Natural Disasters Are Becoming Man-made Disasters

               With an alarming rate, natural disasters like floods, hurricanes, severe thunderstorms, and tornadoes are occurring with more frequency and severity. There will always be natural disasters, it is part of being on a planet which is always evolving and changing. Earthquakes will always occur and may increase volcanic activity, which in turn creates another disaster. It is only with the spread of human civilization to almost every nook and cranny of Earth have natural disasters become a catastrophe which garners media attention and elicits a human response to help others in need. I’m sorry dinosaurs, but I’ve seen enough Jurassic Park movies where I’m thankful the asteroid helped eliminate you from the planet.

               How can we help reduce the severity of natural disasters? It is a simple question to answer, with an easy solution, but the implementation of said solution would be very difficult to carry out. There have always been natural disasters, very few which had global consequences or impacted hundreds of thousands to tens of millions of people at one time. That is until the spread of humanity to all the habitable continents of the globe. By spreading our wings, we have made certain almost every severe thunderstorm capable of producing a tornado, torrential rainfall from a series of storms or a hurricane with storm surges, can cause havoc and extreme destruction of our cities and infrastructure.

               I live in Nebraska, born and raised. And currently we are going through flooding which is slowly receding, which has caused at least a billion dollars in damage and lost revenue – though it is too early to know full extent of the damage and financial impact. Current estimates put just the agriculture damage at a billion dollars, including dead livestock, crop storage wiped out, and the possibility of not being able to plant crops for current season. Today’s disasters effect everybody, when California was facing severe drought, it strained the system because a large majority of America’s fruit and nut crops are grown in the Golden State.

               The impact of natural disasters will only grow as more people call Earth home, and our cities and towns expand horizontally. Climate change is the biggest disaster, one which is slowly unfolding. The biggest impact from climate change will be the rising of sea levels, which threaten every coastal city and billions of people. A temporary solution to battling the effects of sea rise caused by melting ice caps is to create massive sea walls to protect our cities and other areas. This is a massive feat and one which is unprecedented on a national scale, let alone a global scale. The other solution is to abandon or relocate cities which will be impacted by rising sea levels.

               I’ve written a lot about creating a new set of cities, a cluster of buildings called Sky Cities together, capable of housing a minimum of 40,000 people, schools, hospitals, businesses, and residents. These cities within cities will help locate humanity into a much smaller presence on Earth (and maybe other planets we eventually inhabit). The idea about mitigating impact of natural disasters is helping our species survive – and reducing the enormous cost of rebuilding and the emotional toll of losing family and friends. The task of creating these enormous Sky Cities is difficult.

               First, the technology to reliably build these megastructures needs to exist, we are getting close but have not quite reached the ability to build structures a mile high or taller. Possibly when graphene is mass produced, then we can conquer the first step of mitigating natural disasters and the man-made disasters of climate change. Secondly, finding geographic locations where the risk of earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions are as low as possible. Though, it may be a moot point if we have the technology to build structures one to two miles high, we may have the technology to create buildings which do not crumble or sustain damage from earthquakes, tsunamis, and are resistant to molten lava.

               Once these buildings are built, the human challenge takes into shape, getting people to live in these new cities, one which I have briefly covered before and is also alluded to in my novel, Within the Grasp of Ordinary. There are a lot of elements which are controversial in getting peoples into the cities, and I’m not advocating for them – even though I thought of them. That is part of being an author, thinking outside of the box even if it does not fit your view/beliefs – you have to be open to new ideas and thoughts, even if they make you uncomfortable. Forcing people from their homes, like what happened in the story’s universe, is uncomfortable and highly unethical, but it occurred under the mantra of saving humanity from itself.

               In Within the Grasp of Ordinary, the mega structures which house humanity have a trade-off. The risk of natural disasters is small as humanity has technology evolved to make structures capable of withstanding disasters, moved away from areas vulnerable to rising sea levels, flood plains, earthquakes, etc. The risk comes from terrorist attacks, where when one Sky City structure is destroyed, the death toll is in the tens of thousands. Putting it bluntly, terrorist attacks like natural disasters will always happen but terrorist attacks right now are easier to prevent or foil through due diligence by law enforcement. Natural disasters aren’t preventable, but we can mitigate our risk by transforming the way we live.

               I’m no expert but I believe the current method within this country of denying climate change and its effects will only make us worse off. Tens of billions of dollars of damage are done every year in property to American cities and families, that’s not mentioning the emotional damage from the loss of loved ones. If we do nothing to change our behavior and mitigate our risk to natural disasters, we are stupid because we have seen countless film reels of destruction hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, etc. Natural disasters will always happen but humanity’s folly does not need to contribute to the innate destructive powers of Mother Nature.

Writing, Research, and Being Yourself

              Writing can be hard, easy, fun, rewarding, mind-boggling, stressful, and full of excitement. One of the most difficult parts I have about writing, both in creative and academic settings, is being myself. This may sound more like a self-doubt writing session, and I can see that point because we as people tend to be our own worst critics. My intent is not to sound pessimistic or at the same time to say I am the greatest writer of all time or even of my generation. My objective is to share my insights into creating characters while sharing the difficulty of being myself and not another character that sometimes gets control of my mind.

               It is true that within every character there is part of the author. I think this fact is difficult to dispute especially when it comes to writing creative characters (as opposed to writing alternative history or historical fiction). The characters that authors create will always be apart of us because in the end, we created them either through our own processes, which for me is mostly observing other people or using people in my life. One of the main characters of my first novel, Within the Grasp of Ordinary, is Philip, who is at least eighty percent me. He’s 16, his parents are divorced, he lives with his mother, has a strained relationship with his father, his sister is away at college, and his older twin brothers are serving in the military in a warzone.

               I was 16 once (we all were or will be), my parents were divorced, I lived with my father, have a difficult relationship with my father, but don’t have an older sister or twin brothers, but several extended family members who served in the military and in warzones. Our interests are similar, I used to play soccer as a youth and was part of the soccer team as a student manager during high school, whereas Philip has played soccer all his life. Our academic interests are aligned, we both enjoy political science and have an optimist’s sense for the future, always believing the best in people until they hurt you, and then it is near difficult to restore that sense of trust.

               There are always two sides to a person, not fully an alter ego, but somebody who offers a counterbalance, that person is also heavily influenced by me, my biological brother, and some friends, that character’s name is Tristan. Tristan is the same age as Philip, 16, and both have known each other since they were toddler’s learning to play soccer. While Philip is the optimist, Tristan is the realist, and though on a few occasions the roles do change, because characters like people do act differently from the cast-type they have been given. I feel most natural as myself when I’m in these two characters mindsets because they each have a good percentage of me imbedded in them. Their interactions between each other are funny, intimate, and feel authentic, because they know each other so well.

               However, characters have the same awkwardness as others, not everybody is imbedded with natural talent to be people-friendly. I can easily approach a stranger, but in the same breath it is also exhausting to approach a person and strike up a conversation. It is here where sometimes I feel, especially at work, I am in character. I am not fully myself because my job requires me to be courteous. I used to work customer service, both in person and over the phone, and I loved and dreaded every minute of it. There are nice people, there are indifferent people, and there are customers who are downright rude, and I wish voodoo dolls worked to inflict torment. I truly believe everybody should be required to work retail for at least one month, to better understand how demanding and unsatisfying the job can be. Perhaps then, people could treat others who fulfill our needs in stores, restaurants, and over the phone with a bit more respect and patience.

               At work though, I feel like I’m in character because outside of the happy, shows up almost every day, and goofy attitude, very few people at work know I write or read a plethora of books, mostly non-fiction. This is partially by design, if people know you write, they tend to get a perception of you. I’ve been asked by a few people who know I write, if they are characters in my story. The honest answer is no, but a bit more complicated. I will use a person’s name or a combination of two or three names to create a character but assign different attributes to a person. Part of the reason for this is because I don’t really consider these people friends. I don’t socialize with them, only occasionally run into them outside of work at retail establishments. It feels like a weird sort of constructed wall, I’m sociable not anti-social outside of work and a closed circle of friends and family. Only friends, family, and ex-girlfriends have become characters, and probably will always remain that way because they are people who I have established great connections with, interests, memories, etc.

               One of the most challenging tasks of being an author (and a human) sometimes is showing empathy to your characters. Characters need to be real in order to be liked and to feel a sense of progression and recovery, a sense of triumph over their circumstances. Characters need to be genuine, rational and irrational – because for no matter how logical we try to be, we make illogical decisions. Characters also need to be hurt, they need to go through relationships with friends and significant others which tested, they could fail or overcome their difficulties. Their families need to be imperfect, but not too imperfect, otherwise it becomes unbelievable. The difficult part of being myself as a reader and then a writer, is separating myself from the creation. It is hard not to feel emotional or weep about a character’s pain or loss, especially when the experiences are like my life.

               It is hard to write about something if you have never taken part in the experience. I have never mountain climbed (and not really that interested in it) but if I ever wanted to write about it I would have to get myself familiarized with it. There is first hand experience, one you as the author have personally gone through, then two types of second-hand experience. The first case of second-hand experience is watching two real people (non-actors) go through an event, like a breakup, a loss of a family member in the military, just about anything. I believe this type of experience is beneficial because while you are not directly feeling the emotions of the event, you are indirectly apart of it. You are able to glisten how real people react to a situation.

               The second type of second-hand experience is conducted by actors, so in television shows, movies, etc. I would argue books are a little different, you are not visually seeing an experience, your brain is interpreting the letters into words, then words into an action, which you may imagine. Semantics aside… There are a lot of great television shows and movies out there, and the acting is superb, but it is important to remember, it is a performance. Yes, a good actor has studied the human element of their role and knows how to perform, but it still an act. The small screen and silver screen allow people to get a good understanding of events or topics which many people have little to no idea about. Off the top of my head, going to war would be a big one. Not many people have witnessed the gruesomeness of war, and never will.

               Tying this back into the idea of creating characters and being yourself, a character may be based off the author, author’s friends, family, people the author interacts with on a regular basis, etc. The author needs to be the character but also themselves, but at times it is hard to be themselves because the demands of the craft. If one of your characters becomes the President or CEO of a large corporation, you need to know how both of those roles function because statistically you will most likely never get to be the President or CEO of a large corporation. You can endlessly think about how you the author (not the character) would act in a position, but until you’ve experienced the role either first-hand or through careful second-hand research, how will you understand how the role works? How about the norms? The written and unwritten rules?

               It is important to research this all when creating characters and it is part of being an author, you have to research in order to make a story plausible. Even fantasy environments need to be well researched, what kind of language do the people speak? What are their customs? Beliefs? Religion? Etc. You can do too much research where the story and the characters become too knowledgeable, too unbelievable and uninteresting. It is difficult to tell people how to create characters, because everybody has a different process and each person can only offer their opinions and share the methods to their madness.