I Am Not An Insect!   6 comments

What is a side skill that has been useful in your life? Where did you learn it? Have you written it into any of your stories?

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What Skills Do I Need?

After all, I’m a writer. Besides the ability to write, I shouldn’t need to have any? Right. According to Robert Heinlein, that’s a wrong-headed way of thinking.

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

Well, there you go — a quite lengthy list of side skills that can be useful. So, I decided to see how many of those skills I can tick off.

Change a Diaper

Got this covered. Besides my own two children now walking around as functioning adults, I worked as a babysitter and as an assistant in my mother’s daycare center, so I’ve changed hundreds of thousands of diapers –even ones requiring pins –and I can add to Heinlein’s list that I know how to launder cloth diapers so that soft baby skin doesn’t turn blistered Actually, changing a diaper will play a small roll in the next book of Transformation Project “Worm Moon”.

Plan an Invasion?

It started as more of an infiltration. When I was a little kid boys thought girls had cooties, so us girls decided we would invade their tree fort, which meant tricking them into leaving it so when they got back they’d find us there. I got the bright idea of talking the enlightened male of the group into helping us with this and it worked. We got there, discovered their camp on the end of the woods wasn’t nearly as nice as our toolshed on the end of the woods and gladly gave it back to the boys, who then respected us a bit more — according to the enlightened one who I became friends with in high school. I haven’t used it in one of my books yet, but Transformation Project often sprinkles my side skills into the mix.

Butcher a Hog??

I was raised by a farmer’s daughter and my dad — a Merchant Marine trained chef. When Dad did his apprenticeship, meat arrived aboard ship in slabs and cooks butchered them into various forms for meals. Working shoreside, Dad often had friends who would bring their moose or caribou to him to butcher. Alaska is a hunter’s paradise after all, and while Dad enjoyed a good day fishing, he wasn’t really a hunter, so he’d get a portion of the harvest for his efforts. I observed/assisted in a few dozen butchered moose and caribou and as an adult those skills remain useful. I’ve never butchered a hog, but the concept is the same –drain the blood, cool the meat, don’t let the guts taint the meat, keep everything clean. Shane was in the process of butchering a deer during the events of Winter’s Reckoning.

Conn a Ship

No, I haven’t done this one, but I reserve the right to substitution. I know just enough to keep a small aircraft in the air. General aviation craft are as common here as cars. I don’t have a pilot’s license, but I’ve been allowed to take the controls of a light plane a few times and if I could afford to own my own airplane (insurance is pricy and so is the cost of the annual rebuild) I’d enjoy it quite a lot.

Design a Building/Build a Wall

Yes. Geometry is fairly easy. I’ve designed and helped construct a couple of toolsheds and a cabin in the woods that isn’t complete yet. I haven’t used it in my writing yet, but I suspect I will.

Write a Sonnet?

Not well. I realized many years ago that I was not destined to be a famous poet.

Set A Bone

It pays to have first aid skills when you might be hundreds of miles from the nearest doctors. Technically, I know how to set a bone, but I’ve never needed to use that skill. I did reset my own dislocated shoulder once. It was partially dislocated in a trip-fall incident and tractioned back into place on the hike out. I didn’t know it was dislocated until it popped back into socket. I thought it was just badly bruised. Ow! But, then, oh, so much better.

I used that incident, partially, in Winter’s Reckoning to describe Shane’s injuries.

Accidental first aid aside, I once removed a fishing hook from a friend’s thigh because none of us was ready to end the fishing trip. I stitched the wound closed too. He has a small scar. It hasn’t affected his ability to get a date.

Comfort the Dying

I’d probably suck at this. I’m one of those people who wants to be left alone when I’m sick, so I think I’d suck at the whole holding-of-hands-at-the-bedside thing. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had several people die around me and I’ve been there for them, but they don’t really let you do the bedside ritual thing anymore. It takes special legal documentation to die at home in your own bed under your own terms now. But I do have a scene coming up in Transformation Project that will involve comforting the dying.

Act as an Independent Team?

I’ve taken plenty of orders in my life and given a few. That’s part of living in society, which is meritorious. My first job (other than baby sitter) was working as a cashier/folder in a laundramat that summer I was 16. Technically, I was the lowest of the low, but two days after they hired me, they left me on my own with a storeful of customers and a mountain of laundry. My “orders” were simple — fold laundry, greet people who dropped off dry-cleaning and laundry, fill out their paperwork, help customers with issues with the machines, have the laundry done by the date and time we said it would be done by, collect money, and keep people from trashing the place. Nowhere in that job description required giving orders. The first day alone, I looked up to find some exhausted young mother allowing her kids to “ride” the dryers. I didn’t bother to check with the manager (who was probably out-back drycleaning) to see if children were allowed to do that. They were risking their lovely little lives with equipment I was responsible for. I told the woman to make them stop and when she argued with me, I told her to gather her wet laundry and leave. She then burst into tears (which I hate — not a weepy female — and in Fairbank Alaska in the 1970s, men outnumbered women by at least 2:1, so I knew my boss could replace me with a boy in five seconds), so I “suggested” she leave her laundry to dry and take the kids across the street to the Dairy Queen. She left happy, though probably still exhausted, and no machines were sacrificed in the process. Turned out my supervisor (the company owner) had been watching me the whole time. He didn’t step in because “you had it.” I took the general orders I was given, issued my orders, defined what needed to happen in that context and acted alone as needed. In doing so, I was cooperating in a team of about eight people, most of whom I never met because they came to work after I left for the day.

Solve Equations?

Sure. I’m not a math whizz, but I can do basic algebra. I couldn’t do what Robert Heinlein also didn’t do in Martian Chronicles. His wife Virginia, an actual rocket science, did all the calculations for space travel to Mars. I couldn’t do that. But I can do basic math up to the geometric level.

Analyze a New Problem?

Isn’t that what we do when we set about writing a novel – we create a problem that now must be solved? What if someone hated America so much, they figured out a way to blow up 20 American cities? What happens then? Layer upon layer of analysis goes into a novel. But I also encounter dozens of problems every week that require analysis. I think analysis is a waning art in a society where people just react to the news without even questioning the sources.

Pitch Manure

Okay, so I did not grow up on a midwestern farm like my mother or the characters in Transformation Project. The manure I’ve pitched has mostly been dog manure. Alaskans have dogs and sled dogs live outside in the winter. Ideally, the manure is shoved in early spring before it’s thawed, but people who hire someone to pitch manure probably didn’t think that far ahead so I was standing in spring meltwater, dumping a pile of manure in a wheelbarrow while the yellow-eyed wolf-like dog who created the pile started at me like he wanted his poop back. I think you get the picture and I’ve used that experience a few times in my writing.

Program a Computer?

I’m not an IT professional and have never actually programmed a computer, but I’m a late-stage Boomer, which means the personal computer came on the market while I was in college, so I took a programming course because my journalism advisor suggested we would all need to know how to do this to file our stories someday. I learned how to write and run some very BASIC routines. Two years later, DOS came on the market and I’ve not done anything like programming since. However, that early experience has been very useful more me in jobs over the years. I’ve frequently been the “test dummy” for new software in jobs because I’m comfortable with the process of learning a new system and then passing the hands-on knowledge onto others.

Cook a Tasty Meal.

Not after pitching manure. But, yes, of course, Daughter of a chef and a diner waitress. I can cook. I enjoy trying new recipes. I enjoy watching other people enjoy what I make.

Fight Efficiently?

Okay, so Heinlein had a military career. I’m 5’1″. I’m not winning a hand-to-hand combat with anyone over age 12. But I’ve studied some fighting techniques. I’m sure our neighbors thought I’d lot my mind when my daughter and I practiced with staves in the backyard to see if what I was writing really worked. And, wooden swords with my son also raised an eyebrow or two.

Of course, I’d point out that the pen is mighter than the sword. I also have an intellectual rapier to wield that makes me equal in size to anyone else.

Die Gallantly

I hope when the time comes, I will. Whether you die in your own bed on a Sunday night in September or reloading behind the barricades of the zombie apocalypse, if you did the way you were meant to, with peace in your heart surrounded by people who hold you in theirs — that’s a hero’s death.

Posted September 20, 2021 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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6 responses to “I Am Not An Insect!

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  1. That’s a great list, as well as a fantastic set of accomplishments. It certainly made me think about how I could answer.


  2. Wonderful post. Interesting how you worked around meeting each accomplishment – even if not exactly head on.


  3. I plan to fade away and die quietly. But life surprises me at every twist in the road, so why would death be any different?


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