Journal prompt: Write about your greatest fear.

I thought this would be a really easy topic to discuss, but it turns out it’s really hard to write about something as abstract as an intangible fear.

I like to say I don’t get scared easily. And I don’t, just not at scary movies. I am, like many people, afraid of heights. I tend to panic, and avoid even short ladders for fear of falling to my premature death. My greatest fear is to be rejected. I’m sure we all deal with being afraid people will say no. For me, though, it’s paralyzing.

The roots of my seemingly irrational fear spring from my childhood, especially my teen years, when, instead of being cared for and nurtured by my parents, I was essentially kicked out to find a way to live on my own by my then stepmom. My father didn’t step in at the time. He really couldn’t have then. He was dealing with his own personal crises when I was in my mid-teens, but it didn’t remove the sting from his actions and, ultimately, his inaction when I moved out.

I went to live with my dad’s sister and her husband. It was a tumultuous six months, and by the end of the brief period I stayed with them, I had to deal with being rejected yet again by people who were supposed to love me.

After that, I went to live with someone who isn’t remotely related by blood, but with whom I share a kinship stronger than blood.

Even with the reassurance that there are good people in this world, I deal with a fear of being rejected. Like any fear, it plagues my mind with a series of negative what-ifs. So many times you hear people say, “The worst that could happen is they could say no.” But often, when I hear those words, my mind goes numb, and I flee to a refuge. I hide from facing the reality that people will, indeed, say no.

More recently, I have learned to push past this, and it’s produced some of my best moments. I’ve discovered that when I fear rejection the most, the better the idea—and the more rewarding it is when the idea isn’t rejected. Even when the idea is rejected, it’s fine. I can make a new idea for the task at hand. In fact, the idea may not be the best for that problem; I can perhaps apply it to another problem—or better yet, synthesize it into future thinking to help make future ideas stronger and more awesome.

Yes, it is irrational, but learning to live with it, not letting it take over is the most important part about fear.

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
—Bene Gesserit litany against fear, Frank Herbert, Dune


Journal prompt: How do rainy days make you feel?

Growing up in Redding, California, I don’t recall a lot of rain. I remember it being very cold in the winter sometimes, but never did it snow. When it did rain, I remember waking to a wet ground, but there were never any downpours during waking hours, at least not that I can remember. We moved to Portland, Oregon, when I was 9 years old, and the climate in Portland is vastly different from Redding, which is almost desertlike in its lack of constant precipitation. I have come to appreciate the rain. But there are different kinds of rainy days, making this question, ‘How do rainy days make you feel?’ fairly difficult to answer singularly.

If the day is generally gray and dark with heavy showers, it can feel oppressive and depressing. Heavy rain, though, can be soothing. Letting the large raindrops drumming a rooftop with their chaotic rhythm wash over your senses can be uplifting and cleansing. The quiet moment that you have, where nature and human intervention communicate, letting you know that you are warm and dry in the shelter of your home is comforting. But when the downpour happens and you’re caught out in it without an umbrella—even with an umbrella since shoes usually get soaked—it reminds you that you are a small being caught up in the chaos of the world.

Then there are days that are dark and gray, but it only ever gets weakly misty. Those kinds of days are more annoying, since I often just want it to rain and get it over with. It’s like the purgatory of rainy days.

Other days are more akin to a game of tag. It rains torrents one moment and a few moments later, it’s bright, the skies saturated with golden light streaming through breaks in the nearly black clouds. The most enthralling of these types of rain–sun patterns is when it’s sunny yet pouring buckets at the same time. A Japanese friend of mine once told me that Japanese folklore calls sun showers, kitsune no yomeiri, the fox’s wedding. Many other cultures around the world see it as a kind of unification in nature, often alluding to some kind of marriage. There’s something so poetical about this. Dark and light become one, and if this kitsune no yomeiri happens later in the day, there may be a bright band of all visible colors refracted in the sky. It’s magical, light and water, bringing life to the land. On these kinds of days, I marvel at nature and how vast and remarkable the simplest systems are, yet we take for granted, if we aren’t mindful about it.

Totally Useless

Journal prompt: Name a totally useless possession and how you came to acquire it.

On my desk at home rests a shard of rust-red rock. It’s not large, perhaps 20 centimeters in length, flatly concave on the side that faces me, with the far side being a larger bulge. It rests flat on my desk as a reminder of carefree times back when I was a sophomore at university.

I was going to University of Oregon at the time, working for the American English Institute as an English tutor. Basically, I had conversations with foreign students to help them with English conversation skills. It was a great way to get exposure to other cultures while still remaining comfortable.

We went to Smith Rock Park in Central Oregon as a day trip a weekend in the summer of 2004. I was ill with ulcerative colitis at the time, so I opted to stay behind with the bus, while my students hiked along the rocky trail. When they returned a few hours later, my students brought me a gift: the shard of orange stone that sits on my desk to this day, nearly a decade later. It is good to remember the carefree days of younger years through the filter of mirky memory. It makes me wonder at what I will remember in years to come.


Journal prompt: Name something you lost or gave away that can never be replaced

When I first read this prompt, I instantly thought of something material, but then I thought about it more and I decided that the thing I lost that changed me forever was my innocence.

I think that at some point in our lives, we lose our innocence. We all do. The sad part is that, most often, people call that “growing up.” It’s not a sudden thing; I didn’t get up some day and realize I had lost my naïveté. I think all the tragedy I experienced throughout my childhood and early adulthood made me see the world differently. While I don’t necessarily think it is a bad thing now, no child—or person for that matter—should have to live through everything I saw as a child. I won’t get into it here, but such a tumultuous upbringing can either make a person stronger and more resilient or take a person so far from being able to repair the damage inflicted by the tragedy forced upon them.

Luckily, I fall into the former category. I was fortunate to get out of the hellish situation in my late teens. A kind woman and her parents took me in as a boy, barely 16, and made me part of their family. It took me several years to mature in several ways, especially socially, since I had moved around a lot as a child and never was able to develop social skills. I didn’t really get a grasp on socializing until I was 23 or so, when I finally settled on graphic design.

It was around this time that I think my innocence really started to drop off from me. Oddly, all the trauma didn’t really taint me permanently, but I don’t think I could fully understand what I went through from an objective standpoint until my frontal cortex was more developed and I could grasp that what I went through wasn’t normal.

My innocence would be nice right now. I want to live a nice, peaceful life with few worries, but I don’t think that’s possible anymore. I have been tainted, forever changed.