Kate A. Boorman Guest Post: FEAR ITSELF

Kate Boorman is an independent artist and writer from the Canadian prairies. She has a Master of Arts in Dramatic Critical Theory, and a work resume full of the usual, whacky assortment of jobs.

Kate spent much of her childhood reading books instead of being useful around the house, and now she writes them, which means she is still not very useful. She is fond of beautiful-creepy things, good chocolate, and cozy slippers (all three are an essential part of her writing process).

She also loves to dig in the dirt, and sit under starry skies with her friends, and travel to far off lands with her husband and two children.

The Winterkill trilogy is her YA fiction debut.

FEAR ITSELF

Outside my childhood town was a gravel road that led to the town dump. Halfway along that road sat an abandoned farmhouse. Occasionally my dad would borrow an old truck from a friend, load up garden debris, and take a load to the landfill. I always asked to go with him. On the return trip, I would beg him to stop on the road next to that house and let me out. I would duck through the barb wire, cross the field, and creep across the door-less threshold. I wanted to see how far I could make it through the rooms of peeling wallpaper, dusty floorboards, tattered curtains, before I completely lost my cool. There was a staircase in a far corner of the house, but I never knew what was upstairs because I never got far enough to find out. I would turn and scramble for safety, something on my heels, before I reached the third step.

I wasn’t in any danger. There was no axe-murderer hiding in the attic of this forgotten little farmhouse, no fanged ghosts waiting to feast on my soul, no trapdoors to drop me into a mad scientist’s lab. I knew that. I knew that, because my dad would never have let me out of the truck to investigate, had the remotest possibility of danger existed.

Still, it scared me. I went because it scared me. I projected all sorts of horror-fantasies onto that farmhouse, all sorts of unknowns and what ifs. And I loved the resulting pulse-racing, heart-pounding, hands and feet-tingling, full body shock.

Fear motivates and inhibits us like no other emotion. And it’s fascinating to me because it resides in a liminal space of possibility—fear exists only when the potential for something bad happening exists. The degree to which we fear something should relate directly to that potential, and it’s why fear is not always a bad thing. You’ve heard of a ‘healthy fear’? Often that term is used to describe a child’s behavior; they are wary of strange dogs, for example. When fear prevents us from engaging in a true hazard, or when it encourages us to take precautions that minimize the hazard, it can be likened to common sense. Survival instinct, even.

But what about when fear dictates our behavior despite the fact that the potential for danger is, in reality, very small? I’m not talking about phobias, which we cannot consciously control; I’m talking about fears we willingly engage in our day to day existence. What unpleasant possibilities scare you, despite evidence they won’t become reality? What are the abandoned houses of your everyday life? And are they keeping you captive, keeping you from discovering new things about your world, your self?

In college, my best friend had a rather bizarre fear: she was afraid that while holding a pointy object in one hand she would be overcome with a violent sneeze. The sneeze would cause her to jerk her head forward uncontrollably and she would accidentally stab her eye out with the object. I’m not kidding; this would actually weigh on her mind while she stood in our kitchen, holding a fork. Of course, the fear didn’t prevent her from using utensils, but it was ever present, reminding her not to hold that fork too long.

That’s a rather benign (and hilarious) example of unsubstantiated fear; her horror-fantasy affected no one but her and even then, not so negatively.

But how about when we project unlikely possibilities onto our world in a broader sense, in our relationships and interactions with others? What does that look like?

Not so benign, I think. When we project horror-fantasy onto people around us, it looks like fear of the Other. In the extreme, it results in all kinds of ugliness—racism, homophobia, misogyny, xenophobia—and is responsible for the worst atrocities. It is fear of the unknown, yes, but it is willing engagement with fear that is not survival instinct or common sense. It is, simply, fear. It is the axe-murderer in the farmhouse attic, appearing in our everyday existence.

And how about when we project it onto ourselves? When we choose to believe the worst about ourselves? Are we able to accomplish the things we dream about? When we are afraid that we aren’t good enough, or when we are afraid others think we aren’t worthy, how can we discover new things, learn, grow? How can we get past the third step of those creaky farmhouse stairs to see what’s truly in the attic?

In my book WINTERKILL, my main character, Emmeline, is caught in a world of fear. Her people are struggling to survive, so their fears are broad and many. There are obvious dangers but there are also many unknowns, and Emmeline’s curiosity drives her to investigate that grey area. Her actions reveal secrets that could change her life but Emmeline’s fears about herself, about how others view her, end up putting her in peril.

Fear is useful—critical even—when it lies in the realm of survival instinct. Fear can be fun, when it is contained to the adrenaline rush of a strictly hypothetical situation. But when it dictates our actions, our thoughts about others and ourselves, despite the absence of true threat, it can be extremely damaging.

A good course of action, I think, is to examine our fear. To determine how likely it is that the bad thing will occur. We should think hard about whether our fear is indeed survival instinct, or if it lies in the realm of horror-fantasy.

In order to master our fear, we need to know when we are willingly entering that abandoned farmhouse. We need to remind ourselves that, far more often than not, we have created the ghosts therein.

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Where Emmeline lives, you cannot love and you cannot leave…

The Council’s rules are strict, but they’re for the good of the settlement in which Emmeline lives. Everyone knows there is nothing but danger the other side of the Wall, and the community must prepare for the freezing winterkill that comes every year.

But Emmeline struggles to be obedient under the Council’s suffocating embrace – especially when she discovers that a Council leader intends to snatch her hand in marriage.

Then Emmeline begins to hear the call of the trees beyond the Wall…

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You can read my review of the book by click the link HERE

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