Fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
This morning Madam Marie Curie tells me
nothing in life is to be feared, only understood.
Her radioactive words in my email claim:
Now is the time to understand more,
so that we may fear less.
An easy feat for one twice prized with a Nobel.
I am currently Google searching for fearlessness
in this pandemic/current COVID-19 world.
I decide to ask Siri, the virtual assistant,
whose cinnamon spice apple pie voice
has been powered by Susan Bennett since 2011.
My Siri’s South African phonology
is rose petal soft and mother-comforting.
The first fear Siri acknowledges
is Fear the Walking Dead,
post-apocalyptic horror drama
and zombie prequel to The Walking Dead
that follows a dysfunctional blended family
who must re-invent its existence.
I’m no aficionado of television terror,
but my husband’s work assistant is obsessed.
She claims her spouse would be superfluous
during an apocalypse. The man’s a machine
when it comes to computer programming.
Survivalist of the undead, he is not.
My beloved, the almost Eagle Scout,
can create fire with two twigs, manifest shelter
with six large palm fronds and cook an egg
plus bacon on flat stones found in any forest.
So why am I researching fear?
Even the masked Alachua County librarian
wrinkles her brow as she tosses my checked books
into the back seat of my black Volkswagen Beetle.
She points a gloved hand toward my choice reads on fear—
the essential wisdom of fear, conquering fear,
fear of World War I and even a superhero comic
featuring the Avengers called Fear Itself.
I want to tell Masked Librarian
I am an over-age devotee of Doreen Green,
the nanny to Jessica Jones’ and Luke Cage’s daughter,
who monologues in this No. 15 New Avengers issue:
Even when there’s nothing going on,
something is going on.
Wisdom pearled from a fuzzy tailed,
teenaged mutant Squirrel Girl.
I wish to be a superhero.
Instead, I smile and wave.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,
a 1971 novel by gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson,
is Siri’s second choice when I ask her about fear.
I cannot figure out how this book, turned psychedelic
Johnny Depp dark comedy, ranks in her phobia listings.
Both book and film are loosely based
on autobiographical events
during a couple of decadent trips
Thompson took while writing for Rolling Stone magazine —
Adult beverage blender (and swiller) of truth and fiction.
Thompson drafted his own survival rules:
- Never trust a cop in a raincoat.
- Beware of enthusiasm and love, both are temporary and quick to sway.
- If asked whether you care about the world’s problems, look deep into the eyes of he who asks; he will never ask again.
- Never give your real name.
- If ever asked to look at yourself, don’t look.
- Never do anything the person in front of you can’t understand.
- Never create anything. It will be misinterpreted.
I am gonzo guilty of shattering rules 2 and 7.
Maybe Siri knows I spent 15 years reporting
and editing daily news as a journalist.
Maybe it’s her way of poking at my distrust
for misquoting and loathsome writers
who refuse basic spell or fact-checking.
Or, worse, maybe Siri is remembering
my weep-filled year of Saturday cop reporting.
The “happy news girl” who cried
all day after phoning the mama
of a drowned baby for a news story.
Even when we are most joyful,
there is fear behind our joy.
Thich Nhat Hanh calls it Original Fear.
It’s stored in our consciousness like a film.
We watch it, replay it, over and over.
For me, it’s a black-and-white
silent suffocation picture show.
Lifelong breathing issues I battle daily,
scared my lungs will someday succumb.
Siri says the third fear is of God,
but as an asthmatic I disagree.
It’s inhaling death rather than oxygen.
Fear has countless faces,
says Thich Nhat Hanh. He’s 93
and a Buddhist Zen master, scholar and poet.
We’re afraid all the time
of what the future will bring.
Or not bring…
I’m realizing that Siri changes her opinions
depending on my search engine.
The last revving of Siri’s fear inventory
is Fearless Helen on YouTube:
Helen Gibson, the first silent film serial queen
and early Hollywood stunt woman.
I click on a link and watch
a curly headed woman leap
from a bridge onto a moving train
and I’m reminded of Mark Twain.
Courage is not the absence of fear,
but the mastery of fear.
Siri says courage is a choice
and my willingness to confront
pain and uncertainty.
More research is required.
Back to Masked Librarian tomorrow.
Jennifer Grant, a recovering news journalist, resides in Gainesville, FL. Her first collection of poetry, Good Form, was published by Negative Capability Press (2017) and a tiny chapbook, Bronte Sisters and Beyond, through Zoetic Press (2018). Her chapbook Year of Convergence is now available through Blue Lyra Press.