The Illusion of Survival

Several years ago during that pesky time when the publishing house had accepted Desert Emergency Survival Basics for publication, but I hadn’t yet seen the contract they were proposing, the editor was asking for re-writes and a number of changes in the final draft. We discussed it on the phone a number of times and I was pecking away at it, but holding back until I’d seen what they were bringing to the table. 

But before I got too far along I got a call from him because of a news event.  A family in Oregon, or Washington had taken a back road in the National Forest, gotten snowed in, and died because they didn’t apply some of the basics suggested in the Survival Book.

Him:  The scope of the book is broader than the name suggests.  It shouldn’t require a lot of work to make it a general survival manual.

Me: A lot of work’s already gone into it.  And I’ve already re-written it the way you suggest earlier.  You’ve got it in front of you.  Before I do any more work on it you and I need to talk about money.  Every time I’ve asked about what you’re offering as an advance you’ve hedged.  Said you needed to discuss it with the boss.

Him:  We don’t usually offer much in the way of advances.  We’re not that big, even though we offer a lot of titles.

Me:  Then you and I probably don’t have much to talk about.  You know and I know I’m never going to see a penny beyond the advance.  I have a fair idea what’s contained in your standard contract.  I’m not going to lift another finger on this book until I see an advance, and if it’s not enough to pay for my time already, hearing you’re going to be flexible about changing the contract details.

Him:  I’ll talk to the boss.  But that book needs to be published.  That family might have survived if they’d read it.

Me:  I’ve got some survival issues of my own here.  Hypothetical people who might die won’t pay my rent.  I’ve already done the work.  But if you’re proposing to print that book and give it away so neither of us makes anything on it what you’re saying might make sense.  Appeal to my better nature.

Him:  I can’t do that.  We’re in business.

Ultimately they sent me the standard contract and offered a token advance.  The willingness to alter the details of the contract didn’t include changes that would have allowed me to eventually get paid for my labor by eliminating provisions for them to squirm out of paying.

I’ve thought about that a lot over the years and eventually concluded the entire concept of survival and survival books qualifies as a cruel hoax.  An ironic illusion.  Because human beings are going to experience death inevitably as a means of exiting the vehicle.  Some are going to die getting lost in the woods.  If they survive getting lost it’s almost certainly going to be luck, instinct, or common sense.

As an example, somewhere earlier on this blog I described a snowstorm Keith and I got caught in on Santa Rita mesa, and how the GPS seemed to be lying about where the truck was.  How we believed the GPS instead of what we knew to be true, and more-or-less quickly found the truck.

That same snowstorm, not too far away, a kid was lost.  The news was full of it, Search and Rescue eventually was ready to give him up for dead.  But the kid, clothed in a light jacket, used his brain, sheltered under a rock ledge, and made it out after five unlikely days.

Which isn’t at all the same as saying the kid survived.  He won’t.  Neither will anyone else.

Old Jules

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4 responses to “The Illusion of Survival

  1. Well said. Thinking of survival as a mere game makes a lot more sense than the common approach.

  2. It is easy to survive being lost out in nature, but hard to survive civilization.

  3. Living day-to-day is a lesson in the art of survival. Inevitably, our end comes whether unexpectedly or not.

  4. Ah, the old joke – life is sexually transmitted and always fatal. Wow I wonder why the hell I go to a job I dislike every day…

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