What We Know about Fear

Another year, another shark week.

Yes, I’m tuned and glued to another week of bad shark bite reenactments and worse theme music. And of course, there are great whites leaping to catch seals, blood in the water, and survivor stories.

And it’s actually the latter that I enjoy the most. The tale invariably unfolds: someone is surfing, fishing, or kayaking at an inopportune time of the day: early morning or dusk. They are minding their own business when they feel like they’ve been hit by a freight train. They see blood, and sometimes nothing else, as they try to fight off the thrashing or they lose consciousness. Then, they lose an arm. They lose a leg. They lose a hand. And in fact, one guy lost his foot. The kicker? (I’m sorry. That was a bad pun that no one deserved). The shark didn’t even eat his foot. The intact appendage washed back up on shore a few days later.

So, the experiences may change. The trauma, the details, even the shark itself may change. But do you know what almost every single survivor of a shark attack says after the event?

“I can’t wait to get back in the water.”

Which is absolutely, totally crazy. I mean, I’ve heard of getting back on the horse, but c’mon. That’s a horse. It has teeth, not razor blades. What are these people thinking?

Well, they’re probably thinking that their worst fear of the ocean, almost losing their life, has been realized. After that, there really isn’t much to be afraid of anymore. So, why not head back in? In fact, there may be a certain comfort in the idea of lightning not (hopefully) striking twice. Once you’re struck, maybe that’s enough.

Now, this pretty much confirms what we understand about fear. Really, people aren’t afraid of spiders, sharks, or stuff. We’re really frightened of the unknown, what we can’t predict. So, when shark attacks happen, this fear sort of dissipates for these people because they’ve already stared it in the face and come out on the other side. They know, and so, they aren’t afraid.

In the end, this could be a really extreme positive message about facing your fears. But you don’t have to go swimming at dawn to feel like you’ve conquered your fright. You simply need to stop letting your past affect your future, except for offering helpful hints once in awhile.

So really, what it probably means is that you shouldn’t swim at dawn after you’ve had a shark attack. But then again, you shouldn’t be afraid of swimming at any other time of day, either.

Photoshop Isn’t Going to Fix This

You see a lot of interesting things walking through the mall. Some poor fashion choices. Some terrible cell phone accessory kiosks. Some dangerously tempting sales.

And of course, models. Model after model after model in broad relief behind the cash wrap. Videos of models on loop on Victoria’s Secret’s runways. Sun-kissed girls in tank tops posing in the sand at Pac-Sun. Duck faces with indelible lipstick and wind-swept hair at Sephora.

But it’s what wasn’t there that caught my eye at Aerie. The company boasts that they don’t ever photoshop the images of their girls. That is, they don’t airbrush tummies or touch up from the waist up. And of course, your first reaction is something like, Finally! An honest advertisement! A look that I can achieve on a woman that looks like me! 

But then you look at the rest of the ad. And you realize pretty quickly that the girl in the picture doesn’t look like you.

Well, unless there is a really buff and beautiful me running around in another universe. But even if there was, I would never look like this girl. The hint of a six pack peaks out through her skin. Her hair is light blond and thin. And of course, she looks fantastic in the underwear she is modeling…even laying down. (Oh, and the underwear is pink. Not my color, completely ruining the parallels.) Not to mention she is comfortable being half-naked. Like I said, I would never look like this girl.

And so I have to ask: is not photoshopping women doing us more harm than good?

Because here is what I imagine happens. So, the marketing director of Aerie thinks he or she is doing a service to women everywhere by eliminating photoshop in the ads. By using “real” women in them, whatever that means. But the marketing director is still like, we need to have attractive people to sell the ads. (I mean, who would ever want to buy underwear from a person who was bigger than a size 0?) This means Aerie will have to find people who are “naturally” good looking. And I don’t mean they are “natural” looking, like they don’t wear any make-up. I mean that they don’t need to be photoshopped. They have the abs, the hair, the teeth. They are already flawless. They don’t need to be corrected.

So what ends up happening is that women get told that they are looking at a woman who isn’t photoshopped. Do they feel empowered or strong? No. They try to work harder to look like the women they see in the ads who don’t even need photoshop to look good in the first place. 

Because when things were photoshopped, you could at least say, well, they gave her bigger breasts and shaped her stomach and covered up her zits. At least I know that they’ve done all that so I don’t have to feel that I could (or should) look like that every day. It is impossible to look like this woman, so I can soothe my ego.

But now? Aerie is making sure that there are women out there that actually look like that with no extra help. Doesn’t that make you feel like buying a pair of underwear and dancing around in them? No, I didn’t think so.

So, instead, I want to see girls who are photoshopped. I want to see the girls who are above a size 0. But I also want to see those girls who aren’t photoshopped. Those girls who are a size 0. In the same ad, hopefully.

But I want to see all of them on one condition: they need to feel good in their own skin, and that they aren’t worried about the standards imposed on their gender. I don’t want their self-esteem to be digitally enhanced ever again.

Sylvester and Tweety Bird

WARNING: If you are sensitive to animal on animal violence (otherwise known as predation), please do not read further. Instead, go to this link. It’s little penguins chasing a butterfly. You’re welcome.

If you are reading this, I am assuming you have ignored the warning above. Which is great. I love rebels. Continue.

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I wish I was making this story up. (Here goes nothing…)

There is a stray cat that lives outside of my workplace. It’s sort of like having a pet at work because I look for him or her throughout the day only to find him or her sleeping in the sun, or climbing trees, or just being generally adorable.

Today was not one of those days.

I came into my office, dropped my things, and looked out the window. There was my friend, all black except for his or her chest and little paws. He or she was waiting by the door to the next office over, whose workers often leave a bowl of kibble out.

Apparently, he or she couldn’t wait for the bowl today, though. Because the next time I looked out, the cat is in a primal crouch, stalking something. When I look, I see it is a small bird, perhaps a teenager robin, sitting in the tall grass.

Now, I’ve seen this exchange dozens of times with my own dog and the rabbits in my backyard. My dog crouches down, pursues them, and wags her tail when they outrun her in about 10 seconds. She’s never caught them, not one.

Except, the bird wasn’t flying away now, like the script in my head said it should. It hadn’t even noticed the cat. And it kept on being oblivious…until the cat pounced. The bird tried to fly away, but it couldn’t get high enough. The cat batted it down like a shuttlecock, despite its attempts to escape. I thought, well, this is a no-brainer. This bird will just fly away and everything will be cool. 

But it didn’t. The cat seemed to have injured it because when I had the courage to look out again, it was fluttering its wing helplessly, and the cat was simply sitting a few feet away, close enough to grab it if it tried anything stupid. The cat and I watched the bird die in the grass, suddenly going still. I turned away from the grisly scene. When I looked again, both cat and bird were gone.

Now, if you are familiar with my blog posts, this is the part where I introduce the lesson. What I learned from the bird murder I witnessed today is…

Well, I tried, anyway. I was all well, the circle of life… and then I was like, sometimes you’re the bird, and sometimes you’re the cat…and then maybe, cats are evil. That’s the lesson…or even, a bird in the hand…no, that’s not right at all…and so on.

And after trying to retrofit some kind of inspirational message, I realized that there wasn’t one. This was what cats and birds do; this is the part they play. This is the real life Sylvester and Tweety moment. But instead of dreaming up a clever hi jinx to escape, this bird died. And that’s really important to acknowledge.

Because sometimes life is ugly. It’s gruesome, bloody, and nauseating, and maybe it is time that we recognized that for what it is. I mean, I’m not saying you should try to expose yourself to the most terrible thing every day to feel as if you’ve understood life. But I think that maybe, in small doses, we’ll come to terms with our humanity, which inevitably includes our mortality, if we start to actually face it. And then, maybe we’ll stop sugarcoating animal instinct with Sylvester and Tweety. And then, maybe we’ll embrace the fact that there are going to be times where the bird doesn’t get away (no matter how much the Discovery channel wants us to think the opposite.) And maybe, we’ll start to glean some truth and meaning out of life.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t root that little bird on, just on the outside chance it gets away. Because without that hope, we have nothing.

Rest in peace, little bird. You died fighting an old fight, but a good one.

(If you are totally bummed after reading this, go to the top of the page and watch the penguins. I swear it’ll make you feel better. You’re welcome.)

Thwarted

Something everyone knows: not everything works out as planned.

Something everyone forgets: not everything works out as planned.

So, why do we still get frustrated when this happens to us? Why are we mad when we have to go to plan B? Why do we get so stressed out when we have to prioritize?

Because a large part of us still believes that the universe revolves around us. But a bigger part of us also thinks that the universe is conspiring against us.

And guess which one wins out? That’s right, the negativity.

I mean, think of whenever you have ever prayed for something to happen, wished for something to happen, wanted something to happen. Maybe you threw a coin into a fountain. Maybe you squeezed your eyes tight and pleaded for it. And maybe, sometimes, it did happen.

But many, many, many other times, it may not have happened as you were hoping it would. And how did you feel then? Shunned? Ignored? Defeated? Like the world was out to get you? Like you weren’t meant to be happy? Sure. But that’s not how you should be feeling. In fact, you should be at peace with your situation.

Take my own life as an example. All week I have been stuck in horrific traffic due to construction along my commute route. A relatively short trip has been doubled, leaving me with even less time to complete all of the tasks that I need to do when I get home. Now, like I said: I knew that the construction would be there, but somehow, it still frustrated me to no end that I couldn’t get on with my life as I planned it because of this obstacle.

However, I have a very different attitude now that I have experienced two weeks of this nonsense. I still get angry about it. But I am now calm when I get home. I know I won’t be able to get everything done, and I have to make sacrifices. Which is totally okay because I am not a  robot, and it’s time that I recognized that. 

And in the end, I found that it is completely okay to be thwarted. It is okay to not get what you want. It is okay to let people down from time to time. Because when this happens, you always end up exactly where you needed to be all along. The universe does not hate you. Just the opposite.

Blame it on the Weatherman

Everyone knows that the media tends to control our lives and what we see in the world. But I think there’s a new threat: the weatherman or weatherwoman.

I mean, we already sort of plan our days around the weather. Oh, it’s lashing rain? I’ll stay inside and read a book. Oh, it’s sunny and warm? I think I should spend a lot of time outside today, and so on. And now that it is getting even easier to check the weather from our devices with updates and alerts (you know, instead of like, stepping outside), we’re seeing even more influence from it.

But really, we’re just making excuses. For example, it’s truly difficult for me to wake up in the morning when it is cloudy or raining. It feels like all of the blood in my body has been replaced with lead. And sure, there is a scientific reason for that. Blue light in sunshine (and electronic devices) tells us to wake up. The absence of it does the opposite. But can I rely on science to explain this? Can I honestly tell myself that my body would prefer to sleep in on a rainy day just because the sun isn’t out? Should I be blaming my troubles on the weatherman and Mother Nature?

The short answer is no. The fact of the matter is that I am absolutely able to wake up on my own (with the help of a couple of alarms). And the fact of the matter is, we are all able to get up on a rainy day or a sunny day or a cloudy day or a snowy day or a blustery day to do the things we need to do. And like it or not, weather warning or not, we must do them.

And most certainly, this is a greater metaphor for life, as most of my blog posts are. You see, the universe is going to present you with several different types of obstacles. Sometimes, they arrive all in one day. And as with the weather, you have the choice of deciding whether you want to make up an excuse or make it happen. And yes, I know. It’s really easy to step to the window and watch the rain fall down and stay inside with warm tea all day. But there is something else in deciding that you will get things done in spite of the conditions and circumstances around you that speaks more volumes of your character.

But if it helps, no one said that you couldn’t jump in the puddles along the way.