Songs for the Struggling Artist


“It had been years since I really experienced fear.”

I write in cafes and while I mostly mind my own business, sometimes I can’t help but overhear my fellow coffee drinkers, especially when they’ve got their meetings turned up to CONFIDENT!

This particular meeting involved two men in super fashionable slick outfits. They were talking about buying businesses. I think. I wasn’t paying close attention. But then I heard the tall one in the leather jacket tell the other one a story about being in a shaking airplane and feeling afraid. It gave him an epiphany and he realized that it was the first time he’d experienced fear in years. He took this experience as a mandate to take more risks, to find ways to challenge himself. All very sensible. Of course.

I was struck, however, by the profound sense of privilege that there was in that statement about fear.

First, almost every woman I know experiences fear on a fairly regular basis, just walking home at night or riding the subway or walking down the street. I don’t know many women who could say they hadn’t experienced fear in years.

Second, if you’re a person of color in this country, your likelihood of being confronted by the police is so great, I cannot imagine how you could avoid experiencing fear often. Just walking home from work you could be shot for being black. You could be beat up in Alabama just for being Indian. That’s some fear.

Third, if you don’t have enough money, fear is an almost daily experience as well. “Will I make rent this month?” “What if that one gig falls through?” “What if I get sick? Will my family still be able to eat?”

In other words, the absence of fear is one of the great privileges, perhaps the greatest. And not one I’d considered before.

This tall, wealthy, white man in the café needs to FIND ways to experience fear. His life is so comfortable, he has to seek fear like a thrill. He has to court it because it is not ever-present in his daily life.

It occurs to me that maybe a guy like this is able to accomplish so much, not just due to the privileges afforded to him by wealth, race and gender, but due to the absence of fear. He can do a lot with the security that a life with nothing to fear in it gives him.

I thought, you know, it’s too bad this guy can’t step into the shoes of any of the people who regularly experience fear. It might save him some money in thrill seeking. Why pay for skydiving lessons when you can just walk down the street?

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