The Risky Business of Risk-Taking - Not starring Tom Cruise

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(The following is a Blogging for Books entry, a monthly contest hosted by the Zero Boss. Yes, indeed, I've entered yet another contest. This is what you get when it's cold outside and I have to type furiously in order to stay warm! He has a very cool "Blogging for Books" button, but unfortunately I'm not savvy enough to post it here. Anyway, the task was to "write a blog entry about a time when you took a risk in your life on someone or something - a new romance, a new career, a new home, etc. Were you successful beyond your wildest dreams - or did you crash and burn?")

I’ve never been much of a risk taker. Most of the time, in fact, I’m overly cautious to the point of paralysis.

Because let’s face it, taking risks are, well, risky. And according to My First English-as-a-Second-Language Dictionary, the synonym for risk is DANGER! Yes, in all-caps like that, and in red, and with an exclamation point! And whether it's written in all-caps or not, DANGER! is just plain scary, isn’t it? Especially if you’re of a rather nervous disposition like I am.

But even if I hadn’t been frightened of DANGER!, risk-taking still wouldn’t appeal to me very much, because frankly it just sounds like way too much hard work. And if there is ONE thing in life that frightens the living daylights out of me far more than DANGER!, it is hard work.

And yet…

We all have to get out of bed (some of us a bit more reluctantly than others) and leave the house once in a while. And when you accumulate enough days like that, you are bound to encounter risk.

Sometimes it is well-disguised in a cloak of colourful, foolish, youthful fun; like lying to your parents so that you can have a week-long, unsupervised vacation on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius with your best friend when you are 18 years old.

But beware, for just because it’s dressed in a frivolous costume, it is no less DANGER!ous.

But you needn’t only take my word for it. Remember what Shakespeare said? “A rose is still a rose, even when dressedeth in another cloaketh.”

Oh, wait. That wasn’t quite it. But you get the drifteth.

At other times risk is a bit more obvious; like a fork in the road marked by billboard-sized signs with flashing lights around the edges, clearly showing which side of the road will lead you to DANGER! UNKNOWN PATH TO RISK! NO U-TURN AHEAD!; or SAFETY! ONE-WAY SHORTCUT STRAIGHT TO YOUR OWN FAMILIAR, WARM, COMFORTABLE, WELL-BROKEN IN BED! (In the same font and red, all-caps, and bold print as the other sign, in case you feel like getting argumentative some time in the future - like, say, after you’d fallen flat on your face – and claiming that the words on the sign weren’t legible enough.)

But then, I’ve never been any good with directions, even if the roads are marked with large, clear signs.

Knowing me, I probably thought the split in the road was nothing but a very sharp corner. I’ve never been all that good at math either, so I probably didn’t even realize that I suddenly had more than one winding road to choose from.

Yes, that must’ve been it, because at the age of twenty-two I certainly wasn’t brave or ambitious enough to leave my friends and family in South Africa and immigrate to the United States all by myself.

But I did.

Before you allow yourself to become really impressed with me and award me a Purple Heart* for tremendous displays of risk-taking, there are a few things you should know:

I’m truly the poster child** for how NOT to immigrate.

You see, when I came to the U.S. eight years ago, I discovered that I suddenly had an accent for the first time in my life (because in South Africa I sound like everyone else. Well, mostly. South Africa has eleven official languages, so there are some differences in the way people speak… but that’s a story for another time), and when said accent proved to be quite useful on the dating scene, I promptly decided that I wanted to stay here forever and ever.

So I did. And for a while I became an outlawed alien (“illegal immigrant” is SUCH a harsh term, no?). However, I have since redeemed myself by paying large fines and now I’m in the thrilling but time-consuming (four years and counting), soul-sucking process of filing for a Green Card, which, incidentally, is pink.

And well, here I still am! A bit older and a lot worse for wear, but I’m alive and most days, I’m hopeful that this path I’m on is the correct one, even though it sometimes meanders through long stretches of darkness. The toll on this road is incredibly high, and I often wonder if the price I’m paying (and others are paying on my behalf) is worth it.

The distance between here and South Africa is vast, to say the least, and so I don’t get to see my family all that often. (In fact, I haven’t gone home once since arriving here eight years and three months ago, but they visit me whenever they’re able to.) Needless to say, I miss them more than words can say. And even if there WERE words adequate enough to describe the longing, the heartbreak, and the guilt one feels when missing out on huge chunks of a loved one’s life, I’m pretty sure that I do not have it in my vocabulary.

I’ve certainly stumbled a lot along the way. Sometimes I’m optimistic enough to believe that I’ve fallen just far enough to have grazed the tip of my nose.

Other times I think: “Who are you kidding? You’ve fallen flat on your face. Just admit it, then get up, dust yourself off and try to move on.”

So in reality, this story doesn’t have an outcome yet.

For now, I’m staying on this road, because I’ve come too far to simply turn back now.

Besides, I’m very curious to see where I’ll end up if I keep on going.

* If you do want to give me a prize, could you please give me the Pulitzer instead of a Purple Heart? (No offense to the Purple Heart, of course.) No? Well, how about letting me win a book from Jay then?

** I'd certainly like to be a poster child - I'm definitely childish enough to qualify - but my mug really shouldn't be photographed, let alone enlarged, printed and stuck against the walls at the subway station!


kat said:

so...where does tom cruise fit in? ;-)

perhaps you're not taking as many DANGEROUS! risks now because you've already taken a whopper by coming to the states. i think you're incredibly courageous for sticking it out.

i recently hit a fork in the road and took the scary way. as good as bed feels, it's not enough. sometimes i've just gotta parachute out and see where i land.

wishing you a wonderful road. xoxo

Deb said:

So glad to see this in final form! When I read the first bit you gave me, I certainly wanted to read on - and now I get to. There's something so satisfying about immediate gratification. Good luck with the contest(s)!

Tig said:

Hey Pard! Where's South Africa? ;)

Lilly said:

Right on the nose about green cards being a soul-sucking prospect. I had a roommate from Canada and I would have thought people were exaggerating befor I saw it for myself. Getting works visas may be even worse lifeforce-draining-wise.

Is there a South African community in the States?

Sarah said:

Wife of a fellow poster child for how not to immigrate (in fact we just got the pink card last week)....who also happens to be one of those men who learned the value of his accent early on. Great post! And I love your blog design.

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is a South African girl living in South Africa. That doesn't sound very original, we know, but you might find it remotely interesting when you learn that she has only recently returned to South Africa for the first time after a nine year, one month and two week (non-stop!) stint in the United States where she accidentally became an outlawed alien (also known, especially in immigration circles, as an 'illegal immigrant.' We prefer the term 'outlawed alien' ourselves). During her reversed exile from her homeland, she kept herself occupied by winning this website (but only after shamelessly bribing the judges) and thus being unleashed on the web where she slowly, leisurely became the World's Laziest Blogger; by being a nanny and by attending sci-fi conventions in search of other aliens. In the US, she also made her sailing debut, her international acting debut, tried and failed to learn the piano, and never learned to cook. She is hopelessly addicted to coffee, dogs (especially Labrador Retrievers), how-to books (with a particular fondness for her copy of the Time/Life A - Z Medical Encyclopedia), and she tends to grossly overuse parentheses (we're not kidding) during her attempts at writing, which you may - if you really have masochistic tendencies - subject yourself to by reading the words to the right of this column. If you REALLY and truly STILL want to know more, you can read her C.V. here.
Or you can stalk her send her some love via e-mail at: redsaid[AT]gmail[DOT]com

The Wish List (Because yes, she really does need more how-to books. Honestly!)


  • Sarah : Wife of a fellow poster child for how not to immigrate (in fact we just got the pink card last week)... [go]
  • Lilly : Right on the nose about green cards being a soul-sucking prospect. I had a roommate from Canada and... [go]
  • Tig : Hey Pard! Where's South Africa? ;)... [go]
  • Deb : So glad to see this in final form! When I read the first bit you gave me, I certainly wanted to rea... [go]
  • kat : so...where does tom cruise fit in? ;-) perhaps you're not taking as many DANGEROUS! risks now becau... [go]
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