Not quite the end of the world

I just finished reading Station Eleven, a post-apocalyptic novel by Emily St. John Mandel. I highly recommend it. It’s the one of two five-star ratings I’ve given on GoodReads after going a long stretch without being able to give more than a three-star. (The other recent five-star was Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld, more to come on that soon.)

Whenever I read a dystopian novel — and moreso when I read a well-researched, well-written one like St. John Mandel’s — I can’t help but examine my own life and my own “what ifs” in the face of some future life-altering catastrophe I somehow survive.

Lately, as my mind has been busy with the America vs. Israel conversation (a two-sided dialogue I engage with myself at least once a day exploring the pros and cons of leaving or staying in Israel), I considered the events of the novel. The Earth is ravaged by a pandemic, killing off 99% of the population. Those who are not sickened and killed by the flu are left figuring out how — and more existentially, why — to survive. Some survivors are stranded in an airport far from home. They understand quickly they will never return. And this, today, is the question that occupied my mind:

What if I knew I would never see America again? Would never see my parents? My brothers? Any of my friends who live there?

Could I be happy, or satisfied at least, living in Israel, remaining here on Hannaton?

What if it weren’t the apocalypse (meaning: what if I abandoned the upset of knowing my loved ones were ill or gone), but an event that meant the end of international travel?

Could there be such an event? After which my parents were still alive, but inaccessible? Following which we in Israel still lived a somewhat normal life, but simply could not fly anymore? Or buy passage on a ship, even?

No. All I can imagine is disaster. There is no in-between in my imagination. There is no mild cataclysm. Either things are as they are now or the worst-case scenario.

*  *  *

However, if I were to play fiction writer, for a moment, I might say, “Hold on now. Let’s consider Donald Trump.” 

Donald Trump as American president is possibly the in-between disaster I can’t imagine; the wonky future in which the world still runs on electricity and internet and Dunkin Donuts, but international travel is forbidden. Let’s say, for instance, a Trump presidency leads to a law being passed in which American immigration is on hiatus, but citizens living abroad have a brief window to return. Once they do return, however, they are required to remain on American soil for the next four years. America, in this fictional scenario, is testing out a new policy for the duration of Trump’s term. It’s called something like “No American Left Behind.”

“The In-Or-Out” law, the talking heads dub it.

Would I leave then?

Would we pack up our belongings and run back home?

What if there was no time for belongings? Only time for the five of us with one-way tickets and that which we could fill in our suitcases?

Would that be a home we would want to live in anyway?

What’s scarier? I considered. America as a gated-community? Or the idea of being stuck in Israel for an indefinite amount of time with no certainty of ever seeing my family again?

What kind of decisions, I asked myself, do we make in the face of black-and-white? Of choose this or that?

And what kind do we make in the face of seeming interminable uncertainty?

*  *  *

To be honest, I’m not paying too much attention to the U.S. presidential election, but I noticed on Facebook today someone saying they planned to vote Republican in the primary — vote for Rubio — as a way of derailing Trump’s run. But what if that was the plan all along? Democrats, for all their intellectualism, can be pretty stupid. Conservatives are wiley. Strategic. Cool cats. Liberals, with all their free love tend to act irrationally, emotion-based, don’t think enough before jumping in heart first.

Then, on Twitter later in the morning, someone wrote they thought the media hype equating Trump with Hitler was an exaggeration. I don’t quite align myself politically with this person, so I can’t put my faith in his ease. But as a reader of post-apocalyptic fiction I can say with certainty that there is always the guy on Twitter who thinks it’s not as bad as everyone says it is. This is classic disaster narrative. Bad guy/bad storm/bad killer disease. Makes no difference. The experts keep it quiet at first, but then feel compelled to reveal the danger to the masses as they realize their calculations were too understated. Upon learning of the now likely unavoidable danger, half the masses freak out, and the other half cry hysteria. Usually, there’s the goofy teenager who makes fun of the hurricane/flood/asteroid (he’s the first to go), and often, the old guy saying in his old guy voice “I never thought I’d see the day.”

No matter what, though, there’s always the guy who — just before the shit hits the fan — says most assuredly, “It can’t be as bad as people are making it out to be.” This is the point at which you should start storing water and supplies. 

I haven’t started shopping, though. In fact, my storage room/bunker is as empty as it’s been since we’ve lived here. And I wonder why. I wonder if it’s acceptance or if it’s resignation.

And does it matter? Am I saner if I am accepting or saner if I am resigned?

Acceptance: Yes, this is the world we live in.

Resignation: Yes, there will be disaster.

Acceptance: There is no certainty.

Resignation: Why bother? You will likely not survive the apocalypse, anyhow.

I don’t know which it is. What I do know is that reading Station Eleven has me grateful for my flushing toilets, and for my Google search, and especially for my at-home, self-grinding espresso machine. It had me abandon for a few hours my ongoing, inner turmoil over where to live now or next; which direction to choose.

Neither decision, I suppose, would be the end of the world.

 

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Head Shaking Madness

This war    this war    this war    this war

This  world    This world    This world    This world

My kid’s food allergies.

This world.

 

This war    this war    this war    this war

This world    This world    This world     This world

Cancer. The bad kind.

This world.

 

This war    this war    this war    this war

This world    This world    This world     This world

The boogeyman’s make believe.

This world.

 

This war    this war    this war    this war

This world    This world    This world     This world

My husband on a plane somewhere.

This world.

 

This war    this war    this war    this war

This world    This world    This world     This world

I can’t throw up like that again.

This world.

 

This war    this war    this war    this war

This world    This world    This world     This world

Miss you.

This world.

 

This war    this war    this war    this war

This world    This world    This world     This world

Money in the way.

This world.

 

This war    this war    this war    this war

This world    This world    This world     This world

I killed the cat. That was       THE CAT.     FUCK.

This world.

 

This war    this war    this war    this war

This world    This world    This world     This world

Gotta make it before the siren.

This world.

 

This war    this war    this war    this war

This world    This world    This world     This world

How many miles til Hadera?

This world.

 

This war    this war    this war    this war

This world    This world    This world     This world

She’s going to die. She’s dying.

This world.

 

This war    this war    this war    this war

This world    This world    This world     This world

These people      These pronouns

These words            These words

This world.

Review: How to Survive a Sharknado

Book Details

Title: How to Survive a Sharknado (and Other Unnatural Disasters)
Author: Andrew Shaffer (with contributions by Fin Shepard & April Wexler)
Publisher: Three Rivers Press, July 2014


Review

In 1999, when Chronicle Books published the first in what would eventually be the popular Worst-Case Scenario book series, I was an early adopter. I can’t say for certain where I purchased my now worn copy (it’s still in my personal library after six moves, including two cross country and one cross planet), but I have a feeling it was at the Urban Outfitters on 6th Avenue in Greenwich Village.  It was my go-to spot for specialty books typically displayed and marketed as kitschy gifts. The display table in the front corner of the store by the window was the table I often hit first, with the intention to buy for keeps. (The Book of Spells: Over 40 Secret Recipes to Get Your Own Way in Love, Work, and Play was another purchase.)

sharknadoI’ve been planning for disaster almost my whole life. Certainly since the first time I watched the tornado sweep Dorothy away from Kansas into Oz. But I took a more serious interest leading up to Y2K and then again in advance of the yet-to-be-realized Mayan Apocalypse.

Like the author of How to Survive a Sharknado, I tend to approach my prepping with a blend of earnestness and humorous self-deprecation. After all, there’s a fine line between prepared and crazy.  (Prepared, for instance, is a safe room in my house in Israel stocked with two weeks of food and water for me and my family. Crazy, on the other hand, is the underground bunker in West Virginia stocked with MREs for 15 years. I am prepped, but I only dream of being crazy.)

Of course, there’s a reason for Shaffer’s humorous approach to disaster in How to Survive a Sharknado: He’s writing a fictional movie tie-in book, as opposed to a true reference handbook a la The SAS Survival Handbook by Lofty Wiseman (which I also have in my personal library and which Shaffer references in the introduction to Sharknado.)  How to Survive a Sharknado is part of the Syfy Sharknado brand, a made-for-tv film franchise I’ve — regretfully? —  never seen. (Watch this trailer for “Sharknado 2” starring Tara Reid.)

Like any good B-movie horror flick, How to Survive a Sharknado is rooted in truth.  Bizarre one-off disasters do indeed happen (See 7 Global Apocalypse Scenarios That Might Really Happen and After Hundreds of Bee Stings and Thousands of Volts, Tree Trimmer Eager to Get Back to Work) and people — not just preppers — go bananas on social media when they do.

But, as far as I can tell, Shaffer’s book is as fictional as the Sharknado movie, a humor book mocking real-life disaster coverage and promoting, in a way, a host of B-movie disaster flicks on SyFy, such as “Arachnoquake,” “Mega Python vs. Gatoroid,” and “Sharktopus.”  Shaffer plays it so straight in the book, however, I almost believed some of the stories were real until I got to “Dinonami,”

How does he do it? In addition to leading off each “unnatural disaster” chapter with a table of vital statistics, Shaffer also offers “reports” of incidents and commentary by “real-life” witnesses and experts.  In the section for Extreme-Weather Vortex, for instance, Shaffer references “the morning of May 18, 2008” when “the air in the lower atmosphere above Manhattan began swirling.

“The first sign of trouble happened in Central Park. Six-foot-tall whirlwinds filled with subzero air whipped through the park. Children chased these ‘mini tornados’ around — until the tornados started chasing the kids back…A twister formed near the Liberty Island, killing dozens and ripping off the Statue of Liberty’s raised arm.”

Shaffer goes on to “quote” meteorologist Cassie Lawrence,

“At the site of one funnel touchdown in Midtown, I found evidence of lightning. It made perfect sense. Planets with high and low atmospheres are lightning machines. If the storm continued to build, I calculated the lightning would increase in frequency exponentially, building to a crescendo the likes of which we’d never seen on Earth before.”

I laughed out loud towards the end in the section called “Unnatural Disaster Kit” as I read the list of “tools and supplies,” which includes:

“Cash, coins, and Chuck E. Cheese tokens

and

“Packaged snacks: Although not very nutritious, most processed foods like crackers and snack cakes have shelf lives longer than basilisks”

(Basilisk is total insider geek speak. It makes me feel loved and a little less lonely.)

The book is cute and clever, but would be funnier, I think, if I was a bigger B-movie fan (like my husband, for instance, who dragged me to Piranha 3D) or if someone bought me this book at Urban Outfitters on Sixth Avenue as a gift for my upcoming birthday; as a way to gently, but lovingly mock my zombie apocalypse obsession.

As I said, there’s a fine line between prepping and crazy: I prefer laughter to lunacy.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.

What I imagine when I imagine the end of the world

Short Fiction

When I imagine the end of the world, I am alone at the edge of a cliff. It’s evening and God Only Knows by the Beach Boys is playing on a box radio I looted from my neighbor’s basement.

If it were a movie, I’d be gazing out over the city lights of Los Angeles just as the electricity went out, as one by one the skyscrapers lost power, and the city fell dark.

A blazing comet approaches.

Or a neon green burst of light from beyond the reaches of time.

Or a giant tidal wave shimmies up the coast.

If it were a movie, my heart would swell as I accepted my fate. I would open my arms and embrace humanity’s extinction for I knew I had lived life to its fullest.

But it’s not a movie.

It’s my real life.

In which almost every day is the end of the world.

* * *

 

I have a disease without a name.

If it had a name, it would be called something like redemptionitis or zombisteria or hypotrychtapocalypse.

The closest anyone has ever come to labelling my disease was in the years leading up to the much-publicized end of the Mayan Calendar in December 2012.

Doomsday Phobia, they called it.

Anyone who stocked their basements with toilet paper and canned sardines in preparation for Armageddon; anyone who hoarded books of medicinal herbs or learned how to forage for mushrooms in a weekend workshop held in the back woods of Westchester County, NY; anyone who stocked in the back of the medicine cabinet antibiotics from their child’s most recent prescription for strep throat: We were all quietly laughed at and labeled “preppers.”

Back when it was cute, the way a touch of crazy is cute, as long as it doesn’t lead to a shootout in a movie theater.

Back then, I wondered to myself if I was on a CIA watch list. Did they suspect me? A suburban New Jersey mom of two? A college educated professional with a real job and a real paycheck?

I certainly didn’t fit the profile.

I wore Ann Taylor suits and took the NJ Transit train every day from the suburbs into the city where I walked six blocks to my midtown workplace. In our open floor plan, I had the closest thing to an office – a transparent cube looking out over the East River, made from glass walls so others could look in. It was called the Rainbow Fish Bowl because of the stickers my daughter once placed on the sliding glass door. Every other Friday, I got a pedicure at Trudy’s Green Nails on Lexington Avenue. I was in a book club. I volunteered at the preschool. People liked me.

Each day, I put effort into smiling at my coworkers as if life wasn’t about to abruptly end by Avian Bird Flu.  I’d make jokes over the phone with the sales consultants who’d ask me if I thought wheatgrass was gluten free. I played along. Drank Nespresso in the coffee room with the writers; made snide remarks with the editors about our wacky advertisers; especially the ones who placed ads offering organic MREs (meals-ready-to-eat) purported to last 15 years. Secretly, I wondered if it made sense to pay for organic canned food when the cans were probably lined with BPA.

Could my coworkers view my computer monitor, however, they would have noticed I spent half the day reading headlines on alternative news web sites, corresponding in code with people named “Zen Grower” about the latest UFO sighting over New Mexico or the best price on bulk dehydrated food. I read blogs from people living in half-completed bunkers in the mountains of West Virginia; with strangers supposedly privy to knowledge that was never reported on CNN.  “The ‘Illuminati’ kills scientists, you know,” wrote Jade, my telepathic friend. She communicates with an alien race who is trying to save us from another alien race who’s been trying to destroy us since the Revolutionary War. “All war,” says Jade, “is the fault of the Reptilians.”

I would search “new world order Russian scientists reveal underwater pyramid” and “fourth dimensional beings plot to reprogram our brains” because I knew the search results would give me the intel I required to plan. And I planned. I had one to-do list that included vaccinations, playdates, and dentist appointments. Another to-do list for the end of the world.

My day job, I guess, was a ruse.

It was a way to satisfy my compulsion and still remain a member of society. Or so says Dr. Solomon. I saw it as a healthy way to educate myself on tactics I would surely need for the post-apocalyptic world I was certain was looming. Easily-learned skills like:

  • Reiki for when we no longer had the option to see surgeons for bone breaks or muscle sprains;
  • Acupressure, which I would use in the place of the anti-inflammatories we so depended on in the Before Times for headaches and menstrual cramps;
  • Nutritional supplements and herbal teas — like Chia and Flax seeds; dandelion and feverfew — I’d grow in a rooftop urban garden, where I’d herd my children before the Flood.

Back then, I was Advertising Director of a major national healthy living magazine. I courted and secured advertisers from multiple sectors: home and garden, health and wellness, exercise and fitness, diet and nutrition. And, of course, our bestsellers: classifieds from personal vegan chefs, Hindu tantric sex practitioners and Henna artists.

I was really good at my job. I was good at selling ads because I really believed all of the service providers and multi-level marketing professionals.  When they heard acknowledgment and acceptance in my voice over the phone, they eagerly placed half or more of their advertising budget in my hands.

I understood them, after all. Their fears. Their hopes. I knew intimately what it felt like to want to survive, but more so to want to be listened to and believed.

In my own experience, though, there were therapies and products that worked, and those that didn’t. Quackery, some might say. Except in my business, we never use the word quackery. This would alienate the chiropractors and homeopaths who placed half-page color ads for their self-published e-books.

Reiki, for instance, didn’t cure me of recurring yeast infections, as promised. But my Thursday afternoon sessions with Liane, the psychic massage therapist did help identify a sugar addiction. She also told me I had powers like hers; that I could, if I wanted to, study to be a healer.

She was right. I am a sugar addict. But she was also wrong. I can’t seem to heal anyone.

I kept seeing Liane on a regular basis and even believed most of the stories she would tell me: How her client was miraculously cured from testicular cancer by shiatsu and a six-week juice fast. How her deep tissue hot stone massage helped a couple overcome infertility. How the couple now had triplets – all girls.

I believed Liane. Except for that one time she told me that my migraines were the key to time travel, and that I should stop taking the Relert when the auras came on. I also believed the magazine readers who emailed testimony after testimony to our editorial staff profusely thanking us for publishing stories that changed their lives.  I believed the clippable lists we elegantly designed for ease-of-use, like “Pema Chodron’s Top 5 Mantras for Mindful Sex.”

I believed we were helping people.

I believed the jacket copy on the bestseller of contributing editor, celebrity physician Dr. Joel Willey– a book I personally reviewed for the magazine last December — promising increased sexual desire and stamina for peri-menopausal women by switching to a vegan, carbohydrate-free, anti-inflammatory diet.

I believed it all.

Which, apparently, is a symptom of my disease.

I have a disease without a name; without a designation, but with a host of exhibiting symptoms that collectively, for the past fifteen years, I called “conscious living,” but collectively make up a manilla folder of evidence against me, sitting on an antique desk in Dr. Solomon’s office.

All these “symptoms,” which were formerly advantageous qualities on a resume when applying for a job at a natural healthy living magazine, are now being offered up as evidence of my insanity. My inability to continue as a functioning member of society.

My disease is without a name. It’s as lonely as a woman standing on the edge of a cliff waiting for the world to end.

But, as it turns out, no name is necessary.

* * *

 

This work of fiction is an excerpt from an original short story by Jen Maidenberg, “What I imagine when I imagine the end of the world.”