What would you do if the zombie apocalypse actually happened? Would you pull a Walking Dead and drag out the crossbow you have under the bed (just in case)? Or would you perhaps…rather not deal with it at all. Olivie Blake, author of The Atlas Six, joins us on the blog today to discuss motherhood, the zombie apocalypse, and how those two things connect. Check it out here!
By Olivie Blake
Hi. I’m Olivie Blake. I’m the mother of a teething goblin who never sleeps and whose laugh lights up my soul like a thousand choirs of angels. And if the apocalypse comes, I have no choice. I have to stay alive.
This is not how I would prefer things to be.
I once got into a heated argument over a nacho party platter about why I have no desire to live through any sort of apocalypse scenario. My opponent (sorry, acquaintance) said that she would be willing to survive because she was “curious.” I, on the other hand, was not curious. At all. What happens, I ranted, when there is no more energy company to give you electricity, no more indoor plumbing, nothing left in the stores and so you have to weave and sew your own clothing—how can anyone navigate the lawlessness of human nature under apocalyptic circumstances? My acquaintance said she could probably handle a gun, I said this wasn’t just a matter of weapons efficacy. This was about surviving in a primal state where she and I (similarly built women of unimpressive size and strength) were no longer the apex predators. It was not only my dearest wish to avoid the emotional trauma of watching society collapse—I was simply Not Going to Do It.
“Well, I’m still curious,” she said. We never spoke again.
The point isn’t that I’m insufferable at parties, although that’s one possible takeaway. In her book Little Labors, Rivka Galchen wrote this tiny little essay called “New Variety of Depression.” It turns out, she perfectly summed up my life. It’s true what they say, that a baby gives you a reason to live. But also, a baby is a reason that it is not permissible to die. There are days when this does not feel good.
So, yes. If the apocalypse comes I have no choice. I have to stay alive for my son.
When I was asked to write something about being a writer and a new parent, I’m sure this is not at all what my editors had in mind. Presumably I’m supposed to be talking about how hard it is to find the time to answer an email, much less write a manuscript, or what it’s like to try to be cerebral and innovative when I haven’t slept more than two consecutive hours in over eight months. Or maybe something about how the labor of having to preemptively cater to everyone else’s needs is enough to make anyone think okay, forget the novel, I need a nap. There are a thousand—a million—blog posts to write about how exhausted I feel, how terrified and insecure I am at any given moment as both a person and an artist. About how unrecognizable my mind and my body are. About how much I fear the inevitability of my old friend depression returning to me, and whether I will find the strength to carry it all when I am inevitably forced to greet it.
Instead, I want to speculate about the doom days. Specifically, how I think my reluctant survival will play out should the zombie apocalypse begin today.
Let’s start with my fighting capacity, since that’s where people like to start at parties (from which I am understandably banned). I boxed quite seriously for three years before I got too pregnant to move, so I’m not what I’d call weak or incapable of combat, though I lost nearly all of my muscle tone to pregnancy and it would take a long time to gain it back. I’m not actually angry about this, because when my son was born I told myself it was better to be a little soft and squishy so that he could sleep long and restfully, or at least as long and restfully as he ever did. Being softer has made me kinder to myself, which was unexpected. After a lifetime of vanity and hatred and never for one moment thinking I deserved to find myself beautiful just as I was, I can look at myself now and be grateful. Which means if I get attacked by a zombie I’m probably screwed. But I can’t die, because if I do, who will be the softness for my son when he can’t sleep?
I’m a pretty good cook, although I buy everything from Trader Joe’s and have no gardening experience whatsoever. In fact I’ve killed a lot of plants. But my mother is Filipino, my stepfather is a chef, and for us food is a language of love, and thus a language in which I am fluent. My son is just beginning to eat solid foods, and so far his only loves are 1) purees I freeze as popsicles for his sore gums, 2) mandarin oranges, 3) peanut butter. When he first tastes a food, he usually doesn’t want to eat it with his hands or a self-feeding spoon. He likes to eat it first from my finger. So while I don’t know if I can do the whole self-subsisting farmer thing, I obviously will have to. Because if I don’t, who will teach my son to eat, or help him understand that “I made this for you” means love?
I’m not sure what use I am to the post-apocalypse society, vocationally speaking. I assume nobody will want books about homicidal magic nerds anymore since we live in a world where zombies eat brains. I don’t think I’m the first person to realize their main skills aren’t all that useful for the proverbial end of days, though I suppose that if there’s one thing motherhood has helped with, it’s to make things a lot less existential. Why do I exist? What’s my purpose? These are the questions you don’t ask yourself when you’re running on pure adrenaline and one or two bites of whatever’s about to expire in the fridge (and there’s no fridge anymore, remember, because of the zombies). For so long now, it’s been my job—or rather, my self-appointed task—to ask these questions, and although the existence of my son has reset most of my priorities, it hasn’t erased my need to understand the outer limits of myself, where I end and others begin. So now, when I ask myself why am I here/do I matter/why was I of all people spared from the zombie pandemic that recently destroyed society—I am usually pondering while holding my son. You could argue in some deeply theoretical way (aka the way we no longer have any use for, in the apocalypse) that by having a child, I have already made my efforts to live, in some form, forever. I have done my due diligence for the species. Now the question is how do I live.
The answer, as far as I can gather, is one day at a time. I can’t exist only for the day when my baby finally sleeps through the night or when the zombies invariably come for my softer, squishier form because it would mean missing every moment in between. I can no longer count down until the end. Every heartbreaking moment when he stands on his own without me I realize, paradoxically, that it is my job to teach him how to walk away. Every moment he makes a sound that maybe, might be, only-if-I’m-dreaming (but aren’t I allowed to dream?) sound like “mama” is a moment of my heart. If I am focused on the ending, I will miss them. Every moment that he stirs in his sleep and whimpers and I know, even if science disagrees, that he is having a nightmare and it’s my job to be there when he opens his eyes. Every moment he cries and every time he smiles and every breath he takes that reminds me of the time I sat alone in my car and realized there were two hearts beating inside my body, his and mine. If I am waiting for the worst, I will miss this. I will miss all these moments, and if I miss them, then I will miss the excruciating highs and piercing lows of human experience that it has always been my job, and my dream, to write about.
Possibly you have guessed by now (if you’re unfamiliar with my work) that my book is very, well, thinky. It’s character-driven and meandering at times, there are high emotional highs and low emotional lows, and it asks questions like ‘hey what should we do with knowledge and power’ and also, ‘is it someone’s right to have more of it or someone else’s curse to have less?’ And maybe that isn’t your thing, and you should probably avoid me at dinner parties, if we even have those anymore (you know, because of the zombies). Ultimately, the point I came here to make is that life as a mother is harder than it was before. My work is infinitely more difficult to complete and also more challenging to perform. But also, the scope of my experience goes deeper. I have felt more tired, more hopeless, and also more ecstatic and triumphant and yes, fuck it, #blessed than I could have ever imagined, and even though the apocalypse presumably holds zombies with machetes and no working toilets to be found and I am sure, quite sure, that I will suffer in ways I have yet to understand—despite all of this, I have to keep living.
There are days when this does not feel good. And then there are days when the nachos are delicious, and my son kind of says “mama,” and my husband kisses me without looking because he’s done it a million times before, and I send in my revised draft a little bit later than I wanted to, but I still send it. And life is torturous. And it is beautiful. And it is imperfect.
And it goes on.
Olivie Blake is the pseudonym of Alexene Farol Follmuth, a lover and writer of stories. She has penned several indie SFF projects, including the webtoon Clara and the Devil with illustrator Little Chmura and the BookTok-viral Atlas series. As Alexene, she is the author of the young adult rom-com My Mechanical Romance. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, new baby, and rescue pit bull.