February 22nd, 2019


I have no post-apocalyptic life skills

Gina Barreca

By Gina Barreca The Hartford Courant/(TNS)

Published August 8,2018

I have no post-apocalyptic life skills

My friend Heidi Rockefeller was wearing a T-shirt the other day that impressed me with its defiant declaration of an undeniable truth: "Knitting is not a hobby. Knitting is a post-apocalyptic life skill."

I know the truth of Heidi's statement on a personal level because I wear socks that she has knitted for me and watch TV while cuddled under an afghan that not only provides warmth but is also a work of art fit to be placed in the American Folk Art Museum.

There's no doubt that Heidi has a better chance of surviving after some huge annihilation than I. Not only can she knit, she knows how to butcher an animal and then make a delicious chili from it.

My life skills include heating up the chili that Heidi has made and purchasing sour cream, shredded cheese and Fritos. Basically, I have no post-apocalyptic life skills apart from sticking close to Heidi.

I couldn't even heat up pre-made food over a fire I made myself. I don't know how to make a fire, which is the kind of thing they teach you in the Girl Scouts. I know how to set a fire, which is the kind of thing they teach you in Brooklyn. It's different.

Worse yet, I didn't even learn the more useful arts of personal defense and aggression, such as climbing a chain-link fence or being able to put somebody's eye out with a fork, both of which seem like they might come in handy.

What I could do, according to my family, would be to talk my enemies to death. They would be forced to take their own lives just to shut me up.

But, as it turns out, the most commonplace post-apocalyptic life skill almost everybody I know believes she or he possesses — and I am quoting from dozens of people here — is storytelling.

And this has brought me to the inevitable conclusion that storytellers will be the first group to be eaten after the apocalypse. My Facebook friend Frances Badgett put it best when she explained that her neighborhood did a disaster training in which they had to describe their talents: "Mine were poetry, fiction, and playing cello. So basically I'm the one you eat." Marnie Delaney believes she would be delectable, especially when paired with "a hearty cabernet sauvignon, of course. Widely available and great when paired with foods high in fat and umami flavors."

Somehow the whole Scheherazade routine, where a person is kept alive because her narrative so enthralls an otherwise brutal and bloodthirsty audience that her life is spared, is not workable when approximately 40 million people are all wittily telling their stories at exactly the same time.

You remember how, in Shakespeare's "Henry VI," there's a line where some men are musing about the perfect future and they say, "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers"? That's what the survivors will do to those of us who think that a great story will go a long way. They'll be rounding us up and putting us in pens, probably made of unclimbable chain-link fencing, and dividing us into breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Or maybe they'll carve us into other categories. Maybe there will be a "humorous" group for light fare, a "historical" group for denser meals and a "myths, folklore, fantasy and fairytale" category so that the younger members of the tribe can also have something they'll enjoy. All I know is that storytellers will be the equivalent of KFC's $20 Fill Up and that "finger-licking good" will involve not only fingers, but thumbs as well.

And it is as a young person that you will discover your signature waiting habits. This is why the grown-ups around you will try to help you calm down, dissuading you from indulging in emotional meltdowns, the throwing of breakable items against indoor surfaces and attempting to get in touch with other young people at all hours in order to "vent." None of these practices will assist you to become a more likeable, inventive, interesting, attractive or employable individual, in which case you will remain living with those grown-ups mentioned above — the ones invested in helping develop your character.

Here's the catch: It doesn't actually get easier when you're older and waiting to find out whether you got a job, got a job with benefits, got into graduate school, got into graduate school with benefits, got a partner, got a partner with benefits. The process continues.

When your child is sick, you hold your breath until you become dizzy from lack of oxygen. Not until he or she is breathing easily do you allow yourself to exhale and gulp in air as if you'd been underwater.

When you wait for the tests to come back telling you whether you or someone you love is merely under the weather or experiencing internal global warming, it's good to have some of that character stuff.

When we're waiting, we feel conspicuous, as if we're the only one in the whole world who doesn't know what's coming next.

But there's no one decision that maps our future. Even a change in plans is not necessarily a defeat; it's a detour.

Gina Barreca
The Hartford Courant

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Gina Barreca is a columnist for The Hartford Courant.