Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Apocalypse Nowish

It's been a few weeks now since we've ended daylight savings time. Which is to say, we've rolled our clocks back to the natural state of things for this time of year. The morning sun sluggishly rises over the hills around 7:00 AM, heroically tries to reach an angle higher than 35 degrees, fails, then beats a hasty retreat back to the other side of the earth 10 hours later.

For those of us working indoors, we watch this seasonal game of solar peek-a-boo through triple-paned glass while taking nutritional supplements to keep our vitamin D levels from plummeting through the floorboards. We walk down lamp-lit streets to go out to dinner at 6:30. We feel exhausted only to find out the 10 o'clock news hasn't started yet. Maybe not even the 9 o'clock news. Like birds under a blanket, it's lights out and we want to go to sleep. "Not so fast," says the clock."That's not how we do things around here."

It seems oddly appropriate that I was reading Karen Thompson Walker's Age of Miracles during this recent time change and Fall's steady creep into darkness. In her book, the world is gaining time. Initially, a few extra minutes are found hiding in the rotation of the Earth. But rather quickly those minutes add up to hours and hours add up to days. Both night and day begin to hang around longer and longer like an unwanted and ever more demanding guest. (Which, perhaps, is also rather appropriate considering the time of year.) At some point in the unknown but not so distant future, the earth will become tidally locked to the sun. Half the world will burn in a permanent day and half the world will freeze in a permanent night. But until that final denouement occurs, the known world changes, and changes, and changes.

This is the ultimate sinking ship scenario. There is a progressive catastrophe. You can try to stop it, but ultimately the inertia of the situation is stronger than the ingenuity thrown at it. Disaster is unavoidable. Death is (most likely) a given. What do you do?

For the characters in Walker's book, try to carry on as best as possible is the answer. Much like the way we adjust to the seasonal changes in light (but on a far more traumatic scale), the characters attempt to find a normality they can understand. A normality they can live with. The human body cannot exist in a constant state of panic. So while they're patiently waiting for the apocalypse, they may as well try to have a life in the meantime.

Walker illustrates this well through Julia, the 11 going on 12-year-old narrator of the story. For the first few decades of your life, you are constantly running into new experiences, new emotions, new knowledge. So seeing the coming disaster through the eyes of a preteen is a perfect filter. There is no time period more stressful and calamitous than that age. Should the Earth begin slowing down at the same time, well, it couldn't get much worse or weirder than what was already happening to your brain, body, and social life anyways. It's just one more change Julia must deal with. 

Despite the ever increasing and disastrous side-effects of "the slowing," Julia continues to grow up. There is school to go to, boys to have crushes on, best friends who become distant. The normal stuff that happens to most everyone.

Perhaps Julia's life may seem uneventful given such a dramatic backdrop, but that's the point. Our tiny lives carry on. Be it through hope, stubbornness, stupidity, or spite, humans have a way of muscling through the worst that can be thrown at us in order to live out our boring lives. Because they are the only ones we have and giving up isn't really an option.

Julia says at one point, "It requires a certain kind of bravery, I suppose, to choose the status quo. There’s a certain boldness to inaction." While inaction and status quo are rarely thought of as helpful things, in times of great change and horrible disasters, sometimes they are needed things.