Apocalypse Not

February 7, 2009 § 3 Comments

After a morning discussion with Philip about his fears for our future—I’m running of money and the publishers aren’t publishing; everyone in his company is getting a pay cut, plus no bonuses—he left to spend the day with Christine. I told him to have a good time and he muttered because he thought I didn’t mean it. But I did. After 8 ½ years my jealousy is like an old dog that sleeps all the time unless you kick it. It got kicked a few weeks ago and it’s keeping out of the way.

I worked on my novel for a couple of hours (7 pages!) and then went online. I decided to survey the fears of others, and sampled a dozen catastrophe blogs, the ones that insist we’re facing something far worse than the Great Depression: a meltdown of the whole system, capitalism kaput, riots, starvation—everything but a devolution into tree-living apes, though I’m sure there’s somebody talking about that.

Should I be more afraid? Should I make jokes? Would my building allow me to raise chickens in my bathtub? Will they allow it in six months?

I can’t sort through the welter of information to have any idea what’s coming. I don’t have the experience or education, not to mention that the future is notoriously surprising. I’m also better off than Philip, even though he has a job, because this great loss and uncertainty has unlocked my creativity in a way nothing has since I was a child and my brother and father died. But this time I know where grief leads and I’m not following. I can write from the bright side of change.

Of course it helps that I’ve lost money, not beloved people.

Philip was disparaging Facebook last night and I said that all this networking, connecting to friends and relatives who’d otherwise be far off the map, might be a great boon if we have a real Depression. More solidarity, more links to obtain help, barter, trade information and cheer. “It brings people together,” I said.

“So does war and plague.”

“I’m putting that in the blog.”

“It’s a good line, isn’t it?”

“Actually plague doesn’t bring people together. More the opposite.”

“It joins everyone in death.” He was scrolling through his blackberry to see if there were any responses to the memo he had to write at the last minute.

We were waiting for our chocolate soufflé in a French restaurant: his idea, his credit card. I had called him earlier to say—maybe we shouldn’t go out to eat, honey, I can cook—but couldn’t reach him because he was working so hard, now that his assistant has been laid off.

For the most part, it was a lovely evening. We talked politics and I reveled in his smarts—he has a kind of real-world intelligence I don’t, and most of my friends don’t. And when he jokes about death, it’s so unexpected (death’s my province, he loathes the place) that it lifts my spirits.

“What a pair we make,” he didn’t say, but he’s said it often before.

About the apocalypse blogs: this country suffers from a surfeit of imagination. Too many movies about a future dystopian America (road rage with zombies) too much excitement in the media about all things violent and strange. Too many guns and people who want to use them. Granted, we also have the experience of Katrina, and the stories of other countries’ collapses. Argentina on the one hand; Rwanda on the other.

In the current New Yorker, John Updike is quoted talking about the Great Depression. Where he grew up, in a small town in Pennsylvania, when hoboes came to the back door the custom was to give them a dollar. A dollar was a lot of money in the 1930’s. Are we so much worse now?

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§ 3 Responses to Apocalypse Not

  • Andree Pages says:

    Agree with so much of what you say. I think for Americans the Default Setting is Prosperity and Happiness, or the illusions that we can just get them if we work hard enough at it. The rest of the world (or certainly the Chinese, anyway) aren’t as shocked when things get really, really bad. Maybe that’s a rsult of having serfdom less then a hundred years ago, and things like the civil war, the Great Leap Forward, the Japanese invasion, and the Cultural Revolution within living memory on your own soil. When things don’t get really, really awful for a decade or two, maybe an anxiety builds as you wait for the other shoe to drop.

    Nevertheless, people have short memories. I would’ve thought Vietnam would have prevented Iraq. No…

    I think the dollar for the men at the back door WAS a lot back then, but it also represented an awareness that these men were liable to actually starve to death. There was little public or private safety net in place.

    It was nice to think of you two out at dinner…

  • charlespix says:

    I have to stop reading this blog for now. There are private conversations I don’t want to hear about – Pain, confusion and jealousy in the midst of failed marriages, secrets and adultery.

  • Fanny Diehl says:

    we had hoboes coming to the back door in the thirties too. They were given a big plate of food and ate it sitting on the back steps. Often they asked for work but we didn’t have any.My sister and I used to walk around the little lake, up yhe river that fedit, up the hill that overlooked the railroad tracks and stare down at the men who had jumped off the train and were cooking something over a small fire. We were sort of scared but much more curious.

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