Peformer Editorial

As someone who regularly appears in films of the horror genre, I often get asked what is something that scares me on a personal level. My immediate response usually varies: conservative politics, homophobic/racist/xenophobic/misogynistic rhetoric, the oil industry, Big Pharma... but I sense that this is not the usual answer that my interviewer is seeking out. I think that they'd prefer to have me relay a fear of the dark, or the paranormal or monsters.  Try as I might, I'm ultimately unable to indulge them since those things aren't matters that trouble me. I prefer the dark to the sun (cancer causing), I am of a spiritual/scientific inclination, so ghosts aren't something that bother me, rather fascinate me in a Egon Spengler frame of mind, and the only monsters I fear are the sexual predators that go after vulnerable people. That's not to say I've never had irrational fears that I've had to face up to. Quite the opposite, in fact, though to be fair I do come by it honestly as a learned behaviour from my mother and aunt.

 

I cannot remember a time in my childhood when neither of the elder woman who's guidance shaped me were NOT afraid of spiders and large bugs. I realize that they did try to make sure the ingratiated fear of the creepy-crawlies wasn't passed onto me, but alas, such was not the case. From seeing them lose their shit at the sight of bees, I too learned to fear our yellow and black striped friends. To be fair, I was stung as a child and remember the pain, confusion, and bedlam that followed as my mother dashed from the public pool we were at to the first aid area which to a three year old, was pretty terrifying. I recall clutching my mogwai doll and had thought that it had bit me because it was in the sun and that we were too close to the water (I was somewhat hazy on the three rules in Gremlins) but when I saw the first aid attendant expertly pluck the hornet off of me, I knew that my little fuzzy doll wasn't to blame. For the rest of my formative years hysterically windmill away from any insect that might have been a future threat whether it a bee of a honey or bumble nature and would absolutely lose my shit at the sight of a hornet. Hornets, as far as I can tell, serve no true purpose on this planet other that to fuck shit up. I'm not sure what evolutionary mandate that this serves, or if someone experimented with an early mutation of the bee and it just got out of hand, but aside from going out of their way to go after you and basically decimate bee populations along with Monsanto, I'm puzzled to their purpose. Maybe sometimes nature just likes to have a laugh and tell the world to go fuck yourselves, and the hornet is the sum of that sentiment. However, as an adult I enjoy all the things that bees do from honey (and latently mead) production to pollenating plants so that we don't die out en masse as a species. It took learning about them and encouraging my father's love of beekeeping to get to this point, but I managed to shake this fear off. With my new circus and sideshow inclinations, the thought of wearing a beard of bees is even highly appealing, though given my genetics, when the menopause hits, I should be able to grow a beard from scratch if my routine facial hair plucking is any indicator of things yet to come. Even hornets serve a purpose, wherein their angry swarming can come in handy if you manage to convince someone you dislike to treat their nest as a pinata. Just give them the baseball bat and tell them you'll film their progress... you know, from a safe distance...

It wasn't just limited to bees and hornets. Indeed all bugs and insects were fair game to have terror imprinted on my impressionable brain meats. I will forever remember at the age of four having a meltdown in my aunt's bathroom at the sight of a daddy longlegs in the bathtub. It wasn't doing anything, it was just in the tub, minding it's own business, or whatever occupies the mind of a daddy longlegs before the calm is broken by a child's banshee wails. My aunt's house was prone to these visitors, and in the height of summer time it wasn't uncommon to find two or three of them in the bathroom at a time. I'm not sure why they tended to gravitate towards this part of the house - it remains a great mystery in the ways of insects - but it seemed to be some kind of haven for them. Given the regular occurrences to which this was happening, both my mother and aunt finally got fed up and decided to break down the facts for me. They sat me on the kitchen counter and thus began the lecture about how silly I was being, and how it was not acceptable to overreact to these harmless bugs. If the universe has a sense of irony, it never was demonstrated more in that moment when a large june bug chose that moment to enter through the backdoor and land on my aunt's back. If you don't have them in your neck of the woods, the june bug is a large beetle. They have large red antennae, often have been known to hiss, and at that moment in time, ready to to lay waste to a carefully laid out argument that bugs are more scared of you than you are of them. I'm uncertain if this june bug was part of some sort of insect rodeo unbeknownst to we humans, but it wasn't going anywhere, despite my aunt's frantic funky chicken moves that looked like a drunk single girl at a wedding. My mother came to her aid by trying to crack a tea towel into a makeshift whip in an attempt to flick the tenacious insect off of her back. I distinctly remember being put off by their apparent hypocrisy on the matter, although if I'm going to be fair, seeing a daddy longlegs in passing versus having what looked like a premeditated attack by a june bug WAS quite a bit more intimidating.

 

As an adult with this residual fear that seemed etched into my DNA, I began to take solace that having made the choice to never have kids that this weird fear would die along with me. The worst of all of these were cumulated into spiders. It seems the most unfair too, since spiders had never once done a damn thing to me, not a bite, not a sting, and yet I would react very poorly in their presence. This all came to a head when I flew east to Winnipeg on August a few years back to film Astron 6's The Editor. I had read the script and knew there was a scene where a tarantula would crawl over my naked body. Not wishing to look like either a liar or a chickenshit after committing to the project, I held my tongue knowing the day would come when we had to shoot the scene in question. I was introduced to the smallish brow tarantula, named Charlotte, and did the scene, which required me to be paralyzed and scared. To estimate how much of it was just acting and how much was method was anyone's guess. The handler - a lovely if eccentric lady -  assured me that blowing on her backside would get her to walk forward, and blowing on her face would get her to stop. We did the first few takes without incidence, with Charlotte blowing spider fluff out of her backside as she crawled up my knee, thigh, and made her way to my chest. One take, she kept going, up to a point where she was getting very close to my head. As she got to my collarbone, I panicked and blew on her to stop her, causing her to scrunch up her legs to her face and body. I felt bad for her, since she looked mortified, but then again when it comes to being a tough cookie and saving my pride, I draw a line at being naked, with a tarantula  on my face. Evidently, no one was the wiser I was scared until I told the BTS camera during an interview that I was. While Matt and Adam both said that they'd have supplied me with a body double, I was vain enough to neither want one or risk looking like a buttercup in front of the cast and crew. 

 

 

 

As it now stands, I've made peace with bugs. I live in an old building that's prone to silverfish, and I prefer the spiders to make meals of them, rather than have my home overrun with them. If I need to move a wolf spider, I collect them in my hands and deposit it outside. I enjoy the service that my eight legged friends supply for me, and am ashamed that I was ever scared of them. However, if my own experience has proven anything, it's that a certain degree of immersion therapy is useful for facing irrational fears. Case in point where I made peace with june bugs also a number of summers ago. While at a large outdoor festival that my friends and I were performing at, a june bug came and landed on our frisbee. Rather than flip it over into the river, We instead gave it some shade with some leaves and brought it under our own shade structure. I'm unsure at what point someone produced the last of the face drugs, but they dumped it onto the back of the june bug, asked 'Who's going to the do the bug bump?' and I felt all eyes land on me. I don't indulge in these types of party favours and haven't for a long time, but in that moment, I decided that I had come to win - the moment, the rave - and put my nostril onto the back caprice of the poor bug and inhaled deeply. While I'm certain he likely didn't survive the encounter, it's hard to argue in his last moments Steve Bug, as we dubbed him, have never felt more loved and included in his short life. It also led me to another conclusion with this immersion therapy. Theoretically, you could have a arachnophobic heroin addict for example who wanted a cure for their condition. You could place a few points of heroin under a large bird-eating tarantula. The spider-fearing junkie would either fling the spider off to satisfy their craving, or else step back and mutter, 'You know what? I'm good'. Either way, you will wind up solving one of their two issues at least, which makes me an effective, if not unorthodox, problem solver. I'm not saying it would be anyone's first choice, but it's better than going through life being scared of walking into spider webs, in constant need of a fix.

 

Thus ends the lesson.

 

Tristan Risk

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