What Are You Afraid Of? A Survey of Fear

These lawn statues creep me out.

These lawn statues creep me out.

It’s October–the month we celebrate Halloween. The holiday itself has a complicated history, but it all boils down to this: we try to convince ourselves we are fearless. We, the adults, have outgrown our phobias of the Monster Under the Bed. We watch movies about vampires, ghosts, and demons who would possess us with the nonchalance of a toddler picking his nose. We’re grownups, right? We’re the ones in charge. What do we have to be afraid of?

Of all the foundations of the shifting genre of Gothic, there’s one that never moves except to reflect the fears of the current generation. Tropes of the Gothic are celebrated on Halloween in full force, but if one pays attention the overall theme of this genre is fear of loss of control.  Loss of control manifests in either physical or emotional entrapment or confinement. This is why in horror movies, the pretty girl is tied up in the basement, buried alive, or chased through the darkness by someone who means her harm. She is at the mercy of someone or something else. This motif rarely changes much in horror movies; it merely mutates to a different form.

Why are zombie movies so popular? It’s the same theme, only flipped. The dead/undead. Life/not life. As an advanced society, we have such powerful medical technology we can keep one who was meant to die alive indefinitely. What is a zombie but someone who is dead but unaware? Think life support keeping stroke victims technically alive when there is no brain activity. Life/not life.

There is another side of horror which Julia Kristeva calls the Abject.

There looms, within abjection, one of those violent, dark revolts of being, directed against a threat that seems to emanate from an exorbitant outside or inside, ejected beyond the scope of the possible, the tolerable, the thinkable…The abject has only one quality of the object–that of being opposed to I (Kristeva 1). 

Kristeva further explains one characteristic of the Abject as being something that spreads, defiles, consumes. We must stop it in its tracks, lest the innocents be corrupted and lost.

I asked a question on Facebook: What are you afraid of? What is your deepest fear?

Many people replied with known phobias such as being afraid of snakes, spiders, taxidermy, claustrophobia, etc. Some delved a bit further under the surface and admitted to more personal psychological terrors. Here are the 5 top fears I found among teenagers and adults. It’s a basic fear of loss of control.

1. The fear of failing as a parent. I don’t know a decent mom who doesn’t lose sleep regarding her parenting decisions. More than that, we moms obsess about the example we share with our kids. Nothing hurts more than to see your child making the same mistakes you’ve made, with the same repercussions. We as moms blame ourselves for every bad thing that happens to our kids, whether it’s our fault or not.

Be gentle with yourself, dear Mama. Even if we are doing our best, we can’t help being human. As such, we are hopelessly flawed, and it’s almost a cosmic joke that our kids show us in living color every bad trait we ourselves exhibit.

2. The fear of failure. This is a big one that never seems to go away; rather it transforms as we grow into adulthood. As a high school student, we might be afraid of failing school, not making the team, not getting the attention of our crush, and for type A’s, not making the grade. It doesn’t go away as we grow into adults. Now, we fear failing as a parent, failing in our marriage, letting down our boss, our spouse, our children, the list goes on and on.

3. The fear of being forgotten. I’m pretty sure this one haunts everyone. What legacy are we leaving? Are we making a difference? What will our spouses, parents, children, families, friends….the world… remember about us when we are gone? What have we done of substance that will remain after our passing? For parents, this one really resonates within our hearts, because our hope is that our children will be our legacy, but also that we have made some kind of ripple in the pond.

4. The fear of loss. This one is the director of my nightmares. I’ve lost my father and both grandmothers, but there’s a tiny, ever-present terror of being left when my husband dies. Even greater is the terror of losing a child. If anything were to happen to one of my kids, I’m not certain I would survive emotionally. For those of you who have experienced this heartbreaking experience, my heart goes out to you.

5.The fear of dying and leaving our lives unfinished. This encapsulates a combination of the other four fears, conglomerating into a monster of a fear that keeps us up at night. We don’t want to die before we’ve finished that novel, seen our kids go to college, held our first grandchild. Even more scary is the idea of dying and leaving our children left behind to be raised by someone else. This fear takes on a new dimension for single parents who fear their children being put into the hands of people we don’t trust, whether it’s a crazy mother-in-law or a lazy ex-husband. In essence, our fears can be boiled down to the loss of  two subjects: time and control.

So tell me now, what are you really afraid of?


Work Cited:

Kristeva, Julia, and Leon S. Roudiez. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. New York: Columbia UP, 1982. Print.

Southern Accents: Breaking the Tradition of Silence

Me and Mom circa 1975

Me and Mom circa 1975

“If you want to really hurt me, talk bad about my language. Ethnic identity is twin skin to linguistic identity–I am my language. Until I can take pride in my language, I cannot take pride in myself…I will no longer be made to feel ashamed of my existing. I will have my voice…I will have my serpent’s tongue–my woman’s voice, my sexual voice, my poet’s voice. I will overcome the tradition of silence.” ~Gloria Anzaldua.

“There is nothing like the abjection of self to show that all abjection is in fact recognition of the want on which any being, meaning, language, or desire is founded.” ~ Julia Kristeva

After reading Gloria Anzaldua’s Borderlands as well as Julia Kristeva’s Powers of Horror for my graduate level classes, I began exploring the idea of abjection and “othering” of foreigners. After some research with these and other feminist writers, it occurred to me that some of these same discriminations could also apply to Southern student attending college for the first time, most especially older students who have been a part of the workforce and are attempting to change occupations through the gateway of education. This short creative piece is a reflection of that experience.

Whispered Accents

So many times, when a new acquaintance finds out I am from Arkansas, the first thing she will say is, “Oh! You don’t have an Arkansas accent. How is that?”

The reason I don’t have an Arkansas accent (or what non-Arkansas perceive as one) is years of conscious effort to suppress it. If I say, “Y’all” or drop my “g’s” at the end of a word, or otherwise use language that causes spell check to disapprove, it somehow makes me feel guilty. It is because of this suppression that my children also have no accent.

I have, in the past, felt pride in this accomplishment, patting myself on the back that they do not have to struggle as I have had to in order to keep that part of my voice suppressed.

To have an Arkansas accent, a hillbilly way of talking, implies ignorance, poverty and other unpleasant stereotypes I have worked so hard to rip myself from. See, here, and here, are the scars that still bleed from the tearing.

It is so farfetched to see the connection from women who live on the border, between two worlds, to the scarcity of my own childhood where silence was often necessary? Where, to talk of college and seeking an education was viewed as self-serving or arrogant, too good for the life of my parents and their parents? I did not have toe right words to explain that seeking an education was by no means a personal slight, but an aching thirst that could not be quenched in any other way.

I too live on the border.

I have learned the right words to speak, to write. I have learned the words academia expects. But why are these words better than the ones inside me? Who decides, and why must I concede to their judgement? Why must I choose between the language of my peers and the words of my heritage?
I refuse.

For me, for my children, I will teach them the old words, the ancient stories that I have hidden from them. I realize now that I was not helping them by silencing them the way I had been silenced. I will tell them the stories and legends of who we are and where we came from. I will try to salvage their pride in their roots. Because the words I use are blended and diverse as the blood that runs through my veins.

My dialect, the words I know deep down inside the hidden places descended from the settlers who first braved the harsh Arkansas winters. Their words are a mix of Cherokee, Irish, Scottish, German and Chickasaw.

They are the words of the hard-working pioneers who settled the land; that rocky, unforgiving wild place called Arkansas.

My words are the suffering of the Cherokees mourning their dead.

My words are the fatigue of soldiers on watch at sunrise.

My words are the screams of my grandmothers in childbirth.

My words are the whispers of the moonshiners.

My words are the preacher’s pleas for repentance.

My words are the sinner’s tears of salvation.

My words are the sharecropper’s curses.

My words are myself.

I will teach my children the truth: these words are not shameful. For my mother, who was silenced, I will teach them.

And I (we) will no longer be ashamed.