Image: Hunter-Desportes, flickr.com.
I was born a fearful child. One of the few memories I have of toddlerdom is the speech I would routinely give to whichever parent tucked me into bed: “Don’t close the door, don’t turn off the hall light, and don’t let any bad guys or alligators in.”
Every night. Alligators. I lived in Northern California, by the way, not on a swamp.
A few years later, I started worrying that the flushing toilet would catch my waist-length hair and pull me through a plumbing vortex to my doom. Then I saw a T.V. news story about the inevitable death of the solar system in five billion years, and that kept me awake for a week, at least.
Then came fifth grade. And Candyman. Isaac, a scrawny boy with a pale brown bowl cut and mysterious access to blood-soaked horror films, told us about Candyman one day in art class. In the movie, Candyman is a murderous ghost who appears if you speak his name into a mirror five times — like Bloody Mary, but hook-handed and homicidal. And Isaac told us Candyman could be summoned in real life.
I was wrecked. I didn’t entirely believe that Candyman was real, but neither did I entirely believe that he wasn’t going to burst from the mirror and slit my throat the next time I tried to brush my teeth. If I was ever going to close my eyes again, I needed to know for sure.
Obviously I couldn’t risk just saying his name in the mirror. Instead, as I lay awake and petrified, I made a plan: I would sit in my room, which had no mirrors, and speak Candyman’s name into my red plastic cassette recorder. Then I would put the tape recorder in the bathroom, hit play, run out, close the door, and observe from outside, perhaps with some kind of mirrored apparatus through the bottom of the door.
Of course, this assumed that despite being able to move fluidly through space-time, the boundary between life and death, and a plate glass mirror, Candyman would be stopped short by an inch and a half of compressed wood. Hey, it made sense to me at the time. And it made me less frightened to know that, despite my uncertainty, I might be able to empirically conquer the boogey-man.
So I guess that was when I became a science nerd. I never actually carried out my experiment, which is probably why I’m now a science journalist instead of an actual scientist, but the philosophy is basically the same. Observation defeats speculation, knowledge defeats fear, truth defeats alligators. Or something like that.
I’m not entirely sure yet what this blog is going to be. Future posts will be less navel-gazing, I promise. Marine science is one of my favorite corners of the nerd world, so that’s what I’ll dive into (oy, sorry) for the most part. And, since some of my midnight panic these days is related to the future of my chosen career path (or: will I ever pay my rent again?), expect some rumination about that as well. And probably some other things, too. I have a short attention span.