I listen to a lot of podcasts. One I’ve just finished catching up on is “This Is Actually Happening”.
It’s a little like Radio Diaries, or some episodes of This American Life, in that it’s basically just a person telling the story of something that happened to them. In the case of TIAH, however, the stories are generally cranked up towards 11, stories of the kind of experience you would have to remind yourself was real, and not just a bad dream. Things like “What if you were hunted by the Japanese Mafia”, or “What if your boyfriend set himself on fire?”
My life so far has been characterized by hard work, careful planning, hedging against risk, and mostly taking safe options. The craziest story I could offer a podcast would be “What if you emigrated half way around the world to live with someone you met online and had spent two weeks with?” I guess that’s somewhat exciting, but since we’ve now been together for over 20 years, the story doesn’t really have much of a plot arc.
My childhood was safe and uneventful too — at least the parts I remember, though I gather the first couple of years were pretty dicey from a health point of view. As a teenager I was too busy studying to get into much trouble, too introverted to go to parties. I have nothing to compare to stories like TIAH’s “What if you were a 9 year old alcoholic?” or “What if your sister had five personalities?” My stories of childhood trauma would be “What if you were 20 minutes late to the first day at a new school?” or “What if you once left your homework to the last minute and had to pull an all-nighter?”
Perhaps because of this, I often think about what my life could have been like if I’d been bad, if I’d made all the risky decisions and not considered possible consequences. Maybe I could have had a story like “What if you were lost in the jungle?” or “What if you lost a high speed chase?”, rather than “What if you forgot to return your library books on time?”
Would this hypothetical irresponsible me have turned out happier? I think probably not. Yet somehow I keep wondering.
Maybe the fascination works both ways. Maybe there should be a podcast about what it’s like to have a normal, safe, boring childhood, so that people who’ve been raised in religious cults, or made to join a gang of Somali pirates, can listen to stories of what it’s like to sit and do homework, or shop for a bicycle helmet.