Monday, November 21, 2016

Avoiding Close Calls (#deadlines #stress #dreams)

Cliff warning

By Lisabet Sarai

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 assignmentor “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.


  1. I used to have recurring dreams when I was exhibiting at antiques shows. At the better shows, it could take days to set up an attractive booth. I'd have these recurring dreams where It would be the morning the show opened, and couldn't get it together. Either I'd be miles away in heavy traffic or not be able to find a toothbrush. It would get later and later, but just not be able to get to the show site. Makes a guy crazy.

    1. Yeah. Dreams like that!

      Did you ever actually have a close call of that sort?

    2. Nah. I always gave myself lots of time. the dreams were enough, for God's sake :>)

  2. Oh, that dream about being back in college, not having attended a certain class all semester, and not even knowing where it's held, and it's far too late to withdraw from the class without penalties; I have that one frequently, even though I was never in that situation. It's even worse than the one where I search and search and can't find where I parked the car. And the naked or semi-naked in public one, although nobody ever seems to notice. Those aren't close calls, though. I did have a cliff nightmare, but it didn't end well, so it wasn't a close call. Let's not even go there.

    I do push deadlines a bit, but don't dream about it.

    1. The prevalence of that final exam dream makes me wonder about collective consciousness! On the other hand, I suppose Bantu tribespeople don't have that kind of dream.

      I haven't had a car for more than a decade (Hallelujah!) so I don't have the particular dream about losing mine, but I do sometimes dream I'm staying in a hotel (something I do alot) and have forgotten the room number.

      One of the most persistent features of dreams lately is an inability to dial numbers on my cell phone. I try and try, but can't manage to do it correctly. (Often it's a different layout than mine.)

      Of course, none of this has anything to do with close calls!

    2. I would suppose Bantu folks might dream of chasing a deer and getting lost or trapped. Or maybe not. Maybe some people live lives hat are anxiety free. I was listening to a lecture recording of Pema Chodron and she remarked that when Tibetans like the Dalai Lama came to the west they were astonished at the amount of self doubt and self hatred westerners have. This is somehow very alien to Tibetan culture.

      I miss close calls now that I'm older. As a younger man I loved that feeling. I think people get addicted to it.


    3. We do live with a lot of stress. I wonder if that is in some way a reaction to lives where survival is usually not an issue. Most of the time.

  3. That dream about the final exam actually happened to a student in the u. where I teach. I was supervising the exam for my first-semester English class when a distraught young Chinese woman burst into the room to ask me if this was the exam for Business Admin. Yoy! I couldn't tell her where her exam was being held, just that mine was not it. I hope she found the right room.

  4. Wow, Lisabet, you're a fabled creature to me. I always wished I could be like what you describe, but I'm really not. It's not that I enjoy cutting things close. It's that I often struggle to do things without a little fear to motivate me. The trouble is that a little fear often becomes too much fear (which is paralyzing in its own way). And as I've gotten older, deadlines scare me much less, which is maybe a sign of increasing self-confidence, but really messes up the way I've typically gotten things done. Anyway, I wish I could schedule as well as you describe, and I wish I was the type to start working on things right away. I'm usually trying to do too much, so I'm usually working on whatever crisis is the closest to me.

    1. Funny, I sometimes feel this is a character flaw. I'd like to be more spontaneous. Though I suspect that would make me less effective.


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