Friday, January 31, 2014

The Origin of Fear: Darkness

As a horror writer, what makes us tick is at the very core of what fascinates me. I constantly read and think about where our fears come from and why. So thinking of a new theme for this week's post, I came up with the idea of a new series; one dedicated to ponder on the most common fears of humanity. I got right to work, researching on the internet and my own psychology books. What I found perplexed me.

As it turns out, fears can be divided in two groups, depending on the stage in life when we develop them.

Innate fears are those ingrained in our DNA through evolution. These don't depend on our experiences to develop, they simply do. Though general consensus says there are only two innate fears, debate still rages on. I'd say there are three, but I'll go into it a little later.

Now, the rest of our fears we learn. We develop them as a consequence of our experiences. Clearly this category's list can go on for miles.


Babies are fragile little creatures without knowledge of consequences and without fear, aren't they? Mostly. In reality, the only thing babies fear from the moment of birth is loud noises. Ever tried to rock a baby to sleep while watching an action-packed flick with the volume on? Good luck with that!

The second--and most perplexing--innate fear is the fear of falling. It's important to note that fearing falling and fearing heights are two different things, though closely related. The first one is developed at the crawling stage and height isn't a factor, since crawling babies have no concept of hight. The second is more prevalent among adults and is directly proportional to the degree of separation from the floor: The farther away, the more acute the reaction is.

As an innate fear, I call this a perplexing one because younger babies are known to be fearless. Both my daughters used to throw themselves off the bed laughing, sure that daddy or mommy would be there to catch them. Then, one day, they simply stopped. And my kids are not the only ones. Study after study has come to the same conclusion: About a month or two into the crawling stage, the infant will become wary of falling.

"Because he/she fell, thus learning that falling hurts," you may say. In an uncontrolled environment like a house, there is no way of debating this observation. It'd be like the chicken-egg argument. However, being under a controlled environment like that of a psychological study, things are different. And like I said, there are hundreds of studies dedicated to the subject. The fear of falling will kick in regardless of the experiences of the infant.

Why? Well, that's the million-dollar question. No one really knows, but it is believed that as the brain matures, the secretion of fear-specific hormones is triggered. As we grow old and learn to rationalize our fear, we become in control. But it never goes away.

The third fear I'd add to the list would be the fear of darkness. Going by the same rules: Between the age of four and six, children develop a natural fear of darkness. No matter what their individual experiences are, 99% of children will show a wariness to the dark. It can be a full-on panic, or a simple desire to keep a night light on. We all went through it, then--some of us--got over it.

Fearing the dark is an evolutionary fear. Back when humans lived in caves, the dark was not to be taken lightly. Even today, in those far away places where electricity hasn't reached (camping anyone?), the dark offers real dangers. In a time when our only weapons were rocks, and giving the fact that we have poor night sight, confronting a predator was out of the question. Those who stayed away from the dark survived. Their genes passed on to the next generation. Centuries later, that knowledge is still in us. Then we grow old and realize we control the dark with the flip of a switch, and there's no wild animal outside the locked door. Besides, your boyfriend's a black belt.

So the next time a kid next to you throws a fit because he doesn't want to be left in the dark, take a deep breath and think of how proud his Cro-Magnon ancestors would be. Then repeat: Prison-orange is not my color. Prison-orange is not my color. Prison-orange is not my color.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

David Lynch's "Rabbits" and Other Creepy Places Where Inspiration Hides

Well, long time no see! I'm back after a long, creative hiatus, and I've missed you so much!!

2013 was a special year for me as I dared out of my comfort zone, wrote more, and published more. On the opposite side of the spectrum, I didn't blog as often, didn't read as much, and I stopped reviewing books altogether. However, I must say it was a very rewarding year, albeit an exhausting one. By December I was pretty burned out, and that's why I stayed away for so long. Now that 2014 has begun, I'm ready to reassume my position at the head of this blog. Good thing my boss likes me and didn't fire my lazy-blogging-ass!

These days I'm struggling to round up an idea for a new story I want to submit by June. I know, it seems like an awful long time, but between first draft and final draft anything can happen. Better safe than sorry, don't they say? So this story I'm planning has as central theme the fear of death (Necrophobia). My unnamed-as-of-yet main character suffers of Existential Death Anxiety, which cripples his ability to lead a somewhat normal life. Doing research about the disease, I found out an astounding study carried out by the University of British Columbia that asserts the use of acetaminophen (tylenol) can help reduce anxiety caused by an existential crisis.

I swear it's totally legit. Apparently the same areas of our brain that process pain are also involved during anxiety attacks, therefore treating these areas has a direct effect on our levels of anxiety. The study is quite interesting and if you're ticked by the idea, follow this link down the rabbit hole.

"Sure, thanks," you say, "but what on earth has David Lynch to do with all of this?" Well, it turns out that the study used one of Lynch's productions called "Rabbits" as a way to trigger existential anxiety over the test subjects. I kid you not.

For those of you unfamiliar with Lynch's work, he is one of the most bizarre, complex cineasts ever. A few of his famously surreal movies are "Ereaserhead," "Mullholand Drive," and "Twin Peaks." Now, the work used for the study is described by Lynch himself as an eight-episode-long sitcom that follows three humanoid rabbits in what can only be described as their life... nonsensical as it sounds. Lynch's tagline is equally inadequate to portray the series' quirkiness, but he's the creator so he must know what he means; here you have it: "In a nameless city deluged by continuous rain... three rabbits live with a fearful mystery."

I'll do my best to put into words the images and feelings this 11 minute episode left me with. "Rabbits" is the strangest, creepiest thing I've seen since Bunuel's "Un Chien Andalou." Mind you, there's nothing really scary about it; there are no monsters under the beds, spilling of blood or guts, no one hiding behind a door waiting to jump out screaming "boo!" It still has a dreadful atmosphere that has caused nightmares in a few and, based on some scientist's opinion at British Columbia, a fair dose of existential anxiety. I leave it here so you can see for yourself.

Trippy, huh?

For me, the strangest was the dialogue. I guess because I'm a wordsmith obsessed over the perfect word to convey an emotion, these non sequiturs lines baffled me. I mean, they've gotta mean something, right? Then there are the canned laughs at the most inappropriate moments, and applause whenever a character enters the box set. It is just a surreal experience like no other. And like internet always does, this piece of unexpected imagery pulled me down a deep black hole that sucked down all the productive hours of my morning. Down I went, this time searching for meaning...

As it turns outs, Lynch's works have a tendency to show different representations of hell; hell on earth, literal hell, the experience of hell, a life of hell... you get the drift. So, one interpretation of the whole sitcom is that the three rabbits are people trapped in purgatory on their way to be reincarnated as rabbits. They are dealing with their own failings in life, which put them where they are. That would explain the unconnected dialogue and the demonic voice to which they don't react. They are used to the environment. At some point, the door to the living room opens by itself and we hear a woman scream. A newly arrived soul discovering the tortuous place these three call home? Once more, the characters seem unfazed.

I find this interpretation to be the most interesting amidst the many floating on the internet, but it certainly leaves unexplained areas. If you have your own theory after watching the short, or if you have watched the whole series or are a Lynch fan, please share your ideas. The possibilities fascinate me.

My warmest wishes for you and your loved ones on this 2014. May it prove to be the best yet. =)