Almost the End of the World

There is a story by Ray Bradbury called “Almost the End of the World” and it’s one of my favorites for two reasons.  The first is that it ends in the line “Chicago, Pearl of the Orient, here I come.”  The second is that the posited reason for the world “ending” was the end of television transmission.  Or, given the mechanism and updating, internet too.

No, neither of those would be a good thing, but it amused me A LOT because of what he implied: that if you removed TV and by extension internet, people would have time for ALL sorts of other things that no one does anymore.

He’s right and wrong, of course.  I grew up in a world without tv or internet, and I don’t remember — as in the story — people taking to cleaning EVERYTHING or painting everything that would stand still long enough.

Oh, sure a lot more things got done.  Did I mention that for Easter women would pick flowers, sort them by color and make elaborate “tapestries” down the main street of the village?

But what Ray Bradbury missed is that in the days before electronic entertainment, there was also a lot more to do.  Because we were missing a lot of other technology that makes our life MUCH easier.  So, you know, my mom and grandmother, when I was little, ironed clothes, including dad’s white work shirts using coal-filled irons, and home mixed startch.  Sure they didn’t spend mindless time in front of the TV, but they also didn’t have much time to spend in front of the TV.

Also, assuming people would do something constructive even with the time they did have is kind of giving humans too much credit.  I think there is something in our brain that needs x time mindless entertainment per such and such time of work.

Now, mindless entertainment varies, of course.  Today you can spend a lazy afternoon reading crazy stuff on the net.  In my childhood people would spend lazy afternoons sitting on the stoop watching neighbors walk by.  And before you say that this was more sociable or whatever, uh…  A lot of the watching was like browsing facebook.  “So and so is wearing a funny hat.  He’s a poopy head.”  “Oh, look, those two changed their relationship status” etc.  It was just slower, more boring, and more personal because your neighbors knew you were watching ALL the time.

My mindless entertainment was often reading my cousins magazines or even my brother’s school books.  Sure, I sometimes — inadvertently — learned something, but so do I on the net, where the type of links I tend to follow is something geeky and often historical stuff.  Look, my mindless entertainment is just crazier than most people’s.

All of which brings us to — in my case, I know when I need brainless entertainment.  It’s usually when I’m too sick/out of it to do something that requires more thought, like reading a book I’ve never read before or even writing.

The cycle goes something like this: Get very ill.  Get bored while ill.  Still be unable to do anything productive.  Spend time reading FB or following crazy cryptozoology links.  Get habituated so that even when I feel better, I’m addicted to mindless.  Fight like crazy to stop the addiction.  Write.  Read.  Get sick.

Yeah, I’m now on the part of the cycle where I’m fighting like crazy, so you might see less of me in comments and on FB.  More importantly, I’m  trying to manage my health to at least extend the “well part” of the cycle.  And there are improvements, but they’re alas gradual.

No part of this involves my washing public structures and/or painting park benches.  That might be a loss for everyone concerned.  But I posit that if all electronic entertainment failed tomorrow, we would just find other, mindless things to do.

Right now, though, I need to leave the mindless behind and go write.  Because if I don’t?  It’s the end of the world.

71 thoughts on “Almost the End of the World

  1. Bravo on making the effort to extend the healthy periods.

    I am trying to do so as well and have started my morning walks again. Where I walk there are three parks that run next to each other. There is a historic site, a botanical garden and the bog garden which is part of a network of state bird watching sites. Today I found out that we have two fledgling owls this year, but I have only seen one of them.

    1. Awesome! Our only birdwatching right now are the barn swallows who decided to nest above our front door. They’re delightful to watch, and so far have been fairly easygoing and mess-free as neighbors go. Did I mention they eat horseflies?

    2. No fair. All I get are buzzards. And the hawk that ate half a grackle last week. She left the other half in the yard. The kittens thought the feathers were fun.

      1. Sorry.

        I can imagine the kittens, messy, but cute. 🙂

        The bog garden, in spite of the name, has proven to be really delightful. Along with the birds there are all sorts of plants. The spring blooms are in force at the moment. At the low end the various streams that meander through gather into a small lake, although some might call it a large pond.

        Today I watched a bunch of baby ducks feeding on a couple of mud flats. We have a resident great blue heron. (The great blue is something to see when he flies.) There was a sighting of a green heron yesterday. I haven’t seen any, but this is the right time for their return.

  2. Chuckle Chuckle

    My current Main Character (yes Steven I’ll get back to you) starts out a farm kid in an area/time where “electronic entertainment” is uncommon but between chores and activities with friends, spends plenty of time reading “junk adventure stories”.

    Some aspect of his reading material does become helpful but he is also interested in knowing “how much is true” in those stories. 😀

    Oh, his favorite stories are similar to those about Sam Spade (and his peers) with a strong side note about characters similar to the Lone Ranger. 😀 😀 😀 😀

  3. If it wasn’t for mindless entertainment I would lose my mind not to mention sanity.

    1. Amen to that! Between work and writing my days are usually full, but I need at least an hour or so of books, anime, or video games broken up through the day to refresh and recharge. It’s a blessing that my wife is as into those hobbies as I am, as it allows us to share in that downtime together before getting back to our respective projects.

    2. I try to schedule some fun time when possible. Also, I try to have some unscheduled fun time.

  4. I somehow doubt people had time for “everything” before our modern distractions. People have proven quite inventive about finding ways to avoid doing “necessary” things.

    1. Of course “necessary things” can be a matter of opinion. 👿

      1. A matter of opinion? Nonsense. That which I want done is necessary, that which others want done are not necessary except to the extent I find them rewarding.

        I though everybody knew that.

        1. I know a BigUgly who would be willing to knock some sense in your head. 👿

          1. As in Wallace Tripp’s A Great Big Ugly Man Came Up and Tied His Horse To Me?

            Ooooooo. I should like to see it attempted.

            1. Chuckle Chuckle

              BigUglies are modified human males, similar in appearance to ogres.

              One of them might not be able to pound “sense” into the Wallaby’s head but he would be able to pound the Wallaby’s head into the ground. 👿 👿 👿 👿

              Oh, the BigUglies are characters in a story universe of mine and I’m about to finish a story set in that world.

              I hope to post the story in the Slush Pile Conference on Baen’s Bar for people to comment on it.

              I’m also planning to put out a call for beta readers on some private Face Book pages/groups including Sarah’s Diner on Face Book.

          2. Hah! It has been attempted many a time in my (soon to be) two to the sixth years and they’ve only been able to pound in discretion.

            I see no sense in change now. People have been nickle’n’diming me far too long; I like my current quarters.

  5. First off, here’s to your healthy periods being extended to their fullest! You are in our prayers, for what that is worth to you.

    Second, I fully understand the vicious cycle of productivity getting derailed due to illness or other work or other life events, the struggle to get back on track, and the inevitability of the next big event to come along and derail it again. If I’m not writing every day, it takes that much more effort to get it going again. But, as you say, we must keep up that struggle and get back to it, or the world will end!

    To quote Paul Atreides: “Long live the fighters!”

        1. God. I’d love to ride a giant sandworm right up the steps of Congress.

          If I was lucky, it might even scoop up a couple for a snack.

          1. But “Congressional Snacks” might poison the Sandworm?

            Why would you want that to happen?

  6. Since I’m in the throes (or is it throws?) of confirming edits, and reading two heavy history books (both subject matter and mass-of-bookage), I’m looking forward to Sunday afternoon and being mindlessly entertained by something. (Assuming I survive two Easter services.)

    1. I think whether you are in the throes or throws depends n how violently you express yourself.

  7. Well, I’m right this minute reading and commenting on this blog post as a way to avoid digging in the garden and mowing the lawn, and preparing for the upcoming Pascha liturgy (Russian Orthodox, liturgy starts around 1 PM Saturday). But I’d call it mindful rather than mindless entertainment…

    1. OK, 2 and a half hours and I’ve mowed half the lawn and turned over another 1/3 (about 125 ft2). Came inside for a glass of sweet tea before finishing the lawn, showering, and trying to nap for a few hours before my wife gets home from work. It’s gonna be a long day…

  8. The problem with writers is that, when they stop writing, not just one world ends, but several.

    I shouldn’t be, but I am glad to see that I’m not alone in the fits and starts department.

    1. Worse, you have to wait until a considerable time after they’re dead to continue their world. Assuming that someone else isn’t maintaining the copyright, or they have left a request to leave their world inviolate. Although I’ve seen a few stories where the world isn’t exactly the same as another authors, but a remark is placed that it has similarities to it.

  9. Peter is dedicating one hour a day to getting healthier, and one hour a day toward helping me with cleaning and long-term projects in and around the house. These can be combined, like the time spent moving a bookcase into the guest bedroom & reshelving the books counts for both.

    He started this because I was about to tear my hair out (one-handedly) at being swamped by chores I couldn’t do while in physical therapy. It was struggle to him to find the two hours a day out of his schedule, too! In the last month and some, we’ve not only kept the chores done, we’ve also made amazing progress on the leftover mountain of moving boxes, on fixing the little things around the house and the major things, too.

    I don’t know if he’ll be able to keep it up when the writing shifts back into full gear, but I really, really appreciate the help.

    1. And yet he still managed to do rather extensive research, finish the writing, and deliver a complete manuscript of the second Ames book to the publisher. And I hear tell he has a great many other irons in the fire as well. It is of course a mark of truly productive people that they tend to obsess on how much more they would like to get done rather than on how much they have already accomplished.

      1. “It is of course a mark of truly productive people that they tend to obsess on how much more they would like to get done rather than on how much they have already accomplished.”

        What, you mean there’s another way to live?

  10. The coal heated irons were called “sad irons” in rural areas, Congressman Lyndon Johnson used this term in a speech supporting the Rural Electrification Administration. It was needed, I guess. Lyndon Johnson was never needed. I’m anti-politics, but that crook still makes my blood boil.

        1. Given that LBJ bragged of having “scored more [rhymes with wussy] by accident than JFK got intentionally” I would recommend any discussion of him screwing his pants be dropped.

          I do not know that he was more crooked than the average politician so much as he was simply better at being so and thus got away with it more.

  11. I know it is heresy to even suggest it, but I never really liked Bradbury’s stories. I read Fahrenheit 451, and it left me wondering why he went to all that trouble to write it.

    1. Matters of taste are rarely heresy; I too have found only a very few of Bradbury’s stories appealing. (There was one about two guys whose every effort to get ahead was swiped from under their feet by a third guy, and his final comeuppance.)

      It would be heresy to accuse him of being a bad writer, as he was consummately skilled at the craft. It is generally prudent to avoid risking confusing tastes with craftsmanship — a chef might be able to work miracles with the flesh of the tuna but it would still gag me to attempt its eating.

    2. Eh. Heinlein had a similar opinion, while liking Bradbury himself. I like his books and stories, but I started out as a poet and you never FULLY recover from such a thing.

    3. My favorite Ray Bradbury story is “I Sing the Body Electric.” Probably because it evokes the feelings that my brother and I had when our mother died while we were still in our early teens.

    4. Whatever Bradbury wrote, very little of it met my definition of “science fiction.” Weird tales, offbeat horror, or Twilight-Zonish whatevers, yes. SF, not much.

    5. Goldwin Smith, a British-Canadian journalist of the Victorian period, at once praised and damned the then prime minister of Canada, Alexander Mackenzie, in these words: ‘Mr. Mackenzie was a stonemason; he is a stonemason still.’ The qualities that made a good stonemason, he implied, were just those that made a man doctrinaire, clumsy, and incapable in public office. (But then, Goldwin Smith was no treat. An astute historian has remarked that his idea of independence was to be unfair to each side alternately.)

      With thanks and apologies to Mr. Smith, I can say that Ray Bradbury is a horror writer, and when writing science fiction or anything else, he is a horror writer still. He reaches for an emotional effect, and does it very well; but he reaches no further. He writes (for instance) stories about little boys who long to become rocket men, and he is very good at making you feel their longing; but he is content with that, and does not take you any further into their world. Horror is all about the emotional effect; its job, by definition, is to horrify the reader. Science fiction, when well done, is about the discovery. A story must appeal to the intellect and the sense of curiosity, not to the emotions only, if it is to be successful by the terms of that art. Bradbury seldom makes any appeal to the intellect, and his appeal to curiosity is essentially negative; for a horror story is generally a cautionary tale against curiosity, in which evil things will happen if you go into the haunted house, or inquire too closely into the neighbour with the unearthly manners.

      You could, in Bradbury’s heyday, use the tropes of horror to write science fiction that would appeal to the general public, because the general public did not much care about that intellectual appeal. But you could not use those tropes to write science fiction that appealed to science fiction fans, because they wanted to celebrate curiosity and not condemn it – to rush forward and comprehend the unknown, not hang back and fear it. This, I believe, is why John W. Campbell could make nothing of Bradbury, and seldom or never published him in Astounding or Analog. Campbell was publishing for the inside crowd, and what they wanted was not any old story in a futuristic setting, but stories in which the quest for knowledge was good in itself and not a gateway to the hellish.

      I like and admire some of Bradbury’s horror stories, but his science fiction does not work for me at all. As a boy I was thoroughly taken with Something Wicked This Way Comes, because it claimed to be a book about the October Country and the Autumn People who lived there, and was exactly that. But I was left cold by The Martian Chronicles, because it claimed to be about Mars, and was actually about the October Country in a thin disguise. I was looking for an alien world, and Bradbury showed me the inside of a crazy man’s skull – which is not a world, and alas, not even very alien.

      Fahrenheit 451, I find, is less than the sum of its parts. It tries to be a satire, and fails; it makes you feel abhorrence for its target, but never quite explicitly says what the target is. Bradbury himself, I am told, was frequently appalled by the strange ways that various readers misunderstood that book. The fault was chiefly his own, because he was more interested in evoking the emotion than in aiming it at the specific thing he meant to satirize.

    6. One can recognize the capabilities of an artist while simply not caring for his work.
      Of course I simply cannot refrain from mentioning a video tribute to Bradbury by the comedienne Rachel Bloom. Definitely not safe for work, but available on YouTube if anyone is interested. Just wish Heinlein was more alliterative.

      1. Nod.

        I can’t read Harlan Ellison’s work but it’s clear to me that “he knows what he’s doing” when he writes.

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