What a slithery creature taught me about being brave
|Sam Beckbessinger||Jan 10|
Buddies who have phobias of long wriggly creatures with no legs, this email is all about them, so please DELETE THIS NOW if that's going to make you shivery.
Non-noodly programming will resume in the next newsletter 💛
I've spent my whole life being terrified of snakes. Yes yes yes yes, I know that this is “irrational” and most of them are probably well-mannered long bois who just want to be left the heck alone, but I’m sorry, I just can’t trust anything that has no eyelids.
I’ve had a recurring nightmare throughout my life where I’m sitting in the garden of my childhood home (one of those lush Durban jungle-gardens), digging my hands in to the rich, brown soil, when suddenly I realise that the ground around me isn’t ground at all, it’s snakes. Millions of writhing, twisting snakes. They are the soil and the grass. They’re the vines and the branches. They’re wrapping themselves around my limbs and dragging me down into the seething dark snake ball and then I wake up with my heart pounding.
(Anyone who says anything about Freud or penis envy can just SHHH please).
So, I decided as a child that I was scared of snakes. That's just at thing about me, like how my favourite food is artichokes and how I have webbed toes (I do. No, you can't see pictures).
I can't figure out who first created this meme but hat-tip to you, ma'am!
Anyway. This fear of snakes didn't impact my waking life very much, until a few years ago when I started getting super into hiking (like, obnoxiously: I’m the person who wants to spend twenty minutes talking about different types of Jetboil stoves and I’m so sorry I am this way). Being afraid of snakes when you hike around the Western Cape a lot is no way to live your life, I tell ya. They might as well call it Table OF SNAKES Mountain. 🐍
I was fine hiking right up until the moment I let my brain think the word “snake”. From the moment the word “snake” entered my mind I couldn’t think of anything else. I’d have to move right at the back of the hiking group and hope that the snakes accepted the sacrifice of my friends and left me alone. It made hiking a much less calming activity for me than it would otherwise have been.
I got so good at snake avoidance that I hadn't actually seen one in the wild, in years.
But last year, a funny thing happened. I was hiking through the Drakensberg with some friends and came across a snake. Just hanging out, right there in the middle of the path, refusing to budge, looking shifty as heck.
And before I could squeal and jump out the way, I remembered something: the person walking behind me wasn't just afraid of snakes, she has a proper phobia of them. It's so bad that she can't look at a photograph of a snake. She can't even say the word: she calls them "nope ropes" or "danger noodles". I knew that if I freaked out, she would panic.
So I turned around to her, very calmly, and told her that she needed to just hang back for a minute while I sorted something out.
And then I picked up a long stick, and, like an absolute badass who has NEVER KNOWN FEAR, I coaxed that little bit of hazard spaghetti right off the path. Friends, I was Wonder Woman. I was Chuck Norris. I was Khutulun the Mongolian freaking warrior princess. It was epic.
And in that miraculous moment, I realised something: I'm not actually scared of snakes any more. It's just something that I've believed about myself for so long, that I'd made it feel true. I do believe that I USED to be very scared of snakes. But the person I am now thinks they're... kinda cool maybe? Still untrustworthy (I wouldn't, like, lend one money), but not scary.
This got me thinking about what other things I believe about myself, that might not actually be true any more. For a long time, I thought I was terrible with money and destined to be broke. Shaking off that narrative about myself was part of how I changed my life.
Narratives that you have about yourself can trap you in the past. Saying, "I am like this" can work as a promise to yourself to keep being like that, even when being that way is not serving you.
Thinking I was a person who was afraid of snakes was what made snakes scary. But humans are awesome, because we can change.
So here's my wish for you, dear reader, as you begin the next decade: I hope that you let some things go. I hope that you feel strong enough to pick up the pieces of yourself that you're most ashamed of, the stories about yourself that trap you, stare them properly in the face, and prod those bastards right off the path.
From the magnificent couple's therapist Ester Perel:
"What outdated stories are masquerading as promises in your life? I’m not successful because I didn’t start with a trust fund. I’ll never find a partner because I’m unlovable. I will fail my children because my parents failed me. The new year is a good time to be forward-thinking about who you want to be; but it’s also a great time to look back at what you’re ready to let go of: the wrong partner or job; the narratives we use to justify our setbacks; the versions of ourselves—past, present, future—that no longer make sense.
Wishing you fresh starts, long sticks and the Jetboil Flash cooking system,
Your friend Sam
Updates from Sam-land
I'm moving to Cambridge on the 23rd of January! GAH! I have not found a flat yet and I'm trying to figure out how many rubber duckies I can cram into one suitcase (don't ask me why I have so many rubber duckies, it's a long story) and I got my visa just in time and I have a book deadline at the end of the month and a TV show pitch in February and my cat is going to be on a plane for 12 hours and apparently Cambridge is 7 degrees right now. BEAM ME STRENGTH, FRIENDS.
I went on a reading binge over December! It was an elaborate ruse to avoid packing. Here's what I read:
In the Dream House - Carmen Maria Machado: a memoir about an abusive queer relationship. Devastating. Gorgeous.
Triangulum - Masande Ntshanga: philosophical novel that blends history (specifically around the collapse of the homeland system in the 1990s) and science fiction. Masande is one of the best prose writers in the country at the moment and he deserves all the prizes.
Tiny Beautiful Things- Cheryl Strayed: a collection of columns from my favourite agony aunt. I was constantly Whatsapping bits of it to friends because it is so wise and sad and beautiful. Her letter to a father whose son had died is the one of the best things I've ever read about grief.
Ninth House - Leigh Bardugo: a ghost story set at Yale University. Deliciously trashy and fast-paced and I loved every word.
Trust Exercise - Susan Choi: a novel about precocious theatre kids falling in love with each other and trying to deal with a sexually predatory teacher. It's a smart book, but maybe too smart because I still have no idea what the ending means.
Snow Crash - Neal Stephenson: cyberpunk novel from the early 2000s. Fun as heck.
Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments - Saidiya Hartman: non-fiction book about black American women living (then) socially transgressive lives in the early 20th century. Humane. Brilliant.
Missing Person - Sarah Lotz: an online group of amateur detectives who try to solve cold cases are infiltrated by a murderer. Twisty and surprising, with well-drawn characters. The most fun book I've read this year.
Radical Candor - Kim Scott: a business book about being a better manager. Not normally something I'd read in December, but I actually loved this one. It's practical and helpful, and I'd recommend it to anyone who leads teams.
Letters to a Young Poet- Rainer Maria Rilke: a series of letters that the poet Rilke sent to a young protege in the early 1900s. Filled with some of the wisest things ever said about friendship, art and love, including what is probably my favourite sentence ever written: "Live the questions now."
Fleishman is in Trouble - Taffy Brodesser-Akner: felt like a spiritual cousin to Marriage Story (the must-watch Netflix movie that has everyone saying... "wait, is Adam Driver hot now?"). It's about a divorce, but it's also about how hard it is for women to feel like we can be the protagonist of our own lives. I liked it a lot despite spending most of it wanting to club the main character over the head.
Send me your book recommendations, buddies! I have more packing to avoid :)