Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Fatigue Factor

Sharon Wildwind

From last Wednesday to Sunday, I was on Prince’s Island, enjoying the Calgary Folk Music Festival. We started with a volunteer walk-through of the site Wednesday evening. I worked volunteer shifts Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and two on Sunday. Because Creedence Clearwater Revisited, whose music I love, were the closing act on Sunday night’s main stage, there was no way I was leaving until after the final encore.

Fortunately, I’ve learned to pace myself and emerged from the weekend energized; healthily fed; well hydrated; and tired, but not exhausted. Not so some folks around me. It was fascinating to watch how fatigue crept up on people and how otherwise sensible individuals didn’t realize how tired they had gotten.

One of my gripes about mysteries is how fast the hard-boiled types recover from beatings, blood loss, and bullets. Yes, I know the story has to keep moving, so the cop taking two weeks off isn’t on, but super-human recovery times still destroy the similitude of real life. It’s the same with what I call the Non-stop Bunny Detective. Like the famous pink rabbit with the base drum, this gal keeps going and going and going.

She rarely gets a full night’s sleep. She drinks too much black coffee and too much wine. Her diet is abysmal, and her stress level taller than the Calgary Tower. She rarely exercises, except when the author needs her to do a 10-mile run, first thing in the morning. At that point she throws on her exercise clothes — which we never knew she had — and runs her favorite route — which also had never been mentioned before — clearing her head so she recognizes a vital clue she missed before.

Things I’d love to see both amateur and professional detectives do in books

Have a regular fitness program. I’m willing to believe the 10-mile run as the vital-clue-head-clearer if she runs more often than once in the book.

Carry water bottles and healthy snacks. Even a small amount of dehydration and/or low blood sugar can confuse thinking and increase decision-making errors. I would really prefer that people sifting through clues are fed and hydrated.

Sleep on a regular basis. Real cops have down time. Some police forces have rules about how long detectives can work without going off-duty. That’s why detectives work in teams.

Have a cop put his head down on his desk and fall asleep in the middle of a shift.

Use fatigue as humor. Imagine if the cop is using eye drops to cover eye redness from fatigue, only he sneaks away to put them in, and his buddies are concerned that he is developing secret a drinking problem because he keeps disappearing for a few minutes several times during the shift. Or what kind of grief will the detective take when she converts to working at a stand-up desk?

Now, as part of my Folk Festival recovery program, I’m going to take a nap.

Quote for the week

There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence, and that is activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of this innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone and everything is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace, because it kills the root of the inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.
~ Thosmas Merton, (1915 – 1968), Anglo-American Catholic writer, Trappist monk, priest, poet, social activist and student of comparative religion


Sandra Parshall said...

I try to pay attention to all those things -- letting my characters eat, sleep, etc., but sometimes I realize I've had a single day going on for what seems like 48 hours, and I have to backtrack and fix it. I'm not sure readers want to read about meals and sleep, though. From time to time I see a reader complaining that characters in this book or that (none of mine so far) spend too much time eating and the food is described in too much detail.

Anonymous said...

I agree about not so many details about mundane activities. I think a lot of this can be handled in transition sentences, such as

I went home and crashed for eight hours. When I rolled out of bed the next morning, I knew the next thing I had to do was locate Walter. If anyone knew where Sheree was hiding out, Walter would.