The Final Bakesale
Al Gore did not invent global warming or PowerPoint (I don’t think). He did make a movie about global warming using PowerPoint. And some say it was dull. I was so shaken by it that I immediately started surfing Al Gore’s Internet to buy gadgets with solar panels. I bought a shitty one that was supposed to act as a USB charger for my phone but then I left it out in the rain and it broke. I bought a lamp from IKEA that has a solar charger, but it didn’t really charge through a window, so I had to bring it outside to charge it, and when I tried to use it to read by, its little light bulb was horribly dim, and the light source was probably equally disappointing to the child in Africa who was supposed to get a similar lamp as a result of my purchase. Now the lamp lives on a bookshelf in my basement, its prehensile neck curled around its body in loneliness. I did other stuff and got an energy audit and donate money and stuff. But I did not stop global warming and neither did Al Gore. It is still here, droning on, quietly wanting to kill us, and our demise will be narrated by Al Gore’s droning voice.
The fact that global warming as an idea is all mathy and graphy and incomprehensibly bleak prompted scientist-filmmaker Randy Olsen to declare the crisis “boring” and a PR disaster, illustrated with “all the same shots of “melting glaciers, polar bears, carbon emissions.” Olsen doesn’t mince words in an interview with Spiegel Online: he calls science blogs posting articles about the minutia of climate change “boredom so putrefied and crystallized it’s in an unadulterated form that could make even a robot want to commit suicide.” I know my science- and journalist and science-journalist friends will leap out of their seats and off of their balance balls and treadmill desks in anger at that quote and also say that this is exactly what makes their jobs interesting and important: bridging that gap and preventing the robots from killing themselves on crystallized boredom. Actually, that is Olsen’s point, too.
Olsen’s idea is that Gore’s movie, An Inconvenient Truth, should have told a story, such as the fascinating question of why the world was able to address—and kind of solve—the problem with the ozone hole (yay, us!) but hasn’t done that for global warming.
At first I wanted to hate on this guy, but he’s right. Sort of. And provocative–despite the fact that I love An Inconvenient Truth so much that I bought my own copy to have as a personal talisman to shade myself during the apocalypse, and despite the fact that I give money to anything that Al Gore tells me to in order to throw pennies at said approaching apocalypse.
But, to quibble (which is my only survival skill), Olsen also puts too much on the scientists and science-communicators, and I think he’s missing a bigger point, which is that we (humans in our high-school ways) will go out of our way to look at GIFs of kittens in wrapping paper and give our brains a rest from the thought of mass extinction. It’s not the message that’s boring as much as the fact that we, people, the problem, are boredom-averse and kitten-GIF-prone.
So, without further ado, here are reasons why Mass Death Really Is and Will Be Boring Big Time and why if we’re going to confront boredom, we have to first admit our boredom and take it apart into its component parts, some of which we will recycle and the rest we will use to build solar panels.
1. Death limits one’s social life.
I have never died, so I don’t know whether it would be boring or not. There is the dramatic final moment, the struggle for breath, but really—there’s not much to look forward to. And the lead-up to it can be excruciating and scary, I am told. And I imagine our collective deaths might be very boring, especially with sputtering cable as the brown-outs disrupt our service and our programs. Pain can certainly be boring, and starvation (as one example) has to offer both the opportunity for putting everything in perspective but also takes the cake (sorry) for sheer repetitiveness.
2. No flowers at the funeral. This is a huge problem. If huge swathes of us die together, we each miss out on something we have secretly fantasized about since our parents grounded us for the first time: the idea of everyone being sorry for everything at our lavish or tastefully simple memorial service. We don’t get our playlist and slideshow and moment in the sun if everybody’s crowding the stage. It’s enough to make one feel meaningless, which is BORING. Truly!
3. Zoos will suck, because of all the species extinctions and such.
4. Thinking about all the time I have wasted on “important and painstaking tasks” that an apocalypse such as ours is BORING.
As one example, I have told my son to brush his teeth 5 times every morning, every day, since he was a toddler. In and of itself this was boring, as are many parenting tasks, but they’re made mostly bearable because they seem to be an investment in a developing human who will one day become an adult and invent a new cloud-seeding device that will bring rain when we are all parched and dying. But if he’s out on the edge of some highway scavenging roadkill, his commitment to teeth brushing is only going to be a hindrance that makes him squeamish about his new life on the edge of subsistence. (He’ll be alone because I’ll be dead. I’m fragile—I’ll go quick).
5. Less intellectual stimulation and no “future” to plan for unless I am dreaming of coming back as a cockroach.
I like to read, and reading is interesting. I am a personal essayist, so I get off on esoteric distinctions about the positioning of a narrator in a narrative. I have all this expertise that will suddenly be useless. So that’s a bummer. My main form of intellectual entertainment: gone. Instead we’ll all be living in a world like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Well, some of us will be. I’ll be one of those people who will get eaten right away. That’s who you kill first: the personal essayists. But then again, maybe if I find Randy Olsen, he’d hook me up, because he says that the story of the big Bake-Sale has to be told in a way that’s personal so that people can get it, using “the narrative instinct.” Okay, Randy, this is my audition to be on your team. If I can’t get on Randy’s, I want to be with Bear Grylls.
6. It is a universally acknowledged truth that nobody likes to fuck up.
Global warming feels like a big fuck-up because it is. I didn’t start the fire, as Billy Joel annoyingly sings, but here I am every day shoveling fuel onto it. Like the Germans alive during Hitler’s reign, we could be wracking our brains with ways to self-immolate and do something drastic to put our bodies in front of the tracks or in traffic or whatever it might take (even Al Gore doesn’t seem to know), but I don’t see many of us lighting up in that way. So there’s the horrible but vague responsibility thing, which leads to a curdling regret in the stomach. I have to say that curdling regret is the least sexy emotion known to mankind. Let’s think about Jennifer Lawrence instead. By the way, if you are beset with this stomach curdling, as I am, please buy Mary Pipher’s book The Green Boat because it is like a temporary antacid and makes you less want to give up.
7. Kids dying: right. That’s not boring, that’s excruciating, but we call it boring because it lives near excruciating in the “Shit, No!” center of our brain. For God’s sake, I was driving behind a pediatric transport ambulance yesterday on the highway and I started to cry. The ambulance was decorated with images of fingerpaint handprints. Put a knife in my eye. And inside was one North American kid who had health insurance and who might have had a broken collarbone or something. But the big Fish Fry would involve lots of kids. White kids, privileged kids who have massive Lego collections, including my son. Just think of the waste of all that money spent purely on Legos. I should have spent all that money on buying a plot of land for subsistence farming (when I couldn’t even raise a head of broccoli in my pathetic two-foot garden). I really should have developed a completely different skill set. And I didn’t. I fucked up. (Back to # 6.)
8. This Story is so Boring Because It Has Happened Before! I Already Saw This One!
Here’s the messed up obviousness: kids die all over the place, every day, of preventable diseases like malaria and dysentery caused by contaminated water. That is also “boring,” by which we mean: Holy Fuck. What the hell can fix that? My twenty bucks, really? Then how come it keeps happening? How much money do you need to fix that forever? Couldn’t you just tax us all and prevent that from ever happening again? Oh there’s all kinds of geopolitical issues involved including the IMF and debt to the World Bank and … naaarrrgggghhhh. Where is Bono? Bono is the closest thing we have to Bat Man. Can’t he just fix this?
Boring is the idea that the same shit keeps happening. Yes, as always, through the recorded history of human existence since colonialism, the brown people near the Equator and on islands and shorelines with smaller capital reserves and fewer opportunities to invest in infrastructure will get it in the teeth.
It’s boring when the sequel is just the same as the first 100 volumes.
9. Uneasy is Boring. Super-uneasy vagueness lives right near the “Shit, No!” brain-center.
Boring is the idea that the authority figures promising security and telling us to sock our pennies away might be wrong: instead of skimming our money into retirement accounts, we should invest in the rest of the world, in a post-currency place where hydroponics and water filters and swamp coolers will ensure some small measure of survival for us and others. But… is that right? I don’t trust the stock market but I don’t know what to do about it. I couldn’t even make a gingerbread house last night out of graham crackers with my kid. And really, I also really don’t even know what I’m teaching next semester or how to get my son to read more. So Super-Uneasy is pushed to the background by Daily-Uneasy. It’s only when I am done with grading that I even really think about the big GW (not the other GW, who is happily making an oil painting as you read this).
10. There are no aliens. If there were aliens with green bile and nefarious shiny outfits to fight, we’d be all over this shit like Will Smith. There would be web-cams and guns and t-shirts and boobs and kitten GIFs and cake and everything good.
And in the conclusion I am supposed to make the Final Countdown less boring, but really, it’s a yawn. I’d much rather watch something else.
Sonya Huber is an assistant professor of creative writing at Fairfield University and a faculty member in the low-residency MFA program at Fairfield. Her work has appeared in literary journals including Sonora Review, Creative Nonfiction, Crab Orchard Review, Fourth Genre, Topic, Passages North, Main Street Rag, Literary Mama, Kaleidoscope, Hotel Amerika, and Sports Literate, among others; in anthologies including Learning to Glow (University of Arizona Press), Young Wives’ Tales (Seal Press), Bare Your Soul (Seal Press), Reading for the Maternally Inclined: The Best of Literary Mama (Seal Press), Mama Ph.D. (Rutgers University Press), and Campus, Inc. (Prometheus Books); in periodicals including The Washington Post Magazine, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Psychology Today, In These Times, Sojourner, and Earth Island Journal. More information available at http://www.sonyahuber.com.