The Disaster Diaries

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Apocalypse

by Sam Sheridan

The Disaster Diaries

Hardcover, 324 pages, Penguin Group USA, List Price: $26.95 | purchase

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NPR Summary

Plagued by insomnia and nightmares about a zombie apocalypse, Harvard grad turned boxer, cowboy, sailor and Wilderness EMT Sam Sheridan sets out to acquire the skills necessary to survive any doomsday scenario — from earthquakes and floods to invasion by alien monsters.

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Excerpt: The Disaster Diaries

I'm a long way from home, here in the City of Angels. I'm an East Coast boy, and maybe the key to my insomnia lies in my past. Maybe it's obvious.

I grew up in the historic village of Old Deerfield, Massachusetts, famous for the "Deerfield Massacre." In the winter of 1704, the French and Indians came over the wall in the dead of night. They came over the wall, silent, tomahawks in hand. Children just like me raced through the snow and were caught, scalped, their brains dashed out. Half the town was enslaved or killed.

Many of the houses on my street were preserved as museums, the private fortresses of colonial New England. Their insides were dim and still, frozen in time, available to tour. As a little boy I knew by heart which doors had tomahawk holes hacked in them. I stood guard through the endless summer of childhood, watching for Indians creeping through the cornfields behind my house; listening, amidst the burning thrum of cicadas and the frogs peeping in the long grass, for war howls.

Perhaps the simple explanation is correct; that these childhood fears marked me. When I think about the kinds of activities I've engaged with over the years, they do seem to sway towards preparing for danger. And, let's be honest, violence.

I started boxing recreationally in college, indulging an obsession that has yet to truly let me go. I lived in Thailand and studied and fought Muay Thai, or Thai kick-boxing, and from there it was a simple transition to Mixed-Martial-Arts (MMA). I've traveled around the world training and fighting, and bashed headfirst into my own limitations, physical and mental. I've sailed through gales as a professional sailor, and slaved to control burning forests as a wildland firefighter.

What if all this time I thought I was just living my life, I was unconsciously training for something, acquiring the skills needed for a battle yet to come? Was I getting ready for the screams in the night that meant the Indians were piling over the wall? The savage joy of hitting lured me into boxing, but perhaps it cloaked a sense of relief at my growing martial prowess. Why does every little boy (or grown man) want to be Bruce Lee or Mike Tyson? It's not to beat people up; it's because hey, if I was Mike Tyson I would never feel afraid again. Bruce Lee wouldn't be scared if the Indians came over the wall; he'd start kicking ass. And firefighting and sailing maybe weren't just about setting my own schedule and avoiding the dreary office job, but about testing my own limitations, pushing myself against the extreme forces of nature, defusing fear through understanding and practice.

A small part of me has been expecting Armageddon as long as I can remember. With adulthood, some of the dark fantasies burned off, like fog; but other dreams, darker and more terrible, gathered in their place. And it seems I'm not content to leave them in books or at the movie theater. They come home with me, to be revisited in the hours before dawn.

As student of history, I've accepted that the shit is going to hit the fan, someday. Just because life is almost comically good here for us in the US, doesn't mean that it always will be. If 9/11 happened (if that diabolical plan succeeded) then anything can happen, and we all know it. Anything is possible. Nothing is unthinkable. I'm not saying the dead will rise and feed on the living; I'm saying, keep an eye on them.

The shift of a plate, the raising of the ocean floor, simple tectonics, geothermal dynamics — whenever we start getting the science lessons on CNN, somebody's getting hammered, and one day it will be you and me, friend. Just too much water that needs someplace to go, not even a Force 5 Hurricane, not even a perfect storm. You can say what you want about climate change, but do I believe you, or NASA? Steven Hawking is on record saying that any possible alien contact would be dangerous, like when technologically superior Europeans 'discovered' the Americas; the locals ended up getting stomped in every conceivable way, physically, morally, spiritually, genetically. I'm not blurring the line between fact and fiction — that line is already blurry. Steven King wrote The Stand twenty years ago about a super-flu that wipes out 99% of the world's population, and just because the guys at Center for Disease Control have been wrong twice before doesn't mean that smart, knowledgeable people aren't still worried about that very thing. There's got to be a reason they keep standing on the panic button.

I've always been aware of the various disasters, hanging like icicles over our heads. I never really consciously sweated it — I'm big, reasonably competent, but most importantly, nothing bad was ever going to happen to me. I'm the hero of this story. If the tsunami comes flooding into Los Angeles, I'll be fine. I swim like a bastard.

But then something changed for me, and it caused a shift in the quality of my nightmares.

Here's the bittersweet truth of having a child: it entails the loss of a kind of narcissism, the end of your own childhood. Maybe you're not the sole reason for the existence of the universe. With the rapid growth of the changeling you care for, his explosive metamorphosis, comes the knowledge that you are changing too, and finite — your perspective is fleeting. You're no longer the one pure reason the sun rises and the heavens wheel above in the night, the moon pulls the oceans, and doves call at dawn.

From The Disaster Diaries by Sam Sheridan. Copyright 2013 by Sam Sheridan. Excerpted by permission of The Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc.

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