May 15

Questions About The Apocalypse

I read Oryx and Crake when it came out ten years ago, and The Year of the Flood and MaddAddam. I’ve read The Road and Children of Men and The Dog Stars and, more recently, Station Eleven, plus a couple other books and movies (Do The Cloud Atlas and The Years Of Rice And Salt count?), all about various dystopias and post-apocalypses. There are many more I haven’t read, like Canticle For Leibowitz and The Stand and so forth. When I went to see Mad Max Tuesday night with about twelve friends I said it was a) because I’d heard that various ridiculous men’s rights activists were whingeing about it on the internet, and b) because I was hoping it would be a documentary that would answer some of my questions about the aforementioned apocalypse.

I have a lot of questions, all very pragmatic in nature. Setting aside for the moment how the apocalypse eventuates, I always wonder about, like: how do people who have grown up in a society where hardly anyone knows how to grow food from scratch learn how to do that? What happens when all the salvageable clothes run out? What had to change to allow people to live without modern medicine (other than their dying earlier and more often, of course). Does everyone’s teeth fall out with no toothpaste and no toothbrushes? What if you’re someone with a master’s degree in a now-useless field and you are all alone with no skills? I can’t drive a stick shift, even. I can hardly read a map or sew a straight seam. I would starve if you dragged a dead cow over to me, assuming I even had a knife—and where would you get knives, if you forgot to bring one when you were running away?

The books and movie provide some answers, sort of, to some of these questions, although I often find that they insist, annoyingly, in exploring themes about humanity or society or whatever when really I want to know how to set a broken leg with no anaesthetic or how to identify non-poisonous mushrooms. While Mad Max shone a light on, among other things, the issue of whether GHD straighteners would survive the apocalypse, it’s really Station Eleven that spoke to some of my concerns, featuring someone who had come of age after the plague rolling her eyes at someone who’d lived most of his life with electricity and the internet, saying that his generation had had all the time in the world to Google useful things and they wasted it. I am one of those non-useful-thing Googlers, myself. It’s all my fault.

Actually I couldn’t stop thinking about Station Eleven, when I read it earlier this year, much like I can’t stop thinking about Mad Max as I write this (I just watched the trailer again ten minutes ago). It was so sad, and so scary. I bought a new pair of rather sturdy sneakers right around the same time and for weeks, every time I put them on, I’d think: well, if I have to run, I can. If I have to walk out of Wellington for whatever reason, the earthquake or the virus or the bomb, I can. I could.

It also felt a lot closer to home than some of the other books and movies because there’s nothing in the immediately preceding time before the collapse of civilization that we don’t have today, right now as I’m writing this. iPhones, corporate seminars, comic books, celebrity culture. Some of the other stories mention things like political or scientific realities that we don’t have today—so since I’m not living on a Compound and people aren’t using the word ‘pleeb’ like in Oryx and Crake, it feels like it’s not really happening, like it can’t happen to me, to us. There’s no global freezing like in Snowpiercer as I write this, there’s no issue where all of a sudden no one’s being born like in Children Of Men. Reading Station Eleven I kept thinking: This is what old age will be like for me. I will die as part of a left-over pulled-together community, in a cave or a collection of tents somewhere, dreaming about a time when I had more food than I knew what to do with, reminiscing about how you used to exchange money for goods and services, mourning the blog I used to write.

In the meantime, I still don’t have any practical skills. I have spent my life thus far sitting at a series of desks, mostly. I can’t build a fire without matches, I can’t cook a meal without a supermarket and a stove. I probably couldn’t walk very far out of Wellington, no matter what does I had on. I sit on my couch, drinking my tea and writing my blog, thinking about the future. Wondering when the end would happen, who I would be with, how it would go. How I would go.