Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Looking Everywhere, Going Nowhere

The Tingler

I was up late last night doing one of the things that is best done late at night: watching an old horror movie. It was called The Tingler, starred Vincent Price, and it scared the dickens out of me as a kid. As an adult and medical student, I thought it was hilarious. All those hours in the anatomy lab finally paid off (please don't tell my professor I said this) as I visualized the muscles Price was conveniently ignoring in the course of his dastardly surgery. Naturally, the entire premise of the film was about as anatomically correct as most of us feel after the Holidays when it's diet and exercise time again.

The story involves Price theorizing that fear originates in an organism called -- you guessed it -- the Tingler. I don't know if it's a remnant of prehistoric alien abduction or just some bug that crawled up out of the primordial soup, but it resides on the surface of the spinal cord and the more an individual experiences fear, the larger and more powerful the Tingler grows. The only way to overcome it is to scream, and, yes, there was a lot of screaming in the film.

In case you're starting to feel a little creepy -- maybe you're reading this later in the evening -- and you find yourself glancing at the windows or rubbing the back of your neck, I'll tell you straight off: I've been where the Tingler was supposed to be and you can stop worrying. It's only your imagination. Well, it's not the Tingler, anyway. Spooks, goblins, and things that go bump in the night aren't covered in anatomy, so I make no claims in that regard.

But, like most stories, even this one has an element of truth. In and of itself, fear is a healthy emotion and it's a darned good one to have in case you need to get out of the way of danger. When it dominates our range of emotional expression, we create problems for ourselves. It can inhibit our capacity for love, generate physical symptoms, and make us completely miserable. Worrying over what might happen (and usually doesn't) is like standing guard at the base entrance, day in and day out. Life is too precious to spend one's entire "tour of duty" pacing back and forth, looking everywhere, going nowhere.

(Copyright holder for film poster presumed to be Columbia Pictures, 1959, Image via Wikipedia)
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