The Side Hustle Tussle


I went through 45 years without knowing that the black mamba snake was fast. I was comfortable with that lack of knowledge, probably because I didn’t know it. For that matter, I was also quite comfortable not knowing that a thumbnail sized jellyfish called the Irukandji could with a sting deliver me to days of extreme pain, kidney pain, vomiting, and psychological issues such as a “sense of impending doom.”

I don’t know if I’m more frightened of a snake that can make me dead in less than 20 minutes or a jellyfish that can make me relive the 2016 presidential election. Either way, I am not comfortable with any of this.

In general I have found that my side hustle as an ESL coursebook writer is an ideal job. I pitch ideas for articles that I think kids or teens would be interested in and the editors seem to give me the go ahead most of the time. In reality I simply pitch ideas I am interested in reading and it works for the kids too. This is, no doubt, due to the fact that I think like a 13 year old, but have slightly more advanced writing skills and no enforced bedtime.

This month’s articles were inspired by stumbling across a picture of an Irukandji jellyfish, a tiny sea creature which can cause so much misery. I thought “My gosh! The world is filled with monsters!” and then, for some reason, the next thought was “the kids need to hear about these.” So now I am knee deep in scary animal facts and, unsurprisingly, mentally scratching off countries that I will ever visit.  

I learned all sorts of horrific information this weekend. The black mamba can slither up to 12 miles an hour. One bite has enough venom in it to kill a human adult, but, and this is where it gets even better, once it starts biting you, it doesn’t stop. Read that again. Once it starts biting you it does not stop. Saltwater crocodiles is incredibly territorial and should a human swimmer wander into its territory it can kill them in a variety of ways including shattering their skull with a snap off their head or tear them limb from limb with their teeth.

There’s a spider in Brazil called “goliath bird-eater,” which is the “the size of a small puppy.” It’s got claws on its footpads, so when it steps it “sounds like a horse’s hooves.” To be fair, it doesn’t often eat birds, but it easily can. Theoretical or not, it was enough to forever banish the South American continent from possible future travel. How can I be asked to live in a world where spiders are compared to puppies and horses? It doesn’t seem fair.

Last summer I was bitten by my cat. While I’d been bitten by my cat a thousand times, this one was particularly bad. A deep puncture wound into muscle, near a vein, and not cleaned out soon enough. The arm went black and blue and I developed a rash that the doctor treated with antibiotics. On my way home from the doctor that morning I thought “my own house cat has the ability to kill me. What chance do I stand in this world?”

The answer is very little. Of course we are super advanced. We have developed machine guns that can split a hair at 200 years and antivenom and MRI machines, but in nature it only takes being in the wrong place in the wrong time to render us helpless tasty snacks. After all, if you’re attacked by a saltwater crocodile while swimming in the ocean, there’s not a lot that medical technology can do for you at that exact moment. I suppose it can only try to piece you back together afterwards.   

Maybe that’s what has been freaking me out so much – the overwhelming feeling of helplessness. As humans we have spent thousands of years moving away from the conflict-filled and uber-stressful lives of our early ancestors into a secure-ish, quiet-ish, relaxed-ish life of people who have houses and don’t very often have to battle a Saber-toothed tiger with a homemade spear on the way to the metro.

But in some ways, we’re still at the mercy of nature. In the last few months, a virus drove us indoors to seclusion. Scientists warn us that if we don’t shape up environmentally, Coronavirus is just a dry run for what climate change could do to us in two decades. Spending all of our time inside is going to be our reality in a few years. As if the writing on the wall isn’t enough, murder hornets have invaded the U.S. and a locust emergency has been broiling in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. No animal with a stinger needs the word “murder” in its name any more than a spider needs the words “goliath” or “bird-eater” in its name.

The cat, however, is out of the bag. And last night when I went to bed, I fully anticipated a flock of murder hornets to carry a goliath bird-eating spider in through my bedroom window. Or locusts. Or a saltwater crocodile to come out of my toilet.  

Today, as per our daily routine, my cat screamed at me until I opened up the tap for her to drink from. Then I scooped up her poop and fed her. It occurred to me that were I not there she wouldn’t be able to do any of that herself (she has trouble opening the sacks of food). This provided a bit of confident context. Maybe we just need to domesticate saltwater crocodiles. In any event, I am a little nervous about the next article’s fallout: history’s unsolved mysteries.     

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