The Day the Honeybadger Accepted Mother Nature

by Alafair Burke

I pride myself on being a person who can TCB, take care of business. If I see a problem, I fix it. If someone says it can’t be done, I figure out a way. I have plans, back-up plans, and back-ups to the back-up. There’s a reason some of my friends have taken to calling me Honeybadger. (From this inexplicably viral video: “The honeybadger has been referred to by the Guiness Book of World Records as the most fearless animal in all of the animal kingdom. It really doesn’t give a shit.”)

So when I heard that all the Irene nonsense was threatening to interfere with my book event yesterday at Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Pittsburgh with Laura Lippman, I got to work. I stalked Irene on the internet like a bad ex-boyfriend, anticipating her descent on the city. I moved my return flight to Monday. I booked an extra night in a hotel. I figured out when I would make up my Tuesday classes at the law school, just in case.

Laura kindly offered to let me detour to her place in Baltimore if necessary, so I was armed with an arsenal of options and information: all flight and train schedules from Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and DC. I was going to kick Irene’s butt.

But then something changed Friday afternoon. The mayor announced the closure of the entire public transit system starting at noon, a good eight hours before the earliest predictions of the storm. Car services stopped taking bookings to the airport. Still, I had faith my Saturday morning flight would be fine. Surely the airline would want to move planes out of the New York area.

Friday night, I got the news. My flight was canceled.

My inner honeybadger refused to give up. I could take the morning train to Baltimore in time to hop into Laura’s car. The two of us would Thelma and Louise it to Pittsburgh (minus the rape, robbery, and suicide pact, of course). I would stay in the hotel and write until the storm passed. I would be the victor!

And then someone saner than I spoke up. In a calm, neutral voice, she asked me to imagine that the worst, most hysterical predictions were accurate. Did I really want to be on a train heading into the storm? Did I really want to risk not being able to get home in time for class? How would I feel in the hotel, watching the storm on the news if I couldn’t get hold of my husband and the Duffer?

So at the end of the day on Friday, I did something I rarely do. I gave up. Or gave in. I accepted that some things weren’t worth fighting. I may think I’m more clever than the average bear (okay, I am more clever than the average bear). But I can’t predict the unpredictable. I can’t control the weather. And as much as I adore Mary Alice and Richard at Mystery Lovers Bookshop, as much as I love me some Laura Lippman, this one wasn’t going to happen.

I suppose I could feel beaten. I imagine some would say I should have to resign my Honeybadger status. But I think even the Honeybadger knows when to pick its battles.

As it turns out, Irene went out with a whimper, but there was no way to know that in advance and therefore no reason to have regrets.  Added bonus: The weekend turned out to be a pretty cool time in the city. 




Impromptu Irene book lending library in my apartment building lobby

When was the last time you decided not to try to control something?  What happened?

P.S. Speaking of my canceled event with Laura, here is a nice joint interview in the Pittsburgh paper about the benefits of a shared tour event. Some of you may enjoy it. Be sure to pick up a copy of Laura’s new book, The Most Dangerous Thing. She’s such a major talent!

16 thoughts on “The Day the Honeybadger Accepted Mother Nature

  1. Barbie

    Awww, you're so sweet to offer books to your neighbors during the storm!!! 🙂

    I'm a control freak, and I have major anxiety issues, so, NOT controlling for me presents somewhat of an issue, because even if I tell myself in my head I can't control everything, I often tend to panic about it. So, I don't really give up control easily. In fact, as I keep trying to think of an example of the last time I gave up control, I can't think of any. I suppose flying to me is giving up HUGE control. I'm one of these people who knows we're much more likely to die in a car accident than a plane accident, but I have the false sensation of control when I'm driving, and that calms me immensely. I have to fly twice this week and I don't like it one little bit. Worse, my MOTHER has to fly, and here's that panic thing again.

    Yeah, that's me for ya 🙂

  2. Reine

    I can be like that but not about everything. And if there's something I want to do, I plan out my attack in great detail and find a way to do it. However I do make room for hurricanes and haboobs. If I realize that something isn't going right with the doing of what I think I want, I stop, regroup, and move on to a different plan.

    The last time I recall doing this, giving up on something, was when I was headed to a new doctoral program with an advisor I wanted and that I'd planned on and prepared for – for years. I was accepted but wasn't given any money, So I quick applied to a different program and they gave me money. When I arrived at the welcoming dinner for new students, on the other coast, in walked the professor who was going to be my advisor in the other program. She was there as a guest professor for the year. Sometimes I just get lucky. Then she turned out to be a nasty bitch, and I was glad I was where I was. Luck again.

  3. Alafair Burke

    Barbie, I also carry around a ton of anxiety, whether I'm trying to control or desperately trying not to control. Sigh. I sometimes wish I could be one of those other kind of people.

    Reine, That's hilarious. I've also had those fortuitous better paths in my life.

  4. JT Ellison

    I'm glad Manhattan wasn't so badly hit – but the rest of the states in the path are really struggling. So many dead, so many without power, so many businesses lost…. . Breaks my heart.

  5. Eika

    Irene 'went out with a whimper'?

    150,000 power outages. 275 roads flooded or washed out, including four highways/routes. We lost at least four bridges, counting only those I've seen washed away in videos; one covered bridge stood since 1760. At least 50 different places where flooding cut off a street or neighborhood, no way out, even if the residents (without power in most cases) were fine. Falling trees, flying branches. I'm not going to go into the dozens of places– including a trailer park and senior group home– that had to be evacuated due to flooding.

    And, miraculously, the highest report is only four deaths.

    Irene didn't hit hard in the places it was supposed to, but some places still got slammed. It did NOT go out with a whimper.


  6. David Corbett

    I'm not so sure the issue is losing control as much as realizing the risk/reward ratio is wildly out of whack. You coulda honey-badgered your way through, but something else tugged at your mind — or your heartstrings. Your loved ones. You're not alone. Your endangerment means something to someone. Makes a big difference in the risk calculus.

    The last time this happened to me — and another time, longer ago, even more devastating — are both too raw and too personal, so we won't go there. But the most memorable times I had to make a hard decision between keeping on and stopping, giving in, was when I had to put down one or the other of the dogs. It was a case of — I'm going to admit that no amount of money and willful wishful thinking can turn mortality around. They're old, they're sick, they're hurting, it's a gentle way to go, all things considered. Sucks though. I miss them all. Magical little beasts. Friends.

    Love the people who love you back when the chance is there. Won't be forever, as you so wisely realized. Mary Alice and Richard are lovely folks, two of the loveliest in the biz. Laura's a gas. But. And as you noted, it turned out to be a great weekend in the city. One to remember, I'll bet. Not just for you, but Sean and Duffer too.

  7. Zoë Sharp

    Having grown up living on a boat and sailing, I learned a long time ago that when the weather talks, you listen.

    When we had the storms hit us a few years ago (152mph winds that removed part of our roof) we had no power for a week afterwards – in the middle of January. Fortunately, the insulation is really good in our house and the place didn't get cold, even with about a third of the slates missing from the roof. We played a lot of Scrabble by candlelight, and worked on the laptops which we could then recharge in the car. Glad it didn't last more than a week, though. A friend in Florida told us we are now fully paid-up members of the Huff, Puff and Blow Your House Down Club.

    What is that old saying, though? Give me the strength to change the things I can, the patience to ignore the things I can't, and the wisdom to recognise the difference.

    Good luck to everyone who's affected by this.

  8. Allison Davis

    Learning when to fight and when to let go has been a life long lesson for me and I am now getting into that rhythm. I am a gotta-do-it-all kind of person but lately, have decided that some of it isn't worth all the time and energy. I recently said no to travel for a family event, I left work early on Friday to go see Midnight in Manhatten instead of working until 7, — while these are little things they are a change of heart so I get it. Sometimes we do the fight because we are so into not losing — but then realize, staying behind in a storm with your husband and your dog and watch the City deal, well that's also a prize in itself. Nice.

    Today is the anniversary of Katrina so appropriate post.

  9. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Let's see…I learned the value of not trying to control everything in my life about eight years ago in marriage counseling. The result is that I get to keep my wife and family.

  10. Alafair Burke

    JT and Alaina, I should not have been so glib about Irene's impact. From the insular view of Manhattan, it was a long build-up to something that was (thankfully) downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it worked its way to us. It was in fact because of the devastation prior to Sunday that we were expecting the very worst.

    David and Stephen, Funny that you both mention marriage and how you have to learn to live your life knowing that you matter to someone else. I've been thinking of ways to work that into the book I'm working on now, and thinking through my response to the weekend helped me see that marriage has changed me.

  11. Judy Wirzberger

    I going to ignore everything and just comment on how great empty streets can look. and what was it like without the rattle of the subway train? Hope Duffer had a marvelous walk….and is doing well.

  12. Pari Noskin

    A not so recent time was when I went up in a hot air balloon. Up until we were at around 500 feet, I kept worrying and worrying that we were going to crash, that the envelope would rupture . . . but at a certain point I let go and the experience was transcendent. <g>.

  13. Alafair Burke

    Pari, OK, come to think of it, the honeybadger is afraid of one thing…heights! There's no way I could do a hot air balloon.

    Judy, it was so absurdly quiet. No construction. No horns. No buses or subway squeals. Duffer didn't get too much walking in because I was worried about a limb falling on him (not on me, mind you, just him), but he is doing really well. Thanks!

  14. Tammy Cravit

    The "let go of things you can't control" thing is a nearly constant battle in my life at the moment. My daughter's emotional and behavioral issues are truly a roller coaster ride, and when she "gets on the bus to crazy-town", as my spouse likes to say, letting go and riding out the storm is the only healthy choice I can make. But it sure isn't an easy one.

    – Tammy, who is very glad that, as bad as Irene was, it wasn't a whole lot worse.

  15. PD Martin

    I'm a bit of a control freak too. There…I've admitted it. And I generally don't like to give in. I guess I have 'given in' recently to economics and taken on some corporate writing work. Much higher hourly rate than books at the moment, unfortunately!

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