Michaeline: Wake-up Call with a North Korean Missile

Stylish 1950s matron riding a rocket over a radio station while her male co-host tumbles in her wake.

Crushed by world events? Don’t be! Ride them to writing nirvana! (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Of course, it happened on a Tuesday. I hate Tuesdays. I was in that drowsy, half-state between dreaming and wakefulness, when the alert went off at 6:02 a.m. “Earthquake!” I automatically assumed as I fumbled for my phone, but instead, it was something I never imagined I would see.

“Missiles launched. Missiles launched.”

My Japanese is not great, but I could read that. “A missile from North Korea has been launched (something). Please evacuate to a something-strong/OK building or underground.”

It didn’t matter that my Japanese wasn’t perfect. Knowing that a missile (or missiles – Japanese is very vague on the whole singular/plural thing, and you know that I was imagining a whole murder of black missiles flying through the skies), anyway, knowing that a missile had been launched was enough. I called my daughter who lives near her high school, and started texting loved ones before coming to the conclusion that maybe the bathroom would be a safer place than in front of our bedroom window.

I’d managed to make myself decent enough for a quick period to my existence, and then it was all over. By 6:12 a.m., the all-clear alert showed up on my phone, and I re-texted loved ones to let them know we were okay. No fiery death on this particular Tuesday.

I could tell you all the feelings I had, and all the plans I spun in the next 48 hours. Some people shut down when they get scared. I go full-on Robinson Crusoe. I made a quick list of emergency supplies for my kid, came up with five different evacuation plans, and designed a lovely fall-out bonnet with denim cape before I ran out of steam.

What I will tell you, though, is that this is going to be story fodder. It’s easy enough to create a conflict-lock for the big story. Our antagonist (who could easily be the protagonist of his own story) wants a place at the table, making decisions about the fate of the world. He hasn’t got a lot of money, but he does have smarts (well, his scientists have smarts) and tenacity, and decides the best way to be heard is by carrying a big nuclear stick.

On the other side, our protagonist (who could easily be an antagonist) wants to benevolently run a peaceful world, taking in peaceful feedback from peaceful countries. And to keep those countries peaceful, he (and I’m not talking about just the current president, but rather all of them for quite some time) carries a big carrot called trade, and a big stick in the form of military exercises off the coast of the Korean peninsula. We are not quite to the dark night at the end of the second act, and no one can predict how this story is going to end.

I spent my morning trying to figure out how I could reduce these big-stage world conflicts down to a manageable romance. Perhaps my antagonist could be young June. Her grandfather was a classic “get off my lawn!” kind of guy who made himself a neighborhood nuisance, and her father continued the tradition until he died and left the house to June. On the other hand, we have her neighbors, Sam and the Allies, who were originally a garage band, but also have a long-standing tradition of shooting pellets at a target on the driveway every September in order to prepare for vole-hunting season.

June complains that they are going to hit her cat, but Sam and the boys blow her off. So, June decides she’s going to get rid of the town vole problem for once and all, and starts experimenting in HER garage. She hasn’t got much money, but she’s got an old chemistry set. Pretty soon, she’s setting off large booms.

Oh, the boys are mad. It’s loud and dangerous, and who knows when she’s going to blow up the neighborhood? Sam confronts June, which only serves to make her madder (even though she thinks he’s really cute and can’t help but notice he’s as rich as Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice). And then . . . ?

And then I don’t know. I’m just not sure if this is the kind of story I want to be in my head for a full year until I develop it and get it out on the page. On the other hand, it’d be great if I could pull a happy ending out of the whole thing. Honestly, I’d rather be writing about magic spells and ghosts and romantic rendezvous. I’m not sure what else I can do . . . .

Still, one shouldn’t refuse to even consider story fodder when it flies right over one’s home. I’ll keep working at it.

14 thoughts on “Michaeline: Wake-up Call with a North Korean Missile

    • Heart. That’s pretty much how I feel. But at least it wasn’t like a scene out of Ghibli’s Howl’s Moving Castle.

      More bad news on the way, I’m afraid. My homepage says that NK says they have tested an H-bomb. It doesn’t really matter if they have or not right now; what matters is the reactions that follow.

  1. How terrine and frightening, Michaeline! One thought in terms of story fodder: Even if you never use the specific event of missiles flying overhead, your reaction/response–the fear, communication, activities, the exhaustion—are something to remember and use when one of you characters faces a crisis of whatever kind.

    Glad for all of us and you in particular that the missile activity wasn’t worse.

    • Oh, yes. This is really grounding for when I write these types of scenes in fantasy and science fiction. My reaction is one baseline; my friend’s reaction is another baseline. There was a very interesting AskReddit thread about people who have been in a crisis situation, and the things they thought about and shared. Enter with caution because it IS Reddit, but people are mostly mature and thoughtful. I got a lot out of the thread.

      • Going to read that thread in a minute–thanks. Just wanted to say that you’re right about reactions being specific to individuals. You never know what you’ll do until you’re confronted with the situation. Very small example–back in the day, I went in to my office to find a young guy in a checked shirt scrabbling around under my desk. He looked like someone who would have worked for the IT dept, so even though I didn’t know him, I thought he must be working on my computer. I thought no more of it until I moved closer and realised he was removing my wallet and phone from my handbag. I was round the desk so fast, yelling my head off. I grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and lifted him off the floor and shook him. Luckily (!) he was an experienced thief, so he didn’t lay a finger on me, but when the police eventually arrived they gave me a lecture that it was a stupid thing to do and I could have been badly hurt. If I’d been thinking with my front brain, I’d have figured that out for myself, but my hindbrain took over. I guess in the ‘fight/freeze/fight choice’, my monkey brain chose ‘fight’ before I knew what was happening.

        • Oh my goodness. Yeah, I think there’s at least a 50 percent chance that my inner “school marm” would come out in that case. I don’t know if I’d physically shake him, but I’d probably be a bit starchy. “Hey! Young man, what do you think you are doing? Put that back right now!”

          But then again, 50 percent chance something else entirely would happen.

  2. I can’t begin to imagine how frightening this must have been, Michaeline. As Kay says, very glad that it wasn’t worse and here’s hoping the situation doesn’t get any worse.

    Lisa Cron says that we read fiction as a kind of safe space to test out our responses to unfamiliar situations. I think that must be even more true of writers and I bet, when the initial shock has worn off, your muse will find all kinds of ways to process this experience.

    • This kind of situation is so fleeting, so we MUST write after an event, even before the shock wears off. By now, five days later, I’m mostly working on memories of what I thought. And even those might be kind of fuzzy and certainly not as urgent, if it weren’t for the things I wrote on that day. Writing things down reinforced what I was feeling in my mind, and it also provided a record of how I felt.

      North Korea is still futzing around with tests, only now it feels a lot more immediate.

      But on the lighter side of the news, one of the Japanese princesses is marrying a commoner soon. She’ll lose her royal status, but everyone loves a wedding, it seems. Such an attractive couple!

      • You are so right, Michaeline, I’m finding that writing in a journal seems to be the best form of catharsis to alleviate the anxiety enough to free my mind from fear paralysis. Seneca said not to dwell on the fear but think of living with the thought that things often can turn out for the best. Deep breath. I walk into the world of my story in progress looking for the best ending. And listen to music. Thank you all for the hugs. I helps to feel you are not alone.

        • “Keep calm and carry on” has been so overused these days, but there’s something really calming about it in times like these. I love the Seneca paraphrase. It’s a great reminder that the world has been in complete and utter turmoil before, and will probably survive this and go through the cycle again and again.

          We’ll just have to do our best!

  3. I live on the tip of a peninsular in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. A movie studio filmed a story about the bombing during WWII. There were planes flying overhead, black smoke filled the sky. It unnerved many of us. Some who didn’t know it was a movie were calling the police in fear.

    I’m feeling a lot of anxiety about these missiles and I don’t know how to process this. It’s too real a threat and to not just me, but my family. Journaling may help, and in time maybe I can put words to these feelings of helplessness, fear, and anger.

    Somethings are very hard to articulate, even to yourself.

    • It must be awful to live where generalized anxieties could so easily come to pass. You have all my sympathy, Jan! I worry about what will happen in the near future, too, but at least I don’t have warplanes flying overhead and warnings coming in text messages. Writing has always bolstered my spirits, not only because it requires that I discipline my mind, but because I can create my own plots, and especially, my own endings. It isn’t much, but it’s something. Wishing peace for you and all of us.

    • Oh, hugs! You’ve got institutional memories working there because there are folks there who actually remember the surprise attack, and then you’ve got the world situation as it is now. The stupid, stupid world situation. Guam is halfway between Tokyo and Hawaii, if I remember my geography right.

      The movie studio really should have been better about informing people! Maybe a door-to-door with a small gift? Well, that’s what they’d do in Japan.

      I don’t know how to help with the processing. I guess having a plan in place is the best we can do. Know where you’d go, have your tropical storm supplies up to date (they double for other supplies), and make sure your family has a clue about what to do if something happens when everyone is at home, and if everyone is away from home. Where do you rendezvous? Will you leave messages someplace special if you have to leave the house?

      You can shift a little of the anxiety away from the missiles, because this is basic emergency planning. You aren’t planning for a bomb here, no sir, no ma’am, not making it more real. You are planning for flooding, lava, fire or some other act of nature.

      (-: And when I say you, I really mean me. It’s all a pep talk to get me unparalyzed and into a place where I can do things again. But if by putting this out in public, I help even one person do even one thing (prepare for an emergency, or write a haiku), I’d be really happy.

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