Sunday, November 04, 2007
The Only Thing to Fear is Diane Sawyer
For an example: by the age of 9, my curiosity toward all the things that life had to offer had led me to fall down the stairs of our two-story home, fall through its roof, endure repeated bee stings, set multiple things on fire and experience repeated injuries to the head and other extremities due to bicycles and/or pet Labrador retrievers.
Suddenly, at that age, I was afraid.
I believed that the monsters from movie commercials I’d seen lived in the tall grass on the farm where my dad worked. Of course, my parents wouldn’t let me watch the actual movies because they were too scary, and so my media intake was limited to news shows and the Encyclopedia Britannica.
Then, I saw one of Primetime Live’s special reports, where Diane Sawyer told me about serial killers that broke into people’s homes at night, and became convinced that there were people like this in the woods outside my house.
I also was certain every dark cloud in the sky had the potential to turn into one of those mile-wide tornadoes I’d read about in the encyclopedia, capable of destroying my whole house, including our TV set and VCR.
This pre-pubescent phase of paranoia lasted until I was nearly 12. Of course, I now know that my fears were unfounded, because my hometown of Paris, Tenn. was not and probably never will be interesting enough to attract serial killers, much less F5 tornadoes. However, in my defense, I did not experience any of the horrifying things that I was afraid of, nor did I fall off, get stung by get bit by much of anything.
So, in retrospect, I no longer believe that being afraid was the problem, it’s just that the fears I was preparing for at the time were misplaced. If, at that age, someone had given me reading/viewing material about federal student loans I might be in a better position now.
I didn’t know it when I was growing up, but one day most of my greatest fears would be getting lost. It was impossible to know this as a child, because, while living in rural Tennessee, we see the same buildings and primarily the same people every day. The buildings and the people therein change every few years due to graduations or changes in employment, but you only have to find your way there once.
Then, I moved to Chattanooga and began my preliminary attempts at joining the workforce. As an intern working for a city newspaper, I was required to travel to various places across a much larger municipality, many of which I had to reach by going through Bad Neighborhoods.
Diane Sawyer (or maybe Peter Jennings) had probably told me about Bad Neighborhoods in some place like Detroit many years earlier, but I had heard from other sources of news dispensation that there were some in nearly every city. Here, upstanding and mildly-paranoid people of moderate income could be stripped of their possessions; much like cattle can be stripped of their meat in piranha-infested waters (Thank you, Encyclopedia Britannica!).
Sometimes my editor would send me to Bad Neighborhoods to follow leads, giving me helpful advice that all newsmen can appreciate, like “Try not to stand out” and “Don’t get shot.”
It didn’t help that my Pontiac Grand Am, which had been in use since maybe eight years earlier, was now going through a phase that experienced automotive technicians refer to as “The Worthless Piece of Junk Phase.” It started overheating that May and continued to do so until September. During that summer it sprung an oil leak, it had to have its spark plugs changed twice, and had damages in parts I’d never heard of before or since (like the “coil pack”).
Almost every time I left the office, until I reached my university dorm room at night, I wondered if this would be the day the Grand Am led me no further than to the exact address of a Bad Neighborhood and then decided she’d need a breather.
However, thanks in part to my constant worrying, it never happened.
It’s now been a little more than two years since I started fretting about the things that could go wrong in Korea. My first concern was that I’d get lost when I transferred flights in Chicago and that I’d somehow end up in a Bad Neighborhood there (which, according to some sources, make Bad Neighborhoods in Chattanooga look like Tiger Woods’ living room).
My latest is that I’ll get held up during my hour-long, thrice-transferring subway trip to my Korean class in downtown Seoul. Between me and every train I must catch is a horde of middle- to elderly-aged Koreans who, in their leisurely gait, assume that since they aren’t in a hurry to be anywhere, no one behind them need be either.
What they don’t know, and what I do, is that for me to be late for one subway train might mean being late for the next, which might mean missing the bus that takes me directly to class, which means arriving late, which means failing to learn a critical grammar rule, which means never figuring out this entire confounded language, which means never moving up in the workplace, which means my children won’t grow up with all the advantages they need in the 21st century marketplace.
My worries haven’t failed me yet. Maybe some of you reading this are thinking that I need to lighten up, and that each step of the process needn’t be considered that critical.
Well, I’m afraid it is.
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