2.11 Fear and Anger

Fear and anger, to me anyways, always ends in depression. They seem like very different concepts, but in reality, share much in common. A repressive person by nature, I tend to hold everything inside. This is by no means healthy and I have tried a variety of ways to alleviate this aspect of my life. Tai chi every morning helps for about 10 – 15 minutes. Swimming and other forms of physical activity releases some tension until I read a newspaper story about the latest natural or people made disaster. My cup of coffee helps until it kicks in and gets my heart and mind racing. I’m not trying to regard this hyper-attuned sense of fear and anger as negative attributes. Keeps me on my toes.

Marc Maron on his bi-weekly WTF podcast said: “I am a man, despite the fact that I talk honestly to you, who [lives] in a fear of a lot of things. Fear is really a waste of time unless it’s practical.”

Naturally, I applied this to my own life. Whenever I hear or read something that pertains – even remotely – to thoughts I’ve been thinking, it’s automatically about me. I loathe admitting it, but my self-absorption sometimes gets the best of me. But really, who isn’t self-absorbed?

Let’s go over fear first. There are very practical fears, for example, I am afraid of swimming in the ocean because of sharks. Sure, shark attacks don’t seem frequent, but I think they are just under-reported. An impractical fear is what random people think of me when I’m out in public. People don’t care, but I think they care. One strange glance from a stranger is enough to send me into a tailspin.

I can be afraid of sharks, but I can’t be angry with them. The other day, during the ongoing and seemingly unending rainstorms sweeping the city, I was walking down the street. I happened to turn around, saw a pothole filled with water and out of the corner of my eye, a large Canada Post truck approaching. The truck hit the pothole and sent a tidal wave of water in my direction. I stood there dumbfounded, the splash soaking me from head to toe. I thought this kind of thing only happened in movies. This was something that made me angry, and I think, justifiably so.

I feel sometimes like these tiny bits of fear and anger solidify inside my body, join hands and become stronger. It was high time to release, but not through yoga or something else that promotes self-awareness or relaxation. Oh, no, I decided to go in the other direction, to explore fear and anger head on, to find experiences that personified these concepts directly. Confront them, and therefore in theory, defeat them. I had all this anger and fear living inside me doing nothing but procreating. Something positive had to be created from this.

My mantra became: “Fear is really a waste of time unless it’s practical.”

Previous entries examined my experiences as a pen pal with a convict and working as an arch-nemesis. These were challenging and intimidating, but also very detached forms of fears and anger. I was exploring other people’s anger and superficially applying fear to someone’s life. I would have to go to farther extremes if I was to become victorious.

It is easy to say that my individual fears are small-minded, redundant, and at times, ridiculous. However, they are very real thoughts and feelings, so strong at times, that they cannot be tossed aside and negated when making comparisons. My fears and what makes me angry might not equal yours, but whatever they might be specifically, they affect us individually, albeit in different ways.

So, I went looking for practical fears and situations that made me angry. The problem I found totally contradicts what I said above: The situations I thought of that involved fear and anger seemed too small. Too easy to overcome.

I conquered a fear of heights by skydiving. However, this was in my 20s, when fear was not really even a concept. Public speaking is not my forte, but I have made successful presentations, pitches, speeches and even done a bit of reading my own writing. I’ve traveled to places that scared the hell out of me only to discover that we are more alike than I anticipated.

In the end, I stuck with the sharks. They covered the fear part, and in the end, I realized that I could be angry with them.

I read about a shark attack in Cancun. I had a few days off around the Family Day weekend and decided to book a flight. I was determined to confront a shark, but on the off chance that they were not around, at least I could perhaps unwind a bit of the tension that surfaced since coming up with this ridiculous scheme. And on my return – if I returned – I would so with a tan.

The flight went smoothly and on arrival I consulted the information desk about the hotel nearest to the area of the most recent attack. There were many rooms vacant.

For the first day, I sat on the beach with a bowl-sized fruit-inspired alcoholic beverage, scoping out the area. I was virtually alone on the beach, the sun was shining and the water was calm. A tiny beached and abandoned overturned rowboat was on the beach. The bartender I bought the drink from said he would stay out of the water – the shark had a taste for blood now. This was exactly what I was hoping to hear.

The next morning, I set out early. On the beach, I flipped over the rowboat and pushed it into the water. I rowed far out from the beach, moved far from the landscape, turned my attention to the open water.

When I was far enough away, I took out some bloody raw meat I bought late the night before at an outdoor market. I tossed the meat into the water and waited. The water swung me around very subtly in a counter-clockwise motion. I watched for any movement below the clear water. I had no plan beyond the rowboat and the meat. It didn’t stop me from feeling like Captain Ahab or the Old Man from Hemingway’s famous novel.

Maybe it was the sun or the waiting. But after a few hours, I came to the realization that this was foolish and very impractical. Why was I wasting my time? And perhaps my life? In a way, I became very angry with the sharks, they came to represent many of the situations I have been angry about in the past. Mostly situations involving my own inadequacies, my own defects and inability to see things to their forlorn conclusion. And how this often led to frustration then to depression and on to more anger. The three stages of self-imposed fear. Sitting, spinning around in that tiny rowboat, I realized that I needed to understand that this was all controllable. I didn’t need to be angry at the shark, it certainly wasn’t the sharks fault that it didn’t show up. I also didn’t need to be angry at myself. And yes, fear and anger is all in the mind. And fears – most of them anyways – were impractical, and therefore a waste of time. I felt a sense of peace and a new understanding about myself and my place in the world. My body seemed to sigh a collective sigh of relief. All at once, my mind cleared, the tension leaving, lifting out of my shoulders. I was not angry. I was not afraid. I was free.

And that’s when I saw the shark fin.