Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Halloween Contemplation 2013

Originally posted on October 31, 2013

Fear is an amazingly primal instinct, and you can see it in birds and deer and squirrels—they look around, their ears (if you can see them) prick up: What’s that strange sound? Babies get waves of strangeness and they startle and cry. Or for other reasons they become uncomfortable. At some point they enjoy quieting themselves. So, humans master their fears by scaring themselves to varying degrees.

(Shifting to the first person plural tense, the “we.”): We discover that if we expose ourselves to small degrees (at first), then gradually stronger doses of fear, we can desensitize our startle reaction and even learn to rather enjoy the adrenaline-high sensation. So we scare ourselves a little, and set up innumerable risky experiences that we can say Nyah-nyah, I’m not really scared. Well, just a tiny bit, but that’s fun. Get into that sweet spot of enough so the unfamiliar and vaguely dangerous is still fun: “Ha ha haaa, I would have been scared a year ago, but not now that I’m all growed up”—well, so it seems compared to back then.

Then it gets to be a bit fun, to take on identities not our own. Scaring you and fooling you are not all that different. I’m not really a pirate but I bet you thought I was! I had you there for a minute! It’s a fun thing to fool people and to scare them and it’s more fun if the other person acts scared and runs away or cringes. Our empathic mirror neurons don’t really want our loved ones and pals to be really truly scared, but just act that way for the game.

We dissociate like this all the time, so one compartment in which we’re friends and I like you and I wouldn’t hurt you for the world shuts off for the game—we all know I’m just playing, okay, and you are too!?!— and the other part plays whole-body-heartedly: Boo! Eeek! Ha ha, fooled you, it’s just me! Oh, my, you had me going there for moment.

Then little kids can comfort, too, and be the comforting one, which is also a power role. They like that. Anyway, Halloween is a time for lots and lots of role taking.


Spooky is a type of scary that is sort of associated with the ultimate mystery, Death. We learned about that when we found a dead bird, or our fish died belly up in the fishbowl, or great-grandma died. It’s was confusing at first, but others were scared so we figured we should be scared too.
But it’s unconsciously fun—or at least entailed a degree of mastery—to go from not scared inside to scared a little to not scared again. It’s like exercising a muscle. Like jumping. Indeed, there’s a bit of the risk of scared in many fun activities, climbing—don’t fall; hiding—don’t get found! It’s all jumbled together.

But everyone seems to be doing this, which makes it not so weird and scary.  It’s time, and chances are people are just playing, because everyone seems to be excited to play, so I’ll get excited to. Lots of weird pictures but they’re smiling and nice. This is fun to be a little scared and also okay. (When I’m older I stretch this, more and more: How scared can I be and still it’s sort of fun. There’s a secret sense of mastery in overcoming fear.)

By the way, please understand that I don’t intend for this to be more than the initiation of a conversation. There are so many facets!

One Response to “Halloween Contemplation 2013”

  • David B. says:

    This offers such wonderful insight, but there are so many shades of gray, so many unintended consequences. Fear is like E. Coli: a little bit may be okay, in fact even helpful, but it can get out of hand and become terribly destructive. And worse, under-mastered fear (?) can cause a reversal so that one wants to scare others in order to feel self-empowered.

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