Do You Know When You’re Being Watched?

urban woods

In the woods, hiking alone, I often suffer from attacks of scopaesthesia.

Also known as the “psychic staring effect,” scopaesthesia is the twenty-five-cent word for the sensation that comes over you of being watched but not something your vision has picked up. For example, having the prickly feeling of someone’s eyes on you, causing you to turn and scan to see who it is.

Oh yeah, there are some hikes where I get it bad. When the feeling comes over me, it’s all I can do not to start running blindly. But then I visualize myself tripping on a tree root and all of the squirrels and birds and crickets laughing at my expense. That usually snaps me out of it—along with a long, lingering scan of my surroundings.

But what if there’s more out there than just squirrels… birds… crickets…

Some contentious theories have been expounded and actual experiments conducted to measure what turns out to be an elusive answer as to what, exactly, is responsible for experiencing that knowing.

We have a gaze detection system that makes us sensitive to the positioning of others’ eyes. Also, our eyes differ from animals in that our gaze is more easily detectable: think about the amount of white around our eyes when compared to a cat or a bird, for example. For humans, the white is considered a benefit because it helps us to communicate. But for a predator? They want to blend…

Some skeptics don’t believe that the “knowing” you’re being watched is anything more than capturing some sort of tip-off picked up by our peripheral vision. What that doesn’t account for is the feeling that comes from behind you. Some believe it has to do with a sense at the cellular level—a quantum effect. Researchers have devised tests—some in search of a legitimate answer, others simply to debunk the whole idea altogether.

One center created an experiment that began in 1995, “Do you have eyes in the back of the head?” A whole lot of statistical numbers later, there is evidence supporting that people aren’t imagining that sense of uneasiness they get and urge to turn around to see who or what is watching them.

Regardless of what science can prove or not prove at this point in time, go into the woods. When you feel like you’re being watched, just ignore that feeling and keep on your journey.

And if you find you can’t ignore it, that your body hair is standing on end and tingling like so many Spidey-senses, and your curiosity is just burning and you need to know… Stop. Don’t turn around. Wonder a moment if you’re about to be ambushed. Leave your senses open to someone’s—or something’s—approach. Wait and see if anything happens.

I dare you.

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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.

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

 

WIP Blog Tour

1) What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or a historic person?
Naomi is a fictional character going through the motions of living her life, when the collective life everyone has known disappears over the course of a few days.

2) When and where is the story set?
The story is set in present day during the last days of summer on the eve of a deadly hurricane and what appears to be a multi-pronged terrorist strike. It takes place mostly in the Annapolis region and shows how people respond to something catastrophic that the vast majority are not prepared for—being self-sufficient.

3) What should we know about him/her?
Naomi Chassen has modern-day anxieties that stem from work and relationships. When she finally has all the reason in the world to be anxious, she actually finds her strength—as the worst is happening and she’s dealing with it, learning to think quickly and react rather than wasting time overly worrying about all potential outcomes.

4) What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?
The main conflict is at first Man versus Nature, and then Man against Man in an apocalyptic setting, with people making decisions on how to handle survival: work together as a collective or find a way to profit from the situation. In particular, one person is hell-bent on stymying the town’s efforts to hold things together—targeting Naomi.

5) What is the personal goal of the character?
Naomi’s personal goal is to survive and try to help others do the same, especially a little boy—a stranger’s child—who has come under her care due to a need she sees and steps up to handle, while balancing the creation of an interdependent unit with her friend and her boyfriend as they strive to manage being blockaded in their area, unable to escape, the effects of a biological attack heading their way and civic order beginning to break down. The situation becomes dire as a mentally unbalanced man fixates on Naomi and begins to blame her for his own situation.

6) Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?
The title is Edge of Undoing, and I blog about related topics HERE.

7) When can we expect the book to be published?
The novel is moving into the revision stage, so 2015 is the goal for publication.

Failure of Imagination

 

Image courtesy of antpkr / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of antpkr / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As part of my research for a book I’m writing, I am reading “The Great Deluge,” by Douglas Brinkley. I’ve actually been reading this book for some time, taking it in small bites for a multitude of reasons. One of those reasons is that it will serve as material for just a section of my book, so I don’t need to complete it within any particular time frame or bump other reading material to accommodate it. A second very big reason is that I can’t read it too close to bedtime, when I normally do the bulk of my reading, because it’s highly likely to give me nightmares.

 

The book is an incredibly precise accounting of the lead-up to the storm and its aftermath. Anyone near a television during those days who watched from safety outside of the storm’s devastation no doubt can still recall the searing images of a city devastated, many of its people stranded and losing hopeif not their lives. Brinkley, a consummate historian, tells the story with the in-depth parsing of events that only a skilled historian can achieve, while also weaving a story that draws you into its grip from the first paragraph of the first chapter.

 

A lot of blame was slung around after Katrina had moved on, and much of it rightfully so. What I can’t help but conclude—and the book makes starkly evident—is that a failure of imagination was one of the greatest underpinnings to the human consequences of this disaster. Sometimes we forget that true horror lies not just in books and movies. Or maybe we want to forget, which is why we ignore our imaginations, allowing them to fail at the very time when life—potentially our own as well as othersmay depend on it.

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

Prepping… What’s So Funny?

 

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I attended the Mid-Atlantic Emergency Preparedness and Survival Expo over the weekend. I’ve read many articles and online comments about preppers, and there are a few common reactions: respect, a knowing wink, or an outright insult and dismissal as a bunch of crackpots.

It may be the use of the term “doomsday.” It has Hollywoodesque connotations of unreality. Or, maybe it’s the seemingly excessive lengths that some preppers go that may induce eye-rolling, such as the building of bunkers. It’s too easy to look at recent history, when folks in the 50’s built nuclear fallout shelters, and judge them as excessive because we know nothing happened to require their use. So anyone building a shelter or bunker today is seen as over the top because there is seemingly nothing to warrant such extravagance.

Who’s to say? Just because something hasn’t happened doesn’t mean it won’t, but it’s all a matter of personal taste.

While any pursuit can be taken to an extreme, learning skills that promote independence and the ability to take care of yourself and your loved ones is inherently a good thing. I don’t think you need to throw the baby out with the bath water and cut all ties to society. We are still social creatures, and working together to prevent “doomsday” scenarios from occurring still makes sense.

Besides, it’s all fun and games and mockery until the unexpected hits. It doesn’t have to be a complete collapse. How many people have experienced the inconvenience of a power outage? I can’t get water from my well when the power is out–talk about feeling helpless. It takes little inconveniences like that to make you realize… I’m really dependent on a system that when it works, great. But ask the people who lived through Hurricane Katrina what the system was like there. Can anyone forget the people stranded without drinking water?

My favorite snarky comments I see with prepper-related articles (isn’t the comment section one of the liveliest bits of any article?) are those that say, “I’ll just go take a prepper’s stuff if need be.” If that isn’t a classic case of entitlement, I don’t know what else would qualify. The funny thing is, the commenter probably relies on GPS and wouldn’t be able to find a prepper, so maybe they’d better think of putting some gallons of water by instead of thinking they’re going to turn into Mad Max. Better to focus on developing Mad Skills, baby.

The speakers at the Expo were a diverse group with a range of background experience. It was with passion that they shared their knowledge. Some might look askance at the fact that they each had something to sell. I can’t fault anyone for packaging their knowledge or creating products and selling them. It’s still the American way. And, it didn’t seem like anyone was trying to bilk the crowd or getting rich off their endeavors. People plunk down money for things of far less value, and anyone willing to pay for knowledge or practical products has probably made a wise investment.

I took pages of notes and look forward to sharing tidbits over the coming weeks. But first, what do you think about the prepper ‘movement’? Folly, or foresight?

Self-Reliance

The East Coast was slammed by Hurricane Sandy a week ago. I am most fortunate that my area dodged that destructive weather system. Seeing people struggle in the aftermath is heartbreaking, the pictures and stories of devastation shudder-inducing and a prayer that “there but for the grace of God go I…” (Not that weather systems are hurled at us by a higher power.)

It made me think about self-reliance and just how well I can pull it off. Sure, I can manage with the help of our society’s benefits such as electricity, 24-hour grocery stores and a working car. Take all of that away, and what are my capabilities?

It’s a question that weighs a bit on my mind. But it is one that deserves an honest answer–and no doubt, some remedial learning.