouldn't call myself compulsive, or really very intuitive. I was given the impression at a young age that I was living in my own little world and had a terrible understanding of how the world actually works. So, in order to prove that I was grown up, I forced myself to learn the worst things I could. I became fascinated with morbidity, as a token of toughness. But that's not at all how "growing up" works. I eventually figured out that I have to nurture and strengthen intuition, which takes time and simply cannot be expedited.

So, I guess that's what I finally grew into. My intuition. No longer constantly doubting or questioning my feelings and motives. Instead of saying "I thought I saw a ghost, but it was probably just my imagination" I began to say "No, I know what I saw was a ghost." And that's a silly little example that's neither here nor there. More to the point, it's something I learned in therapy: Instead of saying "I think I was abused," you learn to trust yourself and say "I know I was abused."

Of course, this method is a double edged sword. If one person thinks something, they know it to be true. Another person thinks differently, so they know the opposite is true. If two truths counteract each other, which one is actually true? The answer is... both. Both are true. Logical paradoxes exist-- and that's a real spooky story.

A rather amusing example of this, to me, is romance. Romance is a logical paradox.

In that song, burned into my memory by a trauma, Kiss Me by Tom Waits, he says repeatedly: I want you to kiss me like a stranger, once again. I was enamored by that line, because if you don't know this about me, I'm a die hard, hopeless romantic. After all, Jane Eyre is my favorite novel, and Titanic one of my favorite movies (hear me out, I'm getting somewhere with this).

The idea of that line, kiss me like a stranger, is pretty tragic. A lover, no longer stimulating and exciting, must pretend to rewind time, become unknown, and relive the thrill of the possibility of the unknown. Just like that line in a breakup "can we start over?" But it doesn't work like that. And personally, that's where my struggle is. Being such a hopeless romantic, I'm enamored by the idea of locking eyes across the room, and knowing instinctively that getting to know that stranger is going to be a good experience. Of course, this isn't how the real world works at all. And frankly, I love the idea of the stranger remaining a stranger. Perhaps that's why I like to drink alone, go to movies alone, walk along the beach alone. Everyone is a stranger, I am a stranger, and all of our lives are perfectly curious mysteries to one another. This, of course, presents a logical fallacy, I will fall in love with a stranger, but as soon as a stranger is no longer unknown, then they are no longer a stranger. And that love? Fizzles away with the knowing.

So what does this have to do with sinking ships? I'm glad you asked (I say to absolutely no one in particular. See, even by writing a blog I am maintaining the distance of a stranger).

My love comes from unknown. My fear comes from the unknown. I love what I fear. That seems... like a Darwinian failure, if you ask me. Many of my relationships have been described to me as a burning car-- emotionally unavailable, struggling with addiction, actually unavailable, or completely unrealistic infatuation. A burning car, but I still want to get in it. I just end up burned, of course, but those perfectly stable cars that are ready to drive? They look fucking dull. No mystery there. It's just... a car like any other.

So what makes one jump into a burning car? Probably the same thing that makes one jump back onto a sinking ship. Okay so yea, I'm gonna make you watch a scene from Titanic and I'm sorry, but you're the one who decided to listen to me ramble on, okay?

Ah yes, the "you jump, I jump" scene. You see, I've watched Titanic some, i dunno, 100 times? That's 300 hours of my life jeeeeeesus. Anyway. Upon one of these countless rewatches, a thought occurred to me: why did Rose jump back on the Titanic? If she had trusted Jack, he would have survived, they both would have had the possibility of reuniting to drive them forward, encouraging them both to fight for life. I mean, Rose got on a lifeboat! A rare occurrence on the Titanic. And yet, she deliberately gave up her spot (selfish? probably) to get back on the ship to be with Jack. That seems a bit... clingy? But I guess, when we're talking about Shakespearean tragedy (which we are)-- survival isn't the point of the ordeal. It's being true to yourself, to the love you feel, to the intuition that you absolutely must not let Jack go through this alone.

I remember posing this question to Facebook, and one of the comments said "which of us has not jumped back onto a sinking ship" (thanks Madigan). Yea, you're right, which of us have chosen to get into the burning car, hoping we can extinguish it? Or maybe, just wanted to be there when the fire goes out. Perhaps, when Rose was watching Jack as she was lowered to the water, she finally sensed that they actually might die, and she doesn't want either of them to experience that alone. In Jack, she finally found not just love, but companionship and understanding. He was the only person who ever listened to her without judgement. She felt seen and heard and that was more important than the infatuation of meeting the cute artist from third class. Instead of moving on with her life, surviving alone by staying on the lifeboat, she chose to repay the favor, and be with Jack in the end. It's just kind of lucky that she survived?

Oh and don't bring up the door thing, I'll die on the hill that the door did not have enough room for both of 'em.

Moving on. What appears to be sort of clingy and irrational is actually quite poetic, intentional, intuitive. Sometimes intuition can look like stupidity. That's... certainly been the case for me. You see, I kind of made the biggest decision of my life on a gut feeling. In high school, I wanted to be a writer. I went to school for writing. I was the editor-in-chief of my school paper, then went on to actually become a news reporter... sort of. Shit was weird. Anyway, I dropped out of college once, then went back for the same thing, and then dropped out again, kinda. The story goes, I had finished all my classes and was ready to transfer to San Diego State to finish my history and writing degree. I filled out the application and my mouse hovered over the "submit" button. My finger just wouldn't click the button. So I left it up and decided to come back to it later. But I never did, I never submitted that application. Instead, I spent a couple months asking myself what I really wanted. And like pulling teeth, I reluctantly answered "I want to draw comics." A very reluctant answer, as I hadn't drawn in years at that point. I gave up on the concept of being an artist. But I very quickly filled out and submitted an application for a few art schools, and well, you know what happens next.

That instinct was right but, can I be honest with you? I don't know where it came from. I've been listening to my gut ever since. It's worked out pretty well, honestly. It's gotten me this far, but I still don't know who that little voice in my head belongs to. Am I actually burying so much in my subconscious that it only reveals itself when I'm about to make a terrible error? Is there a part of my subconscious that has unlocked the secret of time travel, can comprehend my entire timeline, and is guiding me in the right direction? Is it the spirit of a loved on that passed? Or is it just pure luck? And if my intuition has kept me on the right path with my career, why the fuck has it been fucking silent on the romantic front?

I have zero answers and I'm getting kinda sick of asking these questions. It's a sort of resignation to the mystery that I so fear and so love. Spooky, ain't it?

This sort of "obsession with the unknown" is a big theme in my ongoing comic, June, for Short. The main character Tal becomes obsessed with the titular character, June, because she's a fascinating stranger. And, fun fact, I started writing this book around the time of the car accident, so that song about kissing strangers? Kind of a big part of it. I also play with the idea of falling out of love with someone the more you get to know them, as June experiences with Dr. Patrick Cohen, a titillating character who becomes the center of Tal's investigation into June's life. I'm working on issue two (it's gonna get spicy), and you can order issue 1 here.

And while we're at it, let me throw a couple more announcements here at the end:

I Don't Want to be Famous was nominated for Best Comic Zine in the Broken Pencil Zine Awards. You can order that here.

Beginning in January, I'll be in Gualadajara, Mx. participating in the inaugural Casa del Autor Zapopan -- an artist residency organized in part with La Cité Internationale de la Bande Desinée et de L'image. I'll be there finishing the next few issues of June, for Short, which I hope to collect into a graphic novel by the same name. I'll be making an English version, which I hope to translate to a Spanish version eventually. I'm really excited to take part in this residency, but that does mean I'll be mostly unavailable and unable to fulfill most orders. So, order your comics early!

Speaking of orders, there's some pretty exciting things going on over on Patreon, which includes new merchandise for most tiers of supporters. But what I'm mostly excited about is every tier will get a subscription to June, for Short included in their membership. That's a legit copy of every comic issue of June so long as you're subscribed and up to date on your membership-- which start at $3. If you can join, that'd be amazing, and you don't have to worry about ordering each comic individually since I will be able to mail 'em right to you!

So, that wraps up our not so spooky blog. As always, I'd like to end this with a song.... JK I hate musicals. But do enjoy this playlist. Much love, and until next time, az aka spookysperry

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