Monday, 11 February 2013

Fears Before Bedtime:

Looking back, I think the thing that colored the texture of my childhood most prominently was fear. Not the big grandiose phobias of adulthood, like death, disease, poverty and aging, but a stinging cloud of tiny irrational worries that needled me long into adolescence. The funny thing was that almost all of these anxieties were self-inflicted, the enfants terrible of overactive imagination, born of ignorance, confusion and speculation. 

To understand what I’m talking about, you have to appreciate that the world a child perceives and occupies is utterly different to the grown-up universe. Parents dictate bizarre social conventions that you suspect are simply made up on the spot. You can eat certain foods with your hands but not others. Mum insists that you tidy your toys away, even though this means that you’ll no longer remember where they are. Certain people are fat or short or ugly, and yet you’re forbidden from discussing these facts within earshot of them. It’s not polite to pick your nose and flick bogies away, but it is polite to blow all the snot onto a piece of tissue-paper, fold it and put it in your pocket. You can’t ever talk to strangers, yet by the same token your parents admonish you for not making friends when all the possible candidates for companionship happen to be strangers. You have to go to bed early even though mummy stays up late. You can’t whisper a swearword even though daddy shouts them when he watches football. It goes on and on and on.

Not only this, but simple physical laws do not exist in childhood. There’s no such thing as physics or chemistry when you’re five-years-old. There’s no such thing as God either. Think about that for a second. Everything, from the dishwasher to the lightbulb, is an incomprehensible miracle. This is why kids make the best scientists; they systematically question everything around them, right down to the most minute detail. Contentment with ignorance is a form of learned helplessness that only adults suffer. Children are never satisfied, and their inquiries are constant:

“Why does the sun come out in the day instead of at nighttime when the light would be more useful?”

“How do I know air exists when I can’t see it? What if breathing is just a bad habit I can quit anytime I want?”

“What’s the difference between dead people and asleep people? What if dead people have just been asleep a really long time and when they wake up we’ll have locked them in boxes and buried them in the ground?”

“For that matter, what happens when we run out of space in the ground to bury dead people in? Will we have to fire them into outer space or what?”

“What’s to stop liquid from not assuming the shape of its container. It can be any shape it wants, why should the container decide for it?”

“How can trees be alive when they don’t move, eat or go to the toilet?”

“How can the earth be spinning around the sun without me ever getting dizzy?”

“How can the earth be smaller than the sun when the sun in the sky looks like it’s the same size as a penny?”
“Why did it take people in the olden days so long to invent cars and computers?”

“If dragons and fairies don’t exist, why does everyone know what they look like?”

“How can girls be the same animal as boys when they have longer hair and different private parts?

Seems ridiculous right? Well ... yeah, maybe it is. But I asked questions like this every hour of every day, and now it seems insane to imagine a time in my life without the answers. So I filled in the gaps in my knowledge by scaring myself to death. For me the world was a huge and horrifying place that might contain any number of grim and haunting phenomena. I invented nightmarish scenarios to occupy my imagination. A few examples of the kind of lunacy I'm talking about:

-I had this fantasy where gravity would just stop working one day for no reason, and we would all float off into the blue, falling away from the earth forever and ever and ever like untethered balloons.

-I used to worry that my friends and family were impostors that only pretended to care about me. I had this idea that if I were to leaf through my parents bank statements or tax forms, I’d find evidence that they were spies or androids or something,  sizing me up for experimentation or torture.

-I was seriously unnerved by the idea that God could see everything I was doing, because it meant that not one moment of my life would ever be unobserved: sometimes when I was on the toilet I would put a bath-towel over my head just so I could void my bowels in peace.  

-I worried that other people couldn’t see the same colors as I could, or even the same shapes. After all, we only have our own senses to rely on right? How did I know that my idea of what an apple or a pencil is the same as other peoples? What if the universe was so terrible and alien, that we’d all, since the dawn of history, invented our own individual worlds in the privacy of our own skulls and pretended that we agreed on what it looked and smelled and sounded like?

-Sometimes in the restless predawn witching hours, when I was lying in bed, a car would rush past my bedroom window, throwing a slim pendulum of light across my ceiling from its headlamps. The whisper of tyres on the road always made a sound like an angel breathing my name in my ear. Whenever this happened I’d curl into a ball and bury my face into my pillows, whining like a dog for the sake of invisible monsters.

-I was paranoid that when I turned off my television, the characters on the screen would die instantly. To me, every time you changed the channel you caused a miniature apocalypse. If you switched off after an episode was over, you averted the catastrophe for the time being, but any other time made you a murderer.

-If I had to go to the toilet in the middle of the night, I’d always throw a toy or a pillow on the floor first, so the anomalous grotesque creatures that lived under the bed would get to that first.

-I regarded the film ‘Toy Story’, as a documentary, and as such was terrified that if I broke any of my own sentient plastic friends, I’d leave them irreparably deformed and crippled, trapped in agony and unable to die.

-I hated the sound of static, the dial tone on the end of telephones, the screech of glitching computer programs or the groaning of faulty VHS tapes. I always imagined that these were the sounds of machines screaming in pain.

-I was horrified to learn that everyone had organs inside them, long ropey entrails, slimy guts, whatever, because it meant that even the most beautiful people had disgusting stuff inside wound up inside them, all secret and repulsive underneath the skin. I became depressed after studying the digestive system because it meant that I couldn’t love every part of the girls I fancied.

-I was afraid of dark places, shadows and eclipses. I hated the sight of dead jellyfish, the spastic flutterings of daddy longlegs.

-I was scared of falling into a parallel dimension, like wonderland or Bizarro world.

-I didn’t like cracked windows, eyeballs, and human skin.

As I’ve grown I’ve shed these petty phobias, yet I don’t think this means I’m free of anxiety. On the contrary I think I’m simply better at hiding my own madness. The irrational horrors have been buried within the psyche or simply forgotten, while others matured and gestated, to become the many anxieties I live with today. As a grown-man I’m afraid of non-existence, of pain and depression and despair. I’m afraid of my friends leaving me or losing interest in my or betraying me. I’m afraid of not being funny or interesting or attractive enough for other people. I’m afraid of wasting my life or squandering opportunities. I’m afraid of my family and friends dying, or becoming sick or insane or disabled. I’m afraid of disappointing people, I’m afraid of failure, I’m afraid of rejection. I’m afraid I’m ugly, boring, pretentious and lazy. I’m afraid of loneliness, of being single for the rest of my life, of never becoming a great writer, of being poor or unfulfilled or unhappy. I’m afraid I might never get over my ex girlfriend, and find the strength to accept the way she ended things without it tarnishing the good memories. I’m afraid I might be so afraid of losing my next job that I’ll never get another one. I’m afraid of losing reasons to continue living, of the inherent selfishness, cruelty and malice of nature, of the indifference of the world to me and the meaninglessness of reality.

In fact, I have so many fears these days that it’s just impossible for me to find the time to be scared of all the other stuff, clowns and spiders and sharks and whatnot. I’m glad I’m not carrying the nightmares of childhood around with me anymore, and I’m proud to have replaced them with an adult’s. I don’t think the world ever stops being huge and frightening and inexplicable, I think we simply adapt ourselves to be afraid of what’s relevant, and reject what is not. There’s still a lot keeping me awake at night, staring into the darkness within and without, but at least those horrors can be shared. At least we don’t carry them alone.

What were you guys afraid of as kids? Did anything weird creep you out, and if so, have you outgrown that fear or is it still with you? As always, feel free to tell me about it, as I'm always interested in this kind of personal stuff. 


  1. I as an adult get so caught up in the stress of having to deal with all the standard stuff: Turn up at your job on time, clean the house, pay the bills, manage money, be a good parent, be a effective son and be a good husband.

    But what interests me is how little humanity has time for big nightmare consequences. Look at how many tragedies there are in the world and if you look at the response from humanity I'd argue on the whole its pretty poor. Charity workers and stuff do great jobs and all but how we haven't been able to solve the major world issues is very depressing.

    I like how you mentioned football. I'm a big fan of football and baseball. My favorite baseball team is New York Yankees and football is the New York Jets. Swearing at sports is always acceptable regardless of age mind you.

    On an intellectual level away from all the standard adult problems (which are scary enough) I am concerned about the fallibility of both Government and our judicial system considering the hugely important tasks they are charged with carrying out. It's a miracle our Governments haven't killed each other frankly thank god for Vasili Arkhipov!

    Get my waco reading / documentary list as well man?

    1. I think often people find the more global problems of our age, of which there are many, each more uniquely horrible and than the last, is on a scale that baffles and confounds people to the extent that these issues are almost too vast to be frightened of. Not that people should be content with complacency and apathy; these are the symptoms of a stagnant society, misinformed populace or corrupt government; but there are some issues that dwarf us in scale, and therefore lose that personal element which gives phobias so much weight and depth. I mean, I like to think that we're all frightened of rape, both as an example of an utterly evil act and something dreadful that could happen to us or our loved ones, but it's far easier for those who have actually experienced rape to be traumatized and inconsolably damaged because of it. Maybe that's a hyperbolized example, but I feel that the grand apocalyptic stuff often lacks that psychologically intimate fear factor.

      By the way I thought I'd ask, are you a New Yorker yourself friend? You're a regular contributor here and yet I seem to know so little about you as a person.

      I've glanced through some of it, but I've been pretty busy with university at the moment man. This post was actually exercise for an assignment I have due for next Wednesday on memoir writing.

  2. Living in New York at the moment. I can see what you mean about some issues being so huge that they dwarf our ability to comprehend them. Stalin had a quote on this phenomena which I'm sure you are aware of. See when this big stuff does seem to be about to have an impact on our lives though its fascinating to watch the reaction. Go watch some documentaries about how the American / Russian general civilian population were reacting to what appeared an inevitable nuclear conflict.

    Currently actually reading through the history of New York Yankees trying to find as many books as possible on the subject a little hint my friend if you are interested in politics / history / religion go look at Sports teams the role they play in history is absurdly and unjustifiable momentous. I'm not much of a soccer fan but I studied the history of both Real Madrid F.C. and Barcelona F.C. as they both had an impact on the leadership of Franco in Spain. To this day both clubs are the embodiment of nationalist division between the nationalist Madristas and the separatism that is prevalent throughout Catalonia. Incredible that a couple of sports teams can have such an impact on the history of an entire country!

    Hope the assignment goes well. I always found most of the work they set at school to be fairly unnecessary but I commend your teacher / lecturer / tutor this is a worthy piece of homework to set students.

    Just to let you know thinking when I'm done looking at the history of New York Yankees of studying the Watergate scandal in detail. I have no real knowledge of the subject bar the general outline and the fact I watched Frost / Nixon but apparently this contains several historical errors as all films do in order to spice up the entertainment. Can I ask whether you are knowledgable in this area and if so if you have any advice in regards to good reading material I should seek out?

  3. Scared of marrying somebody like Chris Huhne's wife.

    Have you seen that story?

    But in all seriousness some of the stuff you are afraid of there's no point. The best piece of advice I have ever got in life was from my dad and it was to get over rejection quickly. Another great piece of advice I got from relationships was with 3 billion potential partners the chances of you not finding somebody you can be happy with must be statistically improbable. Yeah got that from somebody who liked Math!

    1. The second piece of advice you got is from a really really bad mathematician.

      There are not three billion potential partners for a number of reasons.

      1) Some Women / Men are outside the age bracket for a relationship to occur
      2) Some Women / Men are incarcerated
      3) Some Women / Men have other partners
      4) Some Women / Men are homosexual.
      5) Some Women / Men will not speak the same language as you which severely diminishes the prospect of a successful personal relationship.
      6) There are financial obstacles which may prove insurmountable and prevent the two people ever meeting.

      Sorry to burst the bubble but I hate poor Mathematics.

    2. So you're actually telling me that I have a possible choice of about five women, one of whom might have leprosy or visible scoliosis. Fantastic. Boy, maths is useful but it is cold sometimes.


      The whole thing is expressed slightly more humorously in this episode rather than my cold analysis but the fact at the heart of it remains. There's more than five but less than three billion. Why people make stupid probability theory assertions is incomprehensible to me.

  4. Is there really no chance of you coming back to formspring?

    1. I don't think I ever could I'm afraid.I enjoyed it at the time and it made for a really fun writing exercise; gave me the chance to flex the old humorist muscles, but eventually I got so many questions that the whole thing just became like a full-time job and it just exhausted me. I honestly think that this blog gives me more a free reign and let's me communicate in a more sophisticated way ... not that I won't continue to make dick jokes and act like an entitled child, because I've built a career out of this kind of idiocy. But I'm always open to feedback or suggestions, there's no reason why this blog can't be as interactive a format as Formspring; it all depends on what you guys fancy hearing about! Message me if there's anything in particular you want to hear about friend
      ! :)

    2. Could you not return and just try answer like 10 a day or something or 50 a week and tell people that's all you can do.

      I'd like to get more on Eastenders, Politics and South American history. Your violin post was my favorite. Your personal ancedotes are awesome, well written and incredibly funny. It's 10 years this year since Den made his return from the dead on Eastenders there should probably be some sort of commeration of that.

      The better thing about this blog I suppose is you can write more. Asking question was always limited to like 25 words and its easier to track what you've said. Then again if you went back formspring you could get round to taht question I sent about 2 years ago.

      By the way what is up with the whole Valentines Day Depression I'm getting this year? Are you? All my facebook posts seem to be down about it.


    This is scary. Govt being able to read our emotions all in the name of counter terrorism.

  6. If you're afraid of losing friends, answer your phone once in a while, you cock. :) IT TAKES TWO TO TANGO IN THIS MARRIAGE

    I was scared of Wile E. Coyote and because the 'bulbs' embedded in the lights of my bathroom were black even when they shone light, and looked kind of spherical and blurry, I believed it was the Coyote's nose just poking out, and I would lie in the bath and stare at them in terror anticipating the moment Wile E. Coyote plunged forward and casually devoured me.

    Luckily, I have outgrown this fear. Now all I'm afraid of during a bath is that I'll be molested by Saywood.

    Oh, one last thing. Your fear of God watching reminded me of this. When I was very young and went to church every Sunday, during the prayers in the mass - every single time - I would sit and pray that after I went home, I would go up to my bedroom and there would be piles and piles and piles of money, just towers of cash, a la Walt's fortune in Breaking Bad. And every time I came home I would get up to my room as soon as possible to see if it had come true. Often just running up the stairs. I think I stopped trying after about a month. Made me an atheist, really.

    K bai x

    1. I'm sure you've told me this story before, although i didn't find Wile E Coyote half as funny as your phobia of the pirates from Muppet Treasure Island. I think I can empathize actually, there is something about that cartoon canine that's just ... off somehow. i think it might be his spindly limbs, and that big smug shiteating grin he's got plastered over his muzzle, like some leering Apache god. If his lightbulb eyes were watching me take a dump I'd be fraught with distress. He's a carnivore after all, and probably a registered nonce.

      The latter story is just another one of many examples of you being the most awful christian ever. Like, you've actually managed to practice catholicism less than someone who was raised atheist; which is actually quite impressive considering. Hitch and Dawkins would be so proud!

  7. That was really interesting! I'm sure you'll do well in your assignment.
    That is a lot of fears- but I think it shows your imagination- so you're doing the right degree!
    And you're always part of Team Wilderson, like it or lump it!

    1. This isn't the only piece I'm publishing here, I'll be posting more potential submissions to the blog to see what kinda feedback I'll get from them.

      Team Wilderson should start a blog! It could be exclusively for Wilderson memories! The best kind! :)

  8. Horror movies scare me. Do they scare you?

    1. Do horror movies scare you and if so which scares you the most?

      Posting this again as no response.

    2. Sooooooome of them do, but not others. Good horror films manage to give me the willies quite well, although I think films that leave us with a lingering sense o f having been deeply disturbed are superior to those that simply present the viewer with jump-scares and axe-wielding psychos. I mean, there's nothing wrong with axe-wielding-psychos, but above all else they have to be used sparingly. The best horror movies feature creatures and villains which are constantly felt,always around the corner, or nearby, or right behind you, but never seen unless it's absolutely necessary. There's a bloodcurdling growl, a revolting stench, a trail of blood, a distant scream; but never more than a glimpse. Good horror should be making the audiences imagination do all the work, and I feel too many horror films these days are simply franchises; they sell better by making their antagonists the main feature, and in their hurry to sell tickets I think directors are all too eager to give these monstrosities the center stage: totally diminishing any appeal they once had.

      That said, there's a few modern horror films that REALLY get under my skin. I watched the original Alien when I was far too young, and it seriously fucked me up, without me knowing why. It wasn't until I discovered the rape subtext, and realized that everything in the film is themed around this oppresive, biological nausea for all things sexual, that things really clicked.
      I've watched the Shining recently with the benefit of professional film analysis, and I have to say I like it a lot more as a piece of cinema than as an adaption, but I've just been bowled over by how Kubrick managed to make a setting so utterly unsettling, without dark corners or cobwebs and the like. It's a horror film that does much more damage to the observant, and a repeat viewing is compulsory.

    3. Someone mentioned Watergate above and that reminded me of how scary a manipulator Richard Nixon was.

      Sometimes real people are even more scary than any fictional horror we could dream up.

    4. Even more frightening is how these people manage to worm their way into positions of authority, time and time again. I think that says something VERY scary about human nature.


    Coupledom isn't a necessity unless you make it a necessity. Do not worry about your past relationship. It is not worth feeling afraid about.

    1. Well I don't feel any social pressure to be in relationship, don't worry about that. But I am objectively better adjusted and more high-functioning when in a stable relationship with a 'nice girl'. Awwwww. As for why that's the case, you'll have to ask my therapist if you can leaf through her notes. I can't fathom the mysteries of my psychology, and neither can the Guardian unfortunately.

  10. I used to be genuinely terrified of getting a toe stuck in the tap while having a bath. I don't know where I got it from, I have the feeling some kids show made a joke of it or something? But yeh, I was constantly shitscared of my toe somehow flying up and getting stuck and the call to the emergency services and the inevitable lifesaving surgery I assumed would follow. Ruined bathtime...

  11. I'm almost scared of how bad Taylor Swift's new song is going to be.

    Is there a limit to awfulness?

    Also I've started watching the news more and I wouldn't say its scary but it is depressing. I really wish they'd throw in some nice stories even if not really relevant I mean if Jeremy Thompson or whoever could just throw in a 'and by the way lovely couple from Ipswich got married' or 'David made it back from Iraq safe and sound and is enjoying the evening with his child' honestly would be a lot more fun.

    1. I suppose it is interesting that while our mainstream news media seems to be reporting more and more horrible things, out cinema and literature seems to be getting progressively more dementedly cheerful. Strange

  12. I used to do the test-the-floor-with-toy thing when I was a kid.
    I don't remember exactly what made me afraid of the dark/things in the dark. It'd be the usual 'something is under my bed', or 'there's a thing over there... I can see it... HEY I CAN SEE YOU'. It'd usually just turn out to be my coat hanging in some odd shape that my mind would continuously warp into one thing or another.

    I'm still scared when I'm in the dark. Either inside or outside.
    I end up doing this relay between lightswitches when trying to get up to my room or just in the hallway between the livingroom and kitchen. Switch one on, go to the next to switch it on, back to turn the other off and scamper away before anything I didn't see can jump me.

    Another general anxiety is that I feel like I must impress and generally be liked by everyone. It never really occurrs to me but I get so scared about this that it affects nearly every choice I make incase it has a knock-on effect on someone who then just decides I made the wrong choice. What'll I have when I go out to the pub with my friends today? Just... pick a drink... what if it's the wrong drink? Oh God, I should drink something more manly or the however many strangers in the entirety of the establishment is going to think less of me. YES MISTER BAR-MAN, I'M READY. I'll have what he's having.
    Ramble over.