At some point, the dystopian future became the dystopian present. The exact moment that this happened is hard for me to pin down, but it was sometime after 9/11 and before that Head On commercial. Science fiction authors and film-makers saw it coming a mile away. I'm thinking of Orwell's 1984, Vonnegut's Player Piano, Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, Fritz Lang's Metropolis, Huxley's Brave New World, and (of course) Demolition Man with Wesley Snipes and Sylvester Stallone.
Clearly, whatever was in the future, and always only in the future, became the present. No, firemen are not burning books, we don't use seashells to wipe our asses, and the entire population isn't addicted to pharmaceuticals (well, that last one is right on the money, hats off to Huxley). Whatever it is we are doing these days has a numbing affect on the noggin. Where does one turn for comfort?
We live in the Information Age, they tell me. Obama referenced it last night in the State of the Union. Actually, it seems like we've been in it for awhile. There must be some hipster doofus name that is more up to date, but I'm not going to open up another window on this thing to look it up.
Regardless of what they call it, it blows. The people who do the most writing can't spell and have nothing to say. All those texting pricks, their fingers flying like King Kong playing the piano with his thumbs. Glenn Beck calling everyone a Nazi while dressed like Ben Franklin and flitting around a chalkboard, whatever the hell that is all about. Our first black president, a Republican, being called a, "socialist." The death of journalism. WikiPedia as a source of "reliable" information. Assholes who blog. America without manufacturing. Rand Paul. John Kerry as a coward, George Bush as a war hero. Creationism. Tea Party. And all those poor fucking Cavendish bananas getting wiped out by the Race Four blight (oh, you'll soon know about that, you apes). Where does one find comfort?
Something else happened in the aforementioned time period. My mother died, right around the time I was undergoing ECT in 2003. It must be me who changed, not the world. Yes, I like that. My expensive education, while useless, taught me a thing or two about the world. It introduced me to authors whom I'd never have otherwise discovered. Would I have ever read Beowulf or The Scarlett Letter if not forced? Not bloody likely. And Finnegan's Wake by James Joyce had me thinking that the professor was making fun of her students.
These tales, while perplexing and/or anger inducing (Finnegan's Wake had me thinking that I was dyslexic, slow-witted, and perhaps the recent victim of a stroke, then I realized that everyone thinks that when they try to read it...everyone), helped me realize something. I'm not sure what it is exactly that I realized, but it has something to do with the way human beings respond to mortality, pain, greed, joy, fear, and that awful feeling one has when biting into something hard in a hot dog. Comfort may be found (a modicum of it, anyway) in knowing that one is not alone.
My friend, the under-rated Somerville artist Mary Galli, turned me onto Kurt Vonnegut, who had somehow been off my radar until my mid-twenties. And along with that magnificent bastard, there was James Baldwin, Daniel Wallace, Joseph Heller, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Ray Bradbury, Spaulding Gray, Alice Walker, Vladimir Nabokov, Jennifer Egan, PD James, Howard Zinn, Edward Albee, Virginia Woolf, Eugene O'Neil, Ursula K. Le Guin, Edith Wharton, J.D. Salinger, Joseph Conrad, William Kennedy, and on and on. A chorus of men and women who were (and are) equally confused, angry, amused, afraid, vexed, and annoyed by the whole spectacle.
I need them all, every last one of them. They are all ingredients in an efficacious tonic, even if there may be a bitter aftertaste and perhaps a hangover now and again. The unendurable becomes something worth watching and hearing, with a little help. A little perspective. A voice in the crowd, saying things that make the clamor and din worth enduring.
But I'd still like to smack one of those pricks who drive while texting.