I dream about missing deadlines. My plane has already boarded, while I’m not even finished packing. I’ve got to teach a class in ten minutes, starting with the quiz I use to make sure everyone arrives on time, but I’m still half an hour from the university. Then there’s the classic anxiety dream where I realize I have an exam scheduled today, yet somehow haven’t studied or attended class for a full term —astonishing given how long it’s been since I graduated!
While these aren’t exactly nightmares, their regular recurrence testifies to my concern about the issue. In the real world, I work hard to avoid this sort of close call.
My DH and I are the kind of people who arrive at the airport more than the recommended two or three hours prior to departure, just in case we encounter some unexpected obstacles. I’ve spent a lot of time hanging around in airport restaurants, gates and lounges. On the other hand, in four decades traveling around the world, I’ve never missed a plane (though we almost didn’t make a connecting flight on a recent trip to China, due to poor planning on the part of the airline).
I spent sixteen years in school and university. In that entire period, I don’t remember ever turning in a late assignment—or “pulling an all-nighter”, as we used to call it. I’d start tackling homework or term papers the very day I learned about them. Now, when I have a commitment to produce some sort of work, I plan my schedule way ahead of time in order to make sure I can fulfill my promise. Occasionally I’ll experience problems and discover my effort estimates were too optimistic. I don’t react well to that sort of stress, as my long-suffering DH will attest. And when I have a challenging deadline, one I fear I can’t meet, I seriously suffer.
Not everyone is like me. (My students, in particular, seem to feel little distress about upcoming deadlines.) I’ve met people who seem to get a thrill out of living on the edge, cutting their margins to the absolute minimum, gleefully living one day at a time without concern for tomorrow’s looming responsibilities. I’d like to say that I envy them their lack of tension, but honestly, the prospect of being like that fills me with horror!
Our topic this fortnight is “Close Calls”. Some readers might argue that almost missing a deadline, or a plane flight, doesn’t capture the real meaning of the term. A close call, they’ll say, is a near-disaster that could not have been anticipated or avoided. My experience with the landslide in Peru, the subject of my post here when our topic was “Near-Death Experiences”, might qualify. Almost being discovered in flagrante by a parent or authority figure could be an equally good, though less severe, example. Having the condom break the day before you ovulated would definitely fit the topic. If you have any control, though, it’s not really a close call.
I’m not completely convinced. Obviously external circumstances cannot be predicted. The drunk driver who almost but not quite totals your car may be beyond your control. The earthquake that levels the town while you happen to be away on business; the fanatic who barges into the movie theater to mow down a dozen people, after you decide at the last minute to see a different film; the brick tumbling off a building that lands on the sidewalk two feet ahead of you; these all represent lucky escapes from dire events that could easily have impacted you. No deliberate action on your part could have prevented the terrible outcomes you barely avoided.
However, I think that some “close calls” are the direct result of the choices people make. People take risks, choosing to ignore the potential consequences. Indeed, risk can add to the excitement. I considered writing a quickie for this topic about having sex in a public place and nearly being caught. (I refrained, figuring Daddy X could do a much better job.) Without the danger of discovery, public sex wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.
Some people prefer to push things to the limit. They don’t start on assigned work until the night before it’s due. They show up at the exit gate five minutes before it closes. They enjoy tempting fate.
Not me. I’m a pussy when it comes to stress. I recognized that I can’t control the universe, but I’ll do whatever I can to avoid close calls in situations where my actions make some difference.
Then I’ll write stories about those of you who dare to thumb their nose at danger. You’re much more interesting.