As fear goes, I’m kinda like the proverbial drunk who’s so out of it, you try to shake him sober only to watch him ooze over the park bench and fall into the bushes….
I was so afraid for so long, I must have blown out my fear receptors because now it is really hard to scare myself.
But, there is one thing that can cause an immediate, visceral, and uncontrollable fear: the anguish that something has happened to my baby. My baby is now sixteen, and the fears are much bigger and more extensive. It’s too raw to think about them. Must avoid the thought.
So, I will share with you a future fear…it’s coming…I can hear the soundtrack of the movie Jaws when I think about its imminent arrival as it circles the dark and turbulent blue waters of my consciousness, waiting, waiting for me–its prey–to give off that irrepressible vibe of abject panic and frenetic activity before it rushes at me and devours me in one giant chomp.
It is the Women Writing in the Redwoods weekend retreat run by San Francisco Writers Conference, and it’s coming to get me on Thursday, April 3rd.
For some reason, the part of me who is brave, daring and flippant got her hand on the controls when the real me was asleep, paying bills, or otherwise, keeping order, and found, registered for and paid $567 to attend a weekend conference at a Pema Osel Ling Tibetan Buddhist Retreat Center in Corralitos, California. The whole thing looks very innocent and has that friendly lassitude we expect in California conferences. Jeans and those Eat Pray Love neck scarf thingies will be in order and there will be me, I can see it now, not quite right, evidently out of sync. I’m sure I’ll have the wrong jeans, wrong shoes, the wrong ideas and stick out like a sore thumb. Unfortunately, even though I’m short and should be able to blend in without notice, my face reflects exactly what I think, I squirm, I have the look of someone with much on her mind, and I’m sure if there’s a way to give detention or laps, I’m in for an extra dose of each of those.
And then there’s the part who doesn’t know anyone at all at this conference…terrifying…DEEP breath, and that I have to share a room with strangers. (Eew…strangers. I haven’t shared a room with strangers since…my freshman year of college.) I have visions of myself lying there in the dark with my eyes as wide as a bushbaby’s as the unfamiliar night noises of people I scarcely know fill my ears and I try to pretend that this jungle isn’t so overwhelmingly personal, fetid and cacophonous.
I’m afraid I’ll be vulnerable. I’m afraid we’ll all be vulnerable. What if we’re all vulnerable all weekend long? Oh God (I’m not taking his name in vain just getting on his list for immediate intervention) What if there is crying? What if there’s not enough personal space or the food is gross or the toilets aren’t private enough or the Wi-Fi fails and I can’t upload my blog posts to the A to Z challenge?
Worst of all, what if I go, go authentically, and for three days, no one likes me, no one smiles at me and I’m away from my safe people and safe places? What if I have to sit with that?
I can hear my highly capable friend Whitney (who has already dispensed invaluable advice on how to room with strangers…dress in the bathroom…cope with the weird) say to “put on your big girl panties and suck it up,” but she is so much braver than I.
Worse still, I outgrew my big girl panties and nothing fits. I’m between sizes. Will Depends work?
I’m making back up plans. I’ll bring my black Ford Transit dorkin’ van, a mattress pad and sleeping bag, my pillow, my teddy bear and my collection of English schoolgirl stories. I’ll wear a t-shirt the first day that says “Born Freak” and use the scarfy thing to wipe my nose as I scuff about in my desert boots. I’m terrible with women with whom I seem to raise the hackle and the claw: I am the prior victim of much female bullying. In all ways, I’ll stand out as different, outside, awkward and if I’m lucky, there’ll be at least one friendly misfit in that crowd of forty women, if God is willing. Oh God, I hope you’re willing.