“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”Frank Herbert
Here lies the corpse of my fear. . . .
I live a cloistered, yet not wholly uncomfortable existence. The self-imposed confines of my chamber are mirrored by the sequestered thoughts I call my friends. The sweep of my reachable vicinity is safe, controlled, and entirely a reflection of my creative spirit. I pondered scribing an ode to the wider landscape around me — a neighborhood, a city, and the machine of society — yet that outward place remains but a nebulous figment of recollection. What lies beyond this hermitage of mine has lost all meaning through the utter implosion of my spatial awareness. This sheer aversion to the world at large is the epitome of my personal topophobia. They are all but ghosts, I think of the mass of humankind outside, grinding like gears in a great deterministic dance of clockwork. My world is here, in this room of perfection, where every shelf of books, drawer of peculiarities, and wall of adornments holds firmly constructed meaning. No, an ode to that other place that stays ambiguous will not do. I am rooted here, clenched yet free in my solitude, and thus find it essential to evaluate the most concrete, most crucial, landscape of my life: this four-sided chamber I call my bedroom.
From an early age, I was inclined toward living within my internal reality. Stories, myths, folktales, and various imaginings gave my life security and meaning amidst a somewhat tumultuous upbringing. The outside world was always a place of distant interest, filled with possibility and opportunity, yet carrying the risk of discomfort, disappointment, and failure. I remember my childhood bedroom being the canvas upon which I painted my individuality and released my true character. It was my “safe space,” and that sacred importance I bestowed upon the room I slept in — the room I called my own — is maintained to this day.
As I gaze around my humble hermitage, I take a moment to appreciate the “nook” in which lies my desk. This is the corner of my room where productivity is allowed to occur, and the fruits of my creative labors are made manifest. The tools of my trade — a keyboard, paper, and a ready assortment of pens — beckon the wordsmith in my soul. Many a day have I sat at this station, inking my thoughts and ruminations. It’s interesting how such a small locale can host the spectrum of human emotions, from euphoric epiphanies to self-chastising failure. Adorning the shelf above my workspace rests a collection of mementos, books, and memories. I recall the history behind a little buckeye seed gifted by my grandmother. She has passed on now, but her memory lives etched in the souvenir and the photos of her to the side.
These objects of personal significance may be trivial or superfluous to others, but I know the stories, histories, and spirits they speak. They are unremarkable in essence and utterly meaningless without the knowledge and emotion my unique perspective gives them. My shelf of trinkets is practically a shrine to all that I love, from the people whose paths have intertwined with mine, to the books of fiction and obscure topics that lift me out of a less interesting reality. The geographer Peirce Lewis wrote that “Common landscapes – however important they may be – are by their nature hard to study by conventional academic means.” He coined this self-evident truth “The Axiom of Common Things” and applied it to subjects such as shopping centers, billboards, and suburban housing. On an admittedly smaller scale, this can be applied to the commonplace items in a singular home. I recognize this utter inability to objectively study the objects in my room. Metatopia signifies the transition from “space” to “place” through gains and losses in spatial meaning. As I have endowed these common baubles with personal value, this four-sided chamber has become the object of my topophilia: a place of intangibly positive sentiment.
Adjacent to the corner which houses my desk live three subjects of great import: a disused keyboard of unachieved potential, a cork-board arrayed with the scraps of obscure research, and a frame occupied by my grandfather’s artwork. At one time I entertained the notion of learning a musical instrument, however that aspiration fell short of being actualized. The keyboard remains a fixture in my room as a monument to the dusty dreams I have momentarily laid aside. Distracted from these ambitions by a descent into the depths of metaphysical analysis, I have positioned upon the above wall a variety of clippings, charts, and notes concerning a topic most would consider esoteric. As my aversion to the outside world has drawn me further into the cloister of my mind, it has become necessary to let these speculations and hypotheses spill over into the physical space of my room. My grandfather’s abstract artwork is collected to the side, almost like a symbolic representation of my internal abstraction. It’s only fitting that these expressions took form when he was my age, and I honor them with this placement so close to my soul.
The final component of my solitary abode worth examining is the bed itself, the surrounding paraphernalia, and the greater significance it all holds within my life. You see, as I have waxed on about my aversion to the people and landscapes of the outer world, there is one place where doubt and shame compel me to reassess this state of being. It is most often at the end of the day, when darkness is settling upon both the earth and my mind, that I question the function of this isolation. Is it truly serving as a refuge from what I perceive as a harsh exterior world? Or is this simply an exercise of my perpetual tendency to run from my fears? All of these uncertainties emerge from the woodwork of my subconscious as I rest my head upon carefully selected pillows. My faithful canine friend — a usual visitor to this domain — is not enough to bring me comfort. The Tibetan prayer flags hanging above are disturbed by the breeze from my bedside fan, spreading their prayers into the ether. I look to the waning light diffusing gently from the single, lonely window in the room. What possibilities and unbroken dreams live beyond that portal?
I have to give myself some credit — this solitary existence has only been encouraged by the current state of the world. Being mired in a pandemic, isolation has become a relatively noble and logical trait. However, these self-imposed, antisocial shackles have reduced my life to the stifling security of my bedroom. As I take a rare gaze out the window of this comfortable dungeon, I think that perhaps this has all been an unhealthy, metatopic collapse of meaning and significance. With the safety of isolation comes the disintegration of dreams and putrefaction of purpose. Ensconced as I am within this tomb of memories, comforts, and idols, I have lost something infinitely more valuable: my aspirations. The retreat into the sanctity of my imagination and conceptual headspace has corroded my will to interface with humanity. What once provided a means of emotional survival as a child now hinders the adult I have grown into. This realization has been slow to manifest, but I clearly see what I’m losing by remaining confined. I crave the feeling of being recognized, understood by others, and useful to people. I yearn to feel grounded and confident in my greater purpose, whatever that may end up being. I recognize now that I must go forth into this imperfect world, slay the Minotaur at the heart of my labyrinthine fear, and fashion new meaning out of the loneliness I have come to identify with. Out of this pit of nothingness will I create my purpose — construct my Self — like only the holiest of alchemies.