On Fear, And Altered States

Felice Beato / Foter

Soldiers; she was a warrior, and the next few minutes would show the difference.Saber and Shadow

You know, I’d really go for hallucinogens if I hadn’t figured out how to jigger my brain chemistry into providing Technicolor narratives almost at will. Oh, sure, there are downsides–for example, dreaming in very bloody myth-language, or only rarely being able to get a jolt of unfiltered experience without trying to put it in a cage of words. But all in all, it’s pretty swank inside my skull most times.

Except for when I was up every hour on the hour, all night, dealing with a sick animal that I love to pieces and am terrified of losing. Then things get a little less tightly-bolted than usual, and when I step outside to take my morning run (because I MUST run, or I will implode) my brain starts serving up altered states of consciousness almost at random. (Human beings love getting high. So does every other damn species possessed of the capability. Consider this my quiet statement that fucking with your own brain chemistry through fiction and exercise is a lot better than most ways, and let’s leave it at that.)

Now, I do know that running produces endorphins and mucks your brain chemistry about. I know that I often fall into a fugue state while running anyway, during which plot tangles sort themselves out and arcs become crystal-clear. It’s another thing entirely to spend an entire hour-long run meditating on the nature of fear, and working oneself into a state planning for a zombie apocalypse while doing so.

Some days I wonder about me.

Anyway, I thought of Saber & Shadow, and Shkai’ra and Megan, and how the authors very much made Shkai’ra’s early childhood training under the Warmasters have consequences. She is, no doubt, a finely crafted killing machine, and a tactically-trained one too. It comes at a terrible cost–and yet, when she’s deliberately walking into the lion’s den, the reader is awfully, awfully glad that she has a chance of getting back out. (Plus, it makes her pretty blunt and unwilling to take Megan’s fears as a reason not to get involved…but that’s another blog post.)

A certain amount of training can overcome a certain amount of fear. But the lack of fear is not bravery, it’s foolhardiness. Don’t train to erase fear; it’s a sharp spur that keeps one alive. Doing what must be done anyway, in the face of even crippling fear, can and should be aimed for. Inducing a fear-soaked state and running it off is good practice…but not for the zombie apocalypse. (Well, yes, for that, but not solely.)

What it’s really really good for is motherhood–where every day is an exercise in the fear of having hostages to fortune, in the shape of tiny helpless dependent beings–and writing, where the fear of looking into the heart of darkness, the fear that tempts one to look away or punk out, isn’t even the biggest or worst scariness. Rejection, failure, copyedits (which are kind of like rejection) and reviews, making deadlines and the nailbiting of seeing if a publisher’s going to offer another contract–those are terrifying things. The business of writing does require some strong nerves, I’m afraid.

Hell, why do you think we love to drink so much?

Writing isn’t the only career that is prone and prey to panic–not even close. It’s not even in the Top Ten Terror-Soaked Vocations. To be human and perishable is to fear. It’s a condition mortal beings can’t escape. Which makes it all the more important to do what’s right, and necessary, and beautiful anyway, like looking unflinchingly at the truth of a story and making the commitment to bring it out. Training yourself past the fear of “they’re going to laugh at me” or “this will just get rejected anyway” isn’t difficult–the habit of writing every day chips away, little by little, water over rock. it will never go away completely, because the fear’s telling you where the juicy bits are, the parts that other people will read with their hearts in their mouths, feeling that jolt of connection that we all want so badly.

Ride the fear. Keep running, keep writing. Let the fear pass over you and through you, and when it has gone past, you may turn the inner eye to see its path.

We all know how that ends up.

Over and out.

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I needed this blog post today. I had a day of fear and panic over my work… not for a good reason. Just those artistic demons rearing their heads. Thanks.

Karen Wehrstein
Karen Wehrstein

Lili, it might interest you to know that Shirley and I at least are still writing Fifth Millennium. See here for mine and here for hers. I changed Chevenga’s fate and wrote a whole very psychological book about how that happens. Having been raised in a terror-inducing way, I have had no choice but to play with fear all my life, so I know one does not train to overcome fear entirely; one trains (or heals) to overcome excess fear, that which has no rational basis, produces unnecessary suffering and imposes limitations on life. There are two fears I have… Read more »

Shirley Meier
Shirley Meier

Good morning! Karen passed on your blog to me this morning and I found it interesting what you had to say about fear.

Shkai’ra’s training was about as brutal as Arkan Mahid and produced some wild results.

I came up with a lot of Megan’s stuff while running. Now it’s more often on the bike…