If Rules Don’t Apply When Civilization is Intact, Then What Happens When…

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In our society, the veil of civilization is at times peeled back to show the fine line between what constitutes ‘civilization’ and utter chaos. Apparently, laws really are optional, and pleas for forbearance on behaviors must only apply to a minority of people.

One area where I’ve noticed this in recent months is in the midst of doing outdoor activities. Of course, on the trip to and from locations, I see an incredible number of drivers talking on cell phones and texting, despite it being against the law.

The first example was during a day hike at Cunningham State Park. There’s a trail that leads to falls. I hadn’t been there in a long time, so the built-up trail that ended with a platform area for viewing the falls was new to me. Posted signs state that you need to say off the area around the falls, and one stated that it’s a delicate environmental area. That didn’t stop the horde of people who were on the outside of this decking platform, frolicking in the water after tromping through that sensitive environmental area. One man, who was carrying a baby, could barely gain foot-purchase on the slippery rocks. It was mind-boggling, the number of people looking for ways to circumvent the guided trail in order to get to the water. The rules didn’t apply to them. Delicate environmental areas are a concern for someone else—not to be a hindrance to their wants.

The second example was during another hike at Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area, there is a prominent sign at one of the trailheads that states bicycles are prohibited. I was walking on the trail, zoned out in a nice, nature-induced meditative state, when I was shocked out of it by someone behind me saying, “Excuse me.” It was a guy on a mountain bike. The rule didn’t apply to him. Or maybe he justified it as he rides a “bike” and not a “bicycle,” if you’d like to twist yourself into a knot to give the benefit of the doubt. (In which case, he should have had a guardian accompanying him since he can’t navigate the real world and understand meaning.)

The third example was during a kayaking jaunt at an area that’s a proposed national marine sanctuary in the Potomac River: the Ghost Fleet of Mallows Bay. These are scuttled ships dating back to World War I. It’s a historic site, and there are signs requesting that people stay off the shipwrecks. However, two boaters had pulled up into the exposed back of one and climbed aboard to set up a tripod—scaring off the osprey nesting there—and take cheeky selfies. Rules—and respect for something historic that can’t be replaced—did not apply to them.

It’s a challenge to not get disgusted with all people, based on the actions of the few. (Actually, at the Falls, it was the masses scrambling all over the sensitive area–the few were on the built-up pathway.) And because my mind bends in that what-if direction, it’s even more of a challenge to not extrapolate out to a wider context with higher stakes. What if the SHTF (“stuff” hit the fan) and it was more than delicate environmental and historic sites at stake? One would hope people wouldn’t be so glib about following the rules that are in place for the common good.

Expect the best, until proven different? Or be prepared for the worst, and pleasantly surprised should you see the best? I’m hanging onto hope should we ever find ourselves in the midst of an apocalypse.

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Soft… with Potential

DSCN0596Over a period of six weeks, I watched “The Island,” a survivor-style show hosted by Bear Grylls. It’s always fun to read the comments section of sites like Hulu.com for the array of snark, humor, and armchair analysis. One recurring complaint was that the show had some scripted material. Also, I couldn’t help but agree with some viewers’ remarks that the men seemed somewhat unprepared, while others commented that the participants seemed downright soft. The purpose of being going to the deserted island was for the men to test their capabilities when cut off from the modern essentials, reaching deep for a different type of hunter-gatherer roots than what is used in the bustle of modern society.

Unlike some Hulu commenters, I have a hard time pointing out someone else’s pillowiness when I have become quite soft myself. Last week I suffered a slight meltdown when my internet and phone service went down for a few hours, interfering with my ability to work. Then—same day—the water pressure pump went, and I had no running water until the following day. By that point, I had regained phone service, experienced one last hiccup with the internet, and still had electricity, so the “hardship” was minimal. And while I was inconvenienced, the time frame was less than 24 hours of hassle. Luckily, I didn’t have to search an island for a fresh water source or boil my water to kill pathogens.

It’s part of that modern society handshake deal I recently touched on. But while I wrestled with the autopilot habits we’re accustomed to, such as flushing the toilet and turning on the faucet to wash my hands, I also found that my brain was already thinking of means for adapting to the situation. For example, running a dehumidifier fills the reservoir with the water pulled from the air. Voilà: a source of water to fill the toilet tank after lifting the interior apparatus just enough for a manual flush.

So, deep beneath my civilized layer I’m soft-with-potential when it comes to adapting. A little toughening is a current pet project—no deserted island required.

I’ll be co-presenting a workshop at the Mid-Atlantic Fiction Writers Institute Conference on Saturday, August 8th. Here are details for the MAWFI Conference:

Website: www.mafwi.org

Facebook: www.facebook.com/mafwihcc

Twitter: @mafwihcc

 

Don’t Let Creativity Die with the Wrong Writers’ Conference

For writers attending a writer’s conference, there are very high hopes about learning new things, meeting new people, and gaining that extra spark of motivation. Sometimes, those hopes go unfulfilled.

Waterfront Writers

STOPNEGATIVITYWriters’ conferences are important for new and seasoned writers trying to find their way. You invest with time and money, hoping for inspiration to keep you going. This is a conversation about how the wrong conference can affect your productivity—throw off your writing and dampen your spirit.

S: So, we’ve got that conference coming up—Bay to Ocean—end of February.

D: Yes, and I know we’re both hoping for great things.

S: Especially after that one we attended last April…

D: Dare we name it?

S: Yes, I think we should.

D & S: Conversations and Connections.

S: What was the one thing you learned at the conference?

D: Um, what NOT to do? How about you?

S: I learned how to insult writers who are better, more accredited than me.

D: That’s a very useful skill!

S: I especially want to talk about the first panel session we attended: Faking…

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Drawn to the Dark and Creepy

DSC_0634When I was a younger smart-alek, I used to flippantly tell my mom in response to her fears for my safety, “I’m growing up in the house of Chicken Little.”

In case you never heard of Chicken Little, he was the star of his own story: a little chicken who was… chicken. Everything was a potentially disastrous situation, and he was chock full of fear and foreboding. The one refrain he repeated was “The sky is falling!” which has since moved into common culture.

I would chirp that phrase when my every planned move was met with a rundown of all the disasters that could befall me.

Me: “I want to walk up to the store.”

Mom’s face stretches into a mask of horror: “Not by yourself! Some pervert could force you into his van and no one would ever know what happened to you. You should go with a friend.”

Me: “I am going with a friend.”

Mom: “Just you and your friend? Why, they snatch up girls walking together, too. Didn’t you hear about…”

Or, it could be something like a truck’s failed brakes just as I’m crossing the intersection that could carry me out of this world, or some other hypothetical situation. But guaranteed, the scenarios were always grim. Of course, there was truth in these fears, and I’ll give some latitude here. It’s not until you have a kid or become close to your tiny relatives that you really understand–in vivid, nightmarish detail–just how dangerous the world can become in a nano-blink.

My mom inherited her chicken-little thinking from her mom–a serious pro at it. Whenever we told Grandma about an upcoming vacation we had planned, she would ask where to. No matter where we were headed, she would inevitably say, “I just heard on the news…” and then fill in the blank with some catastrophe or strange happening. Tsunamis in Dubuque, Iowa. Forest fires in Daytona Beach. Mountain lion attacks in Charleston, South Carolina. UFO sightings in Dismal Swamp.

I’m not sure what radio station she listened to for news, but it was with a cloud that we’d leave on vacation, knowing Grandma wouldn’t rest easy until our return.

So, I was raised on a diet of the potentially dark and creepy. Because let’s face it, underneath our veneer of civilization and social interconnectedness, there’s a web of the stuff to ensnare us if we’re not careful.

If you have a leaning toward the dark and creepy, please visit a collaborative project I’m involved in at www.waterfrontwriters.com. Our Two Weeks to Rites is featured, and we try to post a chapter a week. We’ll continue to do so, unless of course the UFO’s from Dismal Swamp snatch us up for special alien scientific testing…

The Number One, Must-Have Survivalist Tool

Doomsday Housing Plan / Image courtesy of Duron123 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Doomsday Housing Plan / Image courtesy of Duron123 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I attended a Preparedness & Survival Expo in August.  One excellent speaker, Jay Blevins, who has been featured on National Geographic Channel’s “Doomsday Preppers,” talked about the 6 foundational aspects of prepping. At the top of the survival list?

Having the proper mindset.

This means having the will to survive, even when things get downright ugly, insecure and uncomfortable–and in the event of a ‘doomsday’ scenario, they inevitably will.  Having a strong mindset allows you to handle being outside of your comfort zone and losing your creature comforts.  That’s not a bad life skill to have for just everyday scenarios that can be their own scaled-down, personal version of doomsday, such as job loss.

I know I’ve gone soft in terms of handling anything outside of my comfort zone.  I’ve been running my writing consulting business by day, and working on my own writing on the side, including a collaborative effort at the Waterfront Writers website.  I’ve noticed that the outdoors features prominently in my stories.  Maybe that’s because lately, my outdoors pursuits have fallen by the wayside, and I feel the lack of connection with nature in my life and that sense you get of being able to find your way if needed.  In my comfortable world, this present shifting of priorities has been a good thing on the one hand, but also a mini-trauma–one I can luckily undo by shifting priorities around a bit so I can re-connect to the outdoors.

One thing I used to do to get out of my comfort zone is to go camping.  I didn’t go camping this year–and I realize that isn’t sufficient preparation for having a survivalist mindset when it’s only car camping.  But there was no way I was going to get my son to backpack, so I was always happy to just get the little gamer that far out of reach of a game console.  I have, however, had survivalist scenarios occur while car camping, such as camping next to neighbors where I wasn’t sure about their survival prospects after I’d listened to hours of their noisy shenanigans well into the night.  But I digress…

In a doomsday scenario, you may have only the bug-out pack on your back, and the only fire pit and picnic bench at your disposal will be what you create out of what you find.  And with that, you’ll need a mindset that accepts the situation and flows with it.

Car camping does serve to take me out of my self-created bubble world and remind me that I still have a lot to learn about self-reliance–and that means above and beyond earning a living.  My mindset is just fine for the daily dramas of life.  But you can always be mentally stronger, and it’s an area I want to explore more in-depth.

But not tonight.  I need a hot bath, a steaming cup of tea and then a little television.

How about you: do you feel you’d be mentally prepared should complete chaos and anarchy occur? Leave a comment! And if you don’t mind, go take a look at the website I’m collaborating on – we have four chapters posted for our new web series.  Help me justify my ‘gone soft’ condition on the Waterfront Writers