30 September 2009

Thyraphobia, or Purity of Heart is to Fear One Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Not Do Again (Pt. 10)

(cont'd from previous post)

Maybe that last statement was a little extreme. If I ever managed to conquer my fear of jumping out of an airplane—which b/t/w I have absolutely no inclination to do—, I would no longer be ashamed of myself. I would have something to be proud of. Fine: eliminate the emotional stimulus (i.e., the terror) by conquering it and, thus, eliminate the shame and self-loathing. But that is not what happened. Denial gets me nowhere, though it does throw up a certain challenge. And, as indicated by the David Foster Wallacean subtitle to this series of posts, I intend never to not jump again.

Still, it lingers.

By not going through the door of that perfectly functional airplane at a height of 14,000ft., I got to know some of my limitations (thanks again Jeff and Harry), one of which is this basic flaw in my make-up: a paralyzing terror of precarious heights. I felt ashamed of this fault in my nature. I was angry at myself and I hated this feeling of humiliation.

So that was my situation, and such is my condition.

There are, I suppose, any number of possible models for dealing with such stark negative emotions that are inescapable in the human condition:
  • I can internalize the self-loathing and become depressed and despair at this human-all-too-human infliction (Kierkegaard's profound analysis of modernity in The Sickness Unto Death);
  • I can somehow get rid of myself, or at least the particular aspect of myself that caused all these bad feelings  (i.e., somewhere on a scale from suicide (a time-honored response to shame and loss of face) to fundamental change a la conversion (the Christian response) or analysis (the Freudian));
  • I can become recklessly adventurous and engage in self-destructive behaviors (a subset of the previous option) (again, time honored);
  • I can get up the gumption to try to skydive again, determined to actually succeed this time—maybe this time using Xanax or some other pharmaceutical/technological therapeutic fix to get me through it (ditto);
  • I can try to forget about it or deny its significance (until, if Freud is to be believed, this repressed reasserts itself in another, inconvenient context);
  • I can try to hide the fact of my own weakness and ridicule or attack others in whom I recognize a similar fallibility or whom I perceive to be even weaker, becoming misanthropic;
  • I can accept my limitations for what they are (the stoic, Jeffian/Callahan view) and try to draw life lessons from them (i.e., be philosophic) and perhaps even make art out them (the fiction writer's response);
  • I can just go on (Beckett's solution).
  • I can forgive myself (similar to, but distinct from, the two options above and, IMHO, much more difficult);
  • Or some combination of any or all of the above.
The bottom line: the negative emotions terror, shame, hate, and anger together produce a complex, potentially toxic stew that must be handled with care and, perhaps, some degree of wisdom.

(to be continued)

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