Edition #83: In the Face of Fear

Plus, why is it OK to be mean to the ugly, Lorde's comeback, and alternative first date greetings

A Note From the Editor

I have never had a healthy relationship with money, though from an outside perspective it might appear otherwise. It took me years to recognize the toxic nature of the relationship, because the toxicity stemmed from a different place than that of those acquaintances who would share stories of overdraft fees and accumulated credit card debt, savings accounts hovering dangerously close to zero. My problem was the opposite; I was incredibly careful with my finances. I’ve maintained the same Excel budget spreadsheet since 2012, in which I record every single transaction I conduct—the date, the vendor, the amount of money spent and what it was for. This has become something of a religious repentance over the years, equal parts habitual and self punishing.

No matter how much money I had made and saved or how much debt I had paid off , I never felt like I was doing enough. Things came to light at the start of this year during my final meeting with a financial advisor I had hired. He was a friend, which added a layer of comfort to the process, but I still found our meetings to be anxiety inducing. In this particular meeting, we were doing situational financial modeling—a tool I became obsessed with—to test out the impact of various possible scenarios. You buy a house, you will have this much money by retirement. You make the same salary forever, you make less, you make more, you don’t buy a house—all fictional situations that granted me the illusion of control. My advisor was quick to point out that, in every case, I would be comfortable. He constantly assured me that I was doing great and that I should be proud, but nothing he said mattered, nor did the numbers beneath the charts on the screen. I still felt a sick churning in my gut, the bitter tang of failure on my tongue. After the meeting, I cried and cried.

I recently remembered what a friend once said to me about my finances: “you’re never going to feel secure because no matter what your salary is you convince yourself you’re broke.” That was true, but the root of the truth was that I had been, until very recently, held hostage by fear. If I were to allow myself to feel comfortable, to let my jaw unclench, then I might eventually get lax with my spending. And if I adapted more carefree habits and something were to happen, a job loss or a market crash, I could end up just as I initially feared: broke. In more imaginative, less vocalized scenarios, I would lose everything and end up on the street, or I would grow terribly sick with some rare disease and be unable to pay for treatment, leaving me to die in a country that doesn’t believe unemployed people are worth saving. None of these fears were recognized, I only knew that I constantly felt terrible about money and that in a way, it was working. I was in a fine financial position but at a cost.

I’ve spend the past month or so ruminating on the idea of fear, recognizing the starring role it has played in my life and the way it has controlled my actions, an invisible ventriloquist using my unaware body as a puppet at its whims. Fear of being broke realized by a frantic budgeting system, fear of being hurt realized by an impenetrable shell and a heavy air of indifference in romantic encounters, fear of following my hearts desires realized by a “safe”, successful career that left my feeling dead inside on more than one occasion. These are not the open mouthed, furrowed brow fears we find in horror films, they’re the slower kind. More poisonous for their discretion. They glue the soles of our feet to the ground we stand on without regard for whether we want to be standing there at all. Days pass, months bleeding into years and there we stand, unmoving.

I like to joke that we are living in a simulation, each of us little pixelated avatars bobbing through various settings, facing obstacles that we either pass or fail, which allow us to move forward or force us to take a few steps backward. Sometimes we encounter shiny coins and we slam our bodies straight into them, jubilant and certain we’ve found a shortcut, only to discover the coin was actually a poisonous apple in disguise. We do all this in hopes of progressing to the next level, and the next, and we are so busy doing so that we miss the unmarked door.

We’ve passed it 100 times, on 100 days, but we do not notice it until we do. When we walk slowly enough, when we’re quiet enough to listen to the voice that tells us to go on and give it a try. Some of us will open this door and enter a new place, a world that runs parallel to the old one. Here, we are faced with all of our fears, only now we see through them. They were the monsters under our bed that were nothing but dirty laundry, the shadow following us home that was merely our own. And when we re-enter through the unmarked door, joining the old world once again, we are different.

Most people cannot put their finger on how we’ve changed. We are quieter, more observant. Less fretful. We have learned there was never any rush to progress through the levels, nor was there a need to seek shortcuts in the form of shiny, spinning coins. Perhaps our journey to that other world brought fourth a few circumstantial changes; a new job or a new lover, but those things no longer matter as much as we once thought they did. We do not rely on them to define our place in the world; we simply are.

Cheers, my dears, and as always, thank you for reading. I would love to hear your take on fears; those you recognize and those that go unnoticed.

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Three Pieces of Content Worth Consuming

  1. Why Is It OK To Be Mean to the Ugly? In society, we have agreed that sexism and racism are inherently bad because they involve discriminating against others based on traits they were born with, which is unequal and thus, ideologically, un-American. This piece makes an interesting case for the fact that less conventionally attractive people suffer from the same discriminatory practices that are rooted in racism and sexism, but that we don't have protections for, or even acknowledgment of this sort of discrimination. Probably because it requires us to admit something ugly about ourselves.

  2. 73 Questions With Lorde: Fame, Childhood Dreams, and Her New Album. Any notable musical artist who goes MIA for extended periods of time–Lorde, Lana Del Ray, Fiona Apple— always seems to come back with the best, most inventive things to say. I’ve been a Lorde fan for years but somehow have never delved into her personal life or personality, so this interview was compelling. She is much more quiet and poised than I might have guessed, and I loved looking up all the references to songs and art she mentions in the video. Also, I haven’t stopped listening to this song all summer.

  3. Ambition: A Short Story by Etgar Keret. When I found out one of my favorite writers had launched an original short fiction newsletter on Substack, I jumped at the chance to subscribe. Keret’s stories are always dynamic for the way he manages to pack such a hefy a punch into a small number of words, but this one in particular really hit me. About ambition and fabricated purpose; an absolute must read.

    “The bottom line was simple: The human need to work is almost absolute. Without it, not only is the individual's self-image damaged, but also our ability to function as a society.”

Perhaps You Should…
Visit a Human Library

A post shared by @upworthy

Imagine a library where, in place of books, you’ll find humans—equally riveting, and multifaceted. You can borrow a person, each with their own title—"unemployed, refugee, etc.— and spend 30 minutes listening their life story. The goal of the project is the humanize the labels we place on one another, ultimately fighting prejudice. Such an incredible concept.

**Bonus Content** (Alternative First Date Greetings)

This has me in stitches. I personally like the slow clap, but “AHH-OO-GAH” would also suffice. Suitors, if you’re out there, please take note.

A Quote From A Book You Should Read:

“Harriet, the baby, was neither pretty nor sweet. Harriet was smart.”

-The Little Friend by Donna Tartt

This newsletter is best served with a side of conversation, so drop your opinions, reflections, and thoughts in the comments below and let’s get to talking.

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Or, share the most thought-provoking piece from today’s edition with someone you love, then call them up to discuss, debate, and percolate. As a wise woman once said, “Great minds discuss ideas.”