I was reading about Ted Bundy last night online after watching an episode of Dexter, so I assumed I’d have a dream about either of them or serial killers in general, but no, instead my night was dreamless. However, I woke up with a very distinct memory of a Sesame Street book featuring Grover called The Monster at the End of This Book. The book begins with Grover announcing that there is a monster at the end of the book and telling you, the reader, not to turn the page. Of course you turn the page to see what happens next in the story, and Grover begins to sweat and ask important questions about what is wrong with you that would make you keep turning pages when he very clearly has told you that we do not want to arrive at the end of the story because the ending is not going to be good. I like to think it is just human nature that makes the reader turn yet another page and not Muppet sadism. Grover gets more and more hysterical as the conclusion approaches, building brick walls and tying the pages down with rope, none of which work. Finally you turn the last page and there, at the end of the book is…Grover. Grover is the monster at the end of the book. There really was nothing to fear. He’s relieved. Maybe a little sheepish.
My mother loved this book. She’d make me drag it out and show people who stopped by. I liked it okay (though I think I was disturbed a little by metafiction), but I knew Grover was silly and we were meant to shake our heads at all that fear. The bigger message–the thing we fear most is often not as scary as we think it might be–stuck with me. I can’t say it made me any braver, but it has at least made me aware when I am being anxiety-ridden and Groverish, that perhaps I should hold back all judgment and see how the thing pans out.
I don’t know what to do with fear. I try to isolate what it is that I’m afraid of when the job is done, and what I’ve whittled it down to is loss of freedom. My recurring nightmares are not of being chased by monsters or homicidal maniacs, but instead of being wrongfully incarcerated. For years, these are the dreams that leave me in a cold sweat and, more recently, the reason I need a Xanax to have dental work done or why Z has to always take the inside seat in the booth if we are eating out with other people. Truth be told, my exemplary behavior as a child and as a law-abiding adult has a lot less to do with my natural goodness and more to do with my strong desire to avoid other people telling me what I can and cannot do.
So, I fear that the loss of income will mean the loss of freedom. Not just my ability to travel or to book a flight home to the Midwest if I need to, but even smaller freedoms like being able to own or rent a car if I need to escape the city for my own sanity or because Mt. Rainier is threatening to erupt. (Interesting that all of these fears center on mobility more than they do my ability to buy stuff.)
I can get another job to insure that bus tokens and plane tickets abound, but if it is outside of the academic world, then there will be this whole other 9 to 5 loss of freedom that is equally unpleasant. I can work a 40 hour a week, I may sit at my desk for 8 hours a day, but the idea of having to beg a boss to let me off for my Xanax-induced dentist appointments makes me hyperventilate a little. I’ve been privileged the last seventeen years in this regard and I’m woman enough to admit that I want more of that.
Maybe that’s the key right there. Not fearing what we don’t want but declaring and seeking what we do.