Saturday, October 24, 2015

Why the fascination with fear?

Alex and I have scheduled a thrift store date.

I need a lime green dress.

He needs a hounds tooth check vest.

We're going as Joy and Fear from Inside Out for Halloween.

It took much discussing* of various couples costumes to get here, but I've ordered a blue wig and we're finally on our way.


*Discussing defined as follows:

Bailey: Babe! We should be Penny Lane and Russell from Almost Famous!

Alex: Sure. I don't really like to spend too much time on costumes, but as long as it's reasonable I'll consider --

Bailey: Great! [Digs faux sheepskin vest out of closet]

       Months later

Bailey: Babe! We should go as Harry and Sally from that scene when they're driving the car from Chicago to New York!

Alex: Mm hmm.

       Minutes later

Bailey: Babe! We should --

Alex: [Smacks forehead]


I've wanted to do a couples costume for ages (I want to do a group costume perhaps even more, but don't even get me started on the fickleness of people and how I fear this dream will never be realized). So as Alex has spent the last several months explaining to our friends that I've had about 100 costume ideas and he is understandably fatigued, I butt myself right into the middle of his argument and explain that I had been boyfriendless for a very long time prior to my Sweet's entrance into my life, so he is going to dress like Harry and have a smile on his face as he does it!

This doesn't make me look too good, does it? What with the bossiness and the boyfriendlessness. I better watch it or I might be boyfriendless again pretty soon.

So I'm eager about our costumes, sue me.

And I'm a flamboyant supporter of Inside Out (if you haven't seen it, go now. No, really), so I'm excited to dress as a happy-go-lucky yellow person in a lime green dress and to see my sweetie smeared in purple face paint, wearing a jaunty little bow tie and just being the cutest little Fear I've seen since Inside Out.

I'm excited about my Fear, as my boyfriend in his costumed form on Halloween night.

But I'm not generally excited about my actual Fear, in its raw form, causing anxiety and worry and sometimes unnecessary and irrational panic in me.

Which is why I was moved to ask recently: Why the fascination with fear in our society?

I received one promotional email this week for "Unintentionally spooky places in LA."

Combing through another, I found pictures of bloodied, disfigured, and masked faces, all advertising events I could attend. Events I could spend money on and -- scariest of all -- face traffic in order to supposedly enjoy myself.

Now, for starters, I'm a wuss, so the sarcasm you're picking up on in the previous sentence comes from a place of -- you guessed it -- fear.

I have only been to the babiest of haunted houses, and one haunted corn maze which was NOT MY IDEA. I prefer to wear my cutesy, creative costume and eat candy and drink beer and enjoy that side of Halloween.

So I find it somewhat disturbing how infatuated our culture is with scaring the you-know-what out of ourselves. Or, more deeply disturbing still, the fact that we can talk about, watch shows about, and dress up as zombies without being freaked out by our casual obsession with such a thing.

I'm not here to say that your lighthearted fun of putting some fake blood on your face is a crime, or that I think you need deep help.

But I do wonder why we seek out fear, particularly at this time of year but really (when you look at all the horror movies and zombie shows and vampire books that regularly churn out of our nation's creative minds) perennially.

I wonder about it because I hate feeling scared, so I would never willingly seek it out.

I recognize there's a cathartic release in it all. Barring the 2005 viewing of What Lies Beneath, throughout which Samantha and I sat simultaneously in each other's laps, I can see how immediately following a scream in a haunted house comes a laugh. A heightened laugh that bubbles with relief, adding to the joy of the moment.

But is that why we go after fear-laden activities? Haunted houses, haunted hayrides, overnight stays in haunted hotels, one particularly horrifying (to me, and I hope others) Great Horror Campout.

Is a simple dose of nervous laughter enough to get us chasing after this stuff with each returning October?

Again, I'm not judging, I'm just wondering.

It's just so interesting to me, as a certified Class A Wuss, that we would move in droves to make ourselves feel scared. When we don't have to feel that way!

People! NOT going to the zombie haunted house is a free and easy choice, not to mention a ticket OUT of feeling fear.

I'm paying good money to sit on a couch once a week and talk about my fears to a near-stranger. And let me tell you, sitting on that couch is fear enough in my life.

Me and this near-stranger (who I actually really like and who is becoming less of a stranger) discussed this week how I fear that people are upset with me when they likely are not. If someone is acting out of character -- snappy, too quiet, withdrawn -- I, for some reason, immediately think I am the problem.

My therapist asked me to ask if something "has my name on it," i.e. is it reasonable to believe that something is my fault, that someone else's emotional lapse is necessarily always to do with me.

He also told me that I seem to fear confrontation and fighting to the point that I don't realize an actual fight could be less scary than I am working it up to be in my head.

These conversations are helpful, but none of them make me want to get in line for the next big horror flick.

Alex asked me if I wanted to go see "Carrie: The Musical." I'm too sensitive, I told him. I couldn't handle it -- the violence, the psychological thrill.

I'm reading a book right now -- absolutely devouring it -- but things are starting to get weird. It's a mystery what's happening to the main character, but it appears it could be going down a mentally ill road. If that road leads to schizophrenia, I might have to bail, much as I'm loving the read. I'm too scared to think of such a thing ever happening to me, I'm not even sure I could read about it in a fictional context.

The fear is too real. Too big. Maybe irrational, but it's there nonetheless.

In Inside Out, Joy and Sadness take the lead. They hold the story together, carry it to its conclusion. Fear is really a side character, mostly in place for comic relief.

I find this casting of characters to be inaccurate for life -- at least for mine.

Sadness, yes, once took a leading role in my life. Her career peak was really in the late 2000s, early 2010s.

Joy has always been a leading lady for me. She rattles around this brain of mine no matter how much Sadness tries to bully her.

And for me, Fear doesn't just love wearing seat belts, as he adorably does in the hit Disney film.

Fear hangs out in large proportion within my lobes. I would tell you which lobe(s) specifically, but I only have a BA in psychology. My Fear shows up on good days and bad. Fear loves to prowl around in the middle of the night, when I wake up alone.

Fear's kind of a brat, to be honest.

Fear's no witty side character in my life. He's real.

So all this rambling and overthinking to say:

Why the fascination with fear? Do others just not experience it as much as I do, so in our bored 21st century lives, must find a way to incite it within themselves? Are we just out to boldly face our fears and that's the whole obvious point of Halloween that I'm missing?

This essay -- if you've noticed -- hasn't answered a lot of questions, it's mostly just asked them. So if you have a thought, leave a comment. Let me know why you love -- or hate -- Halloween. Do you dress up in a bloody costume, or a silly one? Would you sign up for the Great Horror Campout?

Would you dress more like my mom or my dad?

I'm planning to face my Fear this Halloween. But he'll be wearing a bow tie and he'll make me feel safe. And we'll clink our beer glasses together, cheering to the fact that we're not at a haunted house.

At least, that's what I'll be drinking to.

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