The erasure

They finally came. After months of broadcasts on all known media (radio, television, Internet, newspaper, shortwave, telegraph, TTY, dolphins, psychics) saying it was coming, that they were coming, it had finally happened.

Nobody knew who was sending the broadcasts, or where they were from. Agencies and detectives and amateur sleuths all over the world tried to answer those questions, to no avail. Séances were held. Runes were consulted. Wires were tapped. Still the messages came, and still no one knew the source or the author. Television anchors were told to say nothing that might frighten the public more than they already were. Talk show hosts were, as usual, under no authority or ethical standard, so they said whatever they felt, regardless of truth or concern for how their prattlings would harm.

The beings, or spirits, or aliens, or whatever they were had tried to communicate with our earth for far longer than people realized. They had subtly influenced moods and desires since before 2000, like a silent alarm, like an odorless poison. They were the reason for the Y2K panic. They were the reason preppers stocked up on ammunition and canned ham. They were the reason people began to mis-trust the authorities and began to take matters into their own hands. Urban farms, homeschooling, anti-vaccine? These were their doing. Layer by layer they had painted a picture of paranoia in our brains to divide us, keep us off balance.

Everyone was affected to some degree. It was only those who didn’t consume mass media that maintained some semblance of control over their actions. All those who watched TV or movies or listened to the radio got multiple doses of the message, and it was cumulative, just like any other poison. A single bee sting is annoying, but not fatal. A thousand stings is another matter.

When they finally came it was almost a relief.

It was a cool day in August, one of those days that was not too hot or humid with a few clouds in the azure sky. The morning had gone peacefully for everyone for a change. The disturbing dreams have finally stopped. Even the news reports were calm for a change, with the latest plastic surgery of one celebrity being the lead instead of the usual threats of war from petty tyrants trying to get the world to notice them. It was shaping up to be a beautiful day, until the skies scissored open with the dimension-melting sight/sound/smell of their ships at 11:11 AM.

People started to see sounds and hear colors.
Time ran backwards and sideways and stopped.
Everything suddenly made sense
but there were no words
anymore to explain it.

And then there was nothing.

The silence was thicker than the darkest night, a crushing subterranean weight, more alienating than being trapped in the Marianas Trench in a powerless submarine.

Then, just as suddenly, there was only now. The past wasn’t even a memory. It was just a word. All mistakes, all forgotten grocery lists, all insults, all arguments, gone in a blink of the eye. Gone too were first kisses. baby’s first laugh, that perfect day in October when the sky is the blue of watery dreams and crisp like a Gala apple.

All of it.
Gone.

Somehow they knew, whoever they were. They knew that what was holding us back was our near-pathological need to catalog the past into neat (and not so neat) piles, holding onto memories and snapshots and train tickets and receipts for ice skates and ice cream. Somehow they knew that our need to separate those piles into “good” and “bad” was our secret un-doing, our un-humaning, our un-being. Somehow they knew that our “bad” pile held us down, became a pattern for our future, made us think we would always be cheated, be robbed, be abandoned. Somehow too, they knew that our “good” pile equally enslaved us, making us feel that we could never feel that exhilarated or proud or delighted ever again.

Our collective and individual past being erased was as great a blessing to us as a tornado or a house fire. It forced us to stop holding onto the dried husks of what it means to be truly alive. For too long we thought that the artificial joy of our memories was what made us human.

Overnight, the scrapbooking industry was rendered irrelevant. No one could even imagine why they had spent so much of their lives (and money) gluing memorabilia into organized books, accented with metallic rickrack and die-cut stickers. No one took photographs either, choosing to see their lives through their own eyes rather than through a viewfinder.

Why save the past anymore?
It was meaningless.
Only the present moment,
a moment eternally composed
of beginnings,
was valid.
In that moment
anything
could happen.

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The Visitors part 10

The disappearances didn’t cause the electricity system to fail. That happened about two years after. Plenty of other bits of what they thought of as civilization had started to disintegrate years before. The disappearances just furthered things along.

So many people had gone off the grid by homesteading that it all finally fell apart, like a gyroscope wobbling to a stop. Without enough people paying for electricity, there simply wasn’t enough money coming in to repair the substations.

The upper management did what upper management has done since there were managers. They laid off all the actual workers, and then stayed on until the bitter end, collecting a paycheck but not doing anything. They didn’t know how.

The end came faster that way, because the people who knew how to do the work were gone. What is the point of managers if they can’t manage to figure out how to do anything themselves? Being able to write up schedules and delegate is a pointless exercise when you don’t have any warm bodies to do the dirty work.

Homesteaders were motivated by fear that the authorities were going to take everything away from them. They figured they can’t take away what they don’t have. Perhaps people also just longed for the good old days, forgetting that if the good old days were so good they would’ve kept them.

There wasn’t a central education system anymore, either. Pretty much the same amount of people who had been homesteading had also been homeschooling. They felt like they could do things better themselves. They didn’t want to give away their power to someone they didn’t know.

This feeling of mistrust of authority had gone on for a long time, in part fueled by repeated warnings of an impending apocalypse. Whether it was brought on by zombies or Jesus or the final battle of the Vikings, people were worried. They turtled in, stocking up supplies and shoring up their defenses.

The times to stretch out and trust were over.

It didn’t make sense how a six-month supply of canned vegetables and tuna was going to help if the world fell apart. It seemed like it would simply delay the inevitable impending slow death. Plus, it might attract unwanted visitors. You know, the ones who didn’t get sucked up in the rapture, or had saved up any food.

One thing it meant was that people who weren’t experts were now in charge of their own lives. Simply being a parent did not qualify them to teach their children. Why they thought that they could do better than someone with a Master’s degree in education made no sense. But they were allowed to do it.

The government thought of it as self selection. They thought of it like this – if you give them enough rope, they will hang themselves. All the educated people will be able to rule over the home-schooled, or the newest fad, “un-schooling”, where the child directs his learning. Who ever thought up that idea? Like a child is going to want to learn how to do anything other than play. They’ll never learn how to read or do math because they won’t know they need it.

The city-zens still paid taxes, so their money still went to the education system their children didn’t participate in it. The government made more money and spent less. It was genius. The city-zens thought they’d gotten out, but in reality they were still buying in.

Similarly, what makes an accountant or a mechanic think he’s suddenly a farmer? Sure, with homesteading he’ll know exactly what goes into his food. He’ll know whether there are pesticides or not. But when his crop fails because he didn’t rotate his crops or add enough phosphorus he’ll be starving and just as clueless.

It was a perfect mess, a confluence of confusion.

Those who were left, who’d survived the crumbling of civilization, were those who knew enough to band together. The lone wolves, the dread pirates of the times faded out, forgotten and forlorn. Those who learned how to share what they had, be it cucumbers or Calculus, they made it.

Of course, they couldn’t be obvious about it. Banding together was forbidden for any group larger than 20 was seen as a threat. The mass protests of the early 21st century had taught the government that. People would suddenly appear in the city streets, banners and drums at the ready, faces obscured and mouths open, shouting slogans in unison. They were flash mobs, no doubt, but they weren’t dancing to a pop tune. They were marching, and marching against austerity, against, authority, or just against.

Sometimes they didn’t even know what they were marching or drumming or shouting against. They just did it, and their numbers stopped traffic and started the government thinking. Any group that was larger than 20 got shut down, no debating, no questions asked. Shut down with water cannon or tear gas or drones. Shut down, shut out, shut off.

The Visitors had to be subtle when they got together, but get together they must, and did. With no social media to communicate their meetings in advance, they hid messages in magazine ads, scrawled slogans in graffiti. Those who knew the code knew it all.

It was time to meet. Now, to find the place.

Fit and older

I do not understand someone who will go to all the money and time of making their house handicapped accessible but they won’t spend the same amount of money and time on making their body less likely to become handicapped. Sure, there are accidents that happen but generally the biggest reason that people become disabled is because they stop taking care of themselves.

Being infirm is not a natural part of becoming older. It is a natural result of stopping taking care of yourself. If you don’t use it you will indeed lose it.

There is no reason that older means less fit. Less active means less healthy, yes. Being active shouldn’t be something that just young people do. Being active is something that people should do. If you stop working, it doesn’t mean you stop moving. You don’t have a reason to anymore – so you have to make up reasons. Volunteer. Go to the Y. Garden. Stay active, or you’ll become immobile.

Voice (of reason?)

I’ve come across several people recently who say they have something important to say. They want people to read their books or have them speak at events. The only issue is their books look like manifestos and their speeches sound like rants.

One guy writes conspiracy theory tracts. He self published a book, then cut it down to a booklet because people said it was too long to read, then kept cutting it down until now it is all on one sheet of paper, front and back, small print. I think they said it was too long to be kind. They didn’t want to read it at all. He uses a lot of capitals and bold face and italics. Visually his handouts are a mess. Even this short, it is too much.

Another guy is equally paranoid. He wants to grow everything himself because he thinks the government and then the economy is going to collapse. While it is good to be self sufficient, his level of paranoia is palpable. He talks fast and doesn’t listen to the other person’s opinions. He thinks they are deluded. He thinks he is the only person who knows what is really going on.

Another guy is trying to get himself invited as a “controversial speaker” to a local religious group meeting. He has stated that you can’t declare yourself a prophet, but then he say he is one and he is the only one talking. His “introduction” took up the whole page of the group’s homepage.

They sound crazy. They may have something important to say. Truth very well might be revealed to them. But how they are presenting it makes their message questionable.

I’ve considered telling them what I see. I’ve considered pulling them aside and handing them a clue. Nobody is going to take them seriously if they seem wackadoodle.

But then I think maybe it is for the best to not tell them.

If you put a new coat of paint on an old car, it will still run the same. If you try to sell this new looking car to someone they are going to be fooled. They will get in and drive down the road a bit and end up stranded.

I don’t want to do that to the passenger. It is important to not mislead people. Even if I’m not delivering the message, I will have aided and abetted. If I help someone repackage their message so that other people finally listen to it, I’m responsible for the fallout.

Maybe their message is crazy. Maybe that is why they seem messed up.

A pain in the gut.

A regular patron came in recently. Well, by regular I don’t mean he is normal. I mean he has been in often for the past several years. His paranoia has gone to new heights. He makes my former boss’ end of the world preparations look like child’s play.

He has a thirty year supply of seeds. He is raising his own food, and not just vegetables. He is raising sheep and goats and chickens. He even has a beehive.

Or at least I think he has all this. He might just be preparing to be prepared. It is in the works, at least.

He believes that you can’t trust anyone or anything. He believes that the government is out to get us all. He might be right. Who knows?

I’ve noticed that all these preppers don’t seem like happy people. Somehow all of this stocking and storing, this training and testing, doesn’t seem to be making them content. Somehow, instead of getting a sense of calm that they have everything under control and their lives are free from worry about other people and their perceived lack, they seem even more wound up.

I understand some of their desire to fend for themselves and not trust other people. When I was in college, we had to do group assignments. The group had to do the research and work on a project. Rarely did I get to pick the group I was in. I usually ended up doing all the work because I didn’t trust the competency of my fellow students. I didn’t want my grade to be adversely affected by their slack.

So the preppers are doing the same thing, but instead of their grades being affected, it is their lives. They think everything is going to hit the fan and it will be every man for himself.

I can handle only so much of this kind of talk. He has shared some of his theories with me in the past about how things are going to go south and I always feel physically bad afterwards.

I want to be present for people. I also want to be open. I want to study them as well. Sometimes I have to allow myself into situations that are uncomfortable for me in order to personally grow and learn.

But this time was different. Perhaps it was a cumulative effect. Last night’s rambles weren’t especially paranoid, but somehow I was affected adversely.

I started to feel a pain in my stomach shortly after our conversation ended. Now, it might help to know that I have a hernia. I thought it was acting up. I got it when my Mom was dying and I had to lift her from her bed to get her to the bathroom. I remember the feeling of my muscles in my abdomen snapping from the strain. She wasn’t especially heavy her whole life, and she was even less so then because of the chemotherapy, but I wasn’t trained for that kind of lifting.

I’ve strengthened my abdomen quite a bit in the past few years with water aerobics and yoga, but that kind of injury never fully heals. I’ve learned that if I do a forward fold it usually helps.

Not so in this case. I waited a bit, and then went to the bathroom. While sitting there, I thought about this pain. It kind of reminded me of the pain I had when I was in my first year of college. That wasn’t a pain from any physical illness, but it manifested in a physical way. It was a pain from stress, from anxiety, from fear. It was the pain of being too far away from everything I knew and facing a whole lot more of the unknown.

Then, I went to the student health services and they, in their ignorance, gave me an anti nausea pill that knocked me out for half a day.

I didn’t want to be unconscious, but I also didn’t want to be in pain.

So I prayed. What do I do, Lord?

The answer? A hard exhale. Just like in yoga class, the ocean sounding breath. Just like one teacher says “Fog up that invisible mirror in front of your beautiful face.” So I did it. Huhhhh.

And I felt instantly better. I did it a few more times and the pain was all gone.

And now I think I’ll have to tell that patron that I can’t listen to his prepper paranoia any more.

Just like finding out that I am allergic to a certain food and I no longer eat it because it makes me sick, I have to do the same with people and ideas. If they make me sick, don’t let them in my head.

But it is also good to know that the answer to every question is just a question away.

Holding yourself hostage.

I know a few people who carry guns with them everywhere they go. They are afraid they are going to get robbed or killed by some stranger. The odd thing is that they are getting attacked all the time, but it is by themselves.

They smoke. They eat poorly. They are afraid of some stranger coming up to them and harming them, but they are doing to themselves in slow motion.

The fear that they are going to be attacked permeates their lives. Their blood pressure is high. Their stomach is upset all the time. These are symptoms of fear.

This is the same issue I have with “preppers” Who cares if you have two years worth of canned food and water if you can’t enjoy it because you are feeble?

Instead of walking around with a gun, work on peace. Make the neighborhood safer. The first way to work on peace is to work on yourself. Eat better. Go exercise. These two things alone will reduce your anxiety and fear, and you’ll be in better shape to handle any eventuality.

Peace starts within.

On “preppers” and making sure you have a future.

I know someone who is a prepper. Perhaps you have not heard of this term. A prepper is someone who takes the Girl Scout motto of always being prepared to the extreme. Preppers often have a six month supply of dehydrated or canned food. They often grow their own food. They stockpile weapons. They take self sufficiency seriously.

Often the goal is to get “off the grid.” They will have generators or solar panels. They might have a well. If the electricity goes out, they have enough fuel to survive for months. And trust me, they do think the electricity will go out. There is a gnawing sense of impending doom that they express.

Some people aren’t preppers but they too are returning to the older ways and learning to grow and can their own food. They are learning how to sew their own clothes. They are getting books on homesteading but on just a little bit of land. Not everybody wants to move out to the country, so they bring the country mentality to the suburbs. They want to be self-sufficient, which is the opposite of dependent. They want to take care of themselves.

Much of this trend is inspired by mistrust of the government. They fear that the government is either too involved in their personal lives or can’t be trusted. People can joke about the “zombie apocalypse” all they want, but these people are prepared for that.

Yet this particular lady I know is really interesting. She does all these things, and yet there is something more that she is doing that has brought up a conundrum in my mind. She is willing to spend money and time making her home more accessible for when she and her husband get older and more infirm. She wants the house to have no stairs and have wider doorways to accommodate a wheelchair. But she isn’t willing to spend the same money and time to get healthy. She wants to make her house accessible, but doesn’t think about the idea of getting her body in shape so she doesn’t need a wheelchair. Somehow, that is seen as too difficult. She uses the excuse of her already bad health as a reason to not get healthy. She says she is too young to feel this old.

I went through every argument she had about her health and came up with solutions for her. There is always a way to exercise. But somehow, “exercise” has become a dirty word in Western culture. She came up with an excuse for why she couldn’t every time. If you spend as much time figuring out how you can, rather than how you can’t, you’ll get there.

She also uses the excuse of her hours at work to explain why she can’t go to the gym. You have to decide what is more important, your loyalty to your job, or to your life. Sure, you have to work. And sure, you may have made a career at this place. But you have to take care of yourself. The workplace won’t care if you wear yourself out and die early and miserable.

Your body is your home. It is important to maintain it. You can’t trade your body in for a newer model when it wears out. Sure, there are replacement parts these days, but they involve surgery and physical therapy. Remember in the movie “Zombieland”? The first rule is “cardio cardio cardio”. If you really think that “they” are coming, then you’d better get in shape.

We don’t need to worry about being invaded by another country or being bombed by terrorists. We don’t need to worry about Korea. We need to worry about Krystals hamburgers. Have you noticed the fact that there are calorie counts on fast-food menus? Sure, you can make better choices while you are there. But the best choice is to prepare fresh food at home. Sure, that takes time. But if you are truly a prepper, then it seems logical that you’d divorce yourself from fast-food too. Part of the prepper mentality is doing things for yourself and not trusting what others have done.

We are killing ourselves with our mouths. Our “eat like a kid again” mentality is killing us. Eat the chili cheese dog, the hot wings and the funnel cake. When you get heartburn, just take an antacid. Or get your heart valves replaced or have a liver transplant. Or get on diabetes medicine. There is something very dangerous about this way of thinking. It is backwards. Do whatever you want and take a pill, or have a surgery. It is safer and healthier to eat well and exercise first, but so few of us do that.

If you are really concerned about the future, then the best thing you can do is take care of your health. Make sure you have a future.

I know one lady who says she doesn’t have time to exercise because she had to take care of her child. If she doesn’t take care of herself, she won’t be alive to take care of her child. Right now, she already can’t do it well because she can’t even run with her child when she plays.

There is no substitute for eating right and getting enough sleep and exercise. There are no shortcuts to health.

My father had a doctor who knew he smoked. When my Dad complained about coughing, he was prescribed cough medicine. The doctor treated the symptom rather than addressing the cause. So my Dad died from a heart attack at 60. He smoked two packs a day and was obese. About a week before he died he said that I would be glad to know he was now eating eggs only once a day. I don’t ever remember him eating a vegetable.

The weird part is that we have gotten so used to people being obese that we see it as normal. We think only the people who are bigger than us are obese. And we think that the people who are smaller than us are too skinny. Just like in the story of Goldilocks, we think we are just right. But we aren’t. We are deceiving ourselves.

I am 5’ 4”. When I weighed 192, I was obese according to the charts. At 145, I’m just on the edge of “normal”. Between those weights, I’m “overweight”. That you read about who takes up two airplane seats, that person is “super obese” or “morbidly obese”. More than likely, you are obese and don’t even know it. Or perhaps you do know it, and have just gotten resigned to it.

Part of our problem is that we treat our stress with food. We get anxious about the future, or unhappy about the past, and we eat. We were taught this as children. When a child wails, parents often soothe them with food. It stops them from making noise. So, unconsciously they are teaching a child to self-soothe with food. If you have an emotional problem, eat. Our culture doesn’t like to deal with emotions at all. So we stuff them down, literally.

There is a way out. Get a book from your library about deep breathing exercises. Get a book about how to deal with anxiety. Often the only change you can make is to yourself. You often can’t change your job or your spouse or your neighborhood. But you can change how you deal with them and how you react to them. Check under my “resources” category and read the list of books I’ve called “Survival books”. Consider taking up a hobby like painting, beading, singing, or playing a musical instrument.

As for me, I do water aerobics and yoga. I walk 20 minutes a day at lunch. I changed how I work so I get in a mile and a half while I’m at the front desk. Every little bit counts. Sure, I miss the reading time. But I like to think of every hour spent exercising buys me two more hours of life. And my knees feel better, and my clothes fit better, and people are noticing that I’m in better shape. It isn’t easy to keep exercising. It was tempting to get to my goal weight and then back off. But exercising isn’t a luxury. It is essential. If we stop moving, we rust.

There was a lady who saw me recently and realized I’d lost weight, and in the same amount of time it had taken me to lose weight, she had gained it. She said “you suck” about my weight loss. This is a crazy way to think. This isn’t a game of musical chairs. The fact that I’ve lost weight doesn’t mean she can’t. She was feeling jealousy, as if I’d taken something from her. That entire way of thinking keeps her in “victim” mode. That way of thinking leads to death, even before you are dead.

It is better to do something than do nothing because you think it isn’t enough.

Are you freaking out right now, just reading this? Stop. Breathe. Repeat. Breathe deeply in through your nose, in on a count of 10, then out on a count of 10. Keep doing this. Every time you feel stress, remember to do this. It is a simple way to get control of yourself. Then go for a walk in the sunshine. Walk slowly, and look at things. This isn’t a race. None of this is a race. The future will get here, when it gets here. Make sure you are there to appreciate it.