Memorials are not for the dead they are for the living
We probably could have saved ourselves but we were too damned lazy to try very hard
|Luke O'Neil||Jul 21, 2019|| 20||1|
Put your email in the box it’s not that big a deal you can take it off if you don’t like it later there’s no tricks or whatever.
Here’s a paid-only piece from the other day about the president being a racist piece of shit which I am reliably told was “one of the good ones.” Sometimes people will say that to me. “They’re usually good but this one was really good,” they’ll say. So that is how I know if something is good or not.
Here’s some other shit real quick before we get going in earnest. I’ve started doing some press for the book and the folks at Dying Scene were kind enough to profile me like I’m an actual person of interest so you can read that if you want.
“In order to be one of the people now who keeps a job, you have to by your very nature be kind of a boot-licker or a fucking cop. I think that’s the problem with – and I hate the term mainstream media – but when you talk about the Washington Post or the New York Times or any New York magazine, in order to stay within the business and climb the ladder and get jobs and keep jobs, you definitely have to be willing to swallow a lot more shit than I certainly am willing to,” is one thing I said to the guy and I’m not sure if this is related but here’s a tweet I just saw from a big time reporter from ABC News:
Also the Hard Times a very funny website about the music scene had me on their podcast and I was happy to do that and it was fun.
One of the things I said to them about people who support Hell World was something I often say which is that you can obviously get a lot more by paying to subscribe to a real newspaper or magazine but who knows what other gross shit that money is going to like paying for Bret Stephens’ or Bari Weiss’ salaries for example. It’s like how you can get way more music subscribing to Spotify than you would by buying records on BandCamp one by one but it feels a lot better supporting a band you actually like individually because you know they get most of the money. Is that just another way of suggesting you pay for Hell World? Hard to say but yes. Ok here’s the newsletter enough commercials for now.
One famous reason you might go to Iceland is to marvel at all of the geological wonders. You might sit in the sulfurous hot springs and rub all the shit on your face like people do there or marvel at the geysers or the volcanos both living and dead. You might swim down to the Silfra fissure to the exact place where two continents once met and have since drifted apart and think about how very small you are and how very small all of us are or maybe how like continents you have drifted apart from someone you were once close to because it’s impossible for humans to think of anything but ourselves. I just thought about tectonic plates grinding against one another and it made me think about the pain in my back. That sort of thing.
You might gaze upon the aurora borealis and think about how very small you are and how very small all of us are or maybe how like the stars someone you once knew is so far away but you can still if the conditions are just right see their light because it’s impossible for humans to think of anything but ourselves.
You might walk along the verdant fields at the feet of craggy mountains or along the black sand beaches on the coast and think ay I’m in Game of Thrones over here which would be true since some of it was filmed here. I’m gonna fuck my sister! you’ll scream from atop a mountain.
You might go to this one bar they have there that is entirely dedicated to The Big Lebowski and be like this is kind of funny but also what the fuck?
It’s a magical place is what I’m saying but it’s also somewhat normal because they have Subway restaurants and strip malls like any other idiot country so not sure what you were imagining. You can eat shark dick too but not at Subway. The only place I’ve ever been in the world where they had just about zero Americanized chains was Bermuda and I thought that was pretty cool of them. The other thing Iceland and Bermuda have in common is due to they are islands everything is expensive as fuck.
Another important thing about Iceland is they also have a really nice gym there with the biggest outdoor pool I’ve ever seen and it’s so warm and you go in it and it’s lightly snowing out and you swim laps and you’re like this is pretty great and then you look around at all of the universally fit and attractive locals working out and think: these fucking assholes.
Maybe it’s just me but you’ll also feel less funny there than you ever have in your entire life. The time I went there I don’t think a single person laughed at any of my jokes for about a week which is a curiously humbling experience for someone who has no other aspect of their personality to offer besides being a jerk off wiseass.
One time I went inside a place to go interview some people and there was a baby carriage parked out front on the city street with a whole fucking baby inside of it all wrapped up warm and I guess they just do that sometimes? Gonna run inside for a bit and leave my baby here on the street.
Something else you can do if you go to Iceland is see a new memorial they are setting up there for a dead glacier known as Okjökull.
Okjökull or Ok was the subject of a short film by Rice University anthropologists Cymene Howe and Dominic Boyer about the first named Icelandic glacier to melt and lose its status as a glacier. It wasn’t the first glacier to melt but the first one that had a name which is meaningful because when things that have names die it fucks us up. Imagine a crawfish dying. Who gives a fuck. But now I am thinking about our pet crawfish Survivor dying and that makes me sad. His little pineapple house being empty.
“Glaciers have been distinctive features of the Icelandic landscape ever since human settlement on the island 1200 years ago,” the filmmakers explain. “But since the early 20th century Iceland’s 400+ glaciers have been melting steadily, now losing roughly 11 billion tons of ice every year; scientists predict that all of Iceland’s glaciers will be gone by 2200. One of Iceland’s smallest known glaciers is named ‘Ok.’ Not Ok is its story. This is not a tale of spectacular, collapsing ice. Instead, it is a little film about a small glacier on a low mountain--a mountain who has been observing humans for a long time and has a few things to say to us.”
The people behind the movie and some others will soon be hosting a hike there to place a historical marker and plaque “to commemorate the site where Ok glacier once was.”
“One of our Icelandic colleagues put it very wisely when he said, ‘Memorials are not for the dead; they are for the living,’” Howe said. “With this memorial, we want to underscore that it is up to us, the living, to collectively respond to the rapid loss of glaciers and the ongoing impacts of climate change. For Ok glacier it is already too late; it is now what scientists call ‘dead ice.’”
Written by Icelandic author Andri Snaer Magnason the words on the plaque read like this:
Ok is the first glacier to lose its status as a glacier. In the next 200 years, all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path. This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it.
Fates Worse Than Death is a 1991 collection of essays and speeches and other unpublished materials from the 1980s by Kurt Vonnegut. If you missed it you might also read this Hell World piece I did about Vonnegut and the Kurt Vonnegut Library a while ago.
In one essay he writes about a piece by James Thurber called The White Deer which was about a Royal Astronomer in a medieval court who decided that the lights of the stars were extinguishing. The truth was the Royal Astronomer was going blind much like Thurber was at the time he wrote it because it’s impossible for humans to think of anything but ourselves.
“He was making fun of a sort of old poop who imagined that life was ending not merely for himself but for the whole universe,” Vonnegut wrote.
“Inspired by Thurber, then, I choose to call any old poop who writes a popular book saying that the world, or at least his own country, is done for, a ‘Royal Astronomer’ and his subject matter ‘Royal Astronomy.’”
The motif of such whining is always the same: “Things aren’t as good as they used to be. The young people don’t know anything and don’t want to know anything. We have entered a steep decline!”
Now that he was an old poop himself he thought he should try his hand at the routine but it was hard for Vonnegut to fully commit to the bit because he had seen so many things get better in his lifetime in terms of racial and gender equality among other things. Then he gets in a good dig at Reagan for pining for the good old days that would very easily work transposed to the era of Make America Great Again.
Still there was something he missed from his childhood. An idyllic ignorance of sorts. A not-knowing and the lightness of that not-knowing.
“Is there nothing about the United States of my youth, aside from youth itself, that I miss sorely now?”
“There is one thing I miss so much that I can hardly stand it, which is freedom from the certain knowledge that human beings will very soon have made this moist, blue-green planet uninhabitable by human beings. There is no stopping us. We will continue to breed like rabbits. We will continue to engage in technological nincompoopery with hideous side effects unforeseen. We will make only token repairs on our cities now collapsing. We will not clean up much of the poisonous mess that we ourselves have made.”
This was decades ago and he was of course correct we did continue to do all of those things.
“If flying-saucer creatures or angels or whatever were to come here in a hundred years, say, and find us gone like the dinosaurs, what might be a good message for humanity to leave for them, maybe carved in great big letters on a Grand Canyon wall?” he asked and and then answered.
“WE PROBABLY COULD HAVE SAVED OURSELVES, BUT WERE TOO DAMNED LAZY TO TRY VERY HARD.
We might well add this: AND TOO DAMN CHEAP.”
That’s what the glacier memorial made me think of anyway.
It’s rare that I write one of these anywhere besides laying on my little patch of rug in our little apartment but we’re in Pembroke at Michelle’s parents’ house this weekend because it’s 100+ degrees and humid in Boston right now and it’s only like 96 degrees and humid down here so it’s a paradise of sorts. Her parents’ house also has air conditioning and a pool.
One time Michelle and I talked about where we would go if it was time to get away from Boston all of a sudden urgently and I thought about my dead grandmother’s house in Maine that’s not near anything much and she said she would want to come here to wait out the end of the world with her family so I’m imagining what that would be like right now. I don’t know if we’d make it here on account of the traffic is impossible at literally any time of day on any regular day never mind when people are fleeing a city in panic but if we did it would be a nice place to wait there would be so many snacks in the snack cabinet at first and then eventually there wouldn’t be. The pool would be nice to swim in for a while until maybe we had to drink from it.
If you want to read poems about the end of the world you’re going to find a lot of them that seemed to think it would come about because of war which was a reasonable thing to think during such times as World War II or the Cold War but now it seems more likely it will come about because of capitalism which is a synonym for war.
Here’s one I just read:
A Song on the End of the World by Czeslaw Milosz
On the day the world ends
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net.
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.
On the day the world ends
Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,
A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,
Vegetable peddlers shout in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,
The voice of a violin lasts in the air
And leads into a starry night.
And those who expected lightning and thunder
And those who expected signs and archangels' trumps
Do not believe it is happening now.
As long as the sun and the moon are above,
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now.
Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet
Yet is not a prophet, for he's much too busy,
Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:
No other end of the world will there be,
No other end of the world will there be.
The thing about that one is that he seems to think the world is going to end suddenly and we won’t have time to do anything about it which is the opposite of our current predicament.
Poems of all kinds are always preoccupied with what some fucking bird or insect is up to while the poet is sitting there thinking about how they’re going to die someday because it’s impossible for humans to think of anything but ourselves. I think it’s also because poets are embarrassed to be even more self-absorbed than the rest of us and they wish they were a bird or an insect not because they would be able to fly but because they might be able to shut the fuck up for the first time in their lives.
The other day I tried to explain to my therapist Molly which just now strikes me as a not especially therapisty name the experience of being someone who is very online and somewhat well known on a middling regional level like I guess whatever I am who often gets into the shit when it comes to politics resulting in a lot of people hating my fucking guts. I said it was like when it is a hot and humid summer day much like it is today and you look out the window and see all the moths accumulated there by the light outside the door in their dusty agitated fluttering just waiting for you to fuck up ever so slightly by opening the screen door so they can flood in. I was going to say it’s like The Mist when you’re inside the supermarket there but she never gets my cultural references.
This one is about nuclear war too I think and the cold distant god who doesn’t do much to stop it.
Disappointments of the Apocalypse by Mary Karr
Once warring factions agreed upon the date
and final form the apocalypse would take,
and whether dogs and cats and certain trees
deserved to sail, and if the dead would come or be left
a forwarding address, then opposing soldiers
met on ravaged plains to shake hands
and postulate the exact shade
of the astral self—some said lavender,
others gray. And physicists rocketed
copies of the decree to paradise
in case God had anything to say,
the silence that followed being taken
for consent, and so citizens
readied for celestial ascent.
Those who hated the idea stayed indoors
till the appointed day. When the moon
clicked over the sun like a black lens
over a white eye, they stepped out
onto porches and balconies to see
the human shapes twist and rise
through violet sky and hear trees uproot
with a sound like enormous zippers
unfastening. And when the last grassblades
filled the air, the lonely vigilants fell
in empty fields to press their bodies
hard into dirt, hugging their own outlines.
Then the creator peered down from his perch,
as the wind of departing souls tore the hair
of those remaining into wild coronas,
and he mourned for them as a father
for defiant children, and he knew that each
small skull held, if not some vision
of his garden, then its aroma of basil
and tangerine washed over by the rotting sea.
They alone sensed what he’d wanted
as he first stuck his shovel into clay
and flung the planets over his shoulder,
or used his thumbnail to cut smiles and frowns
on the first blank faces. Even as the saints
arrived to line before his throne singing
and a wisteria poked its lank blossoms
through the cloudbank at his feet,
he trained his gaze on the deflating globe
where the last spreadeagled Xs clung like insects,
then vanished in puffs of luminous smoke,
which traveled a long way to sting his nostrils,
the journey lasting more than ten lifetimes.
A mauve vine corkscrewed up from the deep
oblivion, carrying the singed fume
of things beautiful, noble, and wrong.
Sorry for making you read poetry buddy.
I just went outside to smoke and I remembered last night my mother in law who is a saint pointing out how tall the bush she planted when Michelle and I got married had grown it’s got to be like six feet tall now. I don’t know maybe it’s a tree and not a bush. Poets always know what the names of what every fucking type of tree or flower is. It’s considered more immersive and evocative for the reader I guess when you say the specific name of a thing rather than its general description maybe because of the thing I said earlier about how when things that have names die it fucks us up. Wait my sister in law is in the other room I’ll ask her.
It’s a hydrangea she said. That’s not a particularly obscure type of plant I probably should have known that one.
I wonder what would happen to the plant if Michelle and I were to ever get divorced which is a type of apocalypse not that I think that’s going to happen any time soon or ever hopefully but you never know. I wonder if they would go out there and dig it up because it’s infernal blooming had become hateful?
I wonder how big it could grow if we were all here waiting out the end of the world and then it came. If no one was here to tend to it would it take over the entire yard and what if any nameless birds and insects would start the world over inside of it oblivious to our absence.