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Posts Tagged ‘ophidiophobia’

Sarcoxie High

April 12th, 2009

Alllrrighty then.  Back to snakes.  Pardon the detour through Arkansas.

So on Wednesday we were back in AR, this time in Fayetteville to stay with my good friend Rob Kenyon and his family so that we could be in Sarcoxie, MO on Thursday.  We really had a great time hanging with them, and Fayetteville was very enjoyable.  We’ll be back.

I was scheduled to perform for the whole school, grades 5-12, in advance of a day off before a big week of academic performance testing starting Monday.

First of all, let me say this about the students in Sarcoxie, Missouri.  We’ve done this show for thousands and thousands of kids of all ages across the country but this was a standout group.  Sharp as a tack (sometimes my humor can be a little hard to keep up with) and they went a couple of steps beyond any group we’ve seen.

One, they went on my site before we arrived and picked out their favorite snakes to actually make posters for.  I have the whole set.  Funny thing is, I get pretty focused once the show begins and while I could see people holding them up, they were a little hard to read at that distance up in the bleachers (my vision’s not what it used to be and I’ve been in a little bit of denial about it) and I didn’t really catch on to exactly what they had done until the end of the show.  I thought the guy cheering about Andy the Anaconda when I mentioned him, who was holding up a poster I couldn’t read, was saying his name was Andy too.   Momentary cluelessness.  Sorry ’bout that.

Even worse, three people picked Evie to make a poster about, which is entirely my bad.  She was a wonderful part of my show, but she passed quietly away a little over a year ago after a prolonged battle with recurring upper respiratory issues.  We miss her.  She was a great story too.  A friend of mine donated her to me after a roommate of his moved out and left her behind.  The roommate was, ahem, a dancer – and Evie worked for her.  I don’t know what her name was back then (I wasn’t there for her early career) but something just seemed appropriate about a large female serpent named Eve.

I shall henceforth endeavor to update my animal roster forthwith.  It doesn’t even mention Capone, and I know he’s a lot of folks’ favorite.

Second, I had more help getting the show loaded in and out than I’m used to, and it was entirely, well, helpful – if you know what I mean.

But best of all, and Julie was the one to notice this first, when we let quite a crowd of them interact with several of our animals at the end of the show, the level of care and gentleness they used in touching, holding and moving them from person to person was exceptional.  Usually we have to explain repeatedly that a snake will let you guide him with an open hand, but will dislike being gripped and controlled by a closed one.  The tongue is for tasting the air, not the fingers.  The back of the head or under the chin can be touched, but only gently and without sudden moves.

These kids already knew.  When Julie and I drove out of the parking lot, she said, “That group was awesome.  They actually gave me new hope for the future.”   I heartily agreed.  I love doing schools, but this one really stood out.

The underlying concept of this version of my show is relating the origins, side effects and cures of a learned fear like ophidiophobia to another one, the fear of taking academic performance tests.  I can seriously relate to that.  It happened to me.  Just like working with a venomous snake that needs to be safely removed and relocated, increases in my heart and respiratory rates and the moisture level in my palms all used to hit me come testing time back when I took them.

Today, the stakes are higher.  A school’s standings and available resources can also be affected by how well all of the students do on testing days.  Only attendance (stay in school!) has as much bearing on access to funding.  Just like seeing a grown man about to mow you down because he’s just seen a snake, it can all be very scary.  But fear is transmutable.

Fear can be, with surprisingly little effort, transformed into focus, clarity and insight.  Just like overcoming the fear of snakes, accurate information and a generous helping of humor can make a closely held phobia melt away like ice on a warm day.   For more on overcoming ophidiophobia, check out my blog entry from July ’08.  On the other side of the fear, power is waiting.

I remember back in my own school days, the test that intimidated me most was the IQ test, because here were a few pieces of paper that were literally going to judge me, relative to all other humans, as to how smart I was.

I later came up with a little trick that overcame both the fear and the focus problems with IQ tests.  Faced with a time deadline and all those questions to answer and problems to solve, I devised a system.  If I thought I knew the answer but wasn’t quite sure, I marked my best guess and put a check mark in the margin beside it.

If I didn’t have a clue as to the right answer, I took a wild guess and put a little circle (like a zero) in the margin next to it.  I made no extra marks next to answers I was sure of.  Then, when I finished the test and had minutes to spare, I was able to easily revisit the check marks first, to see if my mind, now freshly looking at problems I had waffled on before and no longer bogged down by the remainder of the test, could come up with new insight into the answers.  It often did.

Then, if I had the time after double checking the checks, I took another look at all the circles – problems I had been clueless about earlier.  Frequently even these became easier to work now that the entire test was behind me.  Sounds weird to say it, but this trick actually raised my IQ.

Come to think of it, if everyone in a school were to use the same system, the teachers grading the tests would be able to tell exactly how well it was working for each student.   Pretty cool.

So now we’re feeling completely involved in the efforts of this excellent bunch of students in the coming week.  Go Bears!  We’re rooting for you in Texas.

Take it easy on the Easter candy today so you get a good night’s sleep, but recent research says that gnawing the head off of that chocolate bunny tomorrow morning (after a good breakfast) will actually raise your scores.  You have a great school – one to be proud of.  Now – get in there and prove it to the rest of The Show Me State.sarcoxie


July 12th, 2008

In case you’re new to that term, it means the fear of snakes. A learned, conditioned and entirely unnecessary phobia that tends to cause collisions with stationary objects.

We’re not born with this fear (like the fear of falling, for instance) because statistically we don’t need it, especially in modern times. In the US, the vast majority of our snakes aren’t venomous, and we are roughly 300% more likely to die of insect bite. Dogs and horses (don’t get me wrong, I love both) hurt or kill far more humans. Four times more people die of lightning strike than of snake bite. Here in Dallas, that’s mostly at golf tournaments.

As I mentioned in the previous post, even a venomous snake doesn’t want to use the venom in self defense. That’s not what it is primarily for. Indeed, it appears to be a very sophisticated concoction of digestive enzymes and complex peptides for which medical science is beginning to find all sorts of life saving uses. Kill off all the venomous snakes, and mankind suffers in several ways.

“The only good snake is a dead snake.” How many times I’ve heard that phrase of fear and ignorance I cannot begin to enumerate. My life’s work is, in part, to erase it from the vernacular of as many locations as I can. Time and again nature has proven that we need all of the food chain, even (if not especially) the parts we humans don’t care to eat.

I’ve met grown men, (big ones, most of them) who are afraid of almost nothing – except snakes. Men who could rescue you from burning buildings, raging floods, maybe even a hail of bullets – but will run screaming like a panicked 6 year old (and you’d better not be in the way) when they see a snake – any snake.

This is not that hard to understand in most cases. That big macho man was once a little boy, and some grownup that he looked up to be Superman probably saw a snake and remembered the time his own boyhood Superman had completely freaked when he saw a snake. Think about it. To a little kid, only life’s very scariest things could be capable of scaring Superman. Add a few formative years of hearing myths and misinformation, throw in a completely inaccurate B movie or two, and you’ve got a bona fide phobia. A debilitating, mind clouding, make really bad decisions every time it surfaces phobia.

There are exceptions, of course, like having cruel older siblings or their cohorts tossing snakes at you or stuffing them down a shirt. Then there are anglers who, armed with incorrect colloquial knowledge about water moccasins, have been known to abandon their boats in a crazed attempt at escape from what they believe to be active, cognizant and vicious pursuit. Military personnel who have seen active duty in far flung climates that harbor far more deadly (and prolific) snakes than we stateside types see here in the US have also obtained this phobia later in life – yet this mindset is still always better overcome than embraced. Indeed, many ophidiophobics wear the fear like a badge of honor, and seem to be almost proud of the great danger they know that anyone too close to them would be in the event of an actual snake encounter.

That snakes have no limbs does make them seem more alien perhaps (that, and a bit of bad press early on) but there is no slime layer as there will often be with amphibians and fish (many snakes are very shiny, so they can sometimes appear slimy) and only the head can do any damage to a human unless the body is so large (like native constrictors here in the US do NOT grow to be – escaped pythons in the Everglades notwithstanding) that squeezing is an issue – if you’re silly enough to wrap one you aren’t familiar with around your neck. The bite (or squeeze) of even the largest non-venomous snake in America is really no big deal.

A hard core phobic would say, “Maybe not, but I’d die of a heart attack.” Exactly my point – of the extreme disadvantage of allowing an intense and irrational learned fear to continue unabated. The cure for an acquired phobia is always knowledge – especially if you can impart it with a generous helping of humor. In large part, that’s what my show is all about. Faced with the facts, rather than all those silly myths that keep hanging on somehow, plus the genuine realization that a particular animal is not only beautiful but gentle, graceful and extremely well adapted to its place in the ecosystem – the fear melts like ice on a warm day.

So if you suffer from this type of phobia, try to catch my show sometime. If that’s not practical, start with a cute stuffed fuzzy snake and work your way up to a more realistic Taiwanese Vinyl Snake, and finally visit a zoo or nature center where a docent can let you take all the time you need to work up the nerve to reach out and touch a little Ball Python or Corn snake. Both are great with petrified people, and will enchant and amaze you if you’ll give them the chance.

I Specialize in The Truly Petrified…