elysium, fringe, the apocalypse, etc

Lately I have been watching the fifth season of Fringe, and then yesterday Brendan and I went to see Elysium. So I was thinking I might like to write a post about how interesting I find post-apocalyptic narratives these days, but then I realized that it’s been over five years and I never updated you all on this.

Would it surprise you to know that I don’t really think about the apocalypse much anymore? And that when I do think about it, it doesn’t really bother me? It doesn’t surprise me at all, because now I know that that months-long period of gripping fear was caused solely by my having gone off my anti-depressants.

I was going to tell you what happened two months after I wrote that post to make me go back on my meds, but I don’t really want to talk about it. I don’t even like to think about it. Don’t freak out; it’s not like I punched anyone or ran naked through the streets or anything. I didn’t have to be restrained or hospitalized or put on suicide watch. I just had to start taking my medication again. And I did.

2007-2008 was the second time in my adult life I’ve tried to see if I might not need medication, and it was worse than the first by a long shot. I won’t do it again. Now I look at my pills as something I have to take to be alive, just like if I had a heart condition or an endocrine disorder. My brain chemistry is faulty, so I take medication for it, and I will do so for the rest of my life. And that’s okay.

I guess I do think about the apocalypse some these days. It’s hard not to. Our consumption-heavy, disposable way of life isn’t sustainable, and it’s breaking down. People who don’t want us to look into alternative energy sources, reduce our dependence on oil or change the way we produce food are still in power, and it will take a long time to change that. We’re starting to turn it around a little, but ultimately I think it’s too late.

Besides my mental health, there are a couple of other reasons why the apocalypse doesn’t bother me as much. The first one is that I’m less alone than I was before. I live with Brendan, I have friends I see pretty often, and my sister and her husband live nearby. If some apocalyptic shit went down in Austin, there are plenty of people with whom I could band together to find food and water, fight roving bands of looters, and keep each other from being killed for a tank of gas.

The second reason is that I’m stronger now. I’ve been working out! I do this regimen where I go for walks on some days and do strength training on others. Eight weeks of strength training means that I’ve started to see changes in myself. I can lift two ten-pound dumbbells over my head repeatedly! I can do twelve prisoner squats in a row! I can plank for twenty whole seconds! I also get less winded every time, so that’s a good sign. Anyway, if the apocalypse comes, I might be pretty good at kicking and punching people until they stop trying to kill me for a tank of gas.

The third reason ties into some of the post-apocalyptic things I’ve been watching lately. I won’t spoil Elysium for you, but I will tell you that I didn’t love all of it. I thought the good characters were boring and undefined, the bad characters were two-dimensionally evil instead of being evil for a reason (a pet peeve of mine), and a couple of actors delivered their lines in a stilted way that made them hard to understand. Worst of all, Neil Blomkamp hit the emotional notes in the narrative so hard that they stopped working on me. One of the first things I learned in my college beginning fiction class is that if you hit the reader over the head with what they’re supposed to feel in a story, they can see that it’s the author saying HEY, I WANT YOU TO FEEL THIS, OKAY? and it pulls them out of the story. If it’s more subtle, then the reader is feeling what the characters feel, not what the author wants them to feel. I know that summer movies aren’t known for their subtlety, but since I liked District 9, I’d been expecting more from Blomkamp.

What I did like about Elysium was that in the absence of widely available consumer products, people on Earth appropriated whatever technology they could find to meet their needs. All the cars and laptops in the movie were old, but had been retrofitted with miscellaneous new parts. The cars were like that in the future portions of Looper, too. And I’m only two episodes into season 5 of Fringe, but they’ve already watched an old Betamax tape to learn how to fight the people who have taken over Earth.

I’ve talked to some people who say that governments, corporations, and other organizations are going to find a way to prevent societal collapse. A few of them genuinely believe it, and a few others have said, “I have to believe that, otherwise I’ll go crazy.” Well, I don’t really believe it. Large systems with lots of people tend to move slowly, and as I said before, I think it might be too late for slow-to-implement solutions. So it inspires me to see stories in which marginalized people are able to use what they have in order to overcome obstacles.

(I know that Fringe and Looper don’t fall into the believable-collapse category, but Elysium sort of does, and I’ve found the way people appropriate old technology in all three to be believable.)

So, the third reason. I’ve been making a lot of stuff lately. You guys already know that I sew and knit and make jewelry, but now I also work with wood and concrete! I don’t know how good I am at that stuff so far, but I do my best, and sometimes I even make something nice.

Last weekend I was at a friend’s party, and he was showing me his workshop. He makes swords and does all kinds of things with stones and minerals, and his tools were similar to those I’d used when I worked at the jewelry studio, so of course I was fascinated. We were talking about rock tumblers, and I said that I really wanted one, but they’re kind of expensive. “You could make one yourself,” he said. “There are schematics all over the internet.”

“Oh,” I said, “I don’t know if I could do all that.” Then I paused, and said, “Wait a minute. Of course I could.”

“Yeah, she can make anything,” Brendan said.

I can make anything. Give me an idea, some supplies, and maybe a diagram and instructions if it’s new to me, and I can do it. When the apocalypse comes, I’ll make some bows and arrows and slingshots and rig up a device to get fresh water. So, I’m not worried. I’ll be fine as long as the pharmacies stay open.


—–Original Message—–
From: erika
Sent: Tuesday, April 12, 2005 8:04 AM
To: alison
Subject: [i like beads mail] english major

name: erika

url: http://

comments: i was reading that you knew you would have a hard time finding work with an english degree but you didn’t mind, so i thought i’d ask if you had a lot of people telling you not to. i’m 18 and starting to really think about things like what i’d like to major in and what i want to do but everyone just tells me not to. just wondered if you had any of that and what you did about it! hope i don’t take up too much of your time but i’d really appreciate the help. thanks.

—–Original Message—–
From: alison
Sent: Monday, April 25, 2005 2:57 AM
To: erika
Subject: RE: [i like beads mail] english major

i don’t regret for a minute having been an english major. it meant that i went through college taking classes i was interested in. i enjoyed them, learned a lot from them, and made good grades as a result. through those classes i also met some wonderful people with whom i had a lot in common.

i don’t know too many people nowadays whose jobs are related to their college major, anyway. the job market’s tough right now, but i think it’s tough for everyone, not just english majors. and i think it’s really important to try to do what you love. it’s hard to be good at doing things you don’t love, and it’s hard to be happy doing things you don’t love. that’s been my experience, anyway.

i hope this helps. let me know if you have any other questions.

upon rereading my reply, i’m not sure i believe myself.

i (don’t) like to do drawings.

a few weeks ago i had a shopping dream.  i have these shopping dreams every now and then; usually i’m at some sort of sale, digging through the clearance racks and picking out things i like.  in my shopping dreams, the clothes are always fantastic.  they’re like nothing i’ve ever seen before–intricate, unique and beautiful, with zippers and lace and sheer fabrics, and a lot of blue and green and orange.  i wake up wanting to shop, but i know i’ll never be able to find (let alone afford) anything like what i dreamed up.

the shopping dream i had a few weeks ago had a subplot in which star kidnapped ryan gantz for ransom, but that’s not important.  what’s important is that when i woke up from the shopping dream, i told ryan about it.

“what did the clothes look like?” he asked me.

“i don’t know if i can describe them,” i said.  “maybe i could draw them for you.”

“oh, can you draw?”


and it’s true.  i can’t draw.  when faced with a picture in my head and a blank piece of paper in front of me, i can’t conceive of how to transfer the image in my brain to the paper.  i don’t even know how to begin.  even a few broken crayons and a butcher-paper tablecloth at a restaurant frustrate me to no end.  i hate that i can’t draw.  i hate it.

and it’s not for lack of trying, either.  in the spring semester of 2000, when i thought i was going to be a graphic design major, i took beginning drawing.  i got a B in the class because i completed my assignments and participated in class discussions, but i wasn’t very good.  i liked shopping for art supplies, getting my easel and paper all set up, and blackening my hands with charcoal, but when it came to the actual drawing itself, i was sorely lacking.

here are the only four projects i saved from that class.  keep in mind that they were the best four out of hundreds and hundreds of attempts.

guitarthis is a grid drawing i did from a photograph of kurt cobain playing the guitar.  i like this one quite a lot; i’m proud of how kurt’s hand turned out.  since it was a grid drawing, though, it isn’t at all representative of my (lack of) skills.

bad cubistfor this one, we were supposed to take one of our sketches from the life drawing unit and turn it into something cubist.  i knew about cubism, but i didn’t know how to make cubism, so i turned in this cartoony thing instead.  i’m quite fond of it.

mea self-portrait i did while sitting on a stool in the bathroom and looking at myself in the mirror, my drawing board propped up against the sink.  i think i got the eyes right, but the nose is too long, and the hair is a total cop-out.  also, i have no neck.

naked guythis one is also from the life-drawing unit.  the professor said to just draw the person’s body without worrying about the hands, feet or face.  i finished mine before everyone else, so i gave this guy a balloon head and a smiley face.  everyone, including the model himself, thought it was hilarious.  since i wasn’t too good at drawing, funny was easier to achieve.

the point of it all is that, since i can’t draw to save my life, all those incredible clothes i dream about will just have to stay there in my brain, mocking me.  or maybe i’ll try to learn how to sew.