I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately; is fiction dead? Or, more to the point, relevant?
Been thinking a lot about death period, in fact. Who hasn’t, I guess, with what’s happening to our brothers and sisters in Japan? Talk about sucker punched. I mean, a 9.0 quake isn’t enough but you have to get a mountain of water dropped on your head. Then, while watching your friends get washed out to sea you’re informed by the powers that be, that it may be be slightly safer to stay inside and seal up the house; seems the smoky debris-filled air you’re inhaling could be a tad more radioactive than originally intended. Can you even imagine the level of grief and terror these people are experiencing 24/7? And I’m sitting here worried about composing my next stupid, wholly without relavance, sentence for this idiotic blog. How can we even think about fiction, much less the suspense variety I deal in, with so much hideous reality shrieking in our face from the real world?
Yet we do. I’m sure some of kept on typing away right through nine-eleven, one eye on the TV, one on the keys. Is this grotesque? Is one more novel, one more short story, TV or movie script really needed? Uh-oh…I feel myself slipping into a what’s-the-real-point-of-ANYTHING mode. Not that I’d quit even if convinced it was all for naught, having this ridiculous notion as I do that one can actually earn a living at this, even if assured by the experts that life is meaningless. Besides, consider the alternative, which,unlike my fictional characters, is REAL: death! Not that I’m afraid of dying. Just terrified. There are no atheists in foxholes they say. But I digress…
Somewhere during the 12th grade when my English teacher was telling me I should “stick with this writing thing, you’ve really got something” (he never mentioned exactly what) it occurred to me that there might be just the thinest thread of a parallel between my high school scriblings and those great tomes of Literature lining library shelves everywhere–that the possibility that I, like these far loftier and more talented giants of the written word, might nevertheless produce something that somehow, some miraculous day might stand the test of time. In other words, that I might (long shot, I knew even then) even live on through my work. Yes, immortal! It was an illuminating moment..Nauseatingly sophomoric, true, but It seemed, for the first time that to bring to my tortured mind that sense of orderliness and purpose I’d been searching for constantly since first realizing not only was Santa Claus a phony but I might not actually be the center of the Universe. That may have even been the ephiphany that made be decide to be a writer. Sure it was idiotic; I should have realized that the important thing about writing was how much simple pleasure it gave me, how much I loved doing it, not how long it may or may not last. Still, I figured if a Ray Bradbury shared those library shelves with a Keats or Hemingway, why not me? It only took tenacity.
The thought sustained me for some time. Then, sometime in mid college, I came across one of those Books To Guide Your Life By making the rounds at the time. The author of this one kept repeating underscoring his philosophy about business, sex, living, dying and all the res– something he called the”frozen ball” theory. The sun, he informed us all, would someday shrink in the weight of its own internal furnaces and leave the Earth a cold, frozen ball of ice floating in space. His point being, why worry about anything? Not only are we all going to die but even the future of mankind is doomed. A bowl of cherries and all that.
Never mind that his science was completely askew, this book–presumably intended to bolster my spirits and armor my bulkheads–left me hopelessly crushed. For I think I always had it in the back of my mind that even though I was going to die some day (and by all accounts and the vanishing elders around me, I was) mankind itself would go on forever– getting smarter, conquering diseases, extending life, creating Utopias– and bringing a few of my books along with it, of course. Certainly it would NOT become a blasted ball of frozen ice! Moron.
Then, in 1969,we landed on the moon. Maybe someone even took a book with them, I haven’t checked. But, what a brilliant stroke of science and technology! Not only that, but they were now saying, if we could reach the moon, we could reach Mars (maybe even in my lifetime–oh, joy!) and if we could reach Mars, set up housekeeping somehow in all that sand and radiation, we could escape that damn frozen ball of eventual Earth! Oh, heaven on high! I had reason to live again! Certainly more reason than ever to write again. And if it was really going to last for eternity, I’d better start getting good at it. I set to work with renewed vigor and righteous intent.
Well, you know the rest. Damned science. Mars might survive a solar nova but it sure as hell wasn’t going to make it through that Grand Collision between the Milky Way and that other pesky galaxy headed toward us. Planet hopping is one thing, but damnit, galaxies are big! Really big. And Einstein had firmly stated that going beyond the speed of light was impossible, period, end of story, take your sci-fi and shove it.
Back to square one. Why am I bothering to write at all? Even live! Nothing is forever. Not even Rita Hayworth and Borders Books. Then…
…more discoveries! Pesky science. Seems that, in theory at least and something to do with black holes I will never remotely grasp, the speed of light just might be surpassed after all…that’s right, the Universe as well as the solar system might yet be ours! Oh dear, where did I leave my carbon paper? Time to get that Smith Corona out of hock. Writing was by God valid. I don’t know if there’s a metaphor in that last sentence; you decide, but I was back at it again!
With a fever. Physically I may not endure…but my better self would extend beyond time itself on the written page (shudder the thought). Life was sweet again! Except…
…goddamned scientists. Apparently there’s this thing called black matter (please feel free all you science geeks to correct or dismiss any of the following) that permeates the Universe. More than that, it acts like a kind of cosmic glue and, well…keeps Mr. U together. In fact, horror or of horrors, if black matter didn’t exist, nothing would keep gravity in place! And since gravity is what keeps solar systems and galaxies and you and me together, the whole mess would go flying off into nothingness. It wouldn’t be a matter of putting words on the page anymore, but keeping the damn page on the desk–and the desk on the floor and so on. But who cares, right? It’s working, isn’t it? We’re here aren’t we? I’m writing aren’t I? Uhhhhh, not so fast…
…little bugger called dark energy. Fucking scientists. You can’t see dark energy, can’t smell or taste it, can’t hear it and, hey, to be truthful we’re not even sure it’s there at all. Nice. We are sure, however of one thing: it eats gravity. Slowly but oh so surely ripping galaxies and solar systems and black holes,the New York Times your assholes and mine apart. Which will end the known Universe.
Was I devastated learning this?
Oh, mother. I mean, really, what IS the fucking point! To goddamn anything!
Sadly, maybe none. For most of us.
Except–for me at least–this: This I know– while I am not always happy when ‘m I write a book or story, I am rarely if ever depressed during the process. I’ve even been known to be downright joyful.
Conversely, when I am not writing, at least ten pages a day–when I decide a vacation is due or something like a family member dying takes me away from the keys–I know the reverse. I’m at loose ends. I’m bored, confused. I suffer not infrequent moments of soul-crushing despondency that, if extended, can lead to deepening depression, levels of self-loathing and moribund ruminating that can often end in loose stools and a small desire to eliminate myself and a few of the people in my neighborhood.
So. Is fiction dead? Or relevant? Is it enough to write not for payment but just because it makes you feel good inside–like it did when you were a kid?
Maybe it takes an earthquake, a tidal wave and the creeping threat of radiation to get a handle on that.