Today’s guest blogger is Chicago’s fantastic Keith Ecker. Keith is a writer, performer and educator. He is a producer and host of the series Guts & Glory: Live Lit for the Lionhearted, which takes place every third Wednesday at Powell’s Bookstore at 2850 N. Lincoln Ave. in Chicago. You can find out more about Keith at keithecker.com.
Yesterday I had my regular visit with my therapist. Our sessions usually play out like a monologue, wherein I verbally bury him under an avalanche of my own neurosis. But things were different this time. When prompted with what I wanted to talk about, the only answer I could muster was a shrug. And this scares the hell out of me.
I have been an anxious person my entire life. It’s in my blood. I come from a long line of neurotics. Our ability to tirelessly plan for imagined disasters is outmatched only by gun-toting, bomb-shelter squatting survivalists. If my family had a proper crest, it’d probably be a shield emblazoned with some guy shame-eating a carton of ice cream in the dark. So it comes as a surprise to me that for once in my life I feel like things are going my way.
I mean, how cool is it that I get to perform my writing throughout Chicago? Or how blessed am I to have a job that allows me to work from home and pays a good wage? Or what about the fact that I just got engaged to my long-time boyfriend, and we have the absolutely cutest dog, who loves nothing more than to bury himself under my comforter and snuggle with my feet? Really, if I were to harbor any complaints I’d be a terrible person, a miserable thankless clod who sees the world through poop-colored glasses.
But there is one thing… Worry for me is part of the rocket fuel that propels me to write. My self-consciousness is both my curse and gift, a stone that hangs heavy around my neck but that slows me down enough to take in the world around me. If I’m just going through life all carefree and happy then I’m liable to miss a lot of potential inspiration. What if there’s something worth being miserable over right under my nose, and I’m too happy to see it? Then what? What motivation is there for me to chain myself to my desk and self-flagellate over the minutiae of word choice if I lack any self-loathing? Look, if Hemingway was happy then “For Whom the Bell Tolls” probably would have read like a nursery rhyme about a bunch of mice and a clock. And Sylvia Plath would have just gone and made a turkey instead of broiling her head.
As much as I spend a lot of my waking hours mitigating my anxiety, I realize that it is an essential part of my being. It might not be the healthiest thing, but neither is cream cheese…and that’s the BEST part of carrot cake. To shuck the worry from my soul would probably make me a much more balanced human being, but it also would make me kind of bland. I mean, would I rather spend my weekends catching a movie and grabbing a drink with friends or would I rather stay home fretting over the possibility of nuclear war breaking out between Israel and Iran? Strangely, the latter seems like a more natural fit.
So I’m going to enjoy this infrequent stillness in my life, while trying to push aside the thoughts that this quiet is just the calm before the storm. It’s hard not to predict when the other shoe will drop, especially when you’ve been conditioned your entire life to see birthdays as just another slow step toward death. And, hey, look on the bright side: Next time I see my therapist I can complain about not having anything to complain about. My palms are sweating just thinking about it!