Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Of fear and Phoebe Cates


Let’s go, let’s sit, let’s talk politics go so good with beer.
And while we’re at it baby, why don’t you tell me one of your biggest fears?
--The Pixies, I’ve Been Tired

I’m afraid of water. 
Not like bathtub water, I have no problem maintaining my own personal hygiene.  It’s the larger bodies of water--pools, lakes, oceans.  This obviously is some sort of celestial joke, after all, I’m an Aquarius--the water bearer, right?  Unfortunately, my phobia transcends all things astrological.
I like to blame my mother, who enrolled me at the tender age of five in Minnows, an innocuously named toddler swimming class.  For two hours every morning in the balmy fifty degree air of a Nebraska spring, I tried not to drown while my lips turned a fitting corpse blue.  
The lifeguards were Amazonian blondes with blinding Chiclet white teeth who spent most of their time putting on Carmex and perfecting their lifeguard stare--the one that could stop a child running in flip-flops from fifty feet away.  From day one, I could see the cold hard fact in their mirrored aviators.  I would never master the dead man’s float, let alone pass Minnows.  I quit swimming lessons because I was afraid.  
Since Nebraska is a land locked state, I reconciled that there was no need to learn to swim.  Most of the lakes here promise more poison ivy than beaches, anyway.  And I saw that horror movie--the one where the psycho killer handcuffs some vapid sorority girl’s leg to the drain in the swimming pool and she drowns?  Not learning to swim became an exercise in self preservation.  An intelligent decision.
This is the function of fear.  To reassure you that if you venture, you will NOT gain.  Fear tells you to stay on the safe road, and all will be well.  Fear makes you believe that the only acceptable outcome is the perfect one, and if that cannot be achieved?
Don’t risk it.
It’s like that scene in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, when Phoebe Cates does a dive in her red bikini and comes up from the water a perfect beauty.  No hair sticking to her cheeks, no mascara raccoon eyes, no iridescent snotcicle hanging off a nostril.  That damn red bikini didn’t even move anywhere near wedgie stage. 
Why do we convince ourselves that the only acceptable way to make a splash is with the grace and magic of good lighting and a Hollywood makeup crew?
Perhaps if Phoebe would have done a cannonball, I could have realized sooner that real life is measured by the splashes you make, the ungraceful belly flops of failure that truly make you smarter.  And better.  
True, there’s always the possibility that you might just drown, or at least get a literal or figurative water enema.  But occasionally, the stars shine down just right and you pull off  a righteous 2 and a half somersault with three twists in pike position.  Or in my case, you can at least now dead float until somebody pulls your ass out of the water.
Fear does nothing but prevent you from experiencing life. 
This is my first blog, so I dedicate it to conquering fear and taking a plunge into the world.  

And while we're at it, baby,  why don’t you tell me one of your biggest fears?


  1. I loved this post!
    I have lots of fears. Fear of spiders. Fear of failure. Fear of going bald.
    But usually, a little bit of chocolate make them go away. Everything but the spiders.

  2. Great post. I am 62 and can't swim. I too fear water.

  3. i'm not a big fan of large fish. Which is kind of funny considering i live in MN and swim in lakes all the time. But man, when i'm treading water in a lake that drops below me a couple hundred feet and i know there's muskies the size of my couch down there, it takes all my bravery to continue treading water and not swim to the shore

  4. Large bodies of water are among my fears. And I'm a f**&)(&' Pisces for goodness sakes.


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