These times…

I think these times are not conducive to writing. I don’t want to show blind optimism and summon up the old standby of “hope”…not because I am not hopeful that things will improve but because I am tired of repeating the cliché that once things hit rock bottom the only way out is up. We are hardwired to believe in hope. But it certainly doesn’t inspire writing. Perhaps it would if hope came with a timeline, or if we had a crystal ball. Then I could write about my dreams for the year 20xx, I could make plans, come up with a Plan B and see it come to fruition.

I can’t write about doom and gloom and end of days either. It clashes with the “hope” that lurks and teases in an annoying, yet endearing manner – with its puppy dog face – and I can’t really give it a good clout and blow it to smithereens.

Perhaps it’s better to just ride it out without opinions, without planning reactions and counter-reactions to things that are yet to happen. The more we act out, blindly, through fear, through conjecture, the more we’ll influence the outcome through our warped reactions. No one knows where things are headed. One can only observe, let the dust settle around us.

I thought of “dust” because of Steven Millhauser’s short story in the latest issue of The New Yorker: The Invasion from Outer Space made quite an impression on me. I haven’t stopped thinking about it or playing what if scenarios in my head in idle moments.

The story is simple yet profound and, at least for me, what is said, so effectively presents that which is left unsaid in all its starkness. Millhauser’s invasion from outer space is anticlimactic in the extreme as it turns out to be nothing but yellow dust falling from the sky and settling in and around every person, every object. No slimy aliens, no monsters, robots, other forms of alien invaders, just yellow dust. Fear and trepidation get lost in disappointment as people go about their business, cleaning it off surfaces, brushing it away and moving on with their lives. The dust turns out to be a fast multiplying, photosynthetic organism, but harmless enough, since all it does is replicate and accumulate.

The lines that impressed me the most were:

We have been invaded by nothing, by emptiness, by animate dust. The invader
appears to have no characteristic other than the ability to reproduce rapidly.
It doesn’t hate us. It doesn’t seek our annihilation, our subjection and
humiliation. Nor does it desire to protect us from danger, to save us, to teach
us the secret of immortal life. What it wishes to do is replicate.

An invader that simply wishes to replicate! Invaded by nothingness. What if…?

The other line that chilled me to the core was:

Through our windows we can see the yellow dust covering everything, forming
gentle undulations. We can almost see it rising slowly, like bread.

It is so easy for us get used to a new reality, to take it in our stride and find ways to cope; brushing things off where possible, scrubbing or hosing things down. Always coping, rationalizing, adapting to a new reality, never letting go of the raft we call hope.

In this story, learning to live with a photosynthetic, replicating organism, accumulating in our lives in tiny increments. In our own lives waiting and watching as as old premises vanish and old behaviors are rendered instantly anachronistic.

I still wake up in the morning, get dressed, get to work, spend time with my family, eat, sleep and watch TV as I always have even as I silently register each change.

I observe more people yelling at the top of their lungs on sidewalks and subway tunnels, talking about Christ being our Savior and threatening dire consequences come Judgment Day if the call isn’t heeded.

I walk by even as I know that the next day will bring another evangelist to the subway station.

I see good looking, well dressed families singing in informal train station choirs, collecting the dollars and quarters people throw at them.

I see stores getting boarded up, I take in the 80-90% discount signs.

I see local restaurants and delis losing their lunch hour crowds as people start brown bagging their lunches.

The newspapers, the ones that are still around, report on the unprecedented job losses, on established businesses failing, of the stock exchange plumbing new depths.

I am sometimes alarmed at the reports of governments cutting back on policing and education budgets because in my mind these should be the last things to go in times like this, when anomie is the general norm.

And yet, life goes on, as we continue to do the things we do. Maybe tomorrow I’ll brown bag my lunch as well. I’ll take fewer vacations this year, eat less, spend less, make all the necessary and incremental adjustments that will help me continue to cope with the slow accretion of this new “dust” in my life…until one day I wake up to find a landscape that I don’t recognize at all…or will it transform me in a manner where recognition of a former landscape isn’t an issue at all because I’ve changed as much as the things around me…evolution?

And so these times are not conducive to the act of writing, especially for a blogger that claims to be introspective in the extreme but finds introspection pointless these days. She prefers riding the waves and seeing where it takes her if she survives the choppiness.

1 Comment

  1. For someone who begins by saying these times are not conducive to writing you make an excellent point for the opposite through a very finely woven (as usual) testament!Lovely indeed. And the Millhauser story is scary!

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