Wednesday, May 10, 2017


Found this art on Pinterest. If you're the artist and want credit or it taken down, hit me up.

So I'm back.

Don't know for how long, though. I certainly won't be doing daily posts.

Right now I'm thinking about crashes. And burning.

Why? Well, that all has to do with why I've been absent from the blog for so long. You see, Saint Joseph's College, my alma mater, my employer, and the life of my family for over 50 years, has closed its doors. As for the reasons why...well...Google them. It's something I shouldn't get into.

This past Saturday we held our last ever commencement. It was the finale, the coda to what has felt like a three month funeral. This has been a time of great sadness and loss for students, faculty, staff, and almost everyone in the Saint Joe family. For those of us who worked there, and I'll speak for myself anyway, it has been a time of existential terror. Where will we go? How will we survive?

I felt as if I were sitting in the strewn wreckage of a spaceship crash. You know, the kind seen all over the place in (sometimes) pulpier science fiction? A spaceship plummets to the surface of a planet and the crew members...those who survive the impact...suddenly find themselves on a strange or often inhospitable world. Dazed and wondering just what the hell happened, they try to gather themselves and whatever life-sustaining gear that can be salvaged from the wreckage. First order of business is survival, after all. I once shot a Lego movie about this. I set the tiny space guys in the backyard. They pulled out the reactor core (in real life, a glow stick) of their ship to use as a heat source. It was probably going to give them all radiation poisoning, but it was a question of dying from that or freezing to death. I found it quite existential for Lego.

I imagine any survivors would be both terrified and depressed. Their lives completely upended. Where are they? What happens next? Will they ever see their home again?

Lost in Space is a longtime example of this scenario. I also think of an alleged, "real life" illustration. I've read accounts of supposed witnesses to the Roswell UFO crash who encountered the last living, albeit badly wounded, survivor. The claim is that the alien transmitted a telepathic sense of terror and great loss, knowing that he would never see his home again. If you're not up for melancholy, you could take Chuck Heston's approach. After his ship and crew crash at the beginning of Planet of the Apes, he tells the other men, in true Heston style (I'm paraphrasing): "We're stuck here. The sooner we get our heads around that, the better off we're going to be."

There are other science fiction stories of ruin and survival of course. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood depicts a lone man who might be the last true human remaining after a bio-engineered plague gets loose. The Road, tells of a man attempting to guide his son through the wasteland that is post-apocalyptic America. They try to hold on to a glimmer of humanity because...well, just because. In the classic Dune, the family of Paul Atreides is shattered and he must go into exile in the desert wastes, only to rebuild his life among the Fremen and eventually crawl his way back.

I'm afraid I can't come up with many more science fiction examples. That may be because I mostly tend towards the cyberpunk milieu. If I'm lost in Gibson's Sprawl, then at least I have a mobile device to access navigation, search for instructions, and anything else one can find on the Web.

"Mainstream" literature is of course replete with stories of survival after ruin. Currently I'm reading Moby Dick. The ship is sunk and Ishmael is clinging to Queequeg's coffin in a dark and turbulent sea, but somehow he makes it. He also seems to keep covered a spark of his own humanity. Odysseus, lout though he could be, survived his own calamities (more than a few being self-generated) and returned home. You won't get much succor from Franz Kafka in The Metamorphosis, though. He'll tell you that life will likely cut you down. Camus might say that sure, you could survive, but will it really matter if you did?

While revered by English-types like me in glasses, plaid shirts, and carrying omnipresent coffee mugs, those latter two texts don't seem to resonate with readers as a whole. I wonder if that is because, culturally, we prefer the aforementioned grit of Chuck Heston's "just deal with it and move on" determination? Something like Nietzsche's "ubermensch." "That which does not kill us only makes us stronger." Is optimism hardwired in our DNA? Might make sense. If it weren't, if humans did not have a nigh unquenchable desire to survive despite any circumstance, we might have vanished altogether as a species. As a culture, we might abhor broken spirits and demand that "If you're going through hell, keep going."

I have a tendency to dismiss such platitudes as mere sophistry. Truthfully, I have indeed had dark thoughts these past months. Depression predisposes you to them. Why should I keep going? What is left? They've taken everything. Aren't there circumstances where survival really isn't your best option? Might this be one of them?

Given my discipline and the fact that I'm a writer, you might think I would take my comfort from great literature and I sometimes do. That is not what heartens me, though. To be truly inspired, I run back to my roots. I go to America's greatest cultural achievement: the comic book.

Green Arrow has always been one of my favorites. Oliver Queen is a young, pompous playboy with a selfish attitude. That is until he's shipwrecked on a tiny island in the middle of the vast Pacific. To survive, he is forced to teach himself the bow. He becomes an expert archer and when he returns to civilization, he vows never to be on the wrong side again. He becomes Green Arrow, vigilante against evil and defender of the less fortunate.

Then there's Batman. It's not really the same sort of story, but his is a profile in overcoming loss, of building yourself back better than before. He's been wronged and he's coming after those who commit wrong...and hell's coming with him.

Maybe both of these characters have a message for me. I'm scared, but maybe I need to go through this. Oh do I loathe those offered platitudes of "one door closes..." so on and so forth ad nauseum, but...yes, but...

I might one day look back and say I needed this. Though tragic, though deplorable, though as inscrutable as Waiting for Godot, I might one day find this situation as necessary. Anger may become a gift. It may motivate me to greater ends and somehow march me through this gauntlet. I hope so anyway. At least that's the best coping mechanism I've come up with thus far for this change.
By the way, I look pretty good with a mace.

“Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” --Paul Atreides, Dune

"You know you've got to go through hell before you get to heaven." --Steve Miller

That college photo is from commencement, courtesy of Susie Ferek Hayes.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

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