I directed this play at the beginning of the year called “Thom Pain” where the main character ends the show by saying the word “fear” very slowly: “Efff. Fff. Eeear.” It looks worthless on the page but it works when you say it out loud. Try it right now. Don’t just read it, participate, say it:
Eff. Fff. Eeear.
When you say it slowly, the comprehension of the word is delayed, as if you’re stretching out a part of your mind that normally immediately assumes the definition, forcing you to think about every individual component of “fear.” Because fear is made up of many things — it is a complex emotion triggered by a variety of stimuli: fear of dogs, fear of cats, fear of clowns, fear of getting a job next year, fear of Rudy’s never opening again, fear of James Franco. Every fear has its own flavors and mechanics.
And yet what unites all fears is the sense of being overwhelmed. Right? Fear overrides your whole body and makes you do what it wants, like jump or scream or pee pee unexpectedly. You lose control when you’re afraid.
Fear is on the mind, of course, after a particularly exhausting Halloween this year. Not only was it the first (and last) time I drank Four Loko, but I had the pleasure of going on a haunted hayride in Old Saybrook. You might think the name “Old Saybrook” would prevent anything from actually being scary, but you are wrong. That place is fucking terrifying. For the haunted hayride, you clamber onto a dilapidated trailer and are forced to sit on the edges of the cart so your back is facing the outside world, leaving you exposed for sneaky monsters to kill you. The first stop on the ride is in front of a dinky wooden shack, nothing to be afraid of by itself. Then a small child bolts out of the house screaming, “HELP ME, HELP ME, HE’S GOING TO KILL ME.” Out runs a masked man, holding a knife covered in blood. He grabs the girl; she wails. The tractor pulls forward, leaving the poor girl behind in the arms of the murderer. More screaming. Then, receding into the distance, the man raises his knife. And plunges. The screams stop.
It only gets worse from there — the next stop is in a psycho-disco with bloody clowns wielding bloody knives, dancing in fog, laughing. After that, a man with a chainsaw chases you. Then you climb off the tractor and walk through a mini-cornfield maze, with little kids popping up through the stalks, shouting phrases like “chicken nuggets,” which sounds really funny right now, but out there in the dark is so outlandishly bizarre it’s terrifying. Your mind goes “Ha ha, they’re weird” to “Wait, that’s really weird” to “Wait, that’s really crazy” to “Oh my God, they’re crazy.”
And you run on and on and on, through cobwebs and spinning corridors, past hissing bugs in dark corners and more chainsaw-wielding fiends behind invisible curtains. And you think to yourself, “WHY AM I DOING THIS? MAKE IT STOP MAKE IT STOP.”
But here’s the thing: It doesn’t really become apparent until the whole thing is over, but in the haunted house, you lose control. You can’t control anything that is about to happen to you. All you can do is walk forward into the darkness, bracing yourself for literally anything. And it’s actually incredibly freeing — to have no idea what’s ahead. Yes, it’s terrifying, but the anticipation of the scare is the worst part. In fact, the scare is quite fun. The anticipation of whether or not the dead body up ahead will grab you can be crippling. When it doesn’t — allowing someone from behind the hay bale to jump out and throw a rubber snake at you — it’s thrilling.
Fear is usually perceived as something that overwhelms and defeats. But I don’t know — there is something about losing control that’s comforting, at least for someone like me who considers Google Tasks a religion. I wouldn’t want to permanently lose control, but in small doses, when allowed, if I find myself in Old Saybrook and pay 10 bucks, then yeah — it’s good to not fight it and let yourself get scared. To feel fear. To not be in control.
To quote Will Eno, author of “Thom Pain”: “Eff. Fff. Eear.”
It’s a prayer to those of us who have no idea what life will bring us next year. But the anticipation is always worse than the actual scare itself.
Unless that little girl actually got killed by a murderer. Then the scare would be worse.