I didn't start teaching College English as a profession until my late thirties because I'd been a full-time journalist and a creative writer. I'd also been deathly afraid of speaking in public. I overcame that fear--among other fears. I’ve come to see the subject of English as combining nearly everything under the sun. In my class, we’ve covered such things as quantum physics (Copenhagen by Michael Frayn), the circus (Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen), Afghanistan (The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini), and most recently thanks to Margaret Atwood’s new, brilliant book, The Year of the Flood, our apocalyptic future.
Atwood shows a possibility of what can happen with our focus on consumerism, with unbridled population growth, and with the abuse of the earth. I won’t get into specifics here because I already wrote about the book in an earlier blog, but I will say it’s made me reevaluate our culture.
In class a couple days ago, I sensed as we discussed the book that some of my students were deeply worried about the future. It dawned on me that as paranoid as Americans are—as a nation, we manage to shoot-and-kill more people per capita than any other country among the top thirty-six industrial countries in the world, according to the Associated Press—we are more worried than ever.
Why I’m not, I don’t know. I grew up with the nuclear arms race as a child and was taught to duck and cover if I saw on the horizon a big flash. I was supposed to fall to the ground and put my non-writing hand over my head to protect my brain. I always assumed that that hand would melt, but I’d have still have my writing hand available for essays.
In suburban Minneapolis, my parents built a bomb shelter at one end of the basement, a basement that had windows. Of course the bomb shelter didn’t have windows, and six of us were going to live in the damp thing that was about ten feet by twelve feet. There were no chairs, just a concrete floor. A row of metal shelves held what looked to be paint cans labeled “Multi-Purpose Food” from General Mills .
“Mom, we need a door,” I would insist. “The radiation will get us.”
“What’s the point?” she told me. “With no electricity, we’d have no light. With no door, though, we’ll have light.”
Yes, I thought, but we’ll grow to be giant mutants and fill up the room, thanks to the radiation. How much Multi-Purpose Food will we need then?
The mutant idea, of course, came from the movies, and it occurs to me the movies are once again apocalyptic. Last year’s Knowing with Nicolas Cage had an end-of-the-world blast incinerate everything. Of course, this year’s 2012 had John Cusack experience nearly every possible natural disaster, and Viggo Mortensen walked down a post-apocalyptic road in The Road, from Cormac McCarthy’s book. We also had Denzel Washington in another after-disaster film, The Book of Eli. Add to that Red Dawn, The Last Airbender, the TV show Lost if we look at it metaphorically, and much more (see this list at ApocalypticMovies.com). Why are we so grim about our future now? Is it more nuclear shenanigans?
No. Everything changed on 9-11-2001. I speculate we’re still absorbing that. We’d never been so invaded in our lifetimes unless you were around for Pearl Harbor, and now our beehive has been blasted. We’re more buzzed and disturbed than ever—nine years now.
I think of Michael Moore’s fabulous documentary Bowling for Columbine, where, as a gun lover, he explores America’s predilection for gun violence and worry and compares us to Canada, where the guns are just as available but people are more easy going and don’t shoot each other so much. Moore concluded it’s our news that helps fuel our worries and violence. (“A new report says that drinking water can kill you—news at eleven.”) Yet we watch the news as if we must. Must. Watch. The News.
And there’s always something to worry about there on the news. For instance, our incomes have leveled or gone down—will it get worse? Will the oil spill in the Gulf kill all our seafood and close all the beaches? Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian, will soon have his day in court, and Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad has pleaded guilty—and will such bombing attempts happen more often? Will we have more Nine-Elevens?
I hate to say it, but stop watching the news. You’re missing the squirrels playing in the trees, and the kids across the street laughing. You’re missing a good swim. You’re missing summer Smores over a campfire. If we end in apocalypse, these things will go away, so take pleasure in them now. For that matter, end of the world or not, we’re all going away.
So enjoy. And you may as well read The Year of the Flood, just to be prepared.
Causes Christopher Meeks Supports
Associated Writing Programs