When I first moved to Southern Iowa I found myself devouring stacks of musty self defense books for some reason, and they surely must have effected how I approached my new barren home. The town was a little under 2000 people when college was in session, much emptier during breaks, when professors and students alike fled. The town was considered a big metropolis in comparison to all the other nearby cities, but it still didn’t have any traffic lights, and not many street lights, so it was exceptionally dark in the winter months.
I started reading these survival books even before I got offered the job there.
Just out of grad school , I was treading water – adjuncting drawing and design classes, the job market incredibly bleak – even in bustling cities. I was waiting for the dude I was living with to graduate, temping depressing office jobs, teaching workshops, trying to make and show art, sending out CV’s and portfolios to various teaching positions at different universities. You know, the whole grind of the hustle. In between that and constantly fighting with my boyfriend, I found my self applying to college teaching jobs regardless of their pay, work load or location.
I first started flipping through an odd little book at a dingy Chinese food restaurant just across the street to the art department and Museum . The food wasn’t so good, but it didn’t have to be – it was cheap, greasy, and alluring the drunk students who nested in the nearby bars. The elderly lady at the front took a liking to me, as I was a frequent costumer there as a student, and she often piled the noodles onto my plate a little too enthusiastically. She knew I was a vegetarian, but would frequently sneak a small piece of meat buried under the noodles, like a secret gift – as if I were getting vegetables only because I couldn’t afford raw food. It was sweet, but also a little gross.
The book I found had been discarded, pages bent, tattered. It was called “the gift of fear”. It was a book on trusting your intuition, and being vigilant against those who planned to assault or attack you. The main thesis of the book was that if you have a “gut” visceral feeling about someone, it is usually based on actual evidence you have noticed and put together faster than conscious logic. We usually try and ignore I remember it explaining how “charming” wasn’t a passive adjective but a verb. If you want to say someone is “charming” what you are saying is – this person is trying to charm me for some reason. A large part of the book detailed how to spot signals that someone at your job who is most likely to commit workplace violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior. I found myself thinking about this list while temping, and especially while attending art department meetings.
Another book that made it’s way to my reading list was called “Kill or be Killed”. It was a lot more extreme. it offered sage advice such as do not own a gun if you are not willing to shoot someone with it, as you will just be providing them with a murder weapon. It also advised that if someone tried to car jack you, do anything in your power to not go to a second location, because that is where they plan to kill you. It advised that if you are driving to steer your car into the other lane of traffic. The car wreck will involve other people, and create public chaos. I thought a lot of the advise was dubious for sure, but couldn’t stop reading, especially as the move to Iowa got closer.