Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah, Hello Real Life Survivahs,
S.O.S. from Camp Yawgoog! Thanks to an unexpected twist of fate (my husband’s back twisted when he lifted an old lawnmower into our minivan)—I’ve been banished here to the Rhode Island wilderness to camp out with my son’s boy-scout troop. However, unlike Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson, I have no survival skills unless you count those downloaded podcasts from Real Life Survival Guide that I’m frantically replaying in order to speed-prepare for what lies ahead (and out there, in the dark, where the skunk is).
So far, starting backwards from the first of our summer reruns, “The Man Show,” (Episode 46), the survival talk features Duo, Bruce, and their man-guests talking basements and “man stank”. Man stank—here’s a life-line! While Yawgoog’s raised-platform tents have no basements, there is plenty of man stank, and boy stank, and me stank. And there’s the skunk I saw in my flashlight beam last night just two feet away from my tent. So stank in general is an issue—but the problem, for me, is that this episode could deliver more. Not a little stank in this episode, a little in that—but rather serious, in-depth stank discussion, indexed and easily accessible. In emergency survival situations, anyone should be able to retrieve, quickly—(every second counts)—essential and substantial Survival Guide wisdom. Out here at Yawgoog, we could use an entire RLSG episode on stank mitigation alone. (And some femininity! How about a Woman Show, where women talk Basements. Ever since Edgar Allen Poe’s “Black Cat” narrator “accidentally” killed his wife and hid her in a cellar wall, women, I’d argue, have had more serious survival concerns and complicated relationships with their basements than have men.)
Real-life survival of the grittiest nature is foremost on every camper’s mind out here. It’s the first full day at Yawgoog. Already I’ve rigged our beds with mosquito netting canopies, spent a cool night under the stars in the “Princess Suite,” (private tent—I’m the only girl in our campsite), read the first chapter of Ford’s hot new bestseller Canada by the campfire under a tarp strung with Christmas lights, sung and shouted the “Camp Yawgoog Medicine Bow Song and Cheer” with hundreds of scouts in the mess hall, passed the swimming test, bought dark green boy-scout uniform socks in the Trading Post (forgot my socks), participated in an anti-litter police patrol, earned our troop one campground demerit for incorrect tent “flappage” and am now roughing it in the “Factor’s Club,” the exclusive adults-only log cabin that offers Wi-Fi, coffee, rustic ambiance and extension cords to corporate refugees in boy-scout uniforms who, like me, are cranking out important stuff on their laptops. Tomorrow morning maybe I’ll hike to Hidden Lake, duck in on an a archery session, learn how to shoot a 12-gauge Beretta at the shotgun range, weave together one of those popular Survival Bracelets all the boys are wearing, and then unwind with a few plein-air pencil drawings of sailboats on Yawgoog Pond or a visit to the historic Heritage Museum. It’ll be a miracle if any one of us makes it out of here alive.
For this reason, writing about the Real-Life Survival Guide’s 50th Episode is—for me—a labor of desperation and love, heartfelt and personal, what with survival questions constantly occupying every waking moment here on the Camp Yawgoog front.
Many questions! Each one, like man stank and basements, begs for in-depth discussions and answers. Fortunately, the Real Life Survival Guide Team has realized the show’s format must evolve to accommodate the growing demand for even richer conversations and better solutions to life’s everyday stresses. Based on guest editor, listener and on-line audience thoughts and suggestions, the team has opted for a new “chapter” format in order to facilitate more substantial, meaningful discussion and diverse perspectives around one theme—rather than several—during each half-hour conversation.
In other words, instead of jumping from beer to basements to grandparent pranks to personal grooming on commuter trains to celebrating man stank (although these topics often are interrelated, as The Man Show demonstrates), one show—aka one chapter of the Guide—will center around and flesh out a particular theme—say, just man stank for instance—along with the definition of stank, related stanks, relevant man-stank stories, situational stank , stank mistakes, and stank mitigation solutions. Deeper. Richer. Funnier. Scarier. Moving. Smart. Universally useful—and not just for females looking for boy-scout camp survival strategies.
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Shaped by guest and audience input (always encouraged and welcome!), each episode of RLSG’s “Manual for Modern Living” will center on one of the following ten “chapters”: Self Care, Relationships, Etiquette, Personal Finance, Work and Careers, House and Home, Parenting, Civics, The Environment, and Fun. (And since you’re taking suggestions, Team RLSG, how about an eleventh chapter on actual survival—serious, real and everyday Yawgoog-intense wilderness survival, the kind that requires emergency emery boards, Bug Juice mixers, First Aid for whittlers . . . and coping with P.T.S.D. after hearing “The Haunted Latrine?”) And don’t for a minute shove this topic under “Fun!”
Overall, guest editors have embraced RLSG because it’s often laugh-out-loud funny, authentic and promotes productive conversation (rather than polarization and YELLING) between people of diverse political, religious, economic, racial and ethnic backgrounds. The show helps us, as one guest pointed out, to “prepare” for life’s little bumps and hard knocks and to “repair” ourselves after encountering them. It creates a network of participants, restaurateurs representing New Haven and Connecticut’s multicultural community, listeners and readers who cut through social pretense, get “real,” and draw strength and resilience through sharing experiences that range from everyday stresses to serious illnesses, heartbreaks and setbacks. (You can catch past guests responding to the question, “What is the Real Life Survival Guide?” on Gary Choronsky’s smart, poignant and humorous video interviews from the 50th Episode’s taping at Lyric Hall.) This mini-documentary is especially helpful to those of us who missed out on the party and are catching up with where RLSG has been, what it means, and where the show’s going.
Full disclosure: I feel like a fraud, writing about an event I couldn’t attend. Due to a critical middle-school orchestra-concert situation, I skipped the Lyric Hall 50th-Show festivities. The concert, a must-see, was scheduled at the same time. Middle-school orchestra parents camped out overnight at our local shopping plaza for tickets; by sun-up, the ticket line extended around the store to the rear grocery-complex loading-zone area. You could take your chance with scalpers, but everyone knew those seats go over two hours before the seventh-grade strings start tuning. And then! . . . Let’s just say nothing compares to the surround-sound experience of listening to Requiem for a Euphonium and Postcards from Post-Soviet Russia when performed by a middle-school orchestra, live. Beat that, Lyric Hall! (And keep me on the 100th episode guest list.)
Although bummed to miss out, secretly I felt relieved at having escaped airing my own perspective about RLSG, on Facebook and Youtube, to the show’s millions of listeners and viewers. I’m a stilted and awkward speaker at the get-go, especially when trying to sputter out something smart. (The show bills itself as “intelligent conversation.”) As a guest, especially the first time, I felt the pressure—internally imposed, yes—Bruce and Duo are really supportive and engaging!—but still, I’ve needed a warm-up period to grow comfortable with the recording environment and Bruce’s handy palm-recorder pointed my way to signal “You’re on!” The first thing that usually comes to mind (usually the quickest thought, shallowest and easiest—and not necessarily the best) makes the cut—because each guest really only has precious seconds to comment briefly on one topic (e.g. “what makes a great party?”) before we jump to the next (“how do you stay politically engaged without being political?”). The Real-Life Survival Guide me, overly self-aware and guarded and forced, hasn’t felt or sounded like the realme. RLSG’s new, focused format comes as a relief, however, because now guests will have the opportunity to “settle in” and talk their way through to the bone of a meaty topic rather than break off a wish-bone and leave the restaurant hungry for more.
Even so, I’m intimidated—and always will be—as a guest on a show promoting “intelligent” talk. “Intelligence” is, for me, one of those subjective and messy words like “culture” which conveys a history of upper-crust biases, class-informed overtones, and ruling-class ideology. (Yeah, yeah, call me uptight.) Not that there’s anything wrong with intelligent conversation, but I don’t know—it reminds me of those Homo Sapiens evolution charts featuring skull sizes and cranial capacity measurements, and I.Q. Tests, and universities and alumni magazines and Who’s Who volumes and The Social Register and Andrew Carnegie “elevating” the lower laboring classes with libraries and art institutions while his hired Pinkertons were shooting strikers at Homestead, and it reminds me of that phrase Duo once used on a show: “Resume Friends.” Whom are we leaving out of the “intelligent” discussion? Good news: the show is very serious about responding to audience requests for more diversity. As The Real Life Survival Guide commits to greater inclusiveness, the team will be constantly re-evaluating and asking over and over—with a critical eye—whether the Guide is truly representative of a wide social swath and therefore really real.
Of course there are multiple understandings of “intelligence”—i.e. “street smarts,” “emotional intelligence,” that are not necessarily culture and class-loaded. And there’s the super-informed smarty-pants “expert,” too, the credentialed speaker who talk shows bring in to analyze the situation for us regular folk. RLSG avoids “the expert.” A big part of the show’s appeal is in its decidedly non-expert guests; the survival discussions happen between people who have been there, who share and laugh over the experiences, mistakes, laughter, disasters and triumphs they’ve encountered in the everyday muck of existence. Duo once contrasted “Resume Friends” to “Trench Friends,” the ones you keep, the ones you really connect with and know and stand by even when you screw up, and I think this is a good way to think of the show’s conversationalists. As RLSG evolves, digs and delves into issues, I wonder if we’ll see grittier, truer “trench talk” that is even smarter, funnier and more useful than “intelligent conversation” because—as its episodes narrow in focus and its guest list broadens in demographic scope—the show, more and more, has the potential to strike at the core of everyday survival reality for the widest audience possible. And for me “trench talk”—not to be confused with “gutter talk!”—sounds more welcoming than exclusive, and I can relax when thinking of RLSG conversations in this way.
In the meantime, forget relaxing! It’s campground inspection time again and I have to tri-fold my sleeping bag, fill the red fire buckets, and hide the Virginia Slims and travel-size Bacardi bottles in the minivan. Plus, if I don’t roll my tent flaps the right way, I’ll cause us another demerit, and the whole troop will lose its First-Class Campground status and have to do push-ups. But we’ll get through it because we’ve survived through worse out here at Yawgoog and best of all, because the new-and-improved Real Life Survival Guide is in the works (better yet, hopefully overnight mail) and, as we stand and shout in the mess hall (like, hundreds and thousands of times at full deafening volume—get me oughtta here!):
We’re tough as pine knots, HO
For we come from Medicine Bow, can’t you see?
HEY, HEY, Bow for the bow
RAH, RAH, Bow for the bow
RAH, RAH, HOO-RAH, HOO-RAH
Medicine BOW, RAH, RAH, RAH YEA!
Mary Elliott is a stay-at-home Mom with four children, one husband and two leopard geckos. She has a Yale B.A., a Ph.D. in English from Boston College, and—in her old life—taught writing, English and American lit courses at B.C., Gonzaga University & Whitworth College in Spokane, WA.
Upon the birth of her twins in Colorado, she perished rather than published, but has written a couple of novels that need serious rework before they see the light of day. She contributes to Real Life Survival Guide’s Guest Editor blog, is active with the Madison Land Conservation Trust and likes to play the fiddle, hike, bike-ride and unwind with good friends.