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Chasing Down the Muse: The power of fear

“There’s nothing wrong with being scared, Norman, so long as you don’t let it change who you are.” — from Laika’s film, “ParaNorman”

The bright sun warmed the brisk morning air as I walked near Diver’s Cove. A flock of pelicans skimmed the surface of the ocean while a couple of cormorants, necks stretched out, appeared to try to keep up. Gulls shrieked overhead, mingling with the cawing of two crows.

Mesmerized by the beauty of the sights and sounds, it took a moment before I realized that some of the shrieks came along with nervous laughter and were emanating from humans somewhere below.

As the tide came in, two women apparently were attempting to traverse the rock outcrop despite signage warning to the contrary. Had they no fear? Had they no perception of the risk?

Fear. Unlike with these women, it can stop you in your tracks, turn your limbs and mind to jelly, and take your ability to make wise decisions. As the advice from “ParaNorman” suggests, it can — in taking away your ability to think rationally — even turn you into something/someone other than yourself.

An emotion induced by a perceived threat, fear is a basic survival mechanism — one of which the two women climbing the rocks seemed to be unaware.

Perception or reality? How does one decide? Feeling threatened is not the same as an actual threat, but how is one to know? Is there real danger, or can we move forward?

Fear of the unknown can leave people too scared to take the path they really want to. It can keep them immobilized and unable to make decisions of any kind, often leading to a feeling of helplessness, of being a victim.

Whether real or imagined, fear can be a major factor in how we respond (or don’t) and in who we become. We have all seen people in our own lives who have let fear rule them, if even for only a small span of time. Their fears become almost paranoia as they perceive threats as persecutory or conspiratorial.

Irrational? Perhaps. But that is the power of fear. That is the challenge posed by relying on perception alone.

Somehow, the two women on the rock outcrop did not perceive the very real threat that was being posed. In other instances, people may bypass facts and assurances to the contrary to remain fearful and see a looming threat. There are many underlying reasons for the differences, but can we choose who to be?

Who do you want to be? Who is the person you see as yourself? It is my belief that we can choose wise counsel, discernment and rational thinking in order to allay many of our very natural fears. We must often go beyond the immediate perception to do this. Then, and only then, can we choose the path to staying who we truly are.

As Norman would say, that would be “AWE-some!”

Oh, yeah — the two women at Diver’s Cove? They finally chose to back off the rocks as they weighed the facts — a good, smart choice.

CHERRIL DOTY is an artist, writer and director of the Sawdust Studio Art Classes in Laguna Beach. Always fascinated, inspired and titillated by the beauty and the ever-changing mysteries of life, she can be reached at or by phone at (714) 745-9973.