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.

stupidphone

(Maude update: She’s doing a little better these days, actually. She’s less lethargic, more playful and active. Not puppy playful and active, mind you, but an improvement over the last few weeks. I definitely don’t think it’s time yet. Here’s a video of her playing with Moki awhile back. You can see she’s not super active, but she still gets involved! Looks like Brendan was watching Portlandia.)

So, I don’t have a smartphone. I know, I know, I’m the last person on earth without one. Even my sister, who lags behind on most new technology, has a smartphone. Brendan has a smartphone, his parents have smartphones, everyone I know has a smartphone. Except me!

(Well, and my parents. I mentioned once that maybe just one of them should have a smartphone in case they get lost on one of their road trips, but my mom said, “We have a GPS!” and I let it go. I don’t feel bad about not having a smartphone, but if my parents get one before me, I might.)

Well, I do have Brendan’s old iPhone, but it’s not set up as a phone. It’s just an internet device I can use whenever there’s wi-fi. My friend Suneet calls it my iPhone Touch, which amuses me. My actual phone is a Nokia candy bar. I bought it a few years ago when my third flip phone crapped out on me. I walked into T-Mobile, handed them the broken phone, and said, “I want the dumbest non-flip phone you have. If it has texting, talking, and an alarm clock, that’s what I want.” And that’s what they gave me. It’s worked perfectly for at least three or four years now. *knocks on wood*

Why don’t I activate my iPhone Touch already? There are a couple of reasons. One, it’s an AT&T phone and I have T-Mobile. Do I want to switch carriers? Get the phone unlocked and keep my current carrier? I can’t decide, and it bores me to think about. My current phone bill is impossibly low, which is also a factor. I have unlimited texting and 200 monthly minutes, and that’s all I really need. Adding data to that would raise my bill, and I’m not made of money right now.

The main reason, though, is that if I got a smartphone, I’m afraid it would change the way I wait for things. These days when I’m in the auto shop waiting room having my oil changed, I read a book. If I don’t have a book, I check out some of the old crappy magazines. If there aren’t magazines, I surreptitiously look around at the other people, or watch the mechanics at work. When I’m not the driver on car trips, I look out the window. When I take the dogs outside to pee, I watch them sniff the grass and amble around, or I watch the people at the nearby bus stop.

I think that if I got a smartphone, I would stop doing all those things. I’d stop being in the moment and use my phone instead. I hate that phrase, “be in the moment,” but I think it applies here. It’s during those little moments of down time that I get my best thinking done. When would I get my best thinking done if I had a smartphone to pull out instead?

I was going to write a paragraph here about how I think it’s so rude when people are on their phones all the time! Do you actually want to be out at dinner with your friends, or should you just have stayed home and played Candy Crush Saga or whatever the fuck you’re doing while waiting for the appetizers to arrive? But you’ve heard it all before, right? I know you have. I’ve written it before, too.

You’re going to tell me, why don’t you just get a smartphone and then not pull it out while you’re waiting for things? That’s a good point, but I don’t think I could help it. I’ve never been much for self-control. My staring-into-space time is precious to me, and I don’t want to jeopardize it even a little.

I’ve had this post in the back of my mind for awhile, but it came up to the front of my mind when I went tubing over the weekend, and one of the girls in our group was using her phone! In her tube! On the river! She had a beer in one hand and her iPhone in the other. Holy shit, was that ever ridiculous.

a maude update

(First, a job update. I continue to apply for jobs and go on interviews, and in my spare time I’m working on starting my own business. No details for now in case it doesn’t pan out, but I figure one of three things will happen first:

  1. I will get a full-time job.
  2. My business will become profitable and support me.
  3. I will go broke, get evicted and live on the mean streets of Austin.)
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this blanket came from a bluishorange reader a long time ago

So Maude isn’t doing very well. Her arthritis and kidney failure have combined forces to render her back legs tricky and unreliable. One minute she’ll be standing up, the next she’ll have sort of rolled over into a sitting/laying down position. She has trouble going up our front steps after we’ve taken her outside. We built a little ramp for her to use, and she uses it when she remembers it’s there, but otherwise she does this sort of clumsy scramble up each step. Sometimes when she drinks water, she falls into the bowl a little and gets water on her face.

I can’t imagine any of this is much fun for her, but for me to watch it is terrifying. I’m reminded of a time several years ago when I was holding her in my lap on the sofa. I was scratching her ears and I felt something fall and hit me in the arm. I picked it up and saw that it was one of her teeth. I was horrified, and of course I freaked out. “OH MY GOD, MAUDE, ARE YOU OKAY?” I cried. She wagged her tail and looked at me like, hey, when can we get back to you scratching my ears?

But that was 2005. Now it’s 2013 and she’s 13 years old, at least, and I don’t know how much time she has left. There is still tail wagging, thankfully. She gets excited about food and treats and going outside. She likes to explore the yard, albeit very, very slowly. She likes to sit next to me in bed and lick my forehead. She likes when I give her little pieces of vegetables I’m chopping. She can’t go on neighborhood walks anymore, but we put her in a little secondhand stroller and wheel her around, and she likes being out and about with us. Of course I don’t know this for absolutely sure, but she seems like she isn’t in any pain.

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best $5 I ever spent at the Texas state surplus property store

But sometimes there is no tail wagging. Sometimes I put her down on the bed, and instead of moving around and getting comfortable like she usually does, she lets herself sort of fall down wherever I’ve placed her. Sometimes I tell her it’s time to go outside, and instead of standing up and moving towards the door, she just lies there and stares up at me.

The decision of when it’s time to let your dog go is one I’ve never made by myself before. We had to put our childhood dog to sleep when she was 11 and the vet discovered that she was positively riddled with cancer. My sister and my dad were driving to St. Louis to take my sis to college at the time, and since this was before cell phones, my mom and I couldn’t call to consult them. But that decision was an obvious one for my mom and me to make, and we did the right thing. The hard part was later that day, when we flew to St. Louis to meet my dad and sister, and we had to tell them that the dog they’d said “see you soon” to that morning was dead.

This decision is different. First of all, it’s mine and Brendan’s to make. We are not 20 years old, and there is no medically-trained mother here to tell us what she thinks we should do. We’re 34 and 35, and she’s our dog, and second of all there is no obvious, hard-line evidence telling us what to do. Some days I see her lying there listlessly and think, it’s time. Other days I get ready to give her treats and she jumps up and down on those tricky hind legs like she’s 4 years old again, and I think, how could I ever have thought it was time?

Maude is my best friend. I know she’s just a dog, and I know I have another dog, too, but that’s just how it is. No disrespect to her sister Moki, but Maude and I are close in a way I’ve never been with another dog, not even my childhood dog. Maude and I lived alone together for years, with no boyfriends or housemates or other dogs. Just us. For a while in my mid-twenties, Maude was the only reason I could think of to get out of bed. If I didn’t get out of bed, Maude wouldn’t be able to eat or go outside, and I loved Maude, so I got out of bed. I don’t know if I’d say she literally and definitively saved my life, as I was hardly suicidal at the time, but she definitely saved my living. I’d wake up in the middle of the night to feel Maude’s breath on my ear, her face buried in my hair, and think, I may not have much going for me, but how could I ever not do right by this dog?

Also, Maude is not just a dog. If you’ve ever met her, you know she’s got a certain gravitas about her, a seriousness that to me indicates a bit of depth. I’m sure I’m projecting some of that onto her, but not all of it. My friend Sarah says that Maude has the je ne sais quoi, and I think that’s the best way to describe it.

I have plans for what to do with her after she’s gone. I’m going to have her cremated by herself. It’s a more expensive option than having her cremated with other dogs, and before I researched this I didn’t know they even did that. I guess they have that option for people who don’t want the ashes back. But I want her ashes back. I’m going to save most of them in an urn, and put a little bit in a brass screw-top canister that I will hang on a chain along with the tag from her collar. I don’t know if it’s something I’ll wear around my neck forever, but I’ll definitely need it for a little while.

I wish that deciding when it’s time to let her go was as easy as deciding what to do after. Obviously if she seems like she’s in pain or she takes a definitive turn for the worse, it’ll be a less difficult decision, but right now I’m really struggling. The thing I’ve heard people say the most is that they’ve regretted waiting until it was too late, but they’ve never regretted maybe doing it too soon. I can understand the first part, but the second part escapes me. What if I did put her down too soon? What if she had some good months left and I took them away from her?

I still wake up in the night and feel her there next to me, but now I check to see if she’s still breathing. How could I ever not do right by this dog?