Looking to the northwest from my back porch, there’s a sliver of visible skyline framed by the old walnut tree in my yard and the sharp leaves of a palm in the adjacent yard. At night, through that frame, I can see the yellow lights from across the bay waters.
Tonight is the first time in over two weeks I’ve been able to see those lights. They have been obscured by the smog of End Times, smoke blown all the way from devastating fires in Butte County—over 150 miles away.
I’ve woken up every day to the pale, reddish light of a sun obscured by smoke. There’s been a haze in the house. With no job to go to, and little money to venture out on the town, I’ve been more or less trapped in the house for weeks. No neighborhood walks. No stretching and kung fu practice in the Redwood Ring on the other side of the local creek. Just walls and corners and restless wandering from room to room.
The phone has been a lifeline. There are a few people with whom I can talk for hours on end. But eventually everything is said, or life intrudes, and it’s back to wandering the castle. I’ve got a mountain of library books, and endless boxes of comic books, but I often find myself too restless to read, or do anything really. The thought-neutralizing allure of streaming television can only hold me for so long. There’s a layer of dust on my drawing table, and another one on the case of my condenser microphone.
Nothing much inspiring about the end of the world. Just isolation and loneliness. I emerged from my journey to the underworld—a trip that came courtesy of the constant relay between my life and my comic stories—and had to make some painful decisions that forever altered certain relationships in my life. Nobody ever said being a chief would be easy.
I could feel the difference in the air when I woke up this morning. I came outside to see a sky that once again had a tinge of blue. Tonight, I can see the moon, nearing fullness. I took a short walk through my neighborhood, and made it about two blocks before bursting into tears. The haunting beauty of shadowed yards and silhouetted trees, the gates and driveways, the eternal mysteries of living in a high population area where everyone is a stranger.
I wish I could wander through every house, dig through every garage, soak up every secret and story of all those faceless lives. It would take months, if not years, to learn all the important things about just the people within a three-block radius of here. I wish I could see and hear it all. Even the desire for this seems to pour through my fingers like sand. The harder you hold onto it, the faster it dissipates. Every house is different, intricately crafted by scions of a bygone era, before everything was prefabricated and lifeless, designed to fail and fall apart.
There’s nothing left to futurity; only the most deluded minds imagine that anything remains on the horizon but further atrocities. The world is burning, the machines are poisoning us. Life has migrated to the screen—everybody is a star, and one of the easiest ways to shine brightly is with a loaded gun and roomful of civilians.
So what do we have? Judging from an informal observation of the lives and mindstates of people I encounter, I’d have to say, “not much.” Distraction culture—the constant inundation of audio and visual stimuli—everybody’s life has a soundtrack of streaming music, everyone’s got plenty of buttons to press. Simulated digital lives, people watching their most meaningful events through the screen of their phones. Your best friend is a robot.
There’s always nostalgia, I guess—longing for a past that will never return. Remember when mainstream comic books were lettered by hand and movies were more than just a two-hour music video of cartoonish special effects? Remember when videogames were something you grew out of, rather than the dominant life-mode of the species? Remember when there were trees and clear skies and deer and raindrops gleaming in the spiderwebs? Yeah, me neither.
There’s always love, or so I hear. People still get married. A friend of mine did it recently. People still have children. My niece did it recently, making me, for the first time, a great uncle. I’ll say this about love: I’ve been in it a few times, and it has yet to leave me with anything besides lessons, memories, and scars.
Now that I think about it, that sounds like a pretty accurate summary of life generally.
Alternatively, one could be a superhero, and dedicate one’s life to the pursuit and defense of Truth & Beauty. Of the available options, so far this is the only one that provides me with something besides suicidal ideation. It’s also the most work, the most frustrating, the most difficult, and the least appreciated by what’s left of “society,” i.e. the people you still occasionally see “in real life,” as they say. It helps if you were blessed with a few god powers, and perhaps a foolhardy and obtuse stubbornness.
On the subject of powers: I’ve spent most of my life developing and refining an array of physical skill sets that I broadly classify under the heading of “kung fu.” I shed a whole lot of blood, sweat, and tears in the process of acquiring them. Most of these skill sets are at least indirectly related to the art and craft of creating cripples, corpses, orphans, and widows, commonly referred to as “martial arts.” However, as I have been fortunate enough to live a life with very little need for applying those skills in such a manner, they mainly serve as a source of joy, amusement, and physical release. Stagnation is decay is death. Movement is life.
The other night, trapped in my house, I was walking from the kitchen to the living room with my hands full; in the upturned palm of my left hand was a plate with my dinner on it, and on the upturned palm of my right hand was a small plate with my desert. I tripped on something as I walked, and the small plate began a journey of its own. Out of reflex, without thought, without worry, without fear or panic or any other spike on the Bad Feelings meter, I shuffled my footwork, kept up with the plate, and regained control of it without ever losing contact. My desert didn’t even shift position.