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Dystopian Dreams for a Suburban Family


The new doomsday prepping is dystopia survival. So-called "doomsday prep" only works if you have a bug-out plan to somewhere that isn't doomed or if the Walmart reopens after a few weeks. To me, "doomsday" doesn't imply a temporary disaster like a hurricane or an avalanche. It means that the status quo is irrevocably lost. Surviving most big and permanent changes requires building social connections and learning new things, not hiding out in a bunker.

Well, you gotta start somewhere.

Long-term survival requires a permanent adaptation to a new normal. Because no matter how many SpaghettiOs you hoard, stockpiling alone won't give you enough time to adapt if you haven't started long before the first disaster.

Examples: Here is what it's like to survive a natural disaster, if you are one of the richest and "prep"-piest people on Earth. Below is what it's like to survive a two-week winter power outage in record-shattering low temperatures, if you are a basic suburbanite:

This is our furnace, oven, and stove. Our walk-in "fridgeezer" is the garage. Our lights are candles, windows, and battery-powered lanterns. Our phone charging stations are the winning prizes of our daily scavenger hunts, as every few hours power is restored to some areas and goes out in others.

And here is what it's like to survive a real-life political dystopia with no end in sight.

One of the fun things about a dystopia is that the transition to it from whatever you consider to be "normal life" may contain a whole series of disasters. Maybe endless disasters. Maybe intersections among plain bad luck, environmental degradation, and political unrest. Maybe, just maybe, Category 5 hurricanes and deadly earthquakes and uncontrollable forest fires and extreme weather and social unrest are here to stay. Maybe it will never again be safe to live near coasts or city centers or tectonic plates or the tropics or forests or deserts or the tundra or high-rises or geographic isolation or... oh crud, we're all gonna die. Excuse me, that's just my cynical teenage self breaking through, because... 


The dystopian nightmares of the 1990s are coming true(ish). 

Remember all that stuff Ranger Rick used to warn us about? Well, here we are, experiencing the acceleration of mass extinction and catastrophic climate change. Our childhood fascinations with dinosaurs failed to instill in us a healthy fear of our own extinction. Instead, we grew up into adults who burn the liquefied remains of dinosaurs every day, to power our fossil-fueled American dreams.

I recently read to my daughter (a slightly adapted version of) Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park as bedtime stories. During that time, our local mall, which, like all malls across America, is slowly degrading into a post-apocalyptic nightmare, hosted one of those traveling animatronic dinosaur exhibits that started when we mommies and daddies were children.

There is something delightfully horrible about taking your child to see a bunch of haggard old robots that were built ca. 1990 or earlier, which are now patched and scuffed and broken and haphazardly modified, screeching in their old analog-to-digital voices within a crumbling, dark cavern that was once your childhood Marshall Fields and now has its own weather of filth and falling ceiling tiles.


This thing actually walked across the floor. Not bad for last-century technology!

So there you have it. Reanimated dinosaurs. What else?

Oh yes, another of my favorite dystopian childhood books was Invitation to the Game by Canadian author Monica Hughes. In this book, trade school graduates are stuffed into government warehouses because there aren't any jobs left. Capitalism has failed, and all the soulless slugs who have been processed through the system accept their hopeless fate because they have super cool video games. However! The coolest new world-building video game, something like Minecraft, turns out to be a secret government training tool. A group of friends is selected to be trained via The Game and then rocketed off to the alien planet on which The Game is modeled so that they can make a desperate attempt to reseed humanity on a planet that isn't yet spoiled beyond repair.

OK, so that one hasn't fully panned out, but I think the basic fears it operated on have been sustained.

A great book (and film) from my later youth is Fight Club. Was anyone else reminded of this just a little bit when the Equifax breech hit the news?


I don't know about you, but if all my debt were wiped out, along with my bank account, I'd definitely come out ahead.

Haha! But seriously, I understand that would be catastrophic and not at all funny.

None of the above stories are exactly my nightmares as a suburban mom in 2017. But I do worry about pollution, extreme weather, peak oil, political corruption, the erasure of social progress and personal safety, and disruptions to all of our utilities and food production systems.

I'm a mom. I guess all that worry is a natural part of my life.

But my dreams are even more vivid than my nightmares.

Dystopian Dreams for a Suburban Family

These are some of the things I dream of having in the near future, to face a new age with optimism and strength rather than panic and dismay. I don't just want to be "prepped" to survive the next ice storm. I want to be empowered to thrive in whatever new reality the future gives us. And though we can't know exactly what will happen, we can make smart choices to gain flexibility, resilience, and adaptability.

I will probably never have all of the skills and things listed below, so I'll need friends who have what I don't. One of the most important things to have in a dystopia is a strong real-life social network. That's hard for me as an introvert, but I do make an effort to get along with people, help out others when I can, and nurture positive relationships in every area of my life, from my neighborhood to work to my wider social circle. Here are some things I either cherish already or wish for myself and my community:

Mad Skills

I have learned to value skills over stuff. The older I get, the less stuff I want to own. I want a life with less overhead, less clutter, less maintenance. I want the skills to acquire or create what I need, when I need it. In a dystopian scenario, I don't want to be a useless human desperately trying to defend a pile of valuable stuff. I'd rather be a valuable human without much to steal.

Some skills I value in my family, self, and community, which I believe may be valuable in the near future, include:

  • wilderness survival
  • first aid and home remedy care (the real kind; please put down the crystals)
  • gardening
  • foraging
  • hunting, particularly without firearms (bow and arrow, slingshot, trapping, etc.)
  • butchering
  • cooking with wild ass ingredients
  • building fires and cooking on fires
  • clothing and textile repair
  • martial arts
  • meditation
  • MacGyvering stuff
  • telling real good campfire stories 
  • imagining creative solutions
  • laughing in the dark and transforming horrors into adventures


  • Things to Stockpile

    Again, some of these are things I already have. Others I hope to acquire or be in a position to barter / trade / share.

    No matter how skilled we are in the ways of the scout or whatever, we'll still want certain things to live comfortably. See doomsday prepper websites for lists of things you may want to hoard in case of disaster. I won't go over all of that. This is my  list of things that I believe make our lives more sustainable and resilient, so we don't need as much space for hoarding or reasons to panic.

  • various types of vehicles: electric car, pickup truck, bicycles, etc.
  • home-power batteries and solar panels (so much better than a generator)
  • vegetable and fruit plants
  • cold frames and planters 
  • compost systems
  • rainwater management systems 
  • walnut processing and farming equipment
  • woodcutting tools; other small and large bladed tools
  • home repair tools and supplies
  • forested land containing silvopastured goats, pigs, ducks, and other tasty critters
  • bows and arrows, slingshots, animal traps
  • a cellar and shelf-stable food storage systems that don't require electricity (like canning jars)
  • an ancient-style ice house
  • Belle's palace library full of books


  • I hope that in the very near future, humans learn to live more safely, peacefully, healthfully, and sustainably. I dream of a world with less pain, fear, and social isolation. And whatever the future brings, I hope to face it with an open and creative mind.

    Now that I'm a mother, I can't just revel in cynicism like back in the day when Daria reflected my experiences. I'm fully invested in this sick, sad, and horribly beautiful world. And I'm also pretty darn settled. I own a suburban home right smack in the middle of Michigan, which is probably the most ideal bug-out zone for this entire hemisphere.

    And now, back to working on my historical novel--sorta the opposite of dystopian sci-fi but also very similar in its treatment of humans adapting and making their way in a world poised between destruction and regeneration.Yes, we're all mortal. Yes, the status quo will be replaced with a new normal one way or another. But we can be ready and willing to change.

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