Smile at Strangers

I wrote a memoir, of all things, about my martial arts training and how it introduced me to new conceptions of self defense and empowerment.

Watch the book trailer

If you’re in a book club that wants to read Smile At Strangers, check out these book club activities.

Go here for the FearLess Fridays posts.

Unwarranted praise for Smile at Strangers:

Funny, focused, and fierce with wiry wisdom, this memoir is a muscular meditation on living fearlessly. It’s a sort of ‘Code of the Samurai’ for every 21st century person, written by a witty literature professor with a second-degree black belt and a keen eye for spotting human folly. Schorn breaks down our conventional understanding of confronting menace in the world with the same ease that she breaks planks of wood. A perfect, engaging read for tackling college, the workplace, marriage, or prison—basically anywhere humans congregate with complicated motives.

Joe Loya, author of The Man Who Outgrew His Prison Cell: Confessions of a Bank Robber

Susan Schorn is a badass black belt with a huge heart and generous wit. This inspiring, often funny tale of her journey—from a cowering, self-confessed “neurotic” to a martial arts master—is not just about the kick. It’s about how the lessons of karate can be applied to women’s daily lives to make us stronger and less fearful—as friends, mothers, wives, and professionals—no matter how we dress or where we go. Smile at Strangers is a power tool indeed. It’s a swift chop to the myth that women need to live like victims in order to survive. It made me want to take up martial arts too—and keep reading.
Susan Jane Gilman, author of Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress

This book delivers a swift, lethal karate chop at pantywaistedness in all its forms. With huge amounts of wit and grace, Susan Schorn looks Adversity in the eye, and crushes that sucker’s windpipe.
Henry Alford, author of Would It Kill You to Stop Doing That?: A Modern Guide to Manners

This is a memoir I’ll be thinking and talking about for a long time. To begin with, the voice is unique—trust me, you’ve never heard anyone talk about coping with fear and anger the way Susan Schorn does. The writing is hilarious at times, dead serious when it needs to be, and always brilliant. The insights into the psychology of martial arts training—with special emphasis on the experiences of female students and teachers—is sure to launch a thousand discussions about violence, gender, confidence, and how to deal with alligators. I enjoyed this book thoroughly, and I will make sure never to get into a fistfight with its author.
Mark Salzman, author of Iron and Silk

Hey readers! Time to put on your karate pants and crush some imaginary trachea! In Smile at Strangers Susan Schorn urges us to confront our fears in an increasingly scary world. Who knew that the highs and lows of the dojo held superb—and often funny— lessons for life? Schorn never suggests that karate is the only path, or even the best path. She is reminding us that we have a choice. We all experience fear, but we can choose our response to it. Overall, reading Smile at Strangers is sort of like watching samurai chanbara, only with more safety helmets and female bonding. You wince, but you can’t look away.
Rhoda Janzen, author of Mennonite in a Little Black Dress


Recent Posts

So you want to help a gunshot victim/classmate/music fan

81Nb0HK1dlL._SL1500_If you, like millions of unwitting Americans, are a habitual risk-taker who regularly defies death by attending concerts or going to nightclubs or walking across your college campus to get to class, you’ve probably wondered, “What should I do if I’m minding my own business, trying to live a normal life, and someone gets shot?” 

Since we, as a nation, have allowed the NRA to shut down all discussion of how to prevent people from being shot, here are three products you can buy, carry, and use to save lives if—hell, let’s go ahead and say when—someone in your vicinity is shot.

Standard disclaimers: My EMT certification lapsed years ago, I’m not providing this advice as any kind of a medical professional, and this list isn’t meant to be exhaustive. It’s the simplest set of options that I find feasible to carry with me on a regular basis. I’m not endorsing any of the products I’m linking to; I carry some of them but have not (yet) used them in trauma situations.

This is where I would be expected to remind you to wear latex gloves when using the products below, but you know what? If you’re involved in a shooting, there’s going to be blood fucking everywhere and it’s going to get on you. Buy gloves if you want; you’ll still need to clean up with bleach and water when it’s all over.

Also, remember that the first thing to do in a shooting is to get out of danger.

1. Occlusive dressing: If someone is shot (or stabbed, or otherwise punctured) in the chest, you need to prevent air from entering through the wound. Air in the chest cavity can cause pneumothorax, a.k.a. lung collapse, or tension pneumothorax, where air accumulating in the chest cavity compresses the opposite lung, the heart, and the major veins. As my EMT textbook says, “Death can occur rapidly.” You can use literally any air-tight material to seal a chest wound, even a plastic bag. Don’t worry if it’s not sterile; whatever caused the wound has already introduced plenty of bacteria. You’ll also need to make sure air can escape from the chest, which is why commercial dressings are preferable (if you’re improvising, you have to lift one edge of the dressing during exhalation). Here’s a 2-pack of chest seals for $16.79 on Amazon that automatically allow air to escape, but not enter, the wound. It’s a small package, easily carried in a backpack or purse. A 2-pack is handy for gunshot situations, because you can cover the entry and exit wounds. 

Oh yeah, remember to check for exit wounds.

2. Hemostatic agents: Yes, you need to apply pressure to stop bleeding, but for gunshot wounds you’ll likely need more than that. There are now multiple commercial products that cause blood to clot quickly. You can buy gauze that packs into a wound, or injectors that shove absorbent pellets into a deep puncture. Sponges and powders are also available. Buy whichever product you can carry most easily—that way you’re more likely to have it when needed. Pro tip: Read the directions ahead of time.

3. Tourniquets. You may have learned to use these in scouts, you may have heard since then that they aren’t safe and shouldn’t be used at all. If bleeding can’t be controlled by direct pressure, use one. Any problems that arise from tourniquet use can be dealt with at the hospital; they are less serious than the problem of bleeding to death. You can improvise tourniquets, using material that’s fairly wide—4″ is recommended, but commercial tourniquets are cheap, simple to use, and easy to carry.

I also recommend taking a basic first aid course, and a good self defense course (preferably taught from the empowerment model).

And of course, fuck the NRA. 

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