"It's going to be a huge year in the preparedness market," Robert Richardson told The Huffington Post earlier this month in light of the 2012 Mayan prophecies. Richardson runs a company called Off Grid Survival that helps people prepare for garden-variety cataclysms, from direct hits by solar flares and political Armageddon to whackos, wackjobs, and self-fulfilling prophecies.
Reading about urban survival skills and marveling at how unprepared I am for, say, worlds colliding when a fiery comet explodes on my patio, I was reminded of the following conversation that recently took place in L.A. between my friend's two kids, her daughter, age 11, and her son, age 15:
"Ashley told me the Mayans predict the world is going to end in 2012," her daughter said.
"That's bullsh*t," her son replied. "Only kids in middle school believe that. You should be worried about The Big One. Giant earthquake's gonna hit L.A. any minute. Then the poles might shift and mess up the whole planet. I saw that on the Discovery Channel."
"What? When's that gonna happen?"
"Dude. How should I know? But probably in 2012 'cause of the Mayans. Also, like, the earth's axis might flip over and everything's gonna reverse. And Greenland will melt. I saw that on The History Channel."
The girl was pensive for a moment. Then: "So the Mayans predicted all that stuff will happen in 2012?"
I wanted to offer some advice to the girl, who looked positively mortified, but I only know a few things about the Mayans. They certainly had it down in the headgear and piercing department. They made great architecture. They did seem a tad over-sensitive in Mel Gibson's Apocalypto. I'm glad I never lived among them because I probably would have committed a social or religious gaffe and been thrown over one of those Mesoamerican triadic pyramids.
Seeing the girl's look of panic reminded me of myself. There was (and still is) always something to prepare for in life. When I was her age it was the possibility of an atom bomb coming down our neighborhoods. Talk about a kill joy. We prepared for this by having random drop drills during elementary school. I worried about how a school desk would protect us from countless megatons of exploding nuclear mega-wattage, but somehow I believed it would. I mean, we were being instructed on how to prepare for this by grown ups, right?
I walked around with this fear in my head for years, which put a damper on having fun swinging from monkey bars. I also grew up in Los Angeles, where we're constantly told to prepare for that Big One. Nothing like the possibility of instantaneous and unpredictable devastation to keep you on your toes.
These fears were compounded by more mundane but no less insidious ones, brought to light by marketers eager to keep me prepared for even for the tiniest threats in daily life. Thus by the time I was in my early twenties my purse was filled with paraphernalia for chapped lips, chapped hands, unruly fingernails, allergies, parking lot thugs, cuts and bruises, bad hair, bad weather, bad breath and bad karma. When I became a mother, my purse ballooned to the size of Mont Blanc. It took awhile to realize that I was lugging around not just a lot of useless stuff; I was lugging around the what-if-you-never-know culture and anxiety of Preparedness.
Now that I'm 51, I'd love a reprieve from the seemingly endless list of things both large and small that I should prepare for, from parenting my parents, saving for retirement and investing in my kids' college fund, to figuring out how to avoid financial ruin, mutant viruses, and even aging itself. Must I add the arrival of the rogue planet Nibiru to that list?
It's funny how in Third World countries, often ones where it makes perfect sense to prepare for truly scary things, people don't seem so concerned with Preparedness. The other day I was talking to my Persian neighbor about earthquakes. She lived through the revolution in Iran when the Shah fell to Khomeini and has seen more things in real life than all the Mel Gibson movies combined. She has a deep sense of what's essential in life and lives without fear. She's both a bon vivant and a fatalist.
"The only supply I have in my garage that will be helpful if there's a massive earthquake is a bottle of Ketel One Vodka," she told me, half-joking. "Meet me in the middle of the street for a martini if it happens." I most definitely will. In the meantime, I took my friend's daughter aside and told her that she didn't have prepare for anything other than being a kid. She could forget about the Mayans, lighten her load, and go outside and have some fun.