Glossophobia

For a guy so full of phobias that there’s no elbow room at Hotel Fear in my head, people are sometimes curious as to why I don’t suffer one of the most common sources of terror: speaking in front of crowds.  Glossophobia is extremely normal.  I suspect it’s one of evolutions tricks for keeping metaphorical cooks out of the allegorical kitchen.  If we’re all talking at once, who can be heard?  The internet will prove to be some kind of experiment in that regard, I expect.  Thing is, I’m not what most public speakers appear to be: confident.  I’m not.  Beneath the surface all kinds of phobias are vying for the next private room to become available.  Over the weekend I had a public speaking engagement, and that made me consider this again—why doesn’t it bother me?

Although the answer to “why” questions will always remain provisional, I have an idea.  It’s kind of creepy, but true.  In my fundamentalist upbringing, I was taught that my life was being taped.  You see, it goes like this: since the book of Hebrews says “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment,” some Fundies like Jack Chick illustrated this as an outdoor cinema in Heaven.  Or rather, in the clouds just outside Heaven.  Here you’d be summoned, buck naked, as soon as you died.  Other nude souls would gather round the big screen and your entire life would be projected for all to see.  Since everyone’s dead there are apparently no time constraints.  As a kid I realized that I was being watched.  All the time.  Now, I’m not conscious of this constantly, but I did translate it to public appearances.  We’re all, it seems, actors.

With a lifetime of performing experience, by the time I was a teen I wasn’t afraid of public speaking.  Introspection was a big part of my psyche, and when I had a speaking engagement, I knew that I had to be conscious of what I did and said, because people would be watching me.  I learned to play the part.  I did take a college course in public speaking, and even a preaching course offered by the Western Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church, but both of these were long after I’d begun taking public speaking roles.  I make mistakes, of course, and early on I learned to laugh at them before the audience did.  We were all being taped, after all, and there’s no outtake reel before the pearly gates.  Strange, but true.  If you’re afraid to speak in public just remember—you’re being watched, all the time.

Not from Nazareth

The world just doesn’t feel safe any more.  I’d better give a little context as to why.  You see, I just learned that what I thought was the work of carpenter ants is actually that of carpenter bees.  I never knew such things existed!  This still might not give you the thrills you were hoping for, so here goes a true story: when I was maybe six or seven my mother took my older and younger brother and me to a place in the woods where we could run around and holler and not bother anybody.  We had our dog there too, as well as our grandmother.  After a while my brothers started a game—throwing a stick to see who could get to it first, me or our dog.  I was running along, stepped on a stump, closely followed by the dog, when a swarm of angry yellowjackets flew out.  I was wearing shorts at the time and received multiple stings on my bare legs.  We didn’t think our dog would survive; he was completely covered.  So I have a thing about bees.

My phobia isn’t as bad as it used to be.  I’ve been stung many times since, and it always feels like an insult as well as a bad memory.  (I still don’t wear shorts, except on very rare occasions, when the bee quotient is zero.)  Believing in turning the other cheek, I’ve even captured and released bees from the house rather than killing them.  Still, to this day, when I get a haircut if the woman pulls out a set of clippers you have to pry my fingers from the naugahyde when she’s done.  Anything that sounds like buzzing near my ears sends me into spasms of terror.  Please pardon the graphic fear.  It’s heartfelt.

I used to have nightmares about killer bees.  I still worry about them a lot, and wonder that if, instead of a wall, we might put up a massive, small-weave net this side of Texas.  I don’t know how high they fly, but we should try to do something, don’t you agree?  Now I’ve learned that bees can eat you out of house and home, literally.  The carpenter bee, to the untrained eye, looks like a bumblebee.  They’re big, heavy-bodied insects that can crawl through three-eighth-inch holes, perfectly round the insect guy tells me.  They’ll eat and mate, and release their larva, ready to grow stingers, into the world of my back porch.  They appear to enjoy the global warming, judging by their numbers.  Maybe it’s a good thing we settled not far from Nazareth because a friendly carpenter might soon come in handy.

Aporripsophobia

I’m proposing a new word.  Given that there are lengthy lists of phobias available on the internet, and since fear and I are well acquainted, I was surprised to discover that fear of rejection has no name.  It is simply called “fear of rejection.”  That makes it sound so juvenile that it need not be taken seriously.  Without revealing too much (I don’t know how you might use this information—you could reject me!), this is one of my lifelong fears.  I have theories as to why this may be, but if you want to hear them you have to get to know me first.  In any case, I am proposing the word “aporripsophobia” for fear of rejection.  Before you turn this down, let me assure you that I took four years of Greek in college, and even taught it for a year.  “Aporripsē” is Greek for rejection, and, of course “phobia” is fear.  The standard euphonic vowel before the o in phobia is open for grabs, but since it’s my word, I’m suggesting another o.

Unless it’s a keyboard smash, a web search on Google that brings no results is rare.  Just to be sure, I checked out aporripsophobia and the mighty search engine turned up no results.  One thing I’ve learned about the writing life is that rejection is part and parcel of it.  Almost every writer has a history of rejection slips because, until someone takes a chance on you and makes some money off you, who wants to risk it?  The first few I received nearly solidified my slavery to aporripsophobia.  My advice to other writers, however, should they want it, is keep on trying.  In the past two years I’ve been asked to write two academic articles and a book.  I’ve also been asked to contribute to some online resources.  None of these are big or visible projects, but to someone with aporripsophobia, that’s fine.

Even introverts, you see, need other people.  Many of us suffer from a form of over-stimulation when around too many people.  Some of us are extremely alert to our senses, finding it difficult to ignore strong odors or weak pains.  Lots of people around can be frightening—crowds are loud and there’s so much—too much—going on!  That doesn’t mean, however, that the quiet don’t need others.  In fact, the quiet with aporripsophobia may get into a feedback loop where the need for alone time is translated as snobbery or arrogance when in reality it’s simply a way of handling the stress of being around too many people.  The feeling of rejection then rushes in.  I have probably said too much already, but I wanted to get aporripsophobia out there before someone louder did.  I missed meteorotheology as a coined word, so, like my advice to writers, this is how I keep on trying.  Finding aporripsophobia on Google some day down the road could lead to its opposite, I think.  Its rejection, on the other hand, would be the supreme irony.

Holy NRA

A religious nation in love with guns leads to some strange juxtapositions.  In a home goods store that I won’t name—hey, you can have fun trying to find it!—we came across just such an oddity.  Appropriately for a franchise near Bethlehem, there was a framed painting of the holy family: Mary, Jesus, and Joseph, halos and all.  Completely surrounding the Prince of Peace and company were framed replicas of guns.  I’m sorry to state that the holy family, notwithstanding divinity, was sadly outgunned.  There’s only one such family, but of the making of firearms there is no end, and much shooting wearies the body.  Of all the weirdness that has plagued Christianity, this love of guns among the evangelical followers of the Prince of Peace has to rank near the top.

Believe me, I know what it is to be afraid.  I grew up with more than my share of phobias, and since buying a house different ones from my childhood set have come to light.  People want to feel safe, and the gun industry has successfully spread the message that a firearm or two will do the trick.  Often it backfires.  Those meant to be protected are killed in an accidental discharge or a domestic dispute turns deadly.  The real drawing power of guns, I think, is the sense of power.  The message in our society is that God wants you to protect your property.  That doesn’t mean that the government can’t take it away, but hey, at least you’ve got a gun, right?

I’ve always felt that ownership was a strange concept.  I look out the window and see the birds perching on “my” roof.  I see the squirrels digging in “my” yard.  I see the rain soaking “my” investment.  In what sense do I own this house?  Am I not just borrowing it long enough to live here while I’m alive?  We met one of the former owners.  Who lived here before him I don’t know.  I have no idea who built the house.  Besides, the money to purchase it came from a bank, and if I don’t pay my mortgage, the real “owners” will step forward and sell it to the highest bidder.  I own no guns.  They’re dangerous and costly and would I ever find peace after shooting anyone?  I look at the holy family.  Joseph and young Jesus have firearms aimed at their heads.  If the holy family isn’t safe, what hope do the rest of us have?

Fear Itself

Who you gonna call?

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” These bold words from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first inaugural address could just as readily be applied to religion. Frequent readers of this blog will have no doubt noticed the recurring references to horror films and the occasional scary novel. Aside from everyday fears, (such as yesterday’s when I learned that my summer course, my only source of income for next month, had been cancelled) there are more deeply seated phobias that lurk in our subconscious minds. A reasonable conclusion might suggest that this undercurrent of fear is what buoys up the horror movie industry—people really are afraid. Fear is, in the final analysis, the original basis for religion.

Along with the evolution of consciousness, humanity has also acquired the knowledge of uncertainties and troubles ahead. We project to the next day and realize tomorrow is never secure. In desperate hope we beg the higher power for protection. If we were in control of our own destinies, we would not need the gods. Over the course of civilization, there have been luminaries who’ve tried to wrestle religion from the realm of fear into a more pleasing sphere. Jesus, for example, tried to stand religion on the basis of love. Within a couple of decades, however, Paul came along and managed to twist it back into the domain of fear once again. Fear of Roman persecution, fear of Hell, fear of life itself.

Religion is an embodiment of our fears. Many today choose to place their trust in reason and technological development. No doubt these arenas of human endeavor have improved life for many people. Yet, even with our growing global awareness, fear creeps in and we use our technology for weapons to keep us safe. We don’t call it religion any more, but national security, or the defense industry. Or, God help us, the TSA. The end result is the same: we fear more than fear itself. We place our trust in something we can’t fully comprehend. No matter how rational (or unemployed) we become, religion will never go away.