An Experiment In Terror Vol. 1

(Note: I have been and plan to continue reading many books that I may mention. I will say what I liked and didn’t like, but I don’t plan on “recommending” a book. Books of a self-help nature and really, any books, communicate differently to different people and even differently to the same people at different times. If something I say about a book makes you want to look it up, then that’s great and may even be helpful, but I read for my own purposes and not to suggest options for others, nor do I expect others to get what I get out of the same book.)

I recently finished Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.  She is the author of Eat, Pray, Love, among other titles.  The subtitle of this book is “Creative Living Beyond Fear.” I had heard many good things about this book and I found it’s style and message just right for me at this time.  I am not looking for big answers, but little ones, and her book is includes simple, small things we should consider and do to connect with our creative self as well as some truly magical ideas.

The first chapter is titled “Courage,” and in it she talks about being scared of everything as a child and this particularly resonated with me.

I too, was scared of everything.  Both of the physical world and unseen forces.  And nuns.

We would go for walks and come across a small ditch that everyone else could jump over, but I would get paralyzed and finally have to crawl down in the space and climb up or stand there until someone would help me over.  I couldn’t tell you what I was afraid of except I seemed to have no confidence the other side was real, even with other people standing there as proof. My father would say I moved as if I were walking on eggshells. It wasn’t until I was nine and sent home from school because the only letter I could read on the eye chart was the Big E on top that we understood what was happening.  I had been nearsighted for quite some time, but no one realized it.  I would sometimes wear my father’s glasses in the house and was told to take them off as they would hurt my eyes. I said I could see better with them, but no one heard me.  And it never dawned on me that maybe I should have glasses.  As a young child, I was extremely shy and introverted and pretty much spent all my time in books. Perhaps if I had read a book about a girl wearing glasses, my life would have been different.  So, at nine I discovered that the world was not an abstract painting.  Trees had individual leaves and there really was a safe place on the other side of a ditch.

The unseen forces are for another post.  That was a fear that led to different results.

And nuns.  I will tell about the nuns now, since there is no particular reason to wait.  No one could ever figure out why I was so scared of nuns, but I would start pointing at them and screaming and crying.  Really loudly.  I had no connections with nuns. Pretty much the only place I saw them was airports.  My father traveled frequently and we often were at airports and for some reason, so were nuns.  I would make a terrible scene and sometimes the nuns would try to get closer to comfort me and that would just make it worse. My mother would have to ask them to leave. This finally faded away and it was just a family joke until the film “Vertigo” was restored in 1996 and I went to see it with my then brother-in-law.  Until the end of the movie, I was sure I had never seen this Hitchcock classic, but (spoiler alert if you haven’t seen this movie) when Kim Novak is in the bell tower and turns and sees the nun, I sat up in my chair completely stiff and had to keep from crying out.  Kim Novak, seemingly as startled as I was, falls back and out of the window to her death and you see the nun looking out the window over her.  I now think it is possible that I saw “Vertigo” at a very young age and believed the nun pushed Kim Novak out the window, but I wasn’t able to connect the movie with my fear.  I cannot verify this, but both parents agreed it was possible. My father was a film critic and I saw a lot of movies that were not for kids.

Back to my eyes – I had terrible hand-eye coordination while growing up. It was accepted that I didn’t pay attention, although I was sure I did, and that I was just naturally clumsy.  At 16, I was trying to learn to drive, but scaring the heck out of everybody because I couldn’t seem to tell how close I was to other cars.  Everyone kept saying look in the middle of the lane ahead of you and I kept saying I was.  I said I cannot see what you are talking about.  This time, my mother heard me.  She took me to the eye doctor who said there was nothing wrong with me and suggested my mother take me to be examined for a brain tumor (I was also complaining of frequent headaches.)  Mom wisely took me to another eye doctor.  He discovered I had severe astigmatism in both eyes and my depth perception was way off. This was probably brought on by the pressure from wearing hard contacts for 6 years as prescribed by the first doctor. He thought that I was still young enough for the situation to correct itself if I stopped wearing contacts.  It is mostly corrected. I learned to drive when I was in my 30’s. But I still cannot see a straight line and do not ask me to hang a picture.

It is hard to quantify how these vision problems have affected me. Not seeing wasn’t the issue so much as not seeing what everyone thought I should be seeing. I literally had a different perspective on everything and people seemed to think that I was willfully refuting them, refusing to conform to their world. It was a physical lacking that somehow became an emotional distancing or contrary ideological stance. I was just trying to understand why I couldn’t catch a ball, or walk through a doorway without hitting the jamb with my shoulder, I wasn’t trying to challenge the world order. But it did create in me a difficulty to accept what I was being told, if I felt differently.  I don’t trust what I do not understand or “see.”  I am not without faith in some people or ideas, but I  generally do not accept what other people tell me is safe and right unless I feel it myself. I ask questions and look for proof and this sometimes upsets people that think I should do or accept something because they do.  But I have learned their rules don’t always apply in my world.  I have stopped walking on eggshells and I have stopped crashing into doorways, and I have a path.  But I now know that I am the only one who can see that path and the only one who can navigate it.

And if I run into any nuns on that path, well, I’ll deal with that when it happens.

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