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Reasonable but irrational fears

January 8, 2010

I just got back in from playing in the snow with my daughter.  It”s always fun playing with her (okay, usually fun), but the snow is too powdery and cold to enjoy properly. Won’t hold a snowball, can’t sled on it, and wow did my fingers get cold fast.

Before we tried to play in it, I tried to make a quick drive through it.  It’s only a couple inches, but I couldn’t get up the hill to get off my street.  I probably could have made it if I’d built up some speed.  Or driven something better equipped than my truck (rear wheel drive).  Even my wife’s Kia was probably a better call.  But the trip wasn’t very important.

Oh yeah, and I’m terrified of driving in the snow.

It happened about three years ago.  It had been raining for hours and was turning to snow about the time the school busses were starting to roll.  The Director of Schools postponed school for an hour or two but did not cancel.  Apparently the snow hadn’t reached her end of the county.  The snow was coming down in flakes the size of dust bunnies.

I was going down a slight hill when I lost traction.  It was a gentle slide toward the side of the road.  I couldn’t recover.  I went rumbling over the white-blanketed grass.  I saw the gas line sticking out of the ground in front of me, but the truck was bouncing and slipping; there was no avoiding it. I smashed over it and kept going.  The fence and tree loomed ahead of my unresponsive vehicle.  I wanted so hard to do something — anything — I honked the horn.  The tree did not move out of the way.

I was okay.  The plastic bumber had prevented any sparking from contact with the gas line.  It was a small line and put up no resistance.  It hissed a lot but was closed down and repaired quickly.  The next car to come by was a coworker who took me back home.  Things could have been a lot worse than they were.  But the experience really rattled me.

I am obsessed with traction now.  Hate driving in snow, prefer not to drive in the rain.  I can do it (the latter always, the former as long as it doesn’t stop me from crawling down the road, like this snowfall did) if I must.  It just seems irrational to risk driving through poor conditions for frivolous reasons.

What’s my point?  That fear is a subtly powerful emotion, a force that makes decisions for me in my life.  That is the kind of feeling I want to be able to sew into my characters when I write, things that seem reasonable to the character despite seeming almost paralyzingly neurotic to others.  And I want to be able to play against those feelings.  For instance, I could get up that hill if I needed to take my daughter to the hospital, but the hill might influence my opinion of what needs to be taken to the hospital.  Push a character to do something against their normal urges.  That’s conflict.

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