I'm not afraid to say it: I have phobias. Fears of flying, bears, raw chicken juice, errant microbes, heights. I’m pretty afraid of heights. This news came late to the friends we recently visited in the East Bay. After a hike up Albany’s Indian Rock (the closest I’ll get to Machu Picchu), then a thrill ride up and down the streets of San Francisco, they took us to the tallest point in the city -- Twin Peaks.
To my left, I could see the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz; to my right, the East Bay and some nice glinty hills and buildings. My friends called this Oakland. In front of me was a strange cloud formation that reminded me of a show I watched as a kid called, “The Secrets of Isis.” Market Street divided the city in half like a graham cracker.
I couldn't make out the Evel Knievel hills I had been on just an hour before. Everything had flattened out and become part of something larger and more important. It was instant perspective, as though all my fears had gathered up in that cloud and looked me straight in the eye. Ok, maybe not “all” my fears, but the irrational ones had drifted out there, allowing me to take in the panoramic beauty of the city and bay below.
When I was in middle school, my stepdad worked at Fort Baker and we visited him often. I never tired of looking at the bay and the fog gathering around the Golden Gate Bridge. Back then, my biggest fear was wearing the wrong pair of jeans, but I remember feeling a pit in my stomach every time I looked at Alcatraz. The way it lurked out there scared me (as a good prison should), yet I was also drawn to it –– how it tainted the beauty of its surroundings while contributing to it in a hollow, imperious way.
Driving back to the East Bay over both the Golden Gate and Richmond bridges, I didn’t feel that bridge-induced anxiety I usually feel. Like Alcatraz or that in-my-face cloud, my fears were nearby but out of my way. Maybe some fears, the irrational ones, don’t have to be conquered. They can just sit there, puffy and overblown, powerful but separate, threatening to hold us back but daring us to go on.
We stumbled upon this cool project on a recent visit to the Interlochen Arts Academy in Northern MI. All majors -- dance, music, film, creative writing, performing arts, visual arts -- collaborated on an interactive display of artistic goodness. The students observed how the elements would affect the exhibit over time. As I was taking it all in, a student walked by and invited me to sit and play the frozen piano. I half expected Puck to show up and put on the pointe shoes. Project Entropy, a not-so-moveable feast of creativity and nature...
I think it's true, because there's my picture, lower left (taken by my very patient friend Koren Cranford). I'm as surprised as anybody, but so honored to have been chosen. Grateful to Guy Raz and everyone at NPR, to novelist and contest judge Mona Simpson, and to the creative writing students who read and selected my story. Also very grateful to my writing gurus for showing me how it's done (and for encouraging me to keep at it), as well as my family/friends for helping me hone my voicemail skills. Definitely what my cousin Kate would call a "lifestamp" moment.
Link to front page Charlotte Observer 3/18/13 (by Pam Kelley)
Link to Creative Loafing article 3/21/13 (by Natalie Joy Howard)