Dear Intelligent Advice,
I am a coward. I am afraid of practically everything. I am 24 years old and the list of things I have never done and probably never will is exhaustive: Driven a car, slept with a woman, travelled alone, been drunk, initiated a conversation, gone to a party, flown in an airplane. I live everyday in fear and anxiety knowing I will never be normal or operate the same as so called “normal” people. Math is the only thing I understand and feel comfortable with and I spend my days working on a phD in mathematics. It is rewarding but I spend my time alone and miserable knowing I will never experience most of the spectrum of human life. The other night one of my colleagues literally dragged me with him to a bar. I stood awkwardly by myself while he drank and tried to pick up chicks. At one point I went to the restroom – mostly just to be alone. There I saw a man clearly tripping on drugs and having what looked like a great time. Now I fear that behind every narrow door is a man in a red woolen shirt getting incredible kicks from things I’ll never know!
How can I go out and have a real life, is it even possible? Should I admit defeat and try to be happy with the small life I have?
A Timid Mathematician
Adviser logged on: [Hunting W/ S. Thompson]
Dear Timid Mathematician,
I can smell it practically leaking out of your letter. The FEAR. It has you in its razor-like grip and isn’t letting go. This is very strange to me because usually the fear is something caught later on in life, like the bubonic plague.
I knew a man once who fled to this country from Cuba as a young man in a little life raft not knowing a word of English. He made his way to the West coast and became a successful journalist. The other day he came over to my place and told me he couldn’t decide whether or not to move in with his girlfriend. The fear had caught up with him somewhere along the way and it had him by the ankles, too terrified to make a little choice and hazard a small change in his life. A man who used to fear nothing and live on the edge, now reduced to worrying about potential petty squabbles with his girlfriend!
Once the fear has you it takes hold and great pains must be taken to get yourself out of its debt. You have had it your whole life so it could be even more challenging.
I recommend starting with recreational drug use. Perhaps just weed and alcohol at first, slowly working your way up to acid, shrooms, mescaline and even peyote if you can get your hands on it. Drugs, in the right doses, can loosen your inhibitions and make the seemingly impossible quiet ordinary. They will definitely get you talking with people and not hiding behind numbers all day. In very wrong-yet fun-doses, they will do much more than that – the really important thing about a hallucinogenic trip is that it tears you away from your day-to-day, spins you around and makes you watch as all of the things that used to seem essential and important to you mere moments ago become obsolete.You look back in on your own life and realize how truly absurd all of your judgments and beliefs are. You will see immediately how your fear and cowardice exist 100% in your mind and are not concrete obstacles to be overcome in the real world. Not being a coward anymore is as simple as not being a coward anymore.
The hard part is to keep this idea in mind the next day when you wake up sober. And each consecutive day after that.
I think you have it in you to shake off the shackles of fear and lead an enviable life. You just need a little help. I can be there in a few hours with a trunk full of drugs.
Fear and Loathing in your Own Backyard