Earlier this week, I started sharing the story of how I spent a fair portion of my childhood trying to combat a phobia of power lines. After having daily nightmares about falling electrical lines and facing the task of walking to and from middle school every day, I started researching the what and the how of power lines.
I learned which lines carried electricity and which ones carried more innocuous signals, like telephone and cable. After learning a few things about electricity and its transmission, I gained a small sense of control over the otherwise uncontrollable black wires strung above my head.
The more I researched, the more my fear transformed into fascination.
By high school, I was hiking on what I’d affectionately termed “power line trails” that run up and down the hills near my parents’ house. High-voltage lines ran from a substation at the bottom of the hill up to the hilltop, and then down into the next valley over.
The rocky gravel beneath the power lines, once used to truck the lines and their supporting pylons up to the top of the hill, made for an ideal walking path. While hiking, I could look up at the lines, count the insulators, and throw out voltage guesses. And at the top of the hill? A gorgeous view of the valley as my reward.
In my 11th-grade graphic arts class, I created a silk-screen print of a pylon with power lines attached. I made a few t-shirts with this print for both myself and for friends. And, I took rolls and rolls of power line-themed photos.
Hell, I even wrote poetry about electricity (and the mains hum pitch) that was published in my high school’s literary mag, Interim:
the buzzing of electric,
man-made, steel cages in
scattered locations around town –
power! they scream in G sharp…
Through time and through research, I’d transformed power lines from a phobia source to a thing of beauty. We can easily analyze this in terms of control: when the power line fell in front of my house in second grade, I had no control over it. I knew power lines were dangerous, but I didn’t know the details. I didn’t know how they behaved. I didn’t know that the line could snake or catch the grass on fire. I didn’t know how to best protect myself.
But as I grew older and I learned more about the object of my fear, I gained a sense of control. While it’s clearly impossible to prevent a power line from falling, my sense of control instead came from knowing what to do if a power line did fall.
It came from knowing what to do if a friend was being electrocuted. It came from knowing a thing or two about why those wires are strung up along poles, extending on into the vast horizon, and from appreciating the almost numinous way they connect people to one another.
I had control over the words I wrote. I had control over the photos I took.