Imagination Week: Worry Wednesday


If you can read this, it means I’m still alive somewhere.

No, I’m not holed up while defending my family from the zombie apocalypse. I’ve been trying to make some technical tweaks to my blog—changing the address to a simple, for one—and for a while, nothing seemed to be working.

I was worried because I couldn’t see the Shallows anymore, and I imagine you couldn’t either.

But as I could still get into the admin side of things, I could still write posts. And I knew that said posts would go out to more than 700 readers who’ve subscribed via e-mail (and who now know that I’m not exactly on track to be the next Steve Jobs due to my online fumbling). So I started writing this digital message in a virtual bottle.

Some of the technical jargon I read noted that it can take up to 24 hours for domain name changes to take effect, but the “page not working” message I repeatedly saw had the word “never” in it—as in “don’t wait around for this to start working, because you broke it and it’s never going to get back together again.”

I turned to some fellow dad bloggers for help—thanks Adam Cohen from DaDa Rocks!—and they talked me through the mini-crisis I was having, assuring me that it all looked fine on their end.

I’d like to say that I was sure all along that I didn’t do anything irreversible, but you know how I worry. Not even all the king’s horses and all the king’s men could help with Humpty Dumpty, and they had to have been pretty well trained, right?

On the plus side, I spent the evening worrying about web stuff as opposed to my kids’ health—though I didn’t like the sort of raspy sound of my son’s cry when he woke up a little while ago. Ah, well. The night is young.


Imagination Week: Hitting the Pavement

Zombies, Run!

I recently got a new phone—a phone that can actually do stuff, and one that prompted my wife to say, “Welcome to the 20th Century.”

I countered: “But we’re in the—”

“I know,” she said.

This is my first-ever personal phone, and I sort of didn’t know what to do with it at first. An office Secret Santa, however, had given me an iTunes gift card, so I bought a couple of songs and then remembered an app I’d read about last year.

It’s called Zombies, Run!, and it basically plays a story for you to listen to while you run in real life. It’s sort of a game in that you “pick up” items as you go along—including medical supplies, water, and, honestly, underwear—some of which you can then use to improve a virtual outpost full of post-zombie-apocalypse survivors, but the main draw is this: While you’re running, earbuds firmly in place, a voice gives you directions and reports on nearby groups of “zoms” with a hankering for your hamstrings.

I initially thought that the game was a bit more interactive, but the missions seem to be set audio tracks. Which is fine by me. My typical physical activity consists of walking up the stairs to go to bed, and this download actually motivated me to get out of the house and do several laps around our condo complex.

I was prepared to be a bit freaked out, but the initial mission was fairly tame. At first. I chose to run at night, thinking the darkness might heighten the suspense. Also, that’s the only free time I can generally carve out of my day.

Once I got into the groove—both in running and in the game—it was easier to slip into the story. I tuned out my neighbors, waving from their garages as I jogged past, and focused on the narrative. Smoke coming from one condo’s chimney became the sight and smell of a downed helicopter. I didn’t know how to incorporate the one set of Christmas lights still mounted and lit, though.

Everything was going smoothly until a large pack of zombies caught wind of me and gave chase. One zombie in particular broke from the pack and zeroed in on me.

The voices in my ears grew urgent. “Don’t look behind you!” they shouted, “Just run! RUN!”

That worked. I resisted the urge to glance backward, even when I passed a streetlamp with dual lights on top, giving me a double shadow. Suddenly, as my eyes slid sideways, I could see silhouetted on the road another figure immediately behind me.

Imagination is a powerful thing, especially when it has audio help.

Since this is the first time I’ve run in, well, my 30s, I will admit that I paused the track to walk a bit before carrying on the run for my life. I imagine that the zombie took a breather, too, maybe put her decaying arms up over her head and shuffled along a little more slowly before picking up the pace again.

I’m a bit sore now from the rush, but I will be going out again soon.

Fright Week: Zombies

Fright Week: Zombies

(Shallow Note: This zombie is from a series of monsters I drew in 2002, back when I was still trying to draw hands.)

As a father, I’ve always got a plan. For certain scenarios.

I frequently rank the objects and people I’m holding from most fragile to hardiest, in case I get tackled or the earth starts shaking and I need to drop something/one to keep my balance to protect the rest. The baby and eggs are priorities.

Some of my plans are decidedly less practical.

When I spot a secluded area with an overhang, I note it and tuck it away into the “if we’re trapped outside and need someplace dry to stay for a while” mental file. This wouldn’t be a case of our getting locked out of our condo. This is like “disaster is upon us and martial law has been declared.”

I don’t stock up on fresh water or anything. I have a hand-crank-powered lantern/radio combo, but I’m not sure where it is. So yeah, maybe I don’t have a plan for most things. But I don’t think I’m alone as a husband and father in latching onto some odd and unlikely or impossible aspect of survival and running with it. I’ve talked with other dads who do the same thing. Maybe moms do it too, but I’ve yet to meet one who brought it up.

When my wife and I found ourselves to be the only guests at a country bed and breakfast (even the caretaker was out for the night; we were seriously alone), I laid awake for quite a while after my wife fell asleep. Every time the crickets and other night creatures all went silent at the same time, my heart started pounding. I began devising strategies for what I would do if I heard someone breaking in and coming up the stairs. The best I came up with: Quickly move aside some of the bulk packages of toilet paper under the bed and have my wife slide between them, moving one back into place to shield her so if anyone looked, all they would see is two-ply. Unplug the lamp, hold it like a club, and hide behind the door so I can whack anyone over the head as they come in. In case of desperate emergency—e.g. I take out a scout, but more attackers start to come in—we go out the window over the Jacuzzi tub (no screen to kick out) and inch along the sliver of roof.

That’s as far as I got before the sun came up. When I told my wife about my (theoretical) heroism over breakfast, she wasn’t knocked off her feet by my (theoretical) actions, like I hoped she would be. She was amused. And a little annoyed, I think, that I didn’t get as much sleep as I should have.

To my credit, however, we’d been seemingly followed by a truck for the whole drive after leaving the restaurant in a nearby town where we’d had dinner the night before. I didn’t want it to follow us all the way back to where we were staying, so I pulled off the main road and down a dirt lane to a driveway a few turns before the bed and breakfast—and the truck continued to follow us. I did a three-point turn at the random house and drove back out past the now darkened vehicle, which was either filled with bad guys I’d just outsmarted or a creeped-out family wondering why I inexplicably acted like I was leading them home, then turned around and left.

In the years since, I’ve learned that my wife isn’t into romantic acts of bravery. She prefers a living, accessible coward.

When we saw the preview for World War Z—about a man who gets his family off of the zombie-ravaged mainland and then leaves them on a ship to go back in and try to find a cure for the undead plague—my wife turned to me and said, “You will not go back. When we get out, you will not go back.”

I later learned that *spoiler alert* the guy is forced into action by a government that will kick his family off the boat where they’re staying if he doesn’t cooperate. So I explained the situation to my wife in a pitch to try to get her to watch the movie with me.

“I don’t care,” she said. “You don’t go back in.”


“You don’t go back in.”

“He has no—”

“You don’t go back in.”

“We’d get kicked off the ship.”

“You don’t go back in.”

“But in your scenario, we’d all go back in.”

“Yes, we’d survive together. You don’t go back in.”

I appreciate her loyalty and tenacity, but I must admit that I have a hard time picturing my kids cooperating in a survival scenario. As soon as I told them to be quiet, one of my girls would start whining that the other one got a bigger piece of emergency rations or that the knife we issued her had the wrong colored handle. The more I tried to shush her, the louder she’d get.

Either that, or my son would see a zombie shambling in the distance and shout “Doggie!” as he does at everything that moves that’s not a ball. “Doggie! Uff uff!”

When I told my wife about what I was writing for this post, she laughed. Then a few hours later, she said, “I’m really good at walking quietly.” I didn’t know this about her.

As parents, we like to think we’re protectors, that we can shield our kids from the world. But we can’t. Even the best of us can’t. So I think that in order to cope with the unpredictability of car accidents and disease and other scary but real things we have no control over, we enjoy exploring threatening scenarios in which we can do something tangible and effective. By we, I mean me. I do this.

So I make myself the hero in the zombie apocalypse. In my nightmare (dream) scenarios, my family is always tucked away somewhere safe, barricaded on the second floor of our condo after I’ve taken out the stairs. I have roof access via a ladder that can be pulled up and down. I scavenge for food, plot escape routes, protect us from raiders, and pretty much keep us alive.

A global doomsday scenario would be horrible, horrible, but there’s a part of me, and not a small part, that wants to know if I have what it takes to bring my family through. So I get a little excited about hints of such disasters.

When the power went out one evening earlier this year, I lit some candles and briefly entertained the thought: “Is this it? Has it started?” Then I worried that the flickering light in our kitchen window would draw whatever was out in the dark like moths.

I’m not alone in this, am I?