The Fear Project: Dying

March 19, 2009

This is another one of my favorite stories so far.  Happy Thursday!

Well, I almost died that was pretty scary.  So this, um, this is kind of weird ’cause I, I haven’t really told many people about this… and so, basically, and I mean, I mean, not to be too crude, but I couldn’t poop for like two weeks.  This was the summer after my junior year of college, and I was in the process of getting ready to go on this internship in Washington D.C.  And, um… I just, I was in pain.  For some reason, I was stressed out, from everything… I wasn’t eating either.  Cause I was like stressed out… I don’t, I don’t know why.

So I went back home, to get ready for the trip, and that entire day, I just slept.  I had a fever… So I get down there, and pack up my things, and the entire time at dinner, I’m just like not eating, and I’m like “I have this pain in my left arm”, and I’m just like “I don’t know what’s going on.”  So my Dad says, “We should take you to the emergency room, just to be safe.”  So we go in and they ask me what’s wrong, and I’m like, “I don’t know my heart really hurts, my chest hurts, my entire left arm is numb”… basically giving the symptoms of a heart attack.  And they basically think I’m out of my mind, because I’m 21 at the time, and they’re like what 21-year-old has heart problems?  But after like an hour, they finally see me, and they do all these tests…  and the ER doctor comes back, and says “Oh my God, we think you have a blood clot in your lung, we need to operate right now.  If we don’t operate, you might die.”  … What do you say to that?  I mean I’m in the ER, I’ve got I.V.s sticking out of everywhere, my parents are bawling, the doctor’s asking me, do I have a will?  Because I probably should… because… you know, if something were to happen… And I’m thinking… okay, I’m going give this friend my CDs, and this friend my old piece of junk car, I mean… How much do you have at 21?  I guess my parents would probably get my college loan debt… I’m sure they’re excited about that.  And, and so, this ER doctor was like all gung ho to operate, but this other doctor is like no, we should do some more tests.  And he says like, we need to operate, he’s deadset that it’s a blood clot in my lung. [KEEP READING!]

I interviewed a good friend of mine several weeks ago, and her story is one of my favorites so far.  Thought I’d share it with you:

I don’t really remember how old I was, when I had a completely irrational fear, uh, that went on, for months, I think, before I got the courage to bring it up.  It’s really embarrassing, because I think I may have been pretty old, like 9 or 10.  Anyways, I remember having this, unfounded fear that, my mom was not actually my mom, that there was, um, [giggling] that there was, uh, somebody living inside of her body.  And that, what I was seeing was just a zip-up costume.  And I kept trying figure out who she would be, and I remember thinking, “Oh, she’s a man, she’s actually a man.” And she can unzip it at the top of her head, and pull it down her back.  And I’d been thinking this for a while, but acting totally normal towards my mom, I remember like, she’d take me to school and everything would be fine.  But then, I would just, in the back of my head, I’d be thinking, “I wonder if she’s not who she says she is…”

So, she tucked me into bed one night, and I remember thinking that I had figured it out, I remember thinking that [giggling] my Mom was actually Joe Pesci, all dressed up in my Mom’s skin, like a costume.  And I don’t know if I was influenced too much by Home Alone, or what… But anyway, she was tucking me in, and I remember, she was kind of going through a rough time in her life, and I looked at her, and I go, “Mom, take your mask off.”  And it took like, all the courage in me to say it, because I was sure that she was going to, like, unzip her head off. And she just, hugged me good night, and then she went and she called her friend and was just like “Oh my gosh, I just had a really profound moment with my daughter, I felt like she just saw straight through me, and knew that I wasn’t being true to myself!”  So, she didn’t tell me that until years later.  But, um, I do remember feeling rather confused, and frightened.

But I remember being really nervous to talk to her about it, because I sincerely believed that she was not who she said she was.  So I think I brought it up several times afterwards, being like, “Do you think that what you look like, is really who you are?”  But again, she kept thinking that these were just like really profound statements for a little kid to make.

I just remember certain times, like, eating breakfast, I have my little bowl of oatmeal in my kitchen, just thinking so strongly, like, “Who is she really, who is that really?”  It didn’t occur to me how weird it would be that that would be Joe Pesci, but for some reason that just stuck in my mind.  Maybe Joe was jealous of my Mom, so he dressed in her suit?  And I was really in to Home Alone for a while, and maybe because he was the bad guy in that, that his face just suck in my mind?  And he’s pretty small… I remember thinking, he easily could have put on stilts, or like, added parts to himself… I don’t know what was wrong with me, I really don’t.

The Fear Project

March 15, 2009

Well, it has been much too long since I’ve updated, and it’s about time that I fill you guys in on the project I’ve been mentioning slyly for some time now.

So by way of introduction, it’s a play.  And, I’m writing it.  And it’s about fears, and nightmares, and phobias.  And other such things.  It’s a documentary theatre piece, which basically just means it’s like a documentary film, but live onstage.  So unlike a documentary film, where you are bound by the exact words and face of the interviewee, in documentary theatre you must perform those interviews, and in performing them you must ask, “Who is this person?  How do they talk?  What does their story mean to them?” It becomes less a factual exploration of what they said, and more a deep exploration of who they are.  It is about the people, their stories and their souls, and not just about the facts of their interview.

Anyway, I’m doing one of those, and it’s about Fear.  Specifically, this play explores three main questions: 1) Why are we afraid of what we’re afraid of, 2) Why does fear have such power in our lives, and 3) What do we do about it?

1) Something that I’ve encountered over an over again in my reading and my interviews is that for the most part, people don’t really know why they’re afraid.  This is especially true in the case of nightmares and phobias, but it applies more broadly as well.  Someone wakes up screaming from a nightmare about being stabbed with pins, and they can’t explain where that came from.  Another is plagued for years by a debilitating fear of birds, so bad that she can barely even go outside, and she doesn’t really know why.  And even our more logical fears, like fear of terrorism, aren’t really connected to our likelihood of actually being harmed by a terrorist attack. (I’ve heard it said that you’re more likely to be killed by a tidal wave than by a terrorist.)

2) Fear is one the biggest motivations behind everything that happens in the world today, on a personal, societal, and global level, good and bad.  We quit smoking because we’re afraid of cancer; we tolerate the Patriot Act because we’re afraid of terrorists; we eat organic because we’re afraid of pesticides.  Why does fear have such power?

3) So what does all this mean to us?  What do we do about fear in our lives?  Is it necessary a bad thing? (I mean, quitting smoking is definitely a good development.) I want more than anything to make a play that is useful.  I want people coming away with a wider perspective on fear, a better understanding of how it affects the people around them, and a better capacity to deal with it in their own lives.

We’re all so scared right now.  Worried about the economy, frightened by terrorists, paranoid about immigrants, distrustful of our politicians.  I want to make a play that provides understanding, but more than that, relief.  I want us to be able to laugh at our fears, grin in understanding and indentification.  We’re all afraid of something.  And that should bring us together, not tear us apart.