IS IT SAFE?
By Simon Wood
I was thinking about the perception of safety the other day. My wife, Julie, doesn’t like it when I leave the front door unlocked when we’re in the house. She doesn’t want anyone storming the castle gates while we’re at home, so she puts her faith in a deadbolt. A two inch slug of steel not even an inch in diameter will keep her from harm. She doesn’t worry (but probably will after this blog) that there’s nothing stopping evil doers from chucking a rock through any of our floor to ceiling windows and entering the house that way.
I started thinking about other safe things in our lives.
When the little red man tells me not to walk, I don’t. The little red man knows all about danger. That’s why he’s red. When I ignore his advice, my heart rate shoots up a few beats.
The same applies to stop signs at a four-way stop. I put my faith in the driver of the eighteen-wheeler coming from the other direction that he’ll obey what it says on a red octagon and not plow into me.
Down on the Bay Area’s subway train system, BART, a row of yellow bricks keep me safe from the speeding trains if I stand behind them. And I do feel safe. The moment I stand on those yellow bricks, I feel queasy. I’ve put myself in danger. A train could hit me. Someone could bump me and send me sprawling onto the electrified rails. Those yellow bricks are just yellow bricks, but they have some power behind them. It’s really silly. My safety can’t be measured by the width of a row of yellow bricks. There are so many other contributing factors that can take their toll on me.
How many of us fear earthquakes, tornadoes, being struck by lightning, shark attacks or an in-law coming to stay? While these things exist, there’s little chance of them affecting us.
I look around me without my safety goggles on and reexamine my environment. There are so many things I perceive as safe. Harm won’t come to me because I’m not putting myself in harm’s way. Theoretically, that is. But boy, isn’t it a tenuous belief system? I am safe on the sidewalk because sidewalks are safe. There’s nothing to say a car won’t plow into me or I won’t trip and fall into the road, but I don’t think about these things because the sidewalk is my talisman.
It all comes down to perception. If I perceive danger everywhere I go, then I will see danger everywhere. Perception is reality. If I think safe, then I am safe. I guess there’s a little bit of the Pavlov’s dog syndrome at work inside us all.
Fundamentally, we all believe in a safe world and it is when all of us agree and on how to act. But what if someone doesn’t? Where’s our safety then? In jeopardy is the answer.
I quite like it when my thinking goes off the rails like this. I cross my eyes and I see the emperor without his clothes on. This is useful when it comes to the stories I tell. I like to pick at a character’s world until it unravels by attacking all the things that they hold dear. Basically, I break down their perceptions and belief system. Life is a tightrope and I like to twang the cable while there are people on it—fictionally speaking that is.
The notion of safety tends to play a part in the stories I tell. I don’t focus on global terror or category 5 hurricanes or anything like that because it’s too abstract. I don’t have any experience with something like that and it’s too infrequent to worry about it. I like to focus on the what-ifs of daily life. What if someone ignores a deadbolt and breaks in through the window? What if a waiter steals my credit card number and uses it? These are things that can happen and if the situation snowballs how can that one incident keep coming back at me to make the situation worse? My latest book, Lowlifes, centers on Larry Hayes, a San Francisco Detective. His life spirals out of control when he wakes up in an alley after a bad trip with no memory of the last four hours, while his confidential informant, a homeless man named Noble Jon, lies dead two blocks away, beaten and stabbed. Larry’s knuckles are bruised and there’s blood under his fingernails. Is he Jon’s killer? The mounting evidence says so. Hayes mounts an off-the-books investigation and disappears amongst the city’s homeless community to stay one step ahead of a murder charge. I don’t say we’d all experience an incident like this, but consider your own private and professional life. What little things could turn against you and send your life into a tailspin? I’m sure it wouldn’t take much. Bad news rarely needs much. It’s scary to daydream about life in those terms, but bad things like these could happen and that’s what makes it all the more powerful. We could all fall prey to circumstances we couldn’t imagine and would have to struggle to overcome. An act of terrorism, while real, thankfully happens rarely. A minor indiscretion, like a dust up with a stranger is far more likely, and therefore scarier.
Yours in perfect security,
Lowlifes is a little different from my usual books as it’s more than just a book. The story is told from different character points of view using various media. The book tells the story from the point of view of the protagonist, a San Francisco detective. The short film gives the viewpoint of a PI investigating the cop. The fictional blog catalogs the thoughts and feelings of the cop’s estranged wife. The trendy term for this new kind of storytelling is transmedia. People can learn more about Lowlifes at www.lowlifes.tv