A recent incident got me thinking about fear.
Last week I was working with a graphic designer whose office is attached to her home. It's a funky little adobe space on the second floor of what must be her garage (it's difficult to tell because of the way the building is situated). The designer has two rather undisciplined dogs who can be heard barking in the background whenever we're on the phone together.
Anyway, we were meeting with three clients, and canines Luna and Einstein were happily playing outside in the courtyard between the house and the office.
When the meeting concluded, the designer went down the stairs to let the dogs in (cue Baha Men chorus. You know you want to.) They ran up the stairs where they greeted one of the clients who, in turn, froze in fear. She was literally paralyzed, her hand on the rail and her feet fixed on the top step. I tried to corral the dogs but I could only distract them momentarily. The designer whistled and the dogs raced down the stairs. But the client remained stone still in place, whimpering, "I think I'll just stay up here with Barb."
I offered to descend the staircase first, thus guarding her from the dogs if they decided to run up again. She finally mustered all her courage and told me to just watch her from the top.
I have never witnessed anyone with a phobia before, but -- like pornography -- I knew it when I saw it.
I was telling this story to my daughter, who's working on an advanced degree in clinical psychology, and she mentioned that she had spent some time in the phobia lab at school last week. Apparently this would be a keen place to raid before Halloween, supplied as it is with fake vomit, fake rats, fake cockroaches and so on. She said that one of her colleagues threw a fake roach at her and even though she expected any vermin tossed at her would not be real, she screamed anyway. Fear is fear.
I have what could be considered some strange fears. I have absolutely no qualms about speaking in front of a crowd, but I get so worked up before I have to make a phone call that a boss once sent me to a workshop on call reluctance. There I was given a thick rubberband to wear on my wrist; when I started to feel nervous about getting on the phone, I was supposed to snap the rubberband to remind me that there was nothing to be afraid of. In fact, the nearly constant snapping only served to bruise my wrist. (If I had only thought of embossing something like LIVESTRONG on it, I would be writing this from my home in St. Lucia or Monte Carlo instead of suburban Houston.)
I'm also not a fan of loud noises, particularly fireworks, champagne corks popping (and you know, with my lifestyle, that happens all the time) and -- the worst -- balloons breaking. Actually, I have a very specific balloon fear. When I was perhaps three, I saw a balloon with a ghoulish, evil-grinned face on it, attached by the knot to a pair of oversized cardstock shoes. As if the balloon wasn't freaky enough, somehow the image became conflated in my mind with Edvard Grieg's orchestral piece,"In the Hall of the Mountain King," which was written for Henrik Ibsen's play, Peer Gynt. Apparently the scene in which the music is featured is populated by trolls, gnomes and goblins (ok, only flying monkeys could make it creepier), but I have never seen Peer Gynt, and can't imagine how the balloon and music conjoined. To this day, however, even a few bars of it frighten me. If my son wants to really get to me, he starts playing it on the piano. My reaction is not pretty.
I remember also being afraid of the test pattern that the local television stations would broadcast before they signed off each night. (If anyone under, say, 35 would like me to decipher that sentence, I can.) I think our test pattern showed the profile of a smiling Native American. That seems awfully incorrect politically and is probably not correct in any way, but that's what's stuck in my mind.
One thing I'm not afraid of is color. My quilts abound with it. But maybe instead of being a reflection of bravery, it actually means I'm phobic about NOT using color. I talk a lot about contrast and "sparkle," but perhaps I'm covering up a (perceived or real) lack of technical skill with a lot of color bravado? Last fall, I made two quilts for my etsy shop that sold quite quickly. Each was intended to represent the stillness and solitude of a winter dawn. As a result, the palette is quite narrow.