I’ve been thinking a bit about uncertainty lately, and how it can drive us.
The single biggest complaint I get about CONTROL POINT is in Oscar Britton’s bad decision making and emotional disregulation. Fear and uncertainty drive him to make some pretty poor choices. Some reviewers have told me that he’s supposed to be a hard-edged military operator, one who works closely with Special Forces units. Such a man would never behave like that.
Except, you know, when he did.
In many interviews (most notably this one) I have talked about how Dungeons & Dragons laid the foundation for my life as a fantasy writer. I note that I came up in true nerd fashion, playing in my mother’s basement. I also note that I *always* played fighters and paladins, strong men in armor capable of solving most of their problems at swordpoint. I talk about how that imagining eventually led to the real thing, how it was the first step to personal reinvention.
But I don’t talk about fear.
I am continually struck by the realization that little boy was trying to feel safe. I grew up marinating in terror. The adults in my life were unable to make me feel safe at that critical formative stage, when we most need to, when we can’t do it for ourselves. No men showed me what it meant to be an adult male. That frightened boy turned to the only thing he had to hand, media: books and movies and snatches of overheard and poorly understood grownup conversations. Somewhere in there, the message came through: Violent power meant an end to fear. Fighting men were safe. That boy was smart and determined. He locked on and pressed, and got where he needed to go.
I wrote an essay about PTSD in BEYOND THE WALL, which touches on fear (as does my blog post on the topic). I tried to give it an even hand. There is the fear of “Condition Black,” crippling and destructive, and there is the fear of “Condition Yellow,” alerting, exhausting, enfranchising.
But I often feel people don’t want to see it that way. I have spoken before about a “Tyranny of Optimism,” and I think it comes to play in how we relate to the role of fear in our lives. We despise frightened people. In the outstanding Robin Williams flick, What Dreams May Come, the fork in the road between heaven and hell hinges on the extent to which the soul is ruled by fear (scared people burn). The Bene Gesserit litany, which all nerds must learn by heart to get their license, calls fear “the mind killer.” Go google “fear quotes,” they are endless and negative. The message is clear: Fear is the One Ring. We hate it, and the we hate the vehicle through which we see it, which is people, not because they are afraid, but because they let fear rule them. You must not let fear drive you. You must not let it drag you around. You must not be “driven by your demons.”
But I never had a chance. Fear rose up like a storm, shredded my sails and set my ship rudderless and spinning. I clawed through my adolescence, drowning.
And the shore I washed up on is amazing. My response to fear, strapping on armor, choosing a life in armed service, wading into war and the criminal underworld, is so textbook it’s laughable.
And I am so so so happy that it worked out that way. I love my jobs. I feel so fortunate to be permitted to do them, amazed that I am paid to. I can’t imagine ever doing anything else. That fear permeated my thoughts. It drove me to write, flavored every sentence and every word. Without it, I would never have gone pro. My work would never resonate as well as it does.
Has fear driven me and held me back? Has it, like Oscar Britton, propelled me to make poor choices? Absolutely. But fear also built me. Fear saved me. Fear has given me every thing I ever dreamed of and more. I am unspeakably grateful for fear.
And at last I realized this: That the Bene Gesserit were wrong. That bumper sticker slogans and pithy quotes are so incredibly popular because they help people avoid the thing they hate most: Embracing complexity, confronting uncertainty.
Fear isn’t the mind killer. It is fathoms deep and miles wide, more intricate than the pattern on a fine Persian rug. I will not “master my fear.” I am a thinking man who knows it’s not a thing that could ever be mastered. I will instead seek to understand it, to embrace it, to know how it lifts me up and how it holds me back.
I will reach back through time to that boy playing D&D in his mother’s basement and tell him that while I can’t protect him, I am frightened too, and that we all are, and that he doesn’t have to be ashamed.
When I first became a full time writer, I struggled mightily with the financial uncertainty. It was, in many ways, harder for me than facing enemy fire.
I realized at long last that the one thing I wanted, have always wanted, was to know that I was safe. That everything would always be okay. But that’s impossible. Life doesn’t work that way. In facing that, in finding a way to accept it, there is some small measure of peace.
In Joe Hill’s amazing comic Locke and Key, one of the characters is able to physically unlock her head and remove her fear (and her tears). That scene resonated with me for obvious reasons, but it also made me think how it would be if I could do that. I was surprised by the force with which I rejected the idea.
I am frightened every second of every day, and always have been. I’m not sorry and I’m not ashamed.