As adults, I think we forget how to be afraid (be very afraid), therefore losing the invaluable benefit experiencing fear provides.
I much preferred encountering fear as a kid. It seemed bloody awful at the time – and Little Me would scorn Big Me for making such an arrogant statement. But, I genuinely believe that the fear you experience as a child is so much more productive and life defining than any of the rational (or likely, irrational) worries you amass as an adult.
Little Me, definitely aligned with The Oxford English Dictionary’s first definition of fear:
“An unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain, or harm.”
As a child, it was a visceral sensation; truly unpleasant, and very much fuelled by the imagination. In my case, a wildly overactive one at that.
Growing up, I’d managed to bury and repress most, if not all, of my childhood fears. And I actually forgot what either caused them, or what they felt like. That was, until Kirsty and I made an unplanned trip to the pictures…
We went to see Andrés Muschietti’s new spin on one of my childhood favourites, and Stephen King’s 1986 masterpiece, IT. In terms of movie making and for entertainment value, it’s a solid 7/10, perhaps a 7.5. Big Me is super-nostalgic when it comes to things from Little Me’s past – so, if I wasn’t such a pragmatic critic, I’d probably give it 9.5. It’s an 80s pastiche masterpiece (Stranger Things really lead the way here recently) in terms of look, feel, score and character narrative. HOWEVER, that’s not what got me…
IT reminded Big Me of the things Little Me really feared – I’ll come back to what these ‘things’ really boil down to. What’s strange now, is that these ‘fears’ (well-deserving of their inverted commas), seem rather less menacing – and carry a far deeper meaning. Watching Bill Skarsgård nail his portrayal of Pennywise the Dancing Clown (says a big Tim Curry fan) took me back to witness my childhood fears again, firsthand*. This time though, from the outside looking in. Not only did everything appear rather retrospectively rational (despite what my parents told me) – but the fear seemed warranted and relevant, and it made me long for that feeling again. So I set about trying to understand why I miss it and why it (only now) made so much sense… Bear with me here.
Big Me’s take on IT, and my longing for its childhood fear qualities, aligns far better with Oxford’s fourth definition of the word:
“A mixed feeling of dread and reverence.”
So – if that was Big Me’s contemporary understanding of Little Me’s fears, then what did I fear today? How have my fears developed into 2017, and produced this weird yearning for my childhood worries and anxieties?
Sadly, it’s not nearly as exciting as fear of the Bogeyman (or evil incarnate – which I’m coming to). The things that I dread and fear these days – that wake me up in a cold sweat and have me scrambling for the comforting glow of my iPhone screen – seem altogether pathetic and pointless. Yet, I’m still paralysed, sometimes crushed emotionally and physically, by their terrifying power. So, how do they manifest themselves?
Well, most often in the form of receiving emails, thinking about work-life balance and worrying about Brexit…
…Cue a face-palm and giggle from Little Me at this very thought, as he pedals off to Morningside park to start fires and kiss girls.
Fears nowadays suck. I can’t think of a better way to put it. They’re actually really tough to recognise and should be really easily managed – yet they’re entirely all-consuming and insurmountable at the same time.
SO – it looks like Oxford’s second and third definitions of fear are now what Big Me wrestles with daily:
“A feeling of anxiety concerning the outcome of something.”
“The likelihood of something unwelcome happening.”
This is where I think the Little Me fears, and my desire to experience them once again, really stand up against Big Me’s distinct lack of understanding as to what’s causing my anguish. I’ve asked myself what the fundamental difference between the two is… And here’s my half-baked theory:
Big Me lacks the primordial fear of evil. Please bear with me!
What New Line’s baddies do so very well, is personify a malevolence (evil) that represents the unknown. As humans, we tend to demonise/turn from that which we do not know, recognise or trust. More often than not, we end up labelling the unfamiliar with a subconscious sense of potentially ‘wicked, harmful and unpleasant’. As a kid, this is ultimately what I feared the most – the unseen and unknown. Pennywise and Freddy capitalise on this beautifully – taking fear of the unknown (growing up, rites of passage, becoming an adult) and giving them a very recognisable face and presence.
Which begs the question, how do the heroes in these silver-screen sensations triumph?
Pretty simple really; they face their fears. They confront evil. They, essentially, get to grips with the unknown and accept their rites of passage.
The recognise that their fear generates and feeds the evil within – so, once they understand and confront it, there’s very little left to fear, apart from fear itself!
So, my Big Question of The Day, is:
What would Little Me say to Big Me about the fear I experience today?
I think he’d be surprised at the things I’m scared of (electronic messages and post-Brexit Europe). Big Me would agree with this – and be quick to admit to Little Me, that based on the above theory, the above examples are actually great illustrations of the unknown. Which is inherently what drives Little Me’s fear, and manifests as evil. Big Me would also point out that, as you grow up, your intuition changes and tries to convince you that:
- There are less unknowns (you’re a grown up, act like one)
- You’re in control (erm – you’re a grown up, please act like one)
- You’re weak/nuts to think otherwise (you’re a bloody grown up, act like one!)
Therefore, what could Big Me learn from Little Me, in dealing with evil (the fear generated from the unknown)? Simple – recognise it, admit it and confront it. Don’t hide from it. Don’t become a slave to it. Otherwise, you’ll end up being consumed by it. I must admit, this is the skill I’ve totally lost/forgotten about as an adult. My fears seem very different, and not inherently evil – so I ignore/quash them. But, that’s because I’ve forgotten how to fight them. I’ve forgotten what it takes to crush the unknown. Let’s be honest – email is genuinely evil and Brexit is an actual nightmare.
Here’s a terrible graphic explanation of what I’m getting at:
WOW. Thanks Little Me – I’ll genuinely apply that thinking. Too often, I get lost in a world of work and stress, never actually confronting or dealing with my own evils and subsequent fear. I’m going to step back, and see how I can confront these unknowns. It’s not always easy, when every email message that comes into my inbox sends my heart racing at the prospect of what it contains. But I reckon there are far smarter ways of dealing with this specific model. Perhaps I could concentrate on not becoming a slave to the motion/machine, and having a better understanding of what it is the people who are contacting me are looking for? A face-to-face follow-up normally always helps untangle the mysteries of an email’s tone and/or content. Little ME could be on to something here.
To finish, Big Me has one last point to argue internally, with glib Little Me – what about the evil that exists in the world today, that’s not an extraterrestrial or supernatural manifestation of the unknown? What about the evil of humankind – the evil of people? Big Me asks this specifically just after another bona fide nut-bar has tried to blow-up innocent people on the London Underground, thankfully, failing to take any lives this time but nonetheless further spreading the panic/hatred for the evil of terrorism.
Little Me would respectfully remind Big Me, without pretending for a second to truly understand the mentality of terrorists, or the complex political/religious drivers, that more often than not, it’s still a fear of the unknown at play. A lack of understanding stemming from something, that’s become so twisted and misconstrued over the decades (and centuries) that we’re unable to see the root for what it is.
Thanks Little Me. I’ll take some of that wisdom. Breaking down fear/evil and trying to understand more about (and confront) the unknown, ain’t a bad way to approach things in life.
*It’s worth pointing out, that 2017’s IT was masterfully crafted by the same production house, New Line Cinema, who gave birth to the ultimate (and my favourite) Bad Guy – Freddy Krueger. Not dissimilar in traits and evil impersonation, to Pennywise.
[Headline image credit to New Line Cinema]