Our hero wondered of our heroine’s intentions in leaving California to go to her home in Nebraska, if it were because of him, if she’d judge him based on his response, and what it ought to be. He couldn’t say his goal was to get her back because he could not accept that premise. They were still together, he forcibly assured himself. They hadn’t broken up. No one had spoke the words “it’s over,” he stated and restated. The new thing was ghosting; he could not believe that was the case with her. There had to be an answer — the conviction that’s launched a million fruitless quests. He had to find the answer, it was outside of himself, and was even attainable, the bestowing of a purpose by the self onto the self that quells a troubled mind. Try again to call and ask her, piped up his meta self. That will never work, replied his reptile brain. You want an answer, go to the source, said his rational mind. Don’t let her make you the bitch, snarled his glands. His voices had a full-on screaming match. Pummeled, head in hands, lacking the tranquilizers that doctors used to give away in candy dishes, he took three tablets of diphenhydramine and then surfed porn til they kicked in.
He woke in the wee hours. Disgustingly the problem hadn’t gone away. The apartment was still, the roommate must be out or out of it. There was no one rooting through the trash outside and no stereos coming through the walls. He had the confidence that comes when it seems like one’s the only person in the world. The sleeping world emits a feeling of possibility that’s rare in the daylight. The phone was in his hands. Of course she’d be asleep at this hour. But that might catch her in an honest state. But she might be angry to be woken up and that could ruin it. But before he says hello he could say snuggles, which is what she’d said as she’d backed into his curve when after sex they’d spooned and fell asleep. But she might not be alone. Oh that stopped him dead. His mind blanked out to spare this painful thought. Indecision had decanted possibility. It was not the optimism of the drowsy street. But it was not definitive either. Things could still go his way. But as soon as he acted, consequence begins. If only hope were rails and the unintended coupled to it.
There are too many of us ready to choose death. Our hero was ready to choose life, and that included her. But to talk and to persuade felt ineffectual. Better to demonstrate and show. He closed the phone icon and opened up the maps. Then he threw a few things in a bag and went back out to his car. He started it blankly and he went. As he approached the expressway, indecision seized him in a flash, the way fear does. There was still the way things could be if only he did not act. It’s a safer place to live in, as well as the one with hope. To refuse courage is an act that might keep some doors open, that acting would close otherwise. This is the peace in cowardice. It reveals the wile in indifference — it keeps our options free. Whatever comes then may be salubrious or a travesty, but we will not have caused it. Like ignoring or discounting climate change. Our conscience will be clear, but more important our self-mythology will be unsullied. What’s vital to us is our own stature as the hero not just of our story, but of our world, which is the world, as far as we’re concerned.
He leaned to catch his eyes in the rear-view mirror and said, “What you need is a good car accident on the way, which will hit your head just right, and change your personality. Then you would become impulsive in all the beneficial ways. You would become a leader. What you are now is an accepter. You would have women. You would go into sales and crush it, thus becoming rich. It would correct the mistake of your birth. You’d go from what you are now to someone who can excel in a world set up like this. And if it means a gambling addiction, or the like, so be it. At least you won’t always be depressed. So if at night non-stop the muscles in your neck give up, and your head falls to the side and in so doing wakes you up, click your seatbelt off and let go. The good that follows from the bad might be the fix for everything.”
He was on the highway east, to her. As he got farther from the coast the air outside grew hotter, even lacking sun. Inland California sits atop hot coals. His headlights showed a haze which was strange because fog should not be possible in this arid air. He coughed and his eyes began to itch. Instinctively he put the windows up and realized he was driving through a good old fashioned dust bowl. A 1930s sandstorm was happening right now. He could not believe it. He closed the vents inside his Japanese sedan. He shook his head and scorned himself for this ineffectual gesture. Great mass change was occurring at this minute and there was nothing he could do. It got to where he had to pull the lever on the steering column to activate the windshield spray so he could better see. Like air conditioning it was a small scale fix for a mass scale prob. He wondered if his engine’s air filter could cope, then made a note to check it for the first time ever when he stopped for gas. The dirt whisped through his headlights like a smoky veil. It could not be ignored. He had to see it — his eyes were on the road. The road rolled up to a plateau and then rolled down again. Still the dust went on. He wondered what it was doing to the irrigated crops. There’d be no clean laundry hanging on a line in these neighborhoods.
At last the sun began to light the sky in majestic cornflowers and denims that morphed into a dandelion tangerine. With the emotion of the undertaking and the air-borne irritants, his eyes grew wet. It would not have been so dazzling if it weren’t for the earth coating our habitats with desert, in response to what we’d done to it. Basic completion had been arranged like marriages before our birth. Ours was to adapt. He stopped for snacks and gas. He noticed on the doorless refrigerated shelves, next to sandwiches of chewy bread and questionable lunch meat, a California roll — at least it wasn’t raw. The rice was congealed but the fake crab tasted as expected. With enough shoju it all went down all right. He did his business, paid, got back on the road. Only then did he pull the packet of shortbread cookies from his waistband. He didn’t even like shortbread. They were dry and flavored like lard. But the old habit sticky fingers came back to him now.
Calm connections to his teenage years sprang up on the trip. He felt charged. There was something about this that said this is what he was supposed to do. When that little voice speaks up and validates the purpose one has chosen for himself, he feels invincible. Everything he ever wanted was finally within reach. He’d go get his girl and together they would conquer Hollywood. The likelihood of this was greater in a mental interval than in the outside world. But we have to do something with the propulsion inside us — it’s real and it demands satiation, as much as sex does. To be on the move seems glandular.
It stretches from our species’ long migrations, out of the middle of a continent, back in, and then back out again. The trek had spanded generations. They left with animal skins on their backs, some of their rudimentary tools, a few of which they used as weapons, for hunting or protection from the animals and those like them, and not much else besides. If groups would already be settled where the immigrants were passing through, the settled would have the resources on lockdown. Perhaps they freely shared with earlier immigrants, but at some point they’d have started running low on something. They’d only have two options, introduce restrictions or move along themselves. They’d have a couple older folks who felt more tied to the land and who would have influence on the rest. As soon as there was a scarce resource, there became a market. As soon as there’s a need for preservation, it necessitates control. Suddenly the concept of police is born.
“Hello travelers. Have a fire and a place to sleep. Stay with us until the moon shrinks if you like. Hunt whatever you like, but not the springbok please. Their numbers are dwindling.” “But sir, thank you and many blessings, but we must sacrifice a springbok to the only true god Maloware. He demands it of us.” “But sir, we respect your customs, but here we cannot spare any springbok. If we keep killing them, there won’t be any left for anyone.” “But sir, I understand but god must be obeyed. If we defy him, he will kill our babes and sterilize our women.” “Then you must move on. Perhaps you will find springbok past the distant river.” “Tomorrow is a holy day, and we will hunt right here.” “I have hand axes and many sons. We will defend our land.” “If I may make a suggestion husband,” stepped in the wife who wanted all her children, “the hoity toity tribesman’s in possession of a wedding blanket, adorned with colored stones, softer than any skin. Perhaps he can appease his god and you can appease yours.”
It went on. Today we have plastic garbage islands and no springbok.
Some people like being hung from hooks by the skin on their backs. It must feel as fragrant as a curry plant.
And here we are fighting oligarchies versus masses. Oligarchs, theocrats, dictators for life, all forms of the totalitarian, all leading us to worldwide habitat collapse via weather and their nukes.
Our heroine wasn’t competing with anyone. The way she was, why bother? She didn’t own a private jet or anything but basically she was on top. She called the shots and there was always somebody willing to, wanting to, help. She wanted to tell strangers who wanted her attention, I’m not competing with you. Of course that’s why they stepped to her — they could sense why she stood out, they had their in-born drive to test themselves against the content. There were plenty with higher status, more money, better looks, but in the moment those weren’t there, she was. And so the burden fell on her. She didn’t ask for it, didn’t want it, but they’d put it on her anyway. There was still some minor jockeying among her close girlfriends, but they were all similar so no one really leapt ahead or fell behind. They didn’t care about no Joneses — they kept up with themselves.
She had the money from her art, personality, looks, empathy, and introspection. This was not enough for her self-perceived statusless competitors. Perhaps if she were a cutter with facial piercings and anorexia, then they would have left her alone. In this world that’s what she’d have to do to be able to mind her own business — wear her pain outwardly. That’s what it took in the new connected world where privacy’s gone out the window. She’d have to make herself look worse than her competitors. Then they wouldn’t feel the need to go after her. But if she liked the way she looks, tough. They were gonna let her know how they feel.
Of course it’s relative. For some, tattoos and piercings are the higher status they aspire to. Those things are expensive after all. And those who have them are contented by them, which is to say they wouldn’t be the ones trying to compete with her. So turning herself into one of them wouldn’t solve the problem. She’d be subjected to the same egos, just in a different group. Outside of gaining a lot of weight, or having the kind of plastic surgery reserved for fugitives, there wasn’t much she could do about it, beyond waiting to get old.
Any folks who want to travel on one dollar a day need only cross the Bosphorous, head east. They’d have all the company that they could stand, rides, sleeping mats, you name it. The traveler who feels no compunction about a host giving up his bed for him, to sleep the cold floor, will excel in this environment. And that traveler will increase the status of his host, be celebrated in the village, talked about for years to come, if he converts to the local religion every stop. The traveler can ask about their god and very piously say the things the locals long to hear, the scales have fallen from his eyes, &c. What a coup for the host! It doesn’t cost the traveler anything — it’s all nonsense anyway. Which is to say, religion has definite cultural value. It’s its broader claims that are unverifiable tripe. The traveler may go ahead and repeat the words in the language that he does not understand. It will not hurt and he will bring great joy to the community. They will never forget him, not for generations. What a gift in return for some unpasteurized food and a temporary blanket. Why just sight-see when he can make a poor kind-hearted soul into a legend? The next morning, he leaves some candy where the animals can’t reach it, dons the sacred garment he was given, repeats phonetically to make connection, and then carries on adventuring, spreading joy across the land.
In Philosophy 101 they teach that good and evil do not really exist. It’s very freeing for a certain kind of personality and a shark attack for others. Today we have a science of morality that is compelling. One of the difficult things about our rapidly increasing knowledge is the lag in applying it. It’s hard to get people to listen, harder still to get them to act. A stubborn type we are. We clench life in our teeth, like obsessive dogs pulling at a sock toy. Our eyes go red, our breath goes short and wheezing, we dehydrate and grow weak, and still we won’t let go.
This conceptual framework informs our daily life and how we interact with others. What we think is crazed, is rank obscenity. The balm is fantasy. Fandom is a tribe. It welcomes the intelligent, the unathletic, the unmilitarized. Its reigning feature is child-like wonder and suspension of disbelief. It attracts those born with hearts, who stubbornly hold onto them despite withering nurture. We are progressing as a society, but it’s slow and the setbacks are many. Our drive for world-building is strong — it finds expression in fandom fantasy. It’s a setting where we can be right. It provides a jolt of power likely lacking in the person’s life. It gives acceptance to the unaccepted. It supports identity. Lists of favorites make each fan special. No one sees it like they do, thus they are unique. It’s an outlet for their vitriol. It’s a gym class in which they’re able to compete. They thrust and parry arguments. They champion minutia, granting it importance — both to themselves and to the details of which they speak. They get to steward modern myths. They get to fall in love with archetypal beauty. They preserve their childhoods. They uncover proofs. They shun what is offensive. Most of all, they spend money.
“I love it when my characters come to life and start making decisions on their own and direct the story away from my outline,” says today’s author, unaware her subconscious is leaking on the page. Statements such as these are tribal memes. One says this and it’s repeated in two hundred interviews by different writers. Twenty-five years ago it was, “Oh, I never use adverbs.” Maybe they should’ve — they might still have careers. It’s not a breakthrough, it’s Stipe’s secret knock. Money and ego can take one far in publishing, further than in most creative fields. But it cannot make good writers. Put in those mythological 10,000 hours, which 25 years ago in comic books were known as the 10,000 pages you have to draw before you get good, before the think tank marketers used it to make everyone feel better about themselves, that it’s possible one can be competent and generally alright. Go ahead, but it will not bestow the magic touch. Talent is something we’re born with or we’re not. It’s a hard reality for the ego to accept. The magic touch cannot be taught nor learned through repetition. It’s not to be downplayed or shunned. It’s to be celebrated. It’s one of the heights of humanity, greater even than transcendent athletics, which is about the only place it is accepted today. Still, it must be championed. This is what we’re capable of. Isn’t it great? Someone like us accomplished that. We’re not just conscious primates — once in a while we make someone who transpires the Ninth Symphony. That’s more incredible than A. Moore’s odds of one particular sperm fertilizing one egg at one time to result in that special you. It shows we’re not doomed to repeat the cycle of war and violence. Genius proves that derpy sapiens are more than their biology. So let popular entertainment remain an exercise in mimicking the graspable. It does not diminish the magic touch, nor demolish the heights we have achieved.