1995 Fear of Frying & Other Fax of Life by Josh Freed

Lesson 48
How to laugh at the fear of failure

 In my darker moments, I fear that there are only two options for a later-life writer.
          I could assemble a mountain of textbooks and study all the rules so thoroughly that I become not only elderly in body and mind but in spirit, too. In this approach, expanding knowledge would reveal the hopelessness of the enterprise and keep me from ever writing anything other than anonymous, encrypted, untraceable emails to illiterate strangers on other planets. The other frightening option exploits the world of blogging: posting anything and everything that comes into my mind without the filter of editing or education. My unfettered blog would, like many others, attract just a few hits, possibly from illiterate strangers on other planets.
          Josh Freed explores such irrational thinking in Fear of Frying and Other Fax of Life, the 1995 Leacock Medal winner.[1] A number of Leacock Medal books mock things that scare us: war, poverty, disease . . . But this book ridicules the act of being scared.
          The book can be therapeutic for anyone who is anxious.
          Fear of Frying attacks unfounded anxiety from many directions. Allowing for the reality of the Gulf War and economic recessions, the book shows how silly some of our 1990s “crises” were--e.g., constitutional reform, the Goods and Services Tax, and the lingering impact of metric measurement--and it reminds us that we can always find something to worry about and that many issues melt away with time. Frustrations with fax machines, programming VCRs, and setting up answering machines are a few. Freed also points out that seemingly bad events, like minor hotel
fires, baldness, and bagel wars, can turn out for the best and often create a feeling of community that did not exist before.

           The “Frying” in the book’s title refers to food fears that have a flavour-of-the-month quality today, but when Freed wrote this book, the phenomenon was new.
          Freed undercuts fear most by making fun of himself.
           “I hate takeoff, I hate landing and I hate what comes in between . . . And I listen. I listen to the drone of the engine, the creak of the wing flaps and the clunk of the landing gear alert, for sounds the captain may have missed,” he says of a common anxiety.
          A less common one rises from his desk.
          “Imagine a ceiling-high pyramid of paper: a leaning tower of yellow newspapers, leaky pens, unpaid parking tickets, bailiff notices, old pizza boxes and petrified coffee cups. All that’s missing is a sign that says: danger: life-threatening mess,” he says.
          Although Freed wrote part of the book while living in L.A., takes shots at Americans, and mocks the US’s biggest-and-best culture, his prime target is Canadian cautiousness, which even extends to learning a language: “Anglo 1: This person knows all 276 French tenses, and is determined to get them perfectly . . . determined not to speak another word until he has finished five more years of intensive French.” Freed prefers “Anglo 2 [who] has a vocabulary of 15 words and one tense, usually the present, and talks like a caveman . . . [and goes around speaking] French with the confidence of Molière.”
          He encourages us “to plunge ahead and fill the air with words . . . [for] . . . If you speak French badly for long enough, you may eventually learn to speak it correctly.” We should not, however, speak in a vacuum, and we need to interact with those who know what they are doing.
          Sounds like a plan for writers, too. We should plunge ahead knowing we might be doing it badly as long as we listen to others who do know what they’re doing and as long as we can park those irrational fears.
Writing Exercise
Write five hundred words on why writers should consider the fear of failure as absurd.

[1] A collection drawn from Montreal Gazette newspaper columns written by Freed in the first half of the 1990s.