People always laugh at me when I tell them I'm scared of cows. "Why on earth would you be scared of a cow?" they ask. The truth is, I'm not entirely sure. I don't think I experienced a cow-related trauma as a child and I don't think I saw anyone else being scared of them either. In fact, my only run-ins with cows have occurred since my phobia developed. Like the time I was driving to work and I saw one standing in the middle of the road. I slammed on my brakes and immediately locked all the doors (because how else would I keep it out of my car?). I was paralysed with fear, my heart was bouncing off the walls as I stared straight ahead, trying desperately to avoid making eye contact. It stalked slowly towards me with a sinister purpose in its eye and stopped dead right next to my window. I reached for my phone and dialled 999.
"Emergency. What service do you require?"
"Do you need fire, police or ambulance?"
It was at this precise moment that I realised I had no business whatsoever calling the emergency services about a cow that was neither on fire nor trying to steal my purse. Nevertheless, it was too late to back out so I requested the police.
"Police emergency, can I help?"
"Yes, there's a cow in the road."
"...okay. What is it doing?"
"It's stood by my window staring at me."
"Are you hurt?"
"Do you realise that you are on the phone to the emergency police service? Is there an emergency?"
"...well we're really close to a main road. What if it goes that way? It'll cause an accident. In about a minute it'll be heading down the M25!"
And just like that I saved a cow, I protected the lives of millions of motorists and I prevented my own arrest for wasting police time. Unfortunately, the encounter did nothing to allay my cow fears. If anything, the threatening death stares that I was subject to during the ordeal made them worse, and yet people continued to mock my phobia... so I did a little research. It turns out that a lot of people are scared of spiders so I wondered how many people are killed each year by spiders. Seven. Some people fear snakes but even they only kill around six people a year. Sharks? They seem deadly enough. One solitary person a year. Cows on the other hand... TWENTY PEOPLE A YEAR! And three-quarters of those are DELIBERATE ATTACKS! And to be honest, I can't say I'm surprised. I can't remember the last time I saw a snake, I don't think I've ever seen a shark but today I saw 12 whole cows before lunchtime! So whilst my fear may be irrational it's a hell of a lot more rational than most fears.
But I guess that's the point about fears. For those of us who are fortunate enough to live a safe and comfortable existence, stricken by neither war nor disease nor famine, most of our fears are irrational - they're incredibly unlikely to hurt us. Whereas the things that are actually likely to impact our lives negatively (cars, fast food, heart disease) rarely cross our minds at all. My other phobia, one which I share with Jack, is no exception. (Fortunately he doesn't share my cow phobia. He does however have a debilitating fear of the "everyday hazard" of being trapped upside down in an underground pipe. Zero people die of that each year.) We suffer from a fear of the blank page. Or more precisely, the thought of the blank page. Before we undertake any creative activity, whether it's a piece of writing, a card range or a new film, we panic. What if we can't think of anything? What if our ideas are no good? What if that last good idea we had was our last good idea ever? If only there were a place that you could go to get fully formed ideas. Or even flat-pack ideas that you could assemble at home. An Ikea for ideas. We'd call it Idea.
Unfortunately, for us at least, that's not how it works. Good ideas don't just turn up whilst I'm in the shower. Jack's never had a 'Eureka' moment whilst waiting for the bus. (Although not having taken the bus since he was about fifteen may be obstructing him there.) If we were to be entirely honest with ourselves, we'd have to say that most of our good ideas start out as bad ideas. And most of those bad ideas don't even arrive until we physically confront the blank page and start making marks. Only once the marks are tangible can we start molding them and shaping them and turning them into something worthwhile. I know this now because the page in front of me is no longer blank. I can still remember my original bad idea for this piece and how I wrestled with it until it became a better idea. I can still see the crumpled remains of my rewrites in the corner of my desk. I can still feel my disappointment when I read my first draft to Jack and he tried really hard to say something nice. I am aware that all of this was a process and it didn't begin until I wrote the first word. But as soon as I write the last word, I will forget again. I will turn the page and we will be faced with a brand new blank page and our fear will return with renewed vigour. It's not going to kill us though, which is more than I can say for the cows.