What Is A Bug Out Bag?

(This post will become part of the Ask an Apocalypse Author series. Credentials are at the end of the post. If you have suggested topics, please leave them in the comments.)

A bug-out bag, or BOB, is a good for anyone to keep around, especially those who live with the strong possibility of natural disaster. The point of a BOB is that in case of emergency, you will just be able to grab your everyday bag and your BOB and go.

Here’s basically what a BOB should contain:

  • Non-perishable snacks (nuts, jerky, hard granola bars)
  • Water bottles
  • A basic first aid kit (including medications you and your family need)
  • Hygiene kit (toothbrush, toothpaste, wet wipes, soap, tampons etc. if needed)
  • Dust masks
  • Space blankets
  • Hand warmers
  • Flashlight (hand-crank or with batteries stored separately)
  • Extra socks and underwear
  • Work gloves
  • Lighter
  • Full-tang camping knife
  • Solar or crank-powered AM/FM radio
  • A small sewing kit (needles, thread, safety pins)
  • Playing cards
  • Notebook, pencils, and sharpener
  • Duct tape
  • Copies of important documents (Birth certificates, insurance, etc.)
  • At least $20 in cash

You can customize as you see fit, but remember that you’re going to have to carry it and you might need to locate something in the kit quickly, so don’t pack for a two-week vacation.

The bag you use to hold it all is up to you, but a water-resistant backpack is generally a good idea. Nothing with a short handle. Rolling luggage isn’t going to work out for you either.

For more guidance, check out this guide from FEMA.

***

The author of these posts in a writer of apocalyptic fiction as well as an experienced woodswoman and avid researcher. She learned to gut fish at age 8, received her orange card (hunter safety cert.) at age 11, and her first compound bow at age 12.

She has worked in state parks and on trailblazing jobs for the conservation corps, as well as in hardware stores and on a landscape maintenance crew (in sub-zero temperatures). She can back a Kubota with a five-foot plow and a six-foot trailer of rock salt into a seven-foot garage bay. On ice.

 

fire

In Case of Fire, Don’t Be Shy

Let me tell you a story.

I used to work as a dog-walker/cat-sitter/chicken-feeder/iguana-nurse. (I signed up for the dog-walking part, and the rest just happened.)

One day, I was walking one of my favorite dogs, Oliver, and saw smoke coming up out of the ground. It had been unusually hot and dry, and the mulch around a tree was slow-burning underground. For a minute, I blanked, patting my pockets like I might have casually put a fire extinguisher in them that morning. No one else was around. The smoke cloud was getting bigger.

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The burn patches were getting bigger when I took this, and smoke was coming out of the ground for 10 square yards.

Now, I’m not shy with my friends, but I do have some stranger anxiety. I hate knocking on doors, making phone calls, that sort of thing. I especially hate intruding on people in their own natural habitat. But no garden hose immediately presented itself, and by the time a fire truck got there, I was worried that the mulch fire would spread and start destroying property in earnest.

So I ran up and down the block knocking on doors until someone answered and brought out some water.

 

This isn’t a story with some new moral. It’s just a point of demonstration, because when we see other people react a certain way, we’re more likely to do the same in the future. Peer pressure is powerful.

If you see a fire, find a way to put it out. If you see a hate group poster, tear it down. If a public space is covered in broken glass and is dangerous, go get a broom and a paper bag. If you see someone being abusive, start recording them, yell, get help. Do the thing that needs doing. People are basically okay and they’ll back you.

 

Seems like a thing we need reminding of sometimes.

Self-Promotion for Indie Authors: Spam Not Included

So, you wrote a book and it’s out in the world now. You don’t have a Big 5 powerhouse shelling out thousands of dollars to market it, and so, in addition to your classy Author hat, you must wear many others; the ink-stained chapeau of the publisher, the bedazzled manic pixie dream bowler of the public personality, and finally, the logo-emblazoned baseball cap of the promoter.

Shoving your own work in front of people’s faces is hard.

I am no marketing professional, but I have some tips from experience, both as a book promoter and a consumer. Here they are.

  1. Sign Up For Everything. Ideally, you want to exist on Amazon, Goodreads, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Snapchat, Bookbub, and anything else you can think of ALL WITH THE SAME USERNAME. Try to check them every day and cross-promote them occasionally. Of course, you also need a website and ideally a blog, which you should post on once a week or so. (Do as I say, not as I do, damn it.)
  2. Connect With People Who Want Your Book. Sorry, but having 50k Twitter followers doesn’t help you if they’re all promotion accounts that only followed you back to up their own follower count. No human on the other end will ever even look at your tweets. You won’t sell books that way; you’ll just look less reputable to anyone who investigates your profile out of genuine interest. Instead, go out and find real people who might be genuinely interested in you. Look for people who like your genre, your personal interests, etc.. Make some new friends.
  3. Spend Your Ad Money Wisely. Some online ads are just a waste. Facebook, for example, doesn’t seem to sell books. Twitter might get a few hits. Goodreads ads are cheaper than dirt, so they might be a good investment if you’re just spending an exploratory $20. Most services that offer “book promotions to thousands of viewers!” are exactly the kind of advertising ouroboros that will do you no good. Bookbub, on the other hand, does actually have a large audience, but it’s not cheap. Ask around to see what various platforms have been like for other authors in your genre.
  4. Nobody Wants Your Spam. You have to advertise, but you don’t have to be obnoxious. Don’t #hashtag #everything #you #do, because while people might check the #SciFi hashtag and see your book (good), nobody checks the #book or #freebook tags. I can prove it; go look at those hashtags on Twitter under the Latest tab. No likes. No comments. Just spam into the void. Likewise, nobody ever sees “#Free #mustread #musthave #western #amreading #amwriting (insert sale link here)” and says to themselves, “Hm, this seems reputable and interesting, I think I’ll buy it.” As a final note, post more than just book links. People lose interest if all you do in advertise to them. I personally set a max of one link, per book, per day, per platform. Don’t forget to tell them what your book is about.
  5. Create Merch And Freebies That People Will Actually Want. Business cards are good, and you should have them, but they are not merch. Even if they’re shaped like a bookmark. You want stuff that people will wear, use, and keep around. Unless you are a band or a beer, nobody wants to wear your name on their shirt or carry it around on their keychain. Cute character art, beautiful cover art, funny quotes, or reading-themed items are much more likely to appeal and persist. See the squeezable hippos for Sarah Gailey’s River of Teeth, the straight-from-the-books stuff from the Discworld Emporium, or even my own “I See Faeries” buttons. Relevant, memorable, and fun, without making anyone feel like a walking billboard. Good times.

I hope this helps, for those of you trying to get the word out about your books without falling into egomaniacal spammer promotional hell. If you have any additional tips, please leave them in the comments.

If You Can Do More

I have been running myself ragged trying to be an activist. It doesn’t take much for me to be exhausted. I’m always sick, always tired, always about to keel over.

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Die-In for Health Care

If you are not these things, do me a personal favor and step up.

I know that able-bodied people have issues, too, but I see a lot of people working well below their potential while I’m injuring myself trying to show up for protests. So I’m asking you to run down this list and see what you can do. I can’t keep hurting myself trying to show up because not enough other people could be bothered. Maybe you can help.

-Register to vote.

-Then VOTE in every election (not just presidential ones). Mark them on your calendar.

-Call, write, send postcards. Online petitions aren’t helpful. They’re just mailing list farms.

-Educate your friends on issues like health care, voting rights, and economics on social media. Make sure your sources are reputable.

-Show up for as many local protests as possible. If you feel like you never know when they’re happening, get connected to some local organizers and look for upcoming events on Facebook or Meetup.

***

Also, a note on the argument that voting only encourages them:

Much as I hate to go against George Carlin on this, here’s how it really works: Voting for the ‘lesser of two evils” moves the Overton Window. If moderate left people keep getting elected, moderate left becomes the new center, making room for far left in the field. If you doubt this, you should note that this has already happened in the opposite direction, which is why the American Left now correlates to the rest of the world’s Centerist.

Yes, voting for a candidate who’s close but not ideal only encourages them. But not voting at all only encourages the opposition.

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I Forgot How Books Work

While struggling to keep laying down words in both Pharos and Epitaph for Everything Else, I realized I had a problem. I’d forgotten how books work.

shamedog
D’oh

The creeping vines of Netflix binges, Twitter rants, news cycles, and medical concerns had completely locked down my mental processes. My attention span suffered. My scope narrowed. My brain was out of shape.

The other night, I rebelled. Picked up a physical book that had been holding down a shelf for far too long (the excellent Updraft by Fran Wilde) and turned off all my screens. Sat down to read. And remembered how books work.

Now, I’ve never been much of a plotter. When I start a book, it’s usually a “what if” that then spirals out of control (and people seem to like that). My outlines look something like this:

  • What if there were decopunk pirates living in an alternate reality where 1920’s New York City was mostly water, like Venice
  • There are now decopunk pirates and their names are Dorothy and Edna
  • (Then some stuff happens)
  • And in the end, they blow up the secret speakeasy in the sealed underwater levels of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel

Until recently, this process worked great for me. What I had lost was my ability to fill in the middle…because I forgot how stories are supposed to be put together. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dusting off the old Hero’s Journey steps (never really worked for me), but I’m getting back to reading more books and remembering how it’s done.

I have no great tying-together line for this blog post, so I’ll leave you with this cat.

readingcat

 

A Grief And A Gift

I recently took a trip back to Vermont for my Grandfather’s memorial service. He was a good man. I miss him. He taught me to fish and to be patient; I still try to use one of those things every day.

While I was there, I saw my cousin for the first time in a long time. And she saw me, trying to push through the day. She contacted me online after I got home to pass on some medical information in case it was helpful…she’s been going through all the same things. Pain, mystery symptoms, long pursuit of diagnosis. She’s a few years older than me, and she’s been living with it a little longer. She finally got her real diagnosis, though. EDS. Ehlers-Danlos. It’s genetic.

So now, I get to go back to my rheumatologist and yell. My official diagnosis has been “fibromyalgia, hypermobility, heart valve dysfunction, B12 deficiency, POTS, etc., etc., etc.,” and doctors telling me that it wasn’t all connected. All of these things are symptoms of EDS, which the rheumatologist said I “probably didn’t have, it’s so rare.” Now that I have an established family history, I have more confidence to self-advocate. And yell. And replace doctors, if necessary.

My reaction to all this? Hell if I can put it into words. There has been a lot of crying and some laughing at the absurdity. It does change my treatment plan going forward, but my doctors can either get on board or get out of my way. As long as I keep my heart function monitored, it’s not likely to kill me anytime soon.

This will hopefully be my last medical blog for a while. I have some closure; Knowing why my body is falling apart means that I can move on to living my life to the best of my somewhat disjointed ability.

See you next time.

New Book Goodies

There are now a few varieties of merchandise available through Zazzle with designs from currently published books. For right now, it’s a basic selection, but there are plans for more in the future. If you have any input on what you’d like to see, let me know in the comments.

Click on these words to see the store, or on any of the pictures below.

SurvivedButton

SeeFaeriesButton

SirenMug

Banging Your Head On Your Desk, And Other Solutions

I’m stuck! Wheee!

 

stuck

 

Okay, but seriously. I’ve got two books on the burner, and I can’t seem to get a fire going under either of them. It happens. You’re chugging along, knocking out a few hundred words a day, and then your country elects a belligerent news-cycle nightmare and suddenly there’s no brainspace left for writing because it feels like the room is on fire. (It’s not just me, is it?)

I’m still laying down a few hundred words a week. Epitaph For Everything Else is finally over 25k long. Pharos has got 18.6k and keeps getting sticky notes added to the idea wall. But I can’t seem to get a good workflow going.

The first-order advice I usually see to fix this is to sit down at your desk at exactly (x) o’clock every day and stay there until (y) whether writing gets done or not. The idea, I think, is that you will get so bored that you’ll do something useful. This would be great advice if my life were not a circus of doctor appointments, sleep-inducing meds, physical therapy, yelling at my government to not get me killed, and trying to maintain a bare minimum of normalcy. I’ve tried the “Butt In Chair, Same Time Every Day” advice several times. And I’ll try it again. But my success rate isn’t good.

What’s next? I’m not sure. A vacation from my life would be helpful, but wherever I go, there too goes my stupid needy body. Cutting down on distractions is good, but selling books means being present on social media, so there’s only so much of that I can withdraw from. I suppose I could cancel my Netflix. If I’m still too tired and achy to write, though, it won’t do much good. I’ll just spend more time in bed reading instead of watching.

If I come up with some magical new mind-diet that works, I’ll keep you posted.

 

P.S. I kind of hate that I just used the word “diet.”

P.P.S. Riots not diets.

Getting the Electric Chair and Living

As most of you know, I have some mobility issues that come with chronic illness. My body is always at a minimum of 2 on the pain scale, hates moving for long stretches, and has a tendency to keel over.

I bought my first cane more than a year ago, and it helps, but on the really bad days, I still had to stay home. I got a flimsy hospital-style manual wheelchair (“for emergencies only,” I told myself) but I wasn’t strong enough to push it far. I also discovered that Manhattan sidewalks tilt dramatically towards the street…which meant they were always trying to dump me and my wheels into traffic.

There are many different stages of denial that come with long physical illness, and this was one of them.

I needed a real wheelchair.

I put it off and put it off. I tried a Razor scooter, but I couldn’t stay on it. I allowed my social activities to continue dwindling, thinking that if I could just save up some energy, I could still do one or two things. I pushed myself to physical limits (and sometimes injuries) to make it to political rallies and marches, thinking this is important, this is worth it.

Then there was the Science March. My friend, who has a power chair for her severe arthritis and other conditions, brought an amazing sign with the accessibility stick-person in a wheelchair zooming along on it. It said “Science Moves Me.”

 

SciMarchGroup
That’s her beside me, far left

 

She was way faster than me. In fact, you’d have to run to keep up with her in that chair. By the end of the march, she was doing all right. I felt like I was dying, nearly falling over on my way off the bus and slogging all the way home. Nobody else seemed to be having trouble. The march wasn’t that long.

She mentioned that I should look into a power chair, which was probably obvious to everyone but me.

So I sat down and had a long think about why I didn’t get one yet.

I could afford one. No one who cared about me would judge me for using it. I just didn’t wanna. It broke down to something like this:

  • I’m not disabled enough. I have two legs and they still kinda work maybe sometimes
  • I know that accessibility in this city sucks and traveling would still be hard
  • Strangers who were weird about the cane would be even more weird
  • I could inconvenience my friends when encountering the dreaded enemy Stairs
  • I would suddenly become very short and I’m not used to that
  • The doorman might give me that awkward sympathy look
  • I hate being disabled
  • No, seriously, I hate it
  • I hate being disabled and I can’t make being disabled feel like fun
  • I hate it
  • I hate it
  • I hate it

So, obviously, we have arrived at the real problem here.

I fought my body over whether or not it was falling apart every step of the way. When I first started getting migraines, I spent more time throwing up than I really had to because I would try to ‘tough it out.’ (For those of you who have never had a migraine, imagine your head exploding…over the course of two or three days. It’s not just a headache. It’s a slow motion gunshot between the eyes, except you survive and get to do it again later.) When I couldn’t physically keep up with friends in college, I developed a caffeine habit to rival Mark Twain’s cigars. Every new symptom that appeared, I would do my best to literally pretend it wasn’t happening.

This only worked until I started losing weight and couldn’t stop. I finally had to quit my day job (working with animals, which I loved). I started seeing doctors. By the time I moved to New York (for better doctors) and saw one who took me seriously, I was 5′ 8″, 103 lbs, and most closely resembled Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas.

 

sally
This is fine.

I finally started getting some help, including vitamin shots, and so of course I went back to trying to pretend I was fine. I’m pretty sure the only thing that finally made me stop was that pretending to be fine is exhausting.

So, over time, I’ve made accommodations for myself. I say that I write full time, but honestly, I write part time and spend the rest of the time trying to hold it together. I got the cane. I got a tiny folding camp chair so that I can sit down at outdoor events without risking my inability to get back up. I shower sitting on the floor of the bathtub. I gave up bras. I walk a little slower. Life is easier. It still ain’t easy, and it never will be, but it was more manageable.

If all of those things made life easier, getting a power wheelchair was only smart. I went to Big Apple Mobility in Times Square and rolled out with one that same day. It had cherry red panels (not my style) and was small enough to turn around in most elevators (definitely my style). The battery runs for 12 miles before needing a charge. It has tiny stash bins under the seat, like twin glove boxes.

It has changed my life.

Even just using it to roll around the house, it means I have to stand up and sit down far fewer times each day. My frequent lightheadedness is now rare, and if I do faint, big deal! I’m already sitting down. It’s nice. Cleaning house has gone from a huge and painful chore to an opportunity to go for a joyride around the apartment.

And then there’s outside. Yes, some of the curb cuts suck. Yes, the subway is practically inaccessible. But I can go to the park without using up a full day of energy. I can march without it feeling like a survival challenge. I can take the bus without dreading the walk I’ll have left when I get off. Groceries? Bring it on. I’ve got a lap AND a backpack. I can roll right over to a doctor or dentist appointment, no worries.

I feel free.

It’s been a while.

 

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The Revolution From Under The Kitchen Sink

I asked Twitter what they wanted to know more about, and the initial overwhelming response was “DIY Resist Tactics.” That’s why I’m writing this blog first.

It can be tough to balance your desire to get a message out with the kind of predatory capitalist consumerism that crops up around any social movement. (You know the kind of thing I’m talking about.) For the record, I encourage you to buy from other indie folks like yourself via Etsy or direct sale at local events. Some of those people have invested in craft supplies to support themselves. (You don’t have to do everything yourself.) But before you impulse-buy a #Resist handbag from a major corporation, think twice. Was is made by ill-treated laborers? Will ten cents of your purchase end up getting donated to anti-choice candidates by the company’s overpaid CEO?

Look, sometimes you gotta buy things that aren’t perfectly ethical. (No ethical consumption under capitalism, blah blah blah.) Sometimes you have to photocopy things at Staples or eat at McDonalds before a march so you don’t faint. It happens. Forgive yourself. But sometimes you can do better, and you should. So here are some tips on making your movement without giving too much of your money to jerks.

NOTE REGARDING LINKS: There are a lot of Amazon links plugged into this to show you what you’re looking for, but most of all or these things can be found at your hardware and/or craft store. Get them there instead, if you can.

 

QUESTION:

Do you want to be an effective communicator, or a fucking punk rocker? Either is valid, and you can be both, but I’m going to divide this up into safe and…possibly significantly less safe sections.

 

If you answered EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATOR:

What you need are messages and messaging tools.

  1. Hone your messages. Study your main issue and memorize the pertinent facts. Get together with friends and educate them, then brainstorm images, words, and actions. This is where everything starts. (If you join an organization like Act Up, NOW, the Democratic Socialists, IWW, Planned Parenthood Action, or similar, they will have done the bulk of this work for you.)
  2.  Install GIMP. Back in the day, I would have told you to buy some letter stencils and markers. While you can still make flyers or signs that way, you can also learn the basics of a program like GIMP and create perfectly good material. Make sure that ever time you create a new image, it’s set to at least 300 DPI (under advanced settings) so it won’t be blurry if you print it out big.
  3. Make your own shirts. There are SO MANY ways to do this, but I’ll point out a few options: puff paint, household bleach, iron-ons, and good old-fashion marker. (They even make a Sharpie just for fabric now.) Remember to start with a cotton or mostly cotton shirt.
  4. Invest in a screenprinting kit. Only one member of your friend group really needs one, but maybe that member is you. Good for shirts, posters, banners, etc., and you can get artsy with it. If you’re going to run to the copy shop more than once or twice a year, it’s better to just DIY it.
  5. Turn paper into stickers, and posters into giant stickers, with wheatpaste. Remember to use it ASAP after you make it or it gets funky.
  6. Sidewalk Chalk is also your friend. Invite some friends to join you. Make a party of it. Leave popular Resist tags all over town. Chalk out #NoBanNoRaidNoWall in front of City Hall.
  7. Start a zine. Get collaborators online. Crowdfund your mailing costs.
  8. Anyone can make pussyhats, and they don’t have to be pink. Crocheting is literally one hook, one big ball of yarn, and a little patience. The Pussyhat Project has patterns, but basically, the hat is a big rectangle folded in half. You can do it. If you learn to knit or crochet, it’s also super easy to make things like pride-color bookmarks or even face masks.
  9. Take over your neighborhood. Take your posters, your event fliers, your stickers, and GO OUTSIDE. I know, it feels much easier to get the word out online, but it is not the same as existing in your public space. If you want online impact, put a hashtag on your media (#DIYResist, if you can’t think of anything else), but sooner or later, you have to take your activism outside. The most effective activism is intersectional, memorable, and PUBLIC.

 

If you’d rather be PUNK ROCK AS HELL:

You did not hear any of this from me, and I officially do not recommend doing most of it.

  1. First, the obvious: Steal from work. Or someone else’s work. Fuck paying Staples to photocopy a hundred fliers for you. Also, there may be snacks.
  2. If you’re broke, it is totally possible to tattoo yourself. Do your research first, and don’t get too drunk beforehand. If you do get too drunk, make your friend do it. DO NOT share needles, I don’t care how sterile you think you made it. If you wanna get a little more official than a sewing needle and a piece of string, someone has started selling DIY kits. Don’t use cheap pen ink. India ink is fine. It’s gonna hurt.
  3. There are ways to make sure that your public messages stick. Spray paint is well and good, but nothing beats a serious epoxy or etched glass. (Disclaimer ThisBlogDoesNotCondoneDefacingOtherPeoplesProperty, blah blah blah.)
  4. Likewise, go prepared to remove hate. Sharpie beats sticker. Hand sanitizer beats Sharpie. If some idiot kid in your neighborhood thinks he wants to be a nazi when he grows up, wipe his graffiti from the face of the earth.
  5. Parody everything, as offensively as possible. I used to have a D.A.R.E parody shirt that said P.U.N.K: Keeping Kids On The Streets. It was my fucking favorite, but it was tame compared to stuff I would encounter later. Go after their sacred whatevers. Dream big. (That said, don’t punch down. “Drumph is fat” is not a joke, it’s a fucking sad commentary on what we criticize as a society.)
  6. Learn your local laws so you can know when and how you’re gonna break them, and be prepared. See especially: mask laws, nudity laws, nuisance laws, graffiti laws. You’re out to be a pain in the ass, but be a prepared pain in the ass. They hate that.
  7.  Find and share the media. Introduce your friends who loved Sum 41 back in the day to Bad Religion and AntiFlag. Give your kissfriend a RiotGrrrl book for their birthday. Read banned books out loud in the park. Most of the stuff in the Anarchist Cookbook is obsolete, but we gotta remember those who kicked ass before us. (If you click that link, you have to promise me that you will not use any info you find there to hurt any living thing. Anarchy is a fundamentally self-defeating system and if you think otherwise, you are welcome to exit my blog.)
  8. Learn the many uses of bandanas; face mask, bindlebag, flag. And remember: Don’t go buy a fucking ten pack from Hobby Lobby, just hit a thrift store and cut up some old shirts.
  9. First, do no harm…then, take any radical, unapproved leap that makes sense to you to save the fucking world.