Danger Zone: Living in Yellow

September 26, 2015

Writing is dangerous.


Most people don’t know this. If you asked them to compose a list of hazardous occupations, writing probably wouldn’t make the top ten, or even the top hundred. In fact, it might not appear on the list at all. And why would it? Aside from stabbing yourself in the eye with a pen or dumping hot coffee in your lap, what could possibly be dangerous about writing?


Allow me to enlighten you.


I recently had the privilege of attending a self-defense seminar, hosted by a friend from my childhood. Trina Pellegrini has created an amazing program for women. Known as Trained-Ready-Unafraid, or TRU, the program is designed to teach us the basics of safety and awareness, as well as the legalities and techniques needed to fend off an attacker.


Never having been trained in self-defense, I wasn’t sure what to expect. All I knew was that I was supposed to dress comfortably and be prepared for exercises. So I dug up a pair of faded workout pants, invited my daughter to register with me, and tried my best not to look like a clueless, forty-something mom.


It was a fantastic experience. TRU is based off the discipline of Combat Hapkido, a system created by Trina’s husband, Grandmaster John Pellegrini. We covered a lot of topics, from awareness and pressure points to joint locking and weapons. And it wasn’t just talking. My daughter and I paired up and got to throw each other around the mat all day long. Poor kid. She was all “I can’t hit you, you’re my mom.” Until I threatened to take away her phone.


No phone? Oh, it's on, now...


Worked like a charm. And I got some cool stuff while I was there, like this awesome self-defense munio, which turns an average, ordinary set of keys into a lethal weapon:



That's right. Move over, Jackie Chan. I got me a TRU munio.


So you’re probably nodding your head and thinking, Wow, this is all quite entertaining, Cary, but what does it have to do with writing?


Patience, grasshopper. I’m getting there.


My daughter and I had rented a hotel room for the weekend of the training. As it turned out, Trina checked into the same hotel. The morning after the seminar, I headed downstairs alone for breakfast. Did my usual thing…got some food, plugged in my earbuds, buried my nose in my laptop. Shut out the real world. I was thoroughly and deeply lost inside my imagination when Trina came up behind me and poked me in the back.


I jumped, startled, and removed one of my earbuds. Pretty sure I was about five shades of pink. “Morning,” I said sheepishly.


“Girl, what are you doing?” she asked. “You are so not in Yellow.”


She was right. During the seminar, we’d gone over the Cooper Code—a system of awareness based on colors. Instead of being in Yellow, which means being positioned appropriately within the room and aware of my surroundings, I was in White: earbuds stuffed halfway to my brain, music loud enough to wake the dead, focused on my screen, my back facing the only exit. Basically, I was prey.


Come and get me, I'm
barely paying attention.


We laughed about it, but the situation bothered me for days. Part of my writing process requires me to be immersed in my thoughts, losing myself in the story, sometimes for hours at a time. That might work fine at home, but what about when I’m in a coffee shop or the library? How am I supposed to write and be in Yellow at the same time?


Now you're probably thinking, But public places are…well, public…so how dangerous can they be?


Good question. To answer, let me tell you about the situation I ran into this morning outside my favorite coffee shop. It’s downtown and located on a busy street. Arriving early, I parked in the same alley I always do. It’s not a creepy alley by any means. A lot of people park there, and I made sure to glance around as I got out of my car. Didn’t see a soul nearby. Then I reached into my car for my backpack, coat, lap desk, and thermos.


When I turned back around, a man was walking up behind me. I kicked my door shut and tried to lock my car—not easy when you’re juggling twenty pounds of writing stuff—and hoped the man would pass me by. He didn’t. He started asking for money, and he kept asking, even though I said “no” several times before walking away from him.


To my horror, he followed me.


How she looks? That's how I felt.


I could see him out of the corner of my eye, and it was only a ten-second walk to the coffee shop door. But my heart was pounding, and my thoughts were tumbling around in my head like socks in the dryer. I didn’t know this guy at all. What if he grabbed me from behind and tried for my wallet? Or pulled out a knife? During the TRU seminar, I was empty-handed. So how was I supposed to handle a real-life situation as a real-life writer carrying real-life writing stuff?


I did what I could: kept a brisk pace, gripped the munio tightly, swung it around a few times to let the guy know I was ready to use it. I turned my head side-to-side to keep him in my peripheral. And when he spoke to me again—as I opened the coffee shop door—I said nothing and kept going. It felt longer than ten seconds. A lot longer.


After I got inside, though, I was mad. Not a little mad, but super mad. I mean, all I'd wanted was to get from my car to the coffee shop in peace. What right did a stranger have to come up behind me, ask me for money, ignore my denials, and then follow me when I try to leave?!?


Honestly, it’s not the first time this kind of thing has happened to me, but it’s the first time I’ve been angry about it. I have Trina to thank for that. During the seminar, she mentioned that women don’t always feel they have the right to protect themselves. Today, I became painfully aware of that right. Because I do have it. It’s mine. My own.


Sorry, couldn't help myself...

But seriously, starting today, I’m taking steps to protect what’s mine: my body, my well-being, and my right to defend them. Today I chose a table in the corner of the coffee shop. I can see anyone who walks up, and every entrance is within my line of sight. I'm in Yellow. And when I leave, my thermos will be inside my backpack, my coat around my waist, and my lap desk tucked under my arm--leaving one hand free for a strike and the other wielding that munio like the weapon it was designed to be.


So. Moral of the story? Be aware and be careful. Especially if you’re a writer who likes to cozy up in coffee houses and libraries, like I do. The man who came up behind me today waited for me to turn my back. He waited for me to be in a vulnerable position. Maybe he meant no harm, but his actions were those of a predator. And a writer lost in her imagination is, unfortunately, easy prey.


Stay safe out there, guys, and may you always live in Yellow. :)


Photo credit: No Phone, Munio (C.L. Denault), Thumbs-up SquirrelStalkedPrecious

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