Both the right hand and the left
Yesterday I was diving in a place of deep caves and cracks. Imagine: you are 30 feet down under the sea, with a hookah (which means you’re trailing a pipe to a compressor on the surface, and have a second stage regulator and mouthpiece in your mouth) and you part the kelp to reveal cracks and funnels below that. It is a shattered, eroded underwater boulder field, with rocks the size a 40 foot container to a suburban house, sometimes hollow underneath, and sometimes leading into the next crack. Not much current or wave action gets down here so there is a lot of fine silt.
It’s where the really big spiny lobster live, and it is for a mildly claustrophobic person like myself terrifying, as there is no room, and no light (the silt, stirred up makes it gloomy and confusing) I’ve had the reg-pipe connecter fail on me twice (that hopefully cannot happen again, there is now a locking device) and the mouthpiece come off twice. That will happen again. Now, if you know why you are suddenly breathing water, and you have space and, vision and the presence of mind, you can find your regulator, pull the (failed) retaining band off – easy, and shove the regulator back on the mouth-piece, and hold it there with your hand and breathe. You could even just shove the mouthpiece-less reg in your face, purse your lips and just suck.
Assuming… you know what is wrong, and can see and move freely enough to do this. These conditions are not typically met when you are down a narrow crack – which if you are going get out of – backwards is the only way. There is no room to bring your arms ‘down’ (which may be along or up) from above your head. Just bumping the regulator out of your mouth can be a deadly experience. My jaws always ache from holding onto it, after.
I call these cracks and caves forever holes – because they go on forever, and you could possibly be down there forever.
It’s what I do. One day I may push too hard and too far, and not come out. It will be terrifying, I will probably panic at the end, and I will die. But until then mostly it comes down to keeping your cool and an element of luck. It helps if you are fairly tough, phlegmatic and have been lucky enough not to die in a few incidents. But I always make sure I kiss my wife very thoroughly before I leave home.
I probably do this about 20-40 times a year, so it is still at the dry mouth stage of fear when I go into a particularly nasty hole. But we humans do adapt. And learn, if we have to, to use the left hand or the right or our toes. Or at least, if we wish to, we CAN adapt, and what was abnormal, can become so familiar, so comfortable that it becomes (no matter how weird/nasty/uncomfortable by the standards of others) something we consider normal. This is one of the reasons our species is so successful – because we have the mental equipment to fool ourselves. (And if you can’t see how this fits into writing fiction, which is about the suspension of disbelief, then I think we should do a species check.)
For me food is real stuff I have fought, struggled, bled, blistered my hands to bring home. Also sometimes had so much of, so easily, that it’s silly. Exercise is what you do making this happen. And that is my normal. Tony Daniel – who is a nice bloke at Baen was doing an interview with me – asked me to tell him about our – to him — rather odd lives. That we lived by shooting wallaby and fishing and growing most of our own veg and starches. He asked me to tell him about shooting wallaby. I think he expected a gung-ho hunting with a David Weber-esque calibers and ranges and special weapons… Instead of ‘I take my old .22, because it’s cheap to use, I put 5 rounds in the mag and walk out the back door and across the field until I find one.’ I do this as often as you go to the supermarket, and the process can take about as long and I find it as difficult and as entertaining as you do a trip to Walmart (if not in Demming). My tools, although accurate and looked after, are not toys and I don’t have money spend on them, or take them out and fiddle with them or fire them for fun. I don’t mind if you do, indeed, I am glad you’re having fun, but that’s normal working life for me. Weird is when people talk of guns like they were rabid dogs, or discuss desk treadmills, or new laptops or shared offices… But those are their normal, and indeed probably a far, far bigger group than mine. Of course they’re (you?) are all weird, I’m the normal one.
Which of course brings me round to books. Readers are substantially – as a matter of demographic spread – likely to think of desk treadmills as normal and not exotic, and living off the land – a norm for millions of readers… 200 years ago, as *exotic* where they’ll believe getting your dinner off the bush was a nerve-shattering adventure. And the reality is that is a fair chunk of fantasy (and occasional sf, but usually with more justification) ends up concerns itself with living off the land, often while traveling on ye quest, or worse, while trying to conquer/avoid being conquered by the Badguyz-r-us ™ (who used to be obligatory swarthy types or wily Orientals, infidels or communists or possibly Nazis, and are now obligatory white middle aged right-wing Christians, and possibly Nazis. What is this plausibility stuff of which you speak?) where they will in Diana Wynne Jones ‘Tough guide to Fantasyland’ live on stew ™ and drink beer.
Now I know – and some of you do – the realities of stew, and what pottage is, and a little bit about beer, and what a bastard it is transport on horseback in sufficient quantities to provide for hydration, and why wars were either quite geographically limited, or generally fought AFTER harvest but before winter made it too hard to (yes, they sometimes went on longer. But farming and producing an excess using medieval methods and knowledge and equipment meant leaving enough peasants in peace on the land to do it. And nobles who didn’t figure this out had to be successful at conquest every time, without disturbing the conquered peasantry too much (not happening) or suffer Darwinian consequences. Scorched earth worked, and was of course a very last resort – because it meant a Pyrrhic victory to those who lived off that land. I know these things and understand them in ways most readers wouldn’t.
But I am not writing for me. I’m writing for them.
It’s quite a challenge. So the next time someone tells you to ‘write about what you know’ … tell them that’s all very well, but what you have to do either write about what your audience knows, or will believe. And that is very much harder.