Waiting Blows Big Time

If you know me at all, you know I’m sort of all about handstands. Someday I want to be a seventy five year-old lady in a bikini on a beach somewhere, popping into a handstand and having all the locals freak out because all that skin is suddenly sagging in the wrong direction. I want to be a badass grandma. The ones my kids are mortified by but their kids think is supremely awesome.

I hurt my shoulder eleven months ago (rock climbing) and haven’t been able to do handstands. I did physical therapy and even got an injection into the damn thing and now it finally feels pretty good. However, on the day my physical therapist signed me out she wrote a date on a piece of paper: July 4th. “No handstands until then,” she told me. I have to be pain free doing everything: yoga, dancing in my undies, flipping pancakes, flipping motorists the bird, whatever. And even after that, after nothing hurts me at all, I still have to wait. July 4th.

Waiting blows big time.

Before this happened, my goal was to be strong enough to press into a handstand like my 50 pound niece does in gymnastics. I do not weigh 50 pounds, however, and so I need big muscles to press into a handstand, and a lot of core strength, and fearlessness, and a bunch of other stuff including two good shoulders.

So I am waiting, and building strength, and doing other things that I think will make me ready when Independence Day rolls around and I finally kick up my feet and pray that my arms don’t break.

In related news, I finished a book. Let’s call it draft three of said book, even though the first 25% was written in hundreds of drafts before I finally had a good enough idea of what was going to happen that I could rough outline the rest. I wrote the book. I read it and fixed what I knew was wrong with it. I sent that second draft to my corps of beta readers, and then the waiting began. After they got me their feedback and I fixed what needed to be fixed, I sent it to my agent, and now am waiting for her feedback. And once we get it in its party clothes and plumped and primped enough for company so that it can go on submission, that’s when the real waiting begins.

Usually this is where I would start writing another book, but I don’t have anything to write. It’s out there in the ether somewhere, waiting to say howdy, but it hasn’t yet. And so I have been reading. A lot. I am living inside other writers’ books, analyzing how they structure their stories, let their characters speak, how they make me feel things. All the strange and wonderful approaches they can take to crafting a story.

I am trying to learn something from every one of them. I am doing what I think will make me ready once it’s time to start writing.

And when my next story says howdy I will kick up my feet and write and hope my arms don’t break. But if my heart breaks a little, that will be okay. I will know I’m on the right track.

Zombies and Why We Need Them

The Walking Dead is back after its half-season break, and not a moment too soon. I needed to see some guts hanging out from beneath an emaciated rib cage. And also, that guy with the W on his forehead needed to die. He had a change of heart? I call Bulls**t.

What does this have to do with quicksand? I’m glad you asked.

If you were born in the fifties or sixties or seventies, you were afraid of quicksand. It was in our sandboxes ready to devour our GI Joe dolls. It was in our movies. It was in our language. Quicksand was referenced in speeches about Vietnam and civil rights as a metaphor for being hopelessly ensnared.

Kids growing up today don’t think quicksand is scary at all. It’s disappeared from movies, TV shows, and popular culture. Foreign entanglements are referred to as “quagmires” instead of “quicksand.”

Quicksand had its peak in the 1960s, then fell off, then finally became the stuff of jokes. A cliche. (There’s a great Radiolab on the subject and I urge you check it out, plus all their other podcasts, because: fascinating.)

Why isn’t quicksand scary anymore? Why was it scary then?

To quote the Radiolab discussion: the 1960s were the era of exploration; the era of Vietnam. Maybe quicksand reflected people’s anxiety about becoming hopelessly entangled. After all, some of our endeavors were situations we potentially couldn’t extricate ourselves from. A foreign war. The moon.

Interesting.

So that got me thinking about zombies.

Zombies are huge now. They’ve been part of popular culture for a while, but they have exploded in the past decade.

Number of zombie films by decade (based on a Wikipedia list):

  • 1960s – 13
  • 1970s – 25
  • 1980s – 58
  • 1990s – 34
  • 2000s – 171

Three-and-a-half years into our current decade, we stand at 64, putting us on pace for 182.

The year 2003 brought The Walking Dead comic, soon to be followed by books such as The Zombie Survival Guide, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, Breathers, The Passage, and so many more. And of course, there’s The Walking Dead television series, which is popular one not only because of the zombies, but because the characters represent the many ways we cope with adversity. And because it’s great. But that’s another blog post.

So, what do zombies represent? What cultural anxiety do they tap?

They are relentless, numerous, and have a deep-seated need to kill us. They are virtually programmed to kill us. They will do so at their own peril with no thought for self-preservation. They cannot be reasoned with. They are nearly unkillable.

They are terrorism.

Is it no wonder zombie movies spiked after 2001? Forces we cannot reason with aim for our (American/European) destruction. And like the creatures we put in our movies, if one is eliminated, a dozen are ready to take his place.

Zombies are a metaphor that have become be so deeply rooted that they are now an archetype.

For anyone unfamiliar, an archetype is a recurring symbol in a culture, and it’s in our nature to make them, because we seek patterns and try to categorize our world. So for all our loves, desires and fears, humans construct archetypes. Some resonate across cultural borders.

Using archetypes, we tell ourselves stories about our fears or desires or passions. I think this is why some people say that there are no original stories. But I disagree.

Granted, we may have a limited number of archetypes, and therefore metaphors. And stories are told with metaphor. But even if we have a limited vocabulary, there are nearly limitless ways to combine and rearrange the words we own.

Therefore, despite the limited metaphors at our fingertips, there is no shortage of original stories. One hero’s journey may speak to me, another may not. Anyone who has tried to write a novel knows that the number of choices to make can be overwhelming. And each choice can result in an entirely different story.

I think there are as many original stories as there are human experiences. Which means at least one for every human on the planet, plus those that came before us and those yet to be. There are a million ways to tell the story of an irrational foe whose only thought and purpose is our destruction.

Maybe in a few years the landscape will shift and terrorism won’t be in our cultural consciousness. Maybe then zombie stories will seem silly, just like quicksand. I hope so.

But I’ll miss the zombies.

The Apocalypse, Averted by a Thought Experiment

I feel it is my sorta-sacred duty to check out the most useful and awe-inspiring corners of the websphere.

So when my son told me about a website where real math and real science are used to calculate things like the relative force-wattage outputs of Yoda, the Emperor, and Luke Skywalker, I had to check it out.

It is called what-if.xkcd.com and it is precisely as awesome as it sounds. Not only informative, but funny, packed with gems like: The Earth rotates[citation needed], as well as excellent line-drawing art.

whatif1

Go immediately and find the answers to all your burning questions, such as:

  • If the earth was a bowling ball, how big would the finger holes be?
  • How likely is a robot apocalypse?
  • If you went outside and lay down on your back with your mouth open, how long would you have to wait until a bird pooped in it?
  • How massive would a mole of actual moles be?

I learned many things, including the fact that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration gets the following question so often that the government has issued a formal statement on the subject: Could you detonate a nuclear weapon in the eye of a hurricane to dissipate its force?

Luckily, the answer is a resounding no. So Floridians, stop trolling the internet for uranium.

My favorite, however, is the answer to a question that has plagued me since I was scraping the filling out of my Oreos with the only four teeth I owned.

What would happen if all the people on earth stood in one place and jumped at the same time?

As it turns out, we all fit in the state of Rhode Island. But alas, our combined jumping has no effect on the earth, because it outweighs us by a factor of ten trillion. However, the earth’s infrastructure collapses because everyone who should be maintaining it is in Rhode Island. The escaping masses are in chaos. Social hierarchies are upturned. Looting and violence are the order of the day and within weeks, Rhode Island is a graveyard for billions.

So now we know. Bad idea[citation needed].