Constructing Suburbs, Crashing Cars, & Jumping Off Buildings

at the first show
at the first show

It was after midnight when L. decided to take a shortcut through a construction site. She drove along the unsigned streets pass half-done houses and within a few turns was lost. We reached the end of the development–a road into a sandy, empty lot–and stopped.

“I thought this went all the way through,” she said.

At eight in the morning I had to defend my Masters thesis. I could quite believe my plane hadn’t crashed on the way in, killing me after I’d written the damn paper but before I faced the committee. “Do you,” I asked, “know the way back?”

Woods edged up to the construction. Lights were in the distance. “Hmm.” L. looked around. “Hey,we could ask him for directions.”

“What?” I looked out the car window. Through a few skeletal houses I saw a man walking in our direction. He was limping. Or perhaps the sandy, uneven ground made him walk that way. “I’m not asking him for directions.” He was moving slowly.

“Oh, just ask him.”

He was getting closer.

“L.! Go. Just go.”

“But he might be able to tell us the way out.”

“It’s one o’clock in the morning in a construction site. I’m not getting out of the car.”

L. rolls her eyes. “Don’t be like that.”

Forget all those Florida serial killers. I was going to be murdered the night before my thesis defense in Ohio. Of course. “Are you crazy?” I looked again, and he was still approaching. He was nothing but a shadow between the house-frames. “Then you get out.”

“I’m not getting out. I’m driving. And you’re being stubborn,” L. said.

“I’m not STUBBORN! I’m staying alive. Now drive. Come on. Go. Go. GO!”

She sighed and put the car back in gear. The man was a few yards away, but I didn’t want to look at him directly. I looked out of the corner of my eye. We left him in the dark.

In the morning, I borrowed L’s car. On my way to campus I tried to ignore the everything I’d ever heard about how deadly driving actually is.

My uncle, grandmother’s favorite child, my mom’s favorite sibling, died in a car crash on his way to a summer job before his senior college year. My mom died of an aneurysm after college graduation and just before getting a real career job she’d long wanted.


This Friday I have an appointment with a woman who might sell my work in her shop. An agent has a few pages of mine. And irrational fears are not easily shaken. It can all end at any moment but I’ve got to keep working…

Ever dealt with fear of failure? Fear of success? Irrational fears connected to your writing or art?

Have you seen that movie Stranger Than Fiction? Karen, the writer, insists that everyone thinks of jumping off buildings. Penny, her assistant, says she never thinks of jumping off buildings. Eleven of my students sided with Penny. They never thought about jumping off buildings. One student said that yeah, maybe once in a while she thought about it. Just, you know, when she was standing on a high ledge. Just for a second. And I wondered if the other students were lying or maybe they really never think of things like that.

I suspect I’m rambling. Talk amongst yourselves.

4 thoughts on “Constructing Suburbs, Crashing Cars, & Jumping Off Buildings

  1. I’m beginning to think that achieving your dreams is not some mystical process, but just about facing your fears and saying yes to the possibility of success.

    Maybe that jumping is not really jumping, but learning to fly.

    That said, I am afraid of heights and don’t imagine jumping off buildings. But I can’t help imagining falling from them. There is a distinct difference in the two imaginings.

  2. Love Stranger than Fiction. LOVE it. If I had my way I think I’d watch it 2-3 times a year. (I did meet one of my own fictional characters once, but that’s a pretty long story.)

    Irrational fears: Yeah. I’m not sure they can all be articulated; it’s more like that animated movie — Monsters Inc.? — where they hide in the closet and only come out when I least want (and can afford) to see them. One big fear I have from time to time is that I won’t live to finish the WIP. Sometimes this practically immobilizes me at the keyboard, which of course makes it into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Btw, that’s a great picture — the one titled “barry.” Is that your uncle? He and the girl (not your mom???) look like stars in a ’50s-60s sitcom.

  3. rowena, there is a difference, but I’m not sure what it says about the imaginer.

    JES, You know I’ve got to ask about that long story. How do you meet a character? And I know about the Monsters in the closet. Ever read Bloom County? Binkley had a great monster in his closet. As for the picture, yes, he is my uncle. I meant to caption that picture but forgot and then couldn’t figure out how to go back and add the caption in. It is Barry and his fiancee a few months before he was killed. I think it is a great picture too.

  4. There is always some logic, no matter how twisted and contorted it may be, behind every fear. Fear of success is just a backwards fear of disappointing others, or the extreme fear that we might succeed at something only to find we don’t really want what we’ve achieved.

    My father had an enormous personality. He passed away just a few years ago, very suddenly, of a massive coronary resulting from complications of diabetes and congestive heart failure. In a few weeks, I’m to attend a luncheon where he will be inducted into the Utah Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame. I am terrified to go to this luncheon because there will be so many people from my father’s professional life, and I will have to sit and explain, “Yes, I’m his daughter.” It feels almost as if I’m trying to establish my own sense of worth through his achievements; like I’ve somehow failed to measure up. Stranger still, it’s as if I’ve somehow let him down. Even as I write this, I can see how irrational that sounds, but as you said, irrational fears are not easily shaken.

    Stranger than Fiction is one of my favorite movies. I wonder if people who are not involved in writing have the same appreciation for it as we.

    Kim J.

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