An author I’m following on Twitter asked a question a couple of days ago. She posted a photo of a Roman aqueduct in France, which features in her book. She admitted to walking across it once when she was much younger, not considering the danger she put herself in. This was her question:
What did you do as a youngster that you would never dream of doing now?
I guess we all have things we could confess, but perhaps with some filters, because we wouldn’t want strangers to know our most humiliating moments. The post reminded me of a game two professors played in the novel Changing Places by David Lodge. Humiliation is played by making a list of major works you haven’t read, which was problematic in the novel. Changing Places was about a British and an American professor who switched jobs for six months. I think they were both teaching literature, so they should of course be familiar with all the classics. You score points in the game if you have a book on your list the others don’t have. You basically have to risk humiliation, and in this book, serious trouble at work. I think the American professor won when he admitted to not having read Hamlet.
In the case of proving courage as a youngster, doing something wild may ensure victory in a game or comparison of stories, but whether the action was courageous (reflected) or reckless (thoughtless) could be debated. To some being reckless is what such a game should be all about, but a few years later, would you reveal the least favourable side of you, even if it happened in your youth? I think many would apply their strongest filter some years later.
I haven’t done anything outrageous, but I have done some things I probably shouldn’t have. One time was in Little Rock, Arkansas, where I stayed for 1,5 years many years ago. I think it was my sister-in-law who dropped me off at a museum I wanted to visit, but I decided it probably wasn’t that hard to find my way to the university, which is where I was going after the museum. US cities are pretty easy to navigate with their grid pattern, right? I have a long history with maps, and it’s not a good one. I got lost of course. I asked several people for direction, which didn’t improve my situation. I walked around in the brutal summer sun without water or anything to boost my energy, and felt my will disappear with my decreasing blood sugar. My other sister-in-law just happened to pass in her car, and it turned out I had walked into a part of town you really don’t want to be in.
I didn’t seem to have learned, because a few weeks later I decided to walk home from the university. Getting lost wasn’t the problem. I had taken the bus every day for a long time, so I was quite familiar with the route. It was just a three mile walk, but it was still incredibly hot. Every day was the same in this place. The weather was nice and sunny, but always too hot to enjoy. A bottle of water would have been helpful, but I didn’t bring one of course. I made it back to the house safely, but I wasn’t feeling good at all.
The list of things not to do again has grown since then. I have more things to recall than I care for, but I won’t bother you with details. I have grown more conservative over the years, and I’m quite content now with a life where nothing much happens. I prefer making my characters brave, but there is a story in almost everything, also in feeling helpless in a big, strange city. My stay there wasn’t all bad. I also brought some good memories with me when I left.