even to live

I've been watching past seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I watched the series for a few seasons when it was on but before DVR I couldn't always catch it. Right now, I'm in the midst of Season 4 which includes the episode "Hush," an episode that brings a major fear of mine to light. About halfway through the episode, these creepy guys called "The Gentlemen" take everyone's voices so that when they take their hearts, no one will hear them screen. The terror I felt while watching victims in this episode scream and have no sound come out made me feel claustrophobic, breathless and seriously panicky. Here's a fanclip that shows the essence of why this episode is scary, to me.

As I watched this, I thought about how well the episode represented my greatest fear: to be without a voice. It struck me then that though I am afraid of many things: rodents, drowning, looking foolish, being left out, etc. that what makes me really scared is not being heard. This works on multiple levels. I am terrified of being in danger and having no way to let anyone know. But I'm also afraid of not being able to communicate, of diminishing my voice, and essentially myself. In my Ph.D. program I took a course with a professor who felt it was "her job" to "weed out" graduate students. She set us up to fail, in my opinion. The course was an awful blow to my self-esteem, particularly as a writer/scholar. I left the course with a B and a deflated sense of myself and my writing abilities. It would be almost a year before I got my voice back. And it returned shaky and full of doubt, but rescued nonetheless, thanks to CB, Oren and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

When I think about how many times in my life I've silenced my own voice by not participating or not speaking up, or letting doubt work its way into my soul, I'm amazed at how little it takes to feel small, reduced to screaming without a sound. In Letters to Lucilius Seneca, a Roman stoic philosopher said,

Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.

How empowering is that quote? It strikes me particularly because I've been known to beat myself up a bit for paths I've taken or things I've done. I was talking and laughing today about some of my less glorious moments but it felt good not to feel guilty or sad or conflicted but rather be able to have those memories just be part of me, flawed and messy and full of mistakes and choices and accomplishments and stories. To me, the most courageous women are the ones who put it out there, the ones who may laugh a bit too loud or say something all wrong, the awkward and clumsy ones, the ones who struggle almost every single day and then do it all over again the next day. I think, sometimes, we think courage has to occur in a particular instance of danger or take a particular kind of strength. And of course, people who complete these kinds of feat are courageous and brave and maybe adrenaline junkies. Give me the Alice(s) any day. The girls who may take some time to find their muchness (or their voice) but once discovered can conquer impossible things, which may range from slaying a Jabberwocky to simply doing the daily stuff of your life.

Tenniel's illustration of the Jabberwocky

shutting it out

In the last post I wrote about The Vampire Diaries, I mentioned, briefly, that the character of Damon is able to "turn off" his humanity. Other characters on the show like Isobel and perhaps even Katherine seem able to do this as well. Damon described it to another character, Alaric,

You can turn it off. It’s like a button you can press. I mean, Stefan is different, he wants the whole human experience. He wants to feel every episode of How I Met your Mother. So he shuts his feelings out. The problem is, as a vampire, your instinct is not to feel. Isobel chose the easier road. No guilt, no shame. No regret. I mean, c’mon. If you could turn it off, wouldn’t you?

It's an interesting consideration, isn't it?

I spent many years trying to shut out feelings, trying not to get too close and perhaps, in some ways, straining against all that was good about me. I lost some humanity of my own. It took some effort before I even wanted to be present in my life, before I wanted to shake off the numbness. The numbness was familiar and safe, controllable. It's easy to slip into it when I'm overwhelmed and lost. I don't notice the vibe I'm giving off or the sharpness in my voice. In not feeling, I'm as bitchy and cruel as Isobel and I don't even realize it.

On a daily basis, I think that I'm overly emotional. I worry and fret and turn it all over in my mind. I've written about this before. As I've said before, I hate how I feel when I'm anxious and the problem is, I don't always recognize that I'm beginning to feel so, well... consumed. I guess there's a little more of the numbness that lingers than I expected.

If you could, would you shut it out?