Monday, 9 February 2015

The Art of Terror

I stand on the edge of a crane, my toes over the edge, water shimmering below. My mouth is dry, my feet are numb.  I don't have glasses or corrective lenses on, so I just see the sprawling gray of doom below me.

The dive master gives me instructions: "I'm going to count down from five. When I'm done, you'll jump."

My mind can hardly process what I intend to do, so I ask for clarification.

"You mean jump that way?" I emphatically jab the empty air before me.

The dive master confirms it, probably thinking I'll never jump. I don't think I will, either.

He counts down from five. Each number is more terrifying than the last. By the time he reaches one, I think: If I don't do this now, I never will.

The opportunity is now.  I'm secured to a giant elastic. The dive master finishes his countdown.

I don't jump.  But I manage to let go and fall forward.

On still summer days, my screams can still be heard echoing through the quarry.

I am *terrified* of heights. But I let go, and I let myself fall, screaming like an extra in a Godzilla movie.  I slow down and bounce back up, which is even more terrifying.  I'd reached bottom! Why the heck am I going back up?  The mind is scared of falling. It's terrified of bouncing up with the threat of falling back down again.

Once I'm done bouncing, a boat comes to get me down.  I almost fall in the water trying to reach land too quickly.  Very heroic.

Fast foward ten years. I receive tickets to go to a conference in Tunisia. I'm to be a subject matter expert on smart things.  Last minute arrangements. I'm not sure where I'm going, how I'm getting places in Tunis, who my contact is.

I head to the airport, not sure I even have real tickets. The airport staff manages to issue my boarding passes, but only to get me to Paris. I'll have to see if I can board a plane to Tunisia from there.

No problem. Heck, I can think of worse things than being trapped in Paris. But I make it to Tunisia. The country has just had a revolution.  I had missed that bit in my short prep time. I walk around angry soldiers with machine guns.

I see the ruins of Carthage and I find myself in their beauty.


My last day in Tunisia, having been stuck at the conference most of my stay, a Tunisian woman sits beside me. She knows enough French that we muddle through a conversation. She finds out I'm from Canada. I tell her I'd like to see a camel, since I was flying out the next morning.

She tells me to follow her. I get in her car, thinking: This is how people get kidnapped.

She drives me to a café in Tunis, where she informs me is the city's only camel (there needs to be a song about the lonely urban life of camels). The camel has a job: it pulls up the water from the well.  It is also apparently on break.

We go to stand by the Mediterranean and admire its shimmering vastness. Then we spot the camel, on the beach, alone.

She grabs my hand and we start running. I think: Wait, *this* is how people get kidnapped!

We visit with the camel. It has no attendant. It's eating rotten vegetables out of a box. I try to explain to her how suspicious the camel is, but linguistic or cultural barriers impede my message. She shoves me near the camel and takes a picture.

I don't care what anybody says. This is one heck of a suspicious camel.

She drives me to her apartment.  Her niece is finishing up a PhD in environmental studies and speaks perfect French. We chat for hours. She asks me if I've ever had almond tea. I say I haven't, guessing Tetley almond tea didn't qualify (I was totally right).

They drive me an hour up a mountain, where is served the best almond tea.  We make jokes, finding common ground. We don't get all of each other's jokes, but we laugh. We also sit in comfortable silence, enjoying the scenery. By then, I'm no longer thinking I'll be kidnapped.

I drink the best almond tea ever, and they drive me back to my hotel.

We hug. I don't know if I'll ever see them again.

Fast forward another four years. I have the chance to jump and become a full time writer. I have the savings, the budget, the sales and the ambition.

I'm terrified.

But not as terrified as jumping off a crane.  Not as terrified as I am of angry looking soldiers with machine guns.

I jump.

Learning to embrace the art of terror (without going splat or actually being kidnapped) is a must for artists.  We send in our stuff to be judged by editors, by critics, by audiences.

Embrace the Terror.  Learn to love it.

Become an Artist of Terror.*

*Note to self: get new business cards.

No comments:

Post a Comment