Phobias and an Overactive Imagination

As a friend and I were walking around last week, catching up in between panels and schmooze-fests, he told me about the naturalists’ class he and his wife had just taken– a class that’s resulted in his keeping a constant eye out for a variety of flora I could probably never begin to imagine. Among other things, the pair are now adept at finding and preparing edible mushrooms, a development that, upon being reported, nearly froze me in my horror-filled tracks.

I explained to my friend that I’ve always found mushrooms terrifying– not due to their parasitical nature, or even, necessarily, the fact that quite a few of them are poisonous. Instead, their very appearance can often elicit involuntary shudders and nightmare scenarios of being latched onto by a tenacious fungus, one that plants itself somewhere on my body that’s impossible for me not to see its underside and its disgust-inducing stalk. (Even the very word “stalk” gives me a noticeable case of the heebie-jeebies.) It would just sit there, looking at me and emanating the Platonic ideal of skin-crawling ickiness.

My confession was, of course, met with good-natured disbelief; surely, I couldn’t feel that strongly about a little ol’ eukaryote? After all, I do eat mushrooms, so they can’t be that intrinsically revolting, right?

No, I asserted; it’s true– and I think it’s a trait that places me solidly in the population of the dangerously literarily-minded. Seeing clearly the demonic possibilities of mushrooms; being creeped out at the prospect of a field of sunflowers, since they might all turn and level you with their collective cyclopean stare; being convinced that octopuses know the score and are just waiting to unfurl those gooey tentacles when the time is right: all of this anthropomorphizing– or rather, seeing sentient sensibilities across species or even phyla– points squarely to the fact that my brain is all too involved with imgainative realms– or at least to a personal suspicion that Lewis Carroll and I would have gotten on fantastically, a thought which is almost scarier than the mere presence of a fungus.

Is this quirk good or bad? At present, other than the low-grade debilitation I experience when faced with a stationary life form, I’ll declare it neither. Now if I got up off my caboose and actually published something inspired by said peculiarity, I wouldn’t hesitate to call it good– very good. If any progress is made in turning this inherently neutral eccentricity into a boon, I’ll notify all concerned parties a.s.a.p…

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