A note on (my) anger and fear

Close readers know – I have a writing project I’ve been unable to engage with. I keep telling myself that some combination of fear and anger stand in my way.

I had a bit of an epiphany the other day, though. The epiphany has been gestating for a while, as most of my epiphanies do: it wasn’t so much as an “Aha!” as a, “Jeez, how did I not realize that I knew that already?!?”


Some weeks ago, a good friend sought my help in getting over a hump of his own – a professional certification he needs to do that, because reasons, he’s been stalling. He’s been telling himself, and me, that he’s afraid of failing the certification test. It’s a hard test. Lots of people fail.

My friend, though – that just didn’t feel right to me. I don’t think he’s afraid of failing. We were out at a delicious Greek dinner. A little high, very full. Do you think, I said, that you aren’t so much afraid of failing as you are of passing?

My friend hasn’t had a steady job in years. He’s done projects here and there, stints abroad. Volunteer gigs. But no real job jobs in… twenty years or so.

If you pass, I said, do you think you might either get – or feel pressure to get – a job???

I want a job! He said. That’s why I’m doing this!

Well yeah, I said, of course. But. Think of all you’ll lose if you get a job!


My situation? Similar, but different. First off, when I write this piece, I’ll then have to discuss it with a bunch of folks – including some I don’t know. It’s not a dissertation defense, but it’s not entirely unlike that: some people have to like it, and while it’s likely they will, there’s no guarantee they will. The fear that they won’t, I’ve often told myself, holds me back. That, and the anger I feel at a few people – not those who will “evaluate” my work, but people associated with those people. I resent being in a position where I need their approval.

And “need” isn’t quite right. I don’t need it. I could turn tail tomorrow and literally nothing would change in my life. But I would lose something: a sort of hope about some future activities and relationships – and work (not money; activity) – that I’ve been nurturing.

None of that, though, was the epiphany. That was the shiny distracting material obscuring the epiphany. My epiphany? Like my friend, I fear what lies on the other side of my success. I don’t, really, fear failing. First, because while possible, it’s unlikely. Second, because honestly, my “judges” don’t hold the key to my self-esteem. I don’t particularly crave their approval, and were they to “fail” me, I don’t imagine my ego would so much as flinch. And third, because literally nothing rides on their approval.

What lies on the other side of success? Well, as I just wrote, nothing, really. Except there is one thing: I have a close relationship – a relationship on which I rely – that will end one day. It may end in six months. More likely, in one to three years. If all goes as I hope and expect, it will end amicably, consensually, by mutual agreement. The end of this relationship will bring both happiness and sadness to both of us.

This piece of writing neither binds nor threatens this relationship directly. Symbolically, though, the completion of the writing relates closely to the ending of the relationship. In my mind, if not, particularly, in the real world.

My epiphany, then, lay here: in understanding that I have a slightly psychotic conflation going on, whereby I’m behaving as if the writing will cause the relationship to end. It won’t. I know that. But my mind knows not from rationality.

New York City subway token

As with any epiphany, this one – and a token – can’t even get me on the subway any more. The fact of my having had the realization itself won’t deliver me from my psychotic conflation, from my delusional fear. My liberation, such as it is, won’t come until some shift occurs in my body, a shift that will be facilitated by, that will depend on, the epiphany, but that will not be caused by it.

Psychic shifts (in me) rarely proceed hydraulically, mechanically. The metaphors that describe them all lack, but if I stack them atop one another, they begin to approach an accurate depiction of the process of such shifts: glacial movement, tectonic shifts, sedimentary buildup, and erosion. Tides. Climate change. Evolution, natural selection. Mutation and adaptation. All these giant-scale, gradual and sudden natural phenomena evoke the process of psychic change in me.

And here I sit, knowing all that, (im)patiently waiting, tilting at my windmills.

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