I walk any- and everywhere at all times of day and night with nary a fear of being mugged, raped, or murdered. When something rustles in the woods, I know it’s a squirrel or a rabbit or a skunk.
Come to think of it, skunks are the danger I think most about. Walking after dark on one of the long nights of winter, I know Travvy can see, smell, and/or sense them long before I do. He’s always leashed, but in his younger days while on his retractable he once flushed a skunk from some scrub in broad daylight and emerged with the skunk in his mouth. Fortunately the skunk’s business end was pointing in the other direction, and my shriek “Travvy!” startled him enough to loosen his jaws and release the skunk.
Sometimes the beam from my headlamp catches the flat round glow of skunk eyes further up the trail. So far, so good: the skunk disappears into the underbrush and Trav and I proceed on our way, my heart beating a little faster than it was before.
As potential physical dangers go, skunks are not high on the list. If Travvy or I got sprayed, it would be a big inconvenience, but it’s far preferable to getting beat up or worse.
Freedom from not only violence but the fear of violence is precious, and I’ve come to take it for granted. Long ago I read that people who watch a lot of TV tend to overestmate the dangers of their own surroundings. I don’t own a TV and haven’t lived with one in decades. Studies and stories I’ve heard suggest that women are in most danger from men they know, especially spouses and ex-spouses. Having no male spouses or ex-spouses in my personal history doesn’t make me immortal, but it does make me breathe easier.
On Facebook, though, I see reports of violence from here, there, and everywhere. My mind takes it in, it often makes me very angry, but I continue to walk at all hours without fear.
Two days ago a man drove a white rental van into a crowd of pedestrians on a busy Toronto sidewalk, killing 10 and injuring at least 13. Initial reports suggest that the driver hung out in social media spaces populated by misogynist men.
What violence appears in my first novel, The Mud of the Place, and the novel in progress is mostly in the characters’ past, but the threat and repercussions linger for several of them. And yeah, misogyny is a factor, even when the target isn’t a woman. Wayne Swanson stalks Jay Segredo, his ex-brother-in-law, and eventually takes a shot at his car as he drives down the Edgartown–West Tisbury Road, all because he blames Jay for the breakup of his marriage. Of course the fact that Janice, his ex-wife, was hospitalized more than once for wounds that he inflicted has nothing to do with it.
Wolfie, the canine title character of the work in progress, almost gets shot near the beginning of the book. In the past he’s almost certainly done violence to chickens and possibly to sheep as well.
Violence, I can’t help noticing, makes plotting easier. Violent acts have both backstories and repercussions. Out of backstories and repercussions comes plot. (A few years back I blogged about murder as handy literary trope: “Murder, They Write — and Write, and Write.”)
My friend Cynthia Riggs writes murder mysteries set on Martha’s Vineyard. So did the late Phil Craig. The bodies pile up; both place and character are revealed. I’ve read most of Cynthia’s books (and manage her website) and enjoy them very much, not least for their evocation of the Vineyard and Victoria Trumbull, their 92-year-old sleuth.
But I can’t help thinking that if murder were that common on Martha’s Vineyard, I probably wouldn’t be quite so careless about walking in the woods at night.