I wish I feared the things in my books. Eternal damnation or creatures from beyond the veil. I wish ghosts and aliens made my hair stand on end. Honestly, however, they don’t.
Given my publisher, I wish the apocalypse gave me pause, but no dice. I watched The Day After in grade school, and while I later understood why it was such a big deal, even at the time it seemed kind of silly to worry about it.
Even threats that are all too real – serial killers, drone strikes, and mass shooters – don’t really scare me. I mean, I’d be scared if I knew that one had targeted me. I’d be even more terrified if someone I love was a victim of one.
Nevertheless, as with the end of the world, I learned early on that worrying about unlikely things (and by the numbers, these things are unlikely) does more harm than good. To spend your life preparing for a disaster that never comes is counterproductive, if it gets in the way of enjoying your life in the moment.
I know. Hello, ants. Meet the grasshopper.
No, none of those things worries me.
I won’t share the one thing which terrifies me above all else. To do so would be paradoxical; this may give a clue in and of itself.
Instead, let me speak of L’appel du vide – The call of the void. The unlovely language of science and psychology calls it High Place Phenomenon; but the French philosophy is so much clearer and more true.
At its most basic, this is the urge to jump off of a tall bridge, or building. I used to think it only happened to me, that it was the apex of a certain tendency toward self-destructive activities; but I’ve learned that it’s a widespread phenomenon.
That helps, somewhat. It makes things seem more rational.
It doesn’t help when I’m there.
The last time it struck me was here, in Door County, Wisconsin. Adamant that I could overcome it, that this time would be different, that I am a grown man who needs to face his fears, I insisted on climbing to the top.
Once there, Leanne tells me I was simultaneously shaking and paralytic until I had to sit down, where I couldn’t see over the railings. I barely remember that. I just remember looking at the treetops, and picturing them rushing past me. Looking at the rocks and feeling them scrape against my skin as my body rolled down the ravine. I remember that my hands hurt gripping the railings tight on my way back down, wincing as merry children raced past me on their way up.
Per Kierkegaard’s The Concept of Anxiety, the anxiety of individual freedom and responsibility causes L’appel du vide. The fact that one is free to make any decision, even the most terrifying, triggers immense feelings of dread.
Kierkegaard called this our "dizziness of freedom," the ability to make any choice we want at any time in our lives. That terrible sense of freedom, and the consequences it carries, lies at the heart of my greatest fears.
Read into my writing whatever else you may wish. This one’s now a given.
~Ivan Ewert, author of the Gentlemen Ghouls series.