Monday, March 25, 2013

'The Sky Is (Really) Falling"

Worriers don’t need help.

Writers are natural worriers.  Dispute this if you will, but I think it’s genetic.  Stuntmen are born non-worriers. 

STUNTMAN:  “Nah, I’ll be fine.”

I have never said that about any impending physical activity, even about something as seemingly safe as walking down my front stairs, because sometimes I haven’t been.  Most specifically during “snow season.”

SLIP-AND-FALL VICTIM:  “I don’t know what happened.  I sprinkled salt on every step.  Thank God for Canadian health care.”

Why do you think writers write? 

Because they can’t do anything else.

Besides that.  Writers write because writing is the antidote to reality.  If you don’t like reality, you can alter it with the sweep of a pen.  Or in the old days, a feather.  Or in the even older days, a chisel.  And don’t think the “oral tradition” is documentary reality either.

“You mean Thok didn’t slay the dinosaur single-handed?”

“In his dreams!

When reality is boring – like you’re eating a cookie – writing makes it interesting – like you’re eating a cookie, but there’s peanuts in the recipe, and you’re allergic to peanuts, and you’re head blows up three times its normal size, and you turn red and can’t breathe, and a passerby of the opposite gender (or the same gender in certain states) rushes to your rescue, and their heroic efforts save your life, and you fall in love with them and you get married (unless you’re from a less tolerant state, in which case, you cohabitate, and if your mate accidentally ingests another peanut and get seriously ill, you can’t visit them in the hospital.) 

You see how that works?  That’s writing – flights of imaginational fancy.  Rewritings of reality for fun and profit. 

Besides chronicling events that people know about – you cannot, for example, make a movie about the Alamo where they live, even if you’d prefer things that way:

UNACCEPTABLE “ALAMO” MOVIE:  “They escaped through the back door.  They’re fine.”

No.  They died.  Because that’s what actually happened.  Man, it was torture sitting through “Alamo” movies.       

ME:  (WATCHING ANY “ALAMO” MOVIE)  “Two hours till they die.  An hour and a half till they die.  Forty-five minutes till they die.  Fifteen minutes till they die.  Two minutes till they… lemme out.  I’ve got to go to the bathroom.”

Okay, so I’ve established one rationale – arguably the most significant one – for writing.  Though in truth, we write less because reality bores us than because it scares the bejeezus out of us.  (Read:  Me.  I shall allow other writers to speak for themselves.)

We try not to worry.  Or to place ourselves in situations wherein severe worrying may result.  Some of us avoid doctors, because, though most of the time, the prognosis is fine, there are times – and I am imagining one time is particular – when it won’t be.  And we (Read:  Me again) would prefer not to be there when it happens.

I almost never read the Front Page of the newspaper, because it scares me too much.  The Front Page is the “alarmist” page of the paper, reserved almost exclusively for cataclysmic occurrences.  Unlikely cataclysmic occurrences.  That’s what makes them newsworthy.  The Front Page chronicles unlikely cataclysmic occurrences that occurred.  And every day, there are new ones.

Worriers try to avoid such reminders. 

Worriers also avoid conspiracy theorists and doomsayers, who in their various arenas of expertise, from “What Are They Putting In Our Food?” to “They’re coming for your ‘remotes’!” (Not real.  But neither is “They’re coming for your guns!”)  Because we are vulnerable to suggestion – at least about the bad stuff – worriers steer assiduously clear of anyone proclaiming their particularized versions of “The sky is falling!” 

In this world we live in, there are worriers and there are crazy people.  What differentiates the former from the latter is that, though we are constantly anxious about things to which mentally healthy people do not give a moment’s thought, we worriers, as distinguished from alarmists, know one thing for a certainty, because it’s ridiculous:

The sky is definitely not falling.

And then…

On Friday February 15th 2013, an asteroid hurtles into our atmosphere and blows up, injuring eleven hundred unsuspecting people below who are walking around going about their business. 

Suddenly, it turns out that, in the form of space debris, labeled a meteor until it enters the earth’s atmosphere when it is re-categorized an asteroid – like it makes any difference when it smashes into your head, in case I got things reversed – the sky, in actual fact, is falling.

I really did not need to know that.  (Although, understandably, when something weighing ten thousand tons, with the power of a modern nuclear bomb explodes and injures hundreds of people, it in not easy to keep it a secret.)

The good news is, there have only been two of these in the last hundred years.  And both of them have been in Siberia.  This information might delude some into thinking that if you live someplace whose name doesn’t end in “insk”, you’re in the clear.  To me, this is just “magical thinking.”

We know that the world spins on its axis and, wherever it’s at when the stuff crashes down, you’re “It!”  You spin the wheel, and it’s not always going be “Russia.”  In fact, since they’ve already been hit twice, it’s statistically less likely to be Russia again!  (Triggering among the most literalist worriers inklings of a Slavic relocation.)

Then, there’s the news that they’re developing upgraded telescopes that will be able to detect these celestial dangers three weeks ahead of time.  Sounds helpful.  But here’s the problem with that. 

The brain – even a worrier’s brain – has this self-protecting mechanism that allows us to absorb serious concerns, and then, eventually, mercifully forget about them.  I say “mercifully” because it would be extremely difficult to enjoy our lives hounded by the ever-present awareness that we’re going to die.  Fortunately, our minds, somehow, are programmed in such a manner that, for extended stretches of time, the mortality issue is entirely absent from our consciousness.  Which, I believe we can all agree, is a good thing.

The bad part is that, though due to telescopic advancement, we will shortly get – you should pardon the expression – a “head’s up” on any coming catastrophe from above – we may register this information, and then, over an intervening period – because that’s what we do – forget about it, only to recall the advance warning too late, in an “Oh, is that today?” scenario, having made no preparatory efforts to get out of the way.

On the other hand, I can easily imagine the ubiquitous “Countdown to Catastrophe” segments “wall-to-walling” the airtime on cable news.  So remembering may not be a problem.  The more troubling thing for us worriers is this:

If the alarmists, as has now been demonstrated, were right about “the sky is falling”,

What else are they right about? 

Oh my God, my heart did a funny thing just writing that!

Wait.  It’s okay.  I’m fine.


If they were right about that sky business…

1 comment:

PALGOLAK said...

I slipped on an icy step back in 2011 and my first thought upon awakening the next day, after a 4 hour operation on my ankle, was "thank god for Canadian health care".

True story!